Carousels work great but not for communications

Slideshows or carousels are wonderful. They provide ample space for everything to be on the homepage for weeks. There is no need to hold meetings about the website. All stakeholders think they are getting a fair deal and appropriate amounts of exposure for their content. You may even whisper to yourself that your visitors get a well-rounded idea of your organisation’s activities.

Since the space is unlimited in the carousel, it’s free and harmless. There is no need to argue over what’s more important. Everyone in the organisation can just phone the webmaster and order a new slide. Something comes up, the web gal puts an announcement online as fast as she can copy-paste and markup, adds a new slide. Peace is kept. We’re all happy.

Except. Messages don’t get through. Experts have written about the fact that carousels don’t get people to click and take action (a sequence of events otherwise known as “conversion“) and also about how carousels are a nightmare both in terms of search engine optimisation and in terms of your site’s ease of use. If effective communications are a real priority, that should be unacceptable.

Carousels are hurting your organisation. You assume it works without having checked. This creates a huge dead angle: it makes all discussions of web governance and due process irrelevant since everyone can request the creation of homepage content. Your web presence could accomplish so much more. You could rock.

Why do we refuse to? We fear tense discussions and accusations of insubordination. We don’t want everybody yelling in a meeting or, worse, agree and hold grudges. We all love peace but we have to weigh that against our need to get our messages across.

Carousels don’t work. You might be OK with that for peace’s sake. But if you’re convinced yours is an exception, at least, measure it and face the facts.

 

On inner-life and friendships

Being there for friends and family who have issues with their health – mental or otherwise is not easy. I do care and want to help further. On the one hand, overstepping their boundaries can be uncomfortable for them. On the other, helping without letting their suffering tear you down is challenging. A tore down friend is of little use. If I can learn to help more without wearing out or stepping over lines, I will be a better human. Hence, I am excited by this week’s discussions.

A mind is a delicate thing. My own gives me trouble sometimes. When I lock the door every morning to go to work, I check with one hand then the other. Despite of that, I feel an urge to go back and check again as soon as I turn the corner.

The most severe it ever got was when I was still new at my job and just got into my first flat. I’d check the windows and the stove as well as the door and needed to go back in and start over quite often. I talked about it to friends over dinner after a meetup — got some advice. It lasted a month or two. Thankfully, I am back to checking only the door.

You’d think that the absence of a door or work-related stress would make anxieties disappear. Well. No. They catch up with you pretty fast. I had been on holiday for three days. One morning, turning the corner after leaving my hotel, I heard “I flushed, right?” in my head. I almost burst out laughing on the street at the silliness.

Come on. I worry about the chambermaid liking me? Is that what’s happening? She hasn’t got the time or the energy to give me a single thought. Worrying if people like me. Fearing being rejected. Big on that. Being an anxious pleaser-type weighs on my ability to form and maintain relationships.

The internet and the web afforded me the luxury of staying at my desk and still have friends online.  With the rivers of abuse and harassment overflowing, people are more guarded than ever — with good reasons. Time was, you could form acquaintances and relationships online. I was on ICQ, and Caramail, “The Pretender” and “Dawson’s Creek” fan forums. Went on Jabber and then Twitter — it used to be such an idyllic place. Now, with the climate of rising suspicions, most of the people I follow online seem to no longer assume people’s intentions are good anymore. This barrier to forming acquaintances or friendships online becomes harder to overcome every hour. When I try to overcome them, errors are made — often by me. Misunderstandings occur. It gets strange and nobody’s satisfied.

Erin Kissane wrote a great piece called “Ditching Twitter” about changes in the use of the service and what shall be done to cope. It’s a great read. Perhaps, I’ll start writing e-mails to people I admire again. I used to be less crap at that than I seem to be at getting through to them on Twitter.

Apart from the dramatic changes occurring online, shame as well as the necessity to safeguard a reputation (to remain employed, for example) often stop people from discussing health – especially mental health – issues. One of the benefits of Geek Mental Help Week will be, I hope, to make these discussions even more common. Fortunately, I do have IRL friends with whom to realtalk about inner-life — even though few of them are social media enclined or geeky.

