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An Open Letter to Tumblr
Hello Tumblr. I love you. I really do. You are intuitive and addictive, which are often the most difficult things to be as a website. And unlike most of your users, I thought all of your recent UI changes were brilliant and long overdue. Being a former UX designer at YouTube, I can sympathize with putting in a ton of work and iterations to produce the best product possible, and only getting hate back. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still a few further improvements I think you could take into consideration.
(Please note that I’m using Tumblr in its normal desktop version and haven’t installed Missing E or any other plugins, so apologies if some of this is already covered there)
1. What if you Included an option to sort the homepage by original posts versus reblogs? When I wake up in the morning (and get my bowl and have cereal), I want to see what I missed on Tumblr overnight, but I’m mostly interested in people’s original content and it would take far less time to get caught up without having to scroll through the same photos being reblogged over and over and over again.
2. Along that note, feed filters seem like an obvious feature that is nowhere to be found. Why can’t we sort our feeds by text posts, photos, videos, etc.? And/or be able to create lists like in Twitter, so that if somebody you like posts so often that it drowns out other people’s content, they don’t need to overwhelm your main feed, but you could still see their posts in dashboard format, which is easier to read and scroll through than most Tumblr layouts.
3. Speaking of sorting, why can’t we sort notes on a post by whether they’re likes, reblogs, answers, etc.? Lots of likes on a post are nice, but it would also be nice to be able to see all of the reblogs that add their own comments without having to click Show More Notes a million times and scroll through a million likes to see all of the tangible responses.
4. I know that Tumblr blue is important to the brand, but why must the dashboard look exactly the same for everyone? I’m not saying you have to give us the option to upload custom backgrounds for the dashboard, since that would eat up a lot of server space without any improved functionality, but why not allow a color wheel to let us set the dashboard background to whatever color we choose?
5. Analytics! Why is it that the only stats we can see are our number of followers, posts, likes, and following? What about the total number of likes and reblogs on all of our posts? Or a list of our most popular posts? Or the total number of questions we’ve answered? Or graphs showing large influxes of followers and which posts they clicked Follow from? Or charts showing how many notes our text posts average compared to our photo posts and audio posts? The graphics on Tumblr are very well-designed already, and an in-depth analytics page in the same style could just be gorgeous.
So Tumblr, I hope you consider this constructive criticism. I really do like you, but making some of these changes would only make me want to cry out my love to you from the tallest rooftops. If you want to follow up with any of my suggestions, I’m always here at email@example.com. Happy designing, and I can’t wait to see the next changes you come out with.
Is UX trying to kill branding or the other way round?
I haven’t worked for a massive company in a long time. And now it’s embarrassing to say this, but I don’t understand the job titles in large design companies and I often don’t understand how roles and responsibilities are segmented.
I’ve been titled ‘creative director’ in my last few roles, and as such I’ve worked with close knit teams where responsibilities are shared, often undertaken by the best person in the team for the job. Looking back, I’ve been exceptionally lucky. It’s allowed me to follow my interests (brand building and copywriting for MOO, for example) and it’s allowed me to share roles amongst my team that I think they might find interesting or challenging.
I’ve been thinking about UX for a long time. User experience. I keep asking people what it is. No one seems to want to tell me. ‘Am I a UX person, do you think?’ Blank looks.
If I got a job in UX, what would I do? More blank looks. ‘Wireframes..?’
Right. I must admit I thought it would be a bit more varied than that. It doesn’t sound very… ‘experiency’. I’ve got 5 senses and a whole lot of emotions, I sort of thought an ‘experience’ might engage more than one.
But I’m not trying to be difficult, I am actually trying to understand.
So after a bit of discussion with a good friend and bit of google-time I did some proper digging this weekend and came across various pieces around the subject by Peter Merholz. He writes as clearly about UX as anyone I’ve come across, and I thought this was interesting (emphasis is mine):
“Perhaps the single most important responsibility for the UX Designer is to develop a clear experience strategy, and craft a compelling vision. An experience strategy specifies how a product or service will be successful from the perspective of user experience. A common part of experience strategy are design principles that help drive decision making.
Essential to helping a team understand how to realize an experience strategy is the creation of an experience vision. An experience vision provides a ‘north star’ for the product development team, helping them understand where they’re heading, and inspiring them to get there.”
That sounds good to me. His 2012 talk UX is Strategy, Not Design also helps to clarify things. It’s not just wireframes. There’s a lot more to it and it’s explained well in the talk.
