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March 25 2017

Comics of the week #384

March 23 2017

A Beginner’s Guide to Designing Conversational Interfaces

The Future | Inspired by Nature

Inspired Magazine
Inspired Magazine - creativity & inspiration daily

Nature* feeds us, purifies the air we breathe and the water we drink. Unbeatable booster, it cures stress, sadness, reenergizes humans. It’s all around us but most of us fail to appreciate it or even notice it, which is a bit like turning the back on our own selves. No, we’re not going into a philosophical discussion about nature, and how our own beings are (part of) nature. We’re just trying to remind you of the importance of looking at nature – an incredible source of endless inspiration on top of everything else.

Look again, or maybe for the first time, with the curiosity of a child. Sure, the occasional romantic strolls help too, but don’t forget to study, explore, examine, through a magnifying glass if needed. Be amazed by the universe at our fingertips.

“Glance at the sun.
See the moon and the stars.
Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings.
Now, think.”

~ Hildegard von Bingen

Nature as a Blueprint for Sustainability

Did you know that the ubiquitous Velcro was inspired by the way plant burrs stick to dog hair? Yep, almost 80 years ago, the Swiss engineer George de Mestral started his velcro adventure simply by looking at the burrs under a microscope. Did you know that solar cells mimic butterfly wings? Made up of tiny scales, the wings are surprisingly good at harvesting light. Did you hear that the veins in the tree leaves can inspire robust and resilient building distribution networks?

From ant nest to architecture, from caterpillar’s roll to medical instruments, this “approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies” is called biomimicry. Small wonder that an organization focused on sustainability like the David Suzuki Foundation came up with this spot-on slogan: “Solutions are in our nature”.

Clean 360° Designs

We can agree that biomimicry has worked miracles in many areas, and it’s now an essential part of the renewable energy landscape. In the exploratory trip humanity is currently undergoing, clean(er) solutions to an insatiable need for energy is the goal. Simplicity is at the heart of it, as a way to tackle this complex energy crisis.

How to better improve your relation with nature if not by trying to imitate its non-invasive, sustainable ways? And why wouldn’t we want renewable, old as the world, (almost) free (still, in most corners of this world), clean, or producing significantly lower carbon emissions (compared to so-called conventional energy sources)?

Below we’ll have a look at wind and solar, two of the most popular and innovative alternative sources of energy and their new interest in going full circle, cradle to cradle.

Smart Flower Solar

We saw this fantastic invention in the streets of Paris, on a cold winter day in December 2015, during the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The first thought what: yes, it makes perfect sense. Why didn’t we think about this before? Maybe we did, but somehow failed to make the connections.

Now this blooming sunflower has made the rounds on social media, and for all the right reasons. Unlike static solar panels, this one follows the sun, just like a sunflower in a field, thus catching the sunlight all day. “Inspired design, intelligent solar”, the smartflower is easy to set up and connect, fully integrated, all-in-one solar system that can live anywhere. Designed to be a plug-and-play system, it does make solar simple(r). It’s also 40% more efficient in energy production than traditional solar and can be easily packed up and moved to a new site. Big plus.

Taking into account the fact that the sun provides more than enough energy in just one hour to supply our planet’s energy needs for an entire year, just imagine the possibilities.

Tree-Shaped Wind Turbine | L’Arbre à Vent

New Wind is a company inventing biomimetic devises that deliver sustainable electrical services. They’ve put together this wind turbine resembling a tree where each leaf is capable of producing electricity from the slightest waft of air within a radius of 360°. It offers immediate consumption in proximity to end-use, while, you’ll have to agree with them, also providing an esthetic and emotional contribution to the urban landscapes (huge part of any fierce debate on wind turbines).

This L’Arbre à Vent is small enough to fit in your backyard, using air flow through wind turbines to mechanically power generators for electric power. On the one hand, you have the force of the wind. On the other hand, the structure of the tree. That’s like a double jackpot. Not only inspired by nature, but running on nature too.

Who knows, treehugger or not, dosing under thick with aromas cherry trees in spring might have produced similar tree-shaped wind turbines.

Here to Stay

The Tesla Solar Roof, the machine that pulverizes glass bottles into sand (back to the initial state!), and dozens of other similar recent inventions prove that looking closer at nature pays off.
Like it or not, change is happening no matter how many science deniers rule the world. It’s the change brought about by curious informed people that casts gleams of hope on our rather precarious present.