Finding such friends is difficult and requires great deals of courage. Confessions and disclosures are not a currency accepted by all people. Some respond very positively, listen without issuing a judgment and offer their own stories in response. Others do not want to hear of any kind of struggle whatsoever, offer lame advice or, worse, a morale to your story. Attitudes vary widely from individual to individual. You, therefore, have to try and see case by case which can also be awkward and strange. When they go over well, disclosures can bring people together in subtle and new ways. It’s often worth trying.

This is published for #GeekMentalHelp Week, an initiative announced by Andrew Clarke on his website. Authors facing more severe issues have written courageous pieces. I encourage you to read them.

Geek Mental Help Week

On the week of October 27th, we’re going to have a global discussion about mental health in the web industry through magazines, blogs and podcasts. You can read all about Geek Mental Help Week on Andrew Clarke’s website. Our industry is demanding, fast-paced and the fact that we work alone in front of a computer for long stretches of time puts us at risk. I can’t wait to learn more about how to help others even as I face my own mild anxiety.

If you have something to say about mental health and/or help, consider publishing your thoughts during the week of October 27th.

Elevator Pitch

I’m flying to Barcelona on Tuesday for a few vacation days before going to Confab Europe 2014. Looking forward to meeting people I admire, I promised myself to write an “about page” for my site and brush up my resume to find a coherent and concise way to introduce myself.

I have to marvel at people who always could narrow their roles to a single job title — I struggle with that. And it is a problem in conferences and other events. I, either, do too many things or am reluctant to accept a single label. We all do what projects require — don’t we? But it’s an unhelpful answer. Whispering “I am called webmaster, an anachronism, from eons past. I do… everything” is too theatrical, not much more useful and increasingly inaccurate. “Jack-of-all-trades” does have negative connotations.

Hence, I devoted last week-end to taking my own advice and return to my “Skills and Professional History Assessment”. It is a magical document which I periodically update to keep professional anxieties at bay. According to this inventory of my present skills and responsibilities, I do CMS customization, copy writing, editing and social media community management on various projects. Now I just have to memorize that and say it clearly :)

What this also tells me is that I am indeed focusing more and more on content management . It is good news.  What is still lacking is the strategy and organisational change part. Small team, huge organisation — learning a lot every day. If I keep at it, it will come.

 

Notes around Ethics, Sexism and Manhood

Twitter erupted because of celebrity leaked nude pictures again this week. This is just the latest in gender-related abuse and violence to flare up in my timeline. There are countless others. More come sadly every day.

Social media is very much the “Parliament of the Moment” as John Roderick described it in episode #122 of Roderick on the Line. Sometimes, you have to shield yourself from it. However, some feminist Twitter accounts have made me acutely aware of the depth and extent of sexism. If you still can’t believe how bad it is, follow @EverydaySexism for a week. It is positive to gain a little comprehension and exert your empathy muscles — even if the anger proves difficult to deal with.

Perhaps it is well to be angry. On the morning after somebody stole and released these photos, my Facebook feed was full of people taking the “tech angle”. One after another, they blamed victims for not using strong encryption. Not having data security experts in their entourage. (Oh. Hum. This is Bryan. He is my 256-bit encryption key bearer.) Or they recycled stale arguments against the “cloud”. Most of the aforementioned geeks get angry when the hue of gray changes on a button’s drop-shadows. And they are pissed — albeit not surprised — at the NSA’s mass surveillance. Yet, they seemed to leave the perpetrators of this abuse off the hook. My anger pump went to 11.

We’re talking about the violent grabbing of someone’s property and an unacceptable violation of their intimacy. This is a maddening issue of ethics. Many have written about it, some eloquently and some even with proper disdain for keyword density. The Verge has a great post about the reaction to this leak versus the NSA mass surveillance thing. Jessica Valenti wrote a thoughtful piece for the Guardian explaining why we shouldn’t seek out these leaked shots. Scott Mendelson on Forbes calls these events what they are: sex crimes. They’re all great pieces. I don’t have anything to add about these events.

Every time abuse and humiliation of women are discussed. I am lead to examine my own ethics and how I interact with women day to day. Including to woo them and seek their company. Not only because I am a self-centered person but also because my own behaviour is the only one that I have a little bit of power over. And, it’s something we shall all do if we’re to get better at living together. “How am I to conduct myself in this world?” is a question worth asking. It surfaces periodically. I had never felt articulate, pissed and courageous enough to post about it online until now.