Cindy Chastain covers similar ground here, in her talk The UX Professional as Business Consultant.
So UX is more strategy than design.
Wait though. I just remembered something.
This is from Wally Ollins, The Brand Handbook, again, emphasis is mine.
“Branding has become a significant mainstream management activity. It can be, although it isn’t always a complex, multi-faceted and multi disciplinary process. It can be consecutively — or more frequently, simultaneously — a marketing resource, a design resource, a communications resource and a behavioural resource. All this makes it pretty hard to pin down but branding activity is generally associated with a few simple rules. These are that branding
- is a design, marketing, communication and human resources tool
- should influence every part of the organisation and every audience of the organisation all the time
- is a co-ordinating resource because it makes the corporations activities coherent
- above all makes the strategy of the organisation visible and palpable for all audiences to see.”
There are huge overlaps here… Aren’t there? So, did branding companies really get strategy so wrong with digital that UX needed to invent itself? Or have we, in the digital industry just refused to engage with the brands for which we’re building products and created a profession to help remind ourselves?
“During the technological boom of the last 20 years, with the emergence of the Web, prevalence of computers in all aspects of our lives, and the increasing complexity of the things we are building, “user experience” has been a helpful term in that it continually reminded us to think beyond whatever narrow thing we’re considering at the time, and to consider the entire user’s experience.”
What’s going on?
I’ve read the Cluetrain Manifesto of course, I know that advertising got it wrong for brands when digital came along. I know it’s taken design forever to catch up with usable digital. But if UX is more about strategy and less about deliverables in a hands-on design sense, I find the overlap fascinating.
Peter also says:
“I suspect the phrase “user experience design” is no longer necessary, and could even be harmful. Harmful because it suggests that the only folks who need to worry about user experience are the designers, when in fact companies need to treat user experience no different than they treat profitability, or corporate culture, or innovation, or anything else that’s essential for it’s ongoing success. The companies that succeed best in delivering great experience are those that have it as an organization-wide mindset.”
Ok, well I do understand that bit - and that does make sense.
Thanks for sticking with it, if you got this far.
Believe it or not, I’m not trying to cause controversy (I’d need readers for that ;-) ) but just trying to understand the evolution of a profession - or two professions, in fact.
Edited to add, Toby Barnes has created a discussion on branch for this. Feel free to join in over there.
“I think we have for too long been enamored of this idea of the genius designer, or design as this thing that some really cool person produces. I have to say, with respect, I think that's bullshit. I think that design is a thing that anybody does, guy does, gal does to actually take all of the ideas that everybody has about what a product can be, and to bring them together in a way that creates an elegant, appropriate, cohesive solution for the end users. -Leah Buley”—
Great talk from SXSW ‘09 titled “Being a UX Team of One”. I encourage you to watch!
I don’t believe in UX Design.
For a while now I’ve held the belief that UX Design doesn’t really exist, or more to the point shouldn’t. I’ve shared this belief a few times and gotten less than friendly reactions, so I’ve been keeping it to myself lately. But recent events have made me want to get it off my chest, so bear with me…Users have experiences.
People have experiences all the time. Life is one giant experience that our brains break down, dividing moments into those that are memorable and those that aren’t and metaphorically “tagging” them as pleasant, painful, sad, exciting, etc.
I’m not arguing against that at all. What I’m talking about here is that User Experience Design doesn’t exist.Reason 1: Users’ experiences are built on EVERYTHING.
An individual’s experience when using a product is affected by just about everything that went into making that product: the decisions on what functionality to include, how they work, how they look, how they’re built. As such, it’s important to recognize that everyone who was involved in the product’s creation had a responsibility to optimize that product for the desired experience.
Yet look at how we often set up our teams and organizations. We have our visual designers, developers, content writers/strategists, researchers… and UX designers. To organize our skill sets in a way that would give weight to the notion that one group in this list holds the responsibility for the user’s experience is counterproductive.Reason 2: UX Designers often don’t define experiences.
Some will argue that there is a strategic component that the UX Designer is responsible for and that this is why they get the title. The UX Designer should be defining the experiences they want users to have.
I don’t necessarily disagree. I do believe in an approach to design called “Experience Design” (described at the end of this post) in which experience definition is the first step in designing.
But in most of the teams I’ve observed, this never happens. The UX team immediately dives into figuring out things like interface components, layouts, sitemaps and task flows. These things are critical, yes. But to say that UX design is the definition of how things are organized and how users will interact with them is inaccurate.