If for whatever reason nature is not in your agenda on a daily basis, try to follow specialty classics like National Geographic, or the plethora of online publications brimful of similar stories.
Keep on being captivated and engaged, share the positive changes. Exploring the potential of the world around us is essential in finding solutions for a sustainable high performing innovative future we can be proud we’ve created or at least encouraged.

Frank Lloyd Wright had one the most inspired and inspiring advises ever: “Study nature, love nature, stay closer to nature. It will never fail you”. May the force (of nature) be with you!

* Nature: The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth.

This post The Future | Inspired by Nature was written by Anca Rusu and first appearedon Inspired Magazine.

eBay Redesigns Its Homepage (Again)

March 22 2017


The Fast Way from Freelance Designer to Design Firm

Picture it: New York City, 2010; you’re working full-time as a digital designer for one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. The paycheck is steady, the hours are (somewhat) flexible, and you really never have to take work home with you. To sweeten the pot, there are plenty of perks–free swag from clients and swanky company parties to enjoy. You take for granted the fact that you don’t need to worry about where the work is coming from. That’s someone else’s job.

You love your job and your co-workers, but something substantial is missing. Perhaps you are dissatisfied with what you are designing or, even more frustrating, you can’t take ownership over the end results. What is a talented, hard-working web professional to do?

…quitting your job to work for yourself is easier said than done and does require some planning

That was me a few years ago, before starting my creative digital agency, and something needed to change. In addition to the sentiments previously addressed, I wasn’t a huge fan of working typical office hours, especially at 8+ hours a day. Nor was I particularly loving the work I was doing. The only option for me was to make the jump into freelance.

I had it all planned out: I would quit my cushy full-time gig and start working with my own clients, as well as on my own web design blog. I’d control every aspect of the projects and would be able to have complete ownership over the end result. However, quitting your job to work for yourself is easier said than done and does require some planning.

Before I left the company, I needed an exit strategy. I wasn’t in a position to pull off a Jerry Maguire and just storm out. I wanted to make sure I actually had money to survive, so I could still do things (ya know, like, eat and pay rent).  Before I left my job, I made a list of everything I needed to have in order before making the move to freelance. If you’re planning to make the leap, the following is essential:

  • Money: I made sure I had enough funds for the bare necessities to last at least 3-6 months. This way, if the work wasn’t coming in, I didn’t become homeless (which is always a plus).  Do your best to plan your finances as far in advance as possible.
  • Clients: Over the years I’ve learned that it’s extremely important to network. Every job I’ve ever had, I made sure to leave with some connections. Whether it’s emails, phone numbers or LinkedIn connections. Upon my exit, I contacted all of these connections to let them know I was open for business. Make sure you keep in touch with your network, not only when starting a freelance business, but throughout your career.
  • Portfolio: probably the most important box to check was my portfolio. I wasn’t going to land new clients or temporary work if I couldn’t present my amazing skills. You may need to work some late nights or weekends, but make sure your website is on top of its game. Include all your best work, (you may need to get permission to use it), be personable, clients want to hire you, so promote yourself, include all your contact info and social media accounts.
  • Blog: one thing I really wanted to do was share my knowledge of web design and development. So, to me, maintaining a blog is mandatory. The idea of blogging about the industry that I loved and working on fun projects was the world to me. I can’t stress enough how important a blog is for your business. From freelancers to huge organizations, a blog will help drive traffic to your website and help your SEO. Also don’t be afraid to share your knowledge: guest post on other blogs and be active on social media.

Once I had some money saved, and my website and blog were looking great, I alerted everyone in my address book about my move to freelance. I resigned from my job and officially started as a freelancer. The newfound freedom was everything I hoped it would be. I was able to work on the projects of my choice, at my own pace. This meant more time with friends and family, as well as a nice amount of time spent on the couch with my laptop, in my PJs. Life was good.

Full Circle

The freelance life was great, and if you’re looking for more free time while working on the projects you love, you’ll be hard pressed to find the downsides. You will gain your freedom and the ability to accept or decline new clients as you see fit. However, the more I blogged and published the designs I was creating, the more clients came knocking.  It was all the success I had hoped for, and I was in high demand.

There came a point where I was turning down work left and right. I had my free time and I wasn’t going broke. However, the downside to all this freedom had begun to reveal itself in the very perk I had always wanted: I was spending too much time at home.  In addition, I began to wonder what would happen if I took on more work, hired some help, and really tried to build this freelance business into more of a small agency or studio. I was excited to see how this could grow.