One semester of gender studies is enough to give you a lot of guilt about privilege and defamiliarize you with a lot of thought-patterns and ubiquitous stereotypes. For one of my seminars, I picked apart Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” — one of my favourite books, and uncovered countless instances of prejudice and revolting one-dimensional female characters. Taking a book from your formative years and deconstructing it is a terrifying exercise because it shows how aesthetically pleasing stories and tropes make it right past our defences and lodge themselves firmly in our consciousness — and most probably our subconscious. One semester isn’t nearly enough to put a mind right, though. It has left me confused and afraid and without the vocabulary to even properly voice my concerns.

My mind rattled and chewed on personal history and literary influences obsessively for weeks after that. For example, the Romantics’ language that I was enamoured with when I was a teenager proves to be deeply problematic. It not only objectifies women. It is based on complimenting a woman on separate parts of her body in sequence. For example, poets state their appreciation of a neck and collar bones abstracted from the woman they belong to. Just a random example. It can be construed as symbolic slaughter, can’t it?

Then, there’s the blues I listen to. Blues songs are often sexist and sometimes outright misogynistic. But their form is often so cool that you want to overlook it. Not to mention self-pity is sometimes a comfy cushion. In her column about pop songs, Ann Friedman concludes that we can compartmentalize and appreciate music that may be sexist. I am still not sure it is OK, though.

When I am in full freak out mode, part of me (Let’s call him my inner Earl of Lemongrab) becomes convinced that everything I say contains, encoded within, sexist and/or misogynistic things. I imagine exchanges with women I admire. I won’t have finished my first sentence and a loud buzzer is going to s… See? I just metaphorically equated having a conversation with a woman to a game show. Objectification. (Hello!) Oh. What is coming out of my mouth?

Tumblr_m9h7hdXSK71rn6iyqo1_r1_500

Some (Most?) of that comes down to irrational insecurities. In the face of the ubiquitous abuse women face online, the endless street harassment, revenge porn and other rivers of shit we (Yes. I include everyone.) have to deal with all the time, these concerns can be dismissed as petty and laughable. But at the heart of it lie some big and important questions about the ethics of language use, sexism and how we sustain relationships.

It’s all part of the larger “how to be a man” line of inquiry. It is a valid one. That problem is long ways from being solved. Ann Friedman wrote “What Does Manhood Mean in 2013?” in her The Cut column and said:

“Patriarchy” doesn’t just mean concrete systems that ensure only men have access to the upper echelons of power; it also encompasses our ingrained cultural understanding of what men should be and how they show dominance.

She makes a good point that we have to address this question for the sake of all genders. However, we can’t get to it because we need to, with good reason, address endless streams of sexist attacks. In the meantime, it continues to be “confusing out here”, as Ann Friedman wrote, and I sometimes feel baffled.

To humanities graduates seeking employment

Lots of friends I had left behind in university ranks are now considering entering paid employment. Even though unemployment is low in Switzerland, getting a job is still difficult. Transitioning from a liberal arts education into the “workforce” is an especially long ordeal. So I worry…

The worst part is fear. Politicians and employer union representatives keep screaming that there are too many college educated people who they label as “unemployable”. It’s HR-speak for “useless”. It saddens me. It carries a lot of stigma. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to wash the label off. When counsellors at the unemployment office, friends or family say you have to work on your “employability”, what they mean is you have to weasel out of being useless. These levels of jargon and condescension are hard to stomach. No matter. They’re right on some level: you will have to change, gain experience, etc. However, you’re not as far behind as you might think. It’s a matter of attitude and learning to market your skills.

Young humanities graduates are squished between romantic ideals of our “calling” as defenders of the besieged humanities and the harsh realities of a world which seems in perpetual crisis. At my graduation ceremony, the dean of our faculty told us that starting a career would take 18 to 24 months of suffering. Right after that, an 80 year old alumnus said that it was our responsibility to “shine a light” upon the world and dispense humanistic lessons on scientists, engineers and bankers who seem to run things (poorly). If you’ve ever bought into the idea that your role would be to impose humanist values upon the uncaring, you better saddle up. It’s gonna be a hell of an attitude adjustment.