As I mentioned above, the user’s experience is built on much more than that. And besides, if UX Designers are just doing IA and IxD work, why aren’t we calling them that?Reason 3: It’s not “not visual design”.
We seem to have let “Design” get away from us. More and more often, when I hear people say “I’m a UX designer” it seems quite apparent that one thing they’re trying to communicate is: “I’m not a visual designer”.
It’s clear that for most of the general population “design” translates to “prettification” and I understand where the desire to distance ourselves from that idea comes from.
Having labels to differentiate between things is exactly why they exist, but I can’t help feeling that by bucketing people under the label “UX” Design, we are allowing a misunderstanding of what design really is to continue.
Design is problem-solving, plain and simple. It is the creation of a solution aimed at achieving a specific outcome/goal (or a set of them). It can be done consciously or subconsciously. The fact that making things look nice is what most people think of when they hear “design” does not change what it is, it just means we’ve done a bad job at making what it actually is clear.Reason 4: It’s not about technology.
Another argument I hear often is that the “UX” in the UX Design label signifies that we’re working in technology, designing digital products and services. But how can that be?
Use of any product or service, physical, digital or otherwise, results in an experience. The term “user experience” doesn’t help identify us as working in the digital space at all.Reason 5: We’re not doing anything new.
Great designers, regardless of the types of things they design, have always understood the importance of experience, and of understanding who will be using their product and in what context that use will occur. None of this is new.
What we’ve done is take these concepts and methods and expose them to people working in the digital space. A space that was very immature with regard to how to design well.
Why was it so immature? The space is an easy one to get into. It doesn’t take much access to a computer, some software and maybe an internet connection. And most of the people coming into the space have no real background in “design”. Think about it. Marketers, graphic designers, computer science and info tech specialists… none of these areas of study focus on the creation of a product or service.
What Jesse James Garrett and others credited with the introduction of UXD did was expose people working in technology to some of the concepts and considerations that are needed for designing well. They did this under the label UX and it stuck. But it wasn’t really anything new. We owe them a great deal for opening so many people’s eyes, but it’s time to let the label go.
I once saw Dan Saffer tweet something along the lines of “You can replace 99% of the instances in which people use the label “UX Design” with just “Design” and the meaning is exactly the same.” I completely concur. What we’re doing is just design. Let’s accept that and stop trying to separate ourselves here.Experience Design does exist.
Now, after putting my reasoning out there, I want to come back and say that I do believe in “Experience Design”. And no, there is more to it than just dropping the word “user”.
Experience Design is a mode of making design decisions. In it you first capture the experience you want people to have with a service or product. There are tons of ways to do this: writing out scenarios, comics, journey maps, anything that allows you to articulate how someone feels, behaves, thinks, etc as they interact with your product.
From here you make your design decisions like:
- What functionality should be included?
- What should the interface look like?
- What should the tone of content be?
… and so on.
Note that these decisions aren’t just IA and IxD decisions. They are ALL decisions that affect the individual having the experience. They can be visual design decisions, content decisions, development and infrastructure decisions, etc.
Now some people working under the title UX Design operate in this way, but many do not. As I mentioned before, most of the people I’ve met spend little to no time defining the experience before diving into the interface.
Also, please note that I’m not saying that as designers we can specify that a particular individual will have a specific experience when using a product. There are too many variables beyond our control for this. What I’m talking about is the optimization of a product’s design so that for most people in its audience, most of the components of the desired experience are elicited.DTDT matters.
OK, so looking over what I’ve laid out, I can see that many people will see this as a semantic argument. I get that, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
What we call things is important. It’s critical in our ability to communicate well. Many of challenges we face in our various communities and societies stem from the fact that when we talk, we make agreements and arrangements because we’ve used the same terms and labels assuming they mean the same things to all of us. But then we walk away and do things differently, because to each of us, those terms and labels meant something a little different.
So yes, this is a DTDT argument I’m making. Love me or hate me for it, but I think it’s important.
So that’s my thinking. My goal here is not to discredit any of the work people working as UX Designers are doing. It is all important. Nor am I trying to call anyone a liar/scammer/con-artist or whatever. I’m merely trying to say that the label “UX Design” is not meaningful or needed.
As I mentioned, recent events (including some new goals I’ve set for my career path) have lead me to want to put this out there. I’m glad to see that others like Peter Merholz are thinking similar things. Honestly, it’s scary to be of the opinion that the community you’re a part of is based on a falsehood. I’m happy I’m not alone in it.