If I took on all of the projects I was turning down, I would have more funds to allocate to projects and in turn, produce bigger and better websites. I decided to slowly move towards creating a consulting business. I didn’t just want to work from home, I wanted a team, an office space, and to actually leave the house.

Once again, I created a short list of mandatory boxes to check before officially making the leap to a consulting business.

  • Register your name: If you want to start your own agency or business, you’ll need a name, I chose Avex Designs, and registered an LLC. There are a few options for you here, but I felt an LLC was best for me. Depending on your situation and  geographic location, another option might be best for you. I used Legal Zoom to get registered and it was around $800. Sounds expensive but once your LLC or business entity is setup, you’ll be able to set up a bank account and start accepting payments under your company name. Which is a huge plus. You can also take advantage of tax breaks as well, depending on where you live.
  • Office space: You can continue to work from home if you’d like, but I wanted that NYC address and I really needed a space of my own. That is where a shared office space came in. It was affordable and offered all of the amenities that I needed. The space was all inclusive with wifi, conference rooms, beer, coffee and a great location.
  • Employees: Now that I had an office space, I needed some employees to help take on the work load. I actually hired a close friend who was a designer, so it was an easy choice for me. However, as we started to staff up and bring on more employees, I used services such as Indeed and Krop to find amazing talent.

Wearing many hats

When making the jump from an employee to freelancer and then to an agency founder, you really start to take on various roles. I wasn’t just designing and developing anymore. Some roles I took on when first starting my agency—and continue to take on—were:

  • Project manager
  • Accountant
  • Creative director
  • Human Resources
  • SEO specialist
  • Salesman
  • Account manager
  • And more…

When you start your own agency, the first few years are going to be rough. Not only are you responsible for your livelihood, but also your employees.  As a freelancer, I only had to worry about myself and occasionally where the next project was coming from. When you’re running an agency, the number one thing keeping your dream alive is revenue. As with any start up, money is what’s needed to pay the bills, payroll, and of course, pay yourself.

Lastly, if you’re looking to make that jump from a freelancer to building your own agency, there are a few things you may have to give up. Expect there to be less time to focus on implementing actual designs and understand you are taking upon more of a managerial role. Personally, I still get plenty of gratification from overseeing projects and providing creative direction. However, many will not find that as fulfilling, and that is part of discovering your personal journey. Working as a freelancer were some of my least stressful days by far. On the other hand, if you desire to build something bigger and you have the drive to actually implement that dream, you can gradually make the leap. Build your business organically, network, hire employees only when needed and most importantly, make sure your new venture is fulfilling.  

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March 21 2017

Build a successful creative portfolio with Allyou

March 20 2017

7 Ways to Tell a Great Story with Design

Avoidable Design Flaws That Can Hurt Your Site

Inspired Magazine
Inspired Magazine - creativity & inspiration daily

The web was supposed to get better,  that was the promise.  And you’d think it would have, with all the increased awareness of accessibility and usability considerations.  But strangely enough, we’re more than 25 years in, and things are actually getting worse in general.  How could this be so?

It can’t be blamed on education.  Every course in Internet Design and Development worth its salt covers the fundamentals of good design principles, usability, and accessibility.  It can’t be blamed on the engineering standards, because the W3C guidelines are stricter and more clearly defined than ever before.  Nor can it be blamed on technology, because the technology is more supportive of developing high quality sites, not less.

No, the answer to this paradox is actually quite simple.  It’s because designers have had their power stripped away by the demands of marketers and their clients.  So the designer knows there should be good contrast between the text and the background, but he or she can’t implement that good design principle because somebody in marketing thinks it will look more cool to have “dark silver” text instead of black, and of course we must have “that washed out blue font that Twitter uses” for the headings, so “all the young people can better identify with our site.”

The concern about “looking good” and also copying what everyone else is doing is taking precedence over practical considerations like high speed, low bandwidth, and good usability.  If you’re one of the clients who needs to make decisions about what your site should look like, then this article is for you.  It’s also for those designers who have the courage to negotiate with clients to get websites more in line with how they’re supposed to be, instead of being just like every other similar site out there.  It’s time for the future to arrive already.

1. Poor contrast

This has lately become fashionable.  It’s amazing that it could be so, given the repeated message driven home to us repeatedly over the past 25 years that we must avoid poor contrast.  The precursor to this fashion seems to be Twitter and Bootstrap, but they in turn could have been inspired by someone else.  Let’s take a look at an example:

The above is a fragment from one of Twitter’s help pages.  The philosophy behind the design seems to be that the more important a piece of information is held to be, the darker it appears on the page.  Thus the H1 heading for the page is in black text, because that seems to be considered to be very important.