Such arrogance gives credence to the prejudice we face from employers — in fact. They don’t care about our values, what we learned about the human condition by analysing the Prose Edda, or the inconsistencies of chivalric discourse uncovered by Chaucer’s tongue-in-cheek humour. Calling knights hypocrites may get you somewhere among gender studies and feminist intellectuals, but in most workplaces it only makes people snigger at your inadequacies and question your competence. Nobody cares. The phone’s ringing — you better get to it.

robin-llorando

If they don’t care about medieval literature, what do employers care about? They care about weird shit like getting things done on time and under budget. Since you took two years to submit that twelve page paper about “Hamlet”, you may not see yourself as an ideal candidate just yet. But don’t worry. You just have to adapt. Unlearn some old habits and learn some new ones. That’s really what this 18 month period is about. Wave goodbye to your humanities student self.

All young graduates are in the same boat. Or at least they face the same rushing river. Even people who got degrees which seemed more marketable when you started college need to adjust. It’s raining MBAs and they are more prone to grandiose expectations than humanities students.

Once you are sufficiently distraught and poor, you’ll have no scruples left. You’ll use our secret killer-rhetoric techniques to sell yourself. There are lots of experiences which come from growing in the humanities you can sell. For example, do you remember when you had to get the signature of two super-busy professors, run from one department to the next, talk to twelve administrative assistants and five teaching assistants just to register for an exam? And then had do it all over again to get the credit? Believe it or not, this kind of grit is marketable. Put that down on your resume: You know how to navigate horrible backwards bureaucratic systems and get results. That will come in handy because there are lots of bureaucratic systems in large organisations. And it’s only an example of all the things you manage very well already.

  • Revisit your past, every growth opportunities, every teachable moments and every task. Make a list.
  • Then, gather job postings that might interest you and analyse them as you would a literary text.
  • For each task description, prepare arguments with stories about how you already did a version of that.

Always speak to the fear. Looking for a job is scary. Hiring might even be scarier. The people across the table from you are scared out of their minds — always. Their hire may be a mistake and they will look bad if you under perform. It is very important that you raise no alarms in their minds. As humanities students, we always were taught to address complexity and unpack simplifications to expose flaws. Do that in private. In public, you’ll get farther by reassuring people.

I don’t expect any of this to sink in and make a difference on your first reading. There are a few resources that might help you, though, such as the classic podcast “Back To Work” — especially episode 7. Statistics do say that you’ll have a hard time no matter what you read off the internet. Make the best out of that time and learn as much as possible about yourself, work and how to get things done. Eventually, you will find a nice job and you too will know the joys of being baffled by office politics, bewildered by unclear hierarchies, perplexed by obscure expectations and inconvenienced by endless rambling meetings.

kermit waving arms

Have faith, dear reader. Have faith.

 

Still Alive and Well

So, it’s been a while since I’ve written something here. Yesterday, I read something by Paul Ford and I went to bed early thinking: “I could have written”. Weird dreams featuring prolific over-achievers, writers and entertainers ensued. Therefore, guilt was inevitable in the morning.

But it prompted this post… so what could there be to complain about?

Since WordCamp Switzerland in Zürich (where I had written my last posts), I went to UX Lausanne. Great notions and ideas were thrust in our consciousness by kind and knowledgeable people there. So much so that live-blogging or even tweeting was almost impossible to pull off for me.

Bonny Colville-Hyde, whose UX Comics workshop was surprising and fun, did a great job of blogging her notes. The videos of the talks have also been released. I hope the organisers put the conference together again.

In the meantime, tickets were booked for Confab Europe in Barcelona. It’ll be my third and most probably last conference of the year. Can’t wait to be there and then.

Notes from Karin Christen — A Modern Take On Interactive Prototypes

These are notes taken with my tablet during the “A Modern Take On Interactive Prototypes” session at WordCamp Switzerland 2014 and I published them immediately after the talk. You can get a list of all my live-blogging posts of this WordCamp. Beware there may be mistakes, inaccuracies, and other imperfections in all these posts.

an Interaction Designer @wearerequired / required.ch

Interaction flow. Prototype iterations become better. Used for communication as well.

Her job is all about prototype in HTML/CSS for responsiveness and user testing .

Design in the browser early. HTML and CSS from lo to high fidelity. No static mockups.

Dynamic style guides.

Interactions should be designed in the browser which is the real canvas.