“...I’ve had a bit of trouble wrapping my head around what it is a UX Designer actually does for some time now, and I keep coming back to the same conclusion; a User Experience Designer doesn’t do anything special. They’re just a designer. ...A great designer should have a solid understanding of the psychological effects of their designs on top of all the typographic, colour, and layout techniques they use on a daily basis. Each decision in those categories will have an effect on the overall user experience, and we should be conscious of those effects. User experience is not something that should be considered separately from any design processes, let alone given a separate job description or department. User experience design is just design. Whether you’re designing a static mockup for a website, or considering the psychological effect of a particular user flow, you’re designing.”—“User Experience” / Daniel Eden
I ran across an interesting thread today on Quora about the extremely high demand for designers that are capable of designing for the web, whether it be UI, UX, product design, etc., and feel strongly that the main issue is the education designers are receiving. Or in this case, lack thereof.
College programs that don’t push print design are few and far between, and as a whole look down upon the web industry. While in school, web design was always the back-up plan for those who couldn’t get a job designing band posters or magazines.
Most students don’t even get a fair shot at exploring web design as an option, as majority of the teachers determining curricula last worked in the field twenty years ago.
The main (and only) “digital” course that was taught at my school was Flash, taught by professors who truly believed that flash was relavent enough to teach in 2012, while basic web design was ignored.
So, each year thousands of graduates get in line to be hired by their nearest ad agency, don’t get a job, and decide there is no career in design. All this while start-ups and web-based creative firms scramble to fill well paying jobs in the web field.
There just isn’t anyone qualified with enough time teach them all.
Free Wireframing Tools for Designers
Wireframing is a crucial step in web design and development as it allows for rapid prototyping and helps to pinpoint potential problems early in the process. It can be invaluable to have a visual representation of content, hierarchy and layout.
Wireframes make it easier to communicate ideas, reduce scope creep, cut down on project costs (due to fewer design revisions later), and enable greater upfront usability and functionality testing.
Mockingbird is a web-based beta software based on the Cappuccino framework to create, link together, preview and share wireframes of your website or application.
It’s a clean and user-friendly interface, with drag and drop UI, interactive page linking, smart text resizing and the ability to easily share mockups with clients or colleagues with a direct link, make Mockingbird one of the best wireframe tools available.
As it’s web-based, it means you can create and share mockups from anywhere. It will be interesting to see just how good Mockingbird is when it comes out of beta and the full version is released.
Lovely Charts is an online diagramming application, that allows you to create flowcharts, sitemaps, organization charts and wireframes.
One of the key features is the application’s ability to make assumptions based on the type of diagram you’re drawing, and thus streamline the drawing process. The History management feature is extremely useful, keeping 20 states of your diagram in memory should you wish to go back to an earlier version or undo any changes.
There is a powerful yet simple tool set provided, with an extensive library of crafted symbols to suit most requirements.
Cacoo is a user-friendly online drawing tool that allows you to create a variety of diagrams, such as sitemaps, wireframes and network charts.
The drag and drop UI means creating diagrams is relatively simple; there are also a number of stencils to utilize which could make the process even more efficient. Unlimited Undo is a neat feature with the history of all modifications saved, meaning you can undo right back to the start.
Numerous users can also work on and complete the same diagram simultaneously with the application supporting real-time collaboration.
Gliffy is a web-based application which allows you to create process flow diagrams, org charts, floor plans, business processes, network diagrams, technical drawings, website wireframes, and more. It uses a drag and drop UI with the ability to add boxes, buttons, and lines from the tool shape library to anywhere on the page. Then you can easily add text to create a clear, concise mockup.
You have access to a complete library of shapes and can even import your own images, like logos and backgrounds, to complement your diagrams. You can share and collaborate with anyone, on any platform, in any location, while having the ability to protect and track changes.
The Gliffy API (beta) also makes it possible for developers to add Gliffy diagramming features to their existing web-based applications based on a simple to use framework.
Lumzy is a mockup and prototype creation tool for websites and applications. You can add events to controls, place controls inside other containers and emulate your project with easy page navigation triggered by user actions.
Real-time collaboration is one of the key features, with tools for team editing, a chat engine for deliberating over designs and file versioning. Lumzy is also the only mockup tool with a real image editor built-in — simply grab any picture from your drive and edit it, apply hue, saturation, adjust contrast, and so on, and then add it to your project.
The Pro version is white label and can be integrated into an existing platform or hosted on your own server which may be of interest to companies working with confidential information.