Although it’s not clear in the screenshot, the main body of text is actually a dark gray color (not full black) because that appears to be important, but not as important as the heading.

Links aren’t in the standard shade of blue, they’re in “Twitter Blue”, which is a very pale shade that doesn’t contrast well with white backgrounds.

The H2 heading further down the page is a more pale shade of gray than the main body text, which some people will find confusing.  Headings shouldn’t be more difficult to see than the rest of the text, unless they’d be a major distraction (in which case you probably should be questioning whether they need to be headings at all).

The left panel navigatgion options are also in pale gray and pale blue shades, and again the idea seems to be to have these items fade into insignificance so they won’t distract you from the main content area.

Finally the most pale area of all is the feedback zone, which is clearly the least important part of all.  But even Twitter is doing a better job of things than this site:

The only logical conclusion that can be derived from this example is that they don’t want you to know the answer to the question.  It is, if you’ll forgive the expression, beyond the pale.

2. Bad encoding

This is simply a symptom of extreme laziness and not even bothering to check how your page renders.  It would seem impossible to make this blunder in this day and age, but still somehow people are managing to do it.  They’re even managing to do it for the wrong reasons, as shown in this example:

Looks like just an ordinary case of somebody forgetting to set the encoding to UTF-8, right?  Except it’s not, because the encoding for this page is set to UTF-8.  The site designer did everything correctly, even going to the extreme length of escaping all the apostrophes in the meta-data to entity character 39, even though that may not even be necessary.  The problem occurred with the insertion of the content into the design, because what has obviously happened here is wrongly encoded text containing MS Word smart quotes has been pasted into the content section, thus ensuring it will render incorrectly in every browser, because the encoding of the page is set to UTF-8 and the content isn’t encoded in UTF-8.

While most people will be willing to overlook the small matter of smart apostrophes being rendered as , it is very annoying, and it’s even worse when the mistake occurs in the headline. The bottom line is that you must check your content is displaying correctly when you release it onto the web, and you should always ensure you’ve used proper encoding (which for most purposes will be UTF-8 or UTF-16).  Remember that websites are mainly about first impressions, and it’s really not good if the first impression somebody is getting of your business is “sloppy” or “lazy”.

3. Using Flash

There is simply no reason to do this any more.  Flash had it’s day, but that day is over.  Still many sites, and particularly gambling sites (where it is the least appropriate) are still using Flash.  Plus some of the biggest and most successful sites on the Web make extensive use of Flash in many different contexts.  So if it’s good enough for them, why wouldn’t it be good enough for you?

Well for one thing, Flash is a massive resource hog.  It’s also riddled with vulnerabilities, has been targeted by malicious hackers as a trojan delivery mechanism, and is inherently a privacy risk as well due to the incorporation of persistent Flash cookies, otherwise known as Local Shared Objects.  These cookies bypass the browser’s security settings, and may contain way more information than a regular cookie.  Worse still, LSOs share data between different browsers, making it even more difficult for ordinary users to maintain privacy.

At best, users who know enough about Flash to be concerned, will view your use of Flash as being lazy or out-dated, but there’s also the possibility that users could perceive your business as lacking security consciousness, disregarding privacy concerns, or worse still that you are untrustworthy.

Everything that can be done in Flash can be done in regular HTML 5, so if you’re still using Flash that indicates to users that you either don’t know how to replicate the functionality in HTML 5, that you’re too cheap to do so, or that you’re intentionally exploiting the dark side of Flash.  If you’re thinking of using Flash and you don’t have dishonest intentions, it’s simply not worth the trouble.

4. AutoPlay video

If there’s one thing users universally can’t stand, it’s the obnoxious assumption that if your site provides video content, they’ll want to play it.  News websites are especially guilty of this sin, and many of them even go as far as to shamelessly append a never-ending playlist to the video that they’re autoplaying.  YouTube also has auto playlisting turned on by default, but at least they don’t autoplay your first video.  Of course users should have to opt-in to autoplay, they should not have to opt-out.

Users on limited bandwidth plans, and especially mobile users (which is most of them), will not appreciate that your site has been loading and playing videos in their browser without their awareness of it.  The only time it can be considered appropriate to autoplay a video is when the video is very small (in terms of bytes), self-contained, and adds value to the user experience.