From lo to high fidelity. Take a front end framework such as Bootstrap. Wireframe. Add content. Add visual design. With iterations, getting to user testing. Refine the prototype until it becomes production-ready code. No waste of money nor code.

What matters are the skills. Some orgs focus on roles.

Teams. Focus on necessary skills. Front end. Back end. Target group expert.

Ricardoshops.CH redesign. Huge variety of product types. Prototype with real data and content types to see and play with variety. Dynamic content for the prototype and dynamic style guides.

It is a reference to communicate within the team and with the client.
Tight schedule made in time for Christmas.

No more PHP for prototyping.
Prototype generator and framework selector and dynamic content and auto dynamic style guide.

VUE.JS makes all this possible.

github.net/wearerequired

Update: Karin Christen released the slides.

Notes from Vitaly Friedman — Delightful UX: Little Details Matter

These are notes taken with my tablet during the “Delightful UX: Little Details Matter” session at WordCamp Switzerland 2014 and I published them immediately after the talk. You can get a list of all my live-blogging posts of this WordCamp. Beware there may be mistakes, inaccuracies, and other imperfections in all these posts.

Vitaly Friedman is editor-in-chief  and cofounder of SmashingMag. He loves beautiful content.

Artyping. Design with characters. Separators cones with type. Then pictures. Late nineteenth century.

Teletext. Invented by Phillips and the BBC. Pre internet. BBC people had to design Teletext screens.

Outline of cities and the ancestors of ASCII art. Then the internet happened.

TV guide (1953). With the advent of teletext, they created structured content and prepared for all the future channels.

Now teletext is available on the web and apps. It makes sense in terms of performance. Its text. Without the web, we would all be teletext designers.

Design a good URL. Make them into sentences. like Github. Clearleft.
Gov.UK.

Gov.UK wanted to get the answers citizens were looking for in the excerpt that Google provides.

Create the perfect and consistent Underline. Medium. Com spent  6 months researching this.

download attributes on links.
Data attributes for number of comments or length of the video.
Favicon with badges and other things.
Slide in and out panel for searching and filtering.
Default avatars with personality and niceness.

Mobile input UX is horrendous. Too many input fields.

Boingo redesign.
Dropdowns move towards sliders.
Placeholders moving from inside the field to the top.
Password fields .
Country selector.

On Yelp, you can use Emoji for search.

Branded Interactions.
RyanAir = Pain < value.
Delightful UX + value > pain.

Hipmunk. Takes preferences into account.

Stripe. Animations in interfaces makes you feel better.

Create stuff for FUN.

Notes from Stephanie Booth — Multilingual blogging

These are notes taken with my tablet during the “Caching small big things” session at WordCamp Switzerland 2014 and I published them immediately after the talk. You can get a list of all my live-blogging posts of this WordCamp. Beware there may be mistakes, inaccuracies, and other imperfections in all these posts.

Having more than one language on a webpage isn’t dirty.
Multilingualism is more common than we might think.
She gave a talk about this in 2007 at ETH Zurich.

Internet is the best space cruncher. Distance isn’t the barrier. Language becomes the barrier that separate people. In terms of content, linguistics borders are more important than political borders.

Three strategies are possible to bridge these

1. Translating everything — very hard and
bilingualism != translator

Example. Creation of Pompage.net and the pain of translation of “to hell with bad browser”.

She started with Blogger which makes things easy. Translation takes away from the spontaneous nature of blogging.

2. Splitting blogs. A blog for each language.

Difficult because bilinguals tend to use the majority language such as support forums. Bilingual brain drain.

3. Mixing it up.
Resistance is big. Because monolinguals would be hurt. Because it is bad for SEO.

There are no monolinguals and SEO isn’t that important. Write and stop worrying about SEO.

Mixing languages is easy for the blogger and the reader.

However skimming is hard in a language that you don’t fully master. Basic Bilingual plugin. Prefacing French posts with an English summary. Claude Vedovini who is a more competent coder rewrote the plugin a few months ago.

Questions
Mixing topics is a strategic decisions.
Would people move on and would you loose audience when they see that its in another language. This doesn’t really matter.

Examples shown by Stephanie.
Swiss Cats Blog — translated
Swiss Vibes — mixed
Vedovini.net uses Basic Bilingual

 

Update 9/5: Stephanie’s prezi presentation