If so many users are describing this behavior as annoying and actually asking how to disable it, it must really be annoying.  And yes, we know it’s actually quite simple for users of Firefox, Chrome, and Chromium to disable autoplay completely, but how many users are really comfortable digging around in about:config or installing a plug-in to block behavior that shouldn’t be exploited in the first place?

Notice that we talked about exploitation there?  It’s because the creators of HTML 5 did nothing wrong by including the possibility of AutoPlay.  It’s just that they didn’t anticipate people using it incorrectly like this.

5. Infinite scroll

This is another once novel and interesting concept that has been totally hijacked by marketers, making it now a source of frustration rather than entertainment as it should be.  Marketers figured out that if they use endless scroll on a web page, they can keep people on the page for more time.

But once again, search results tell a story.  See this example:

As you can see, the general tone is that infinite scrolling is annoying.  It’s not enhancing the user experience, it causes massive usability problems, and it can lead to memory and performance problems as pages grow and generate more content.  This is especially so when users open multiple tabs, and when providers are delivering media-rich content on infinite scrolling sites in multiple tabs, it’s definitely going to lead to problems.

6. Generating pop-under or pop-over windows when they’re not needed

Anything that doesn’t add to the user experience detracts from it.  Detracting from the user experience builds resentment, and users will avoid your site if there’s a viable alternative.  That’s why sites that are in very secure positions like TripAdvisor fling pop-under windows around as casually as US soldiers lob propaganda teddy bears to starving Afghan children. But where the bears at least bring joy, the pop-ups only result in annoyance.

The worst thing about this behavior from TripAdvisor is that there really isn’t any point to what they’re doing because the user is already on their site.  The only imaginable reasons for TripAdvisor to duplicate the same window the user is already on as a pop-under would be:

  • to fool Google’s bounce rate analytics
  • to try to make you have second thoughts if you do bounce

Neither of these seems like a particularly good idea.  Of course there could be other reasons for doing this, but if they exist, they’re not obvious.

7. Annoying overlays

It’s not “International Bash TripAdvisor Day” (yet), but since they’re so generously providing examples of obnoxious web page behavior, it would truly be looking a gift horse in the mouth to ignore this.  So here’s what TripAdvisor just showed a moment ago when I was setting up that pop-under screenshot:

You can probably guess already what’s so stupid about this.  It’s that I’m already on their site.  I’m already considering shopping on their site.  So this pop-over is achieving nothing except getting in the way of me doing that.  At least it’s not one of those similar overlays begging me to subscribe to a newsletter or download a “free” e-book.

You absolutely should never use these things except when it’s to provide some very important information to the user.  An example of that might be instructions on how to play a game they’ve requested in the browser, or a security or privacy warning message.

It’s mostly a matter of common sense (which is probably why marketers fail at it)

The really obvious thing is that when you do something on the Web which only has benefit to yourself, provides no benefit to the user, and in some way inconveniences them, invades their privacy, or actually costs them money (as in the case of autoplay video and infinite scrolling websites), users are going to resent it.  Maybe not all users, but enough of a vocally active majority to influence quite a few more.

If your website has any of these design flaws, you should take action immediately to correct these flaws.  They have the potential to harm your public image and to drive users away from your site.

header image courtesy of 

This post Avoidable Design Flaws That Can Hurt Your Site was written by Catalin Zorzini and first appearedon Inspired Magazine.

March 19 2017

Popular design news of the week: March 13, 2017 – March 19, 2017

March 18 2017


Comics of the Week #383

Every week we feature a set of comics created exclusively for WDD.

The content revolves around web design, blogging and funny situations that we encounter in our daily lives as designers.

These great cartoons are created by Jerry King, an award-winning cartoonist who’s one of the most published, prolific and versatile cartoonists in the world today.

So for a few moments, take a break from your daily routine, have a laugh and enjoy these funny cartoons.

Feel free to leave your comments and suggestions below as well as any related stories of your own…

Fitness Time

Last on the List


Smart Alec Watch

Can you relate to these situations ? Please share your funny stories and comments below…

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March 17 2017

Smashing Magazine Embarks on Radical Redesign
Infographic: Adobe Illustrator reaches 30

March 16 2017

90+ Best Free Fonts, Spring 2017

March 15 2017

Is Adobe Plotting the End of Web Designers?

March 14 2017

9 ways to organize successful creative projects

March 13 2017

What’s New for Designers, March 2017

March 12 2017

Popular design news of the week: March 6, 2017 – March 12, 2017

March 11 2017

Comics of the week #382

March 10 2017

Browser Watch, March 2017

March 09 2017

7 Design Myths That Will Wreck Your Site
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