Archive — Web
Last month our brilliant colleague Lizzie Cass-Maran left our team after more than 10 years. In her final blog post for our team’s blog, she has written this plea to keep humans at the centre of all our decision-making.
For the past few years I’ve been working with Lizzie, I’ve always been impressed at the impact and quality of the work she has delivered in often challenging circumstances. She is a key reason why Website and Communications has such a strong user-centred culture.
Moreover, her impact stretched far beyond our own team. She influenced human-centred approaches across the entire university. She has played a genuinely leading role in our communities of practice. The effective digital content training that she has designed ensures that our content editors will continue to create well-written content that meets users’ needs.
Most recently, she did most of the heavy lifting in a project to revolutionise the university’s editorial style guide. The outcome of this is that, for the first time, we have a unified style guide that is designed for use across all content, print and digital, being managed across organisational silos.
Our team genuinely will not be the same without her.
Tomatoes are a bit of an ontological mess.
Why information architecture is difficult, explained by tomatoes — and not just the fruit/vegetable thing you might already be thinking.
Note — 2020-09-23
A highly entertaining read about how someone used a photo of a boarding pass posted by Tony Abbott on his own Instagram account to find out the former Australian prime minister’s personal details including his passport and phone number. Alex Hope embarks on an adventure to find out whether he broke the law, figure out how he can inform Tony Abbott that he knows his passport number, and let the airline know about their hair-raisingly bad information security.
The University of Edinburgh Website and Communications team is hiring a Senior Content Designer. Come and join my team!
If you’re passionate about using evidence-based approaches to create great content that meets users’ needs, we want to hear from you.
Read the blog post to learn more about the position and how to apply.
Following on from Gov.UK’s revelation about
<input type="number">, Dave Rupert has compiled a list of other bits of HTML that can cause inadvertent accessibility issues.
There are some cases where even using plain ol’ HTML causes accessibility problems. I get frustrated and want to quit web development whenever I read about these types of issues. Because if browsers can’t get this right, what hope is there for the rest of us.
Not that we should give up, of course.
The Gov.UK Design System team have discovered that using the HTML element
<input type="number"> creates some surprising problems in certain environments.
Some of the limitations in assistive technologies such as Dragon Naturally Speaking are disappointing but unsurprising.
But Chrome deciding to convert large numbers to exponential notation is rather more eyebrow-raising. Then there is Safari adding commas to long numbers that are in fact credit card numbers. You have to wonder about some of the decision-making among browser vendors.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web, so there’s been a lot of pixels spilled on “the initial promises of the web”—one of which was the idea that you could select “view source” on any page and easily teach yourself what went into making it display like that.
This article makes a great point about how this promise only truly works if you can speak English.
The process described above is exactly how I learned HTML. The fact that I would have to use “color” instead of “colour” is a mildly amusing inconvenience. I hadn’t really considered before how it must feel if you don’t speak any English.
I don’t speak Russian, and assuming you don’t either, does <заголовок> and <заглавие> and <тело> and <п> still feel like something you want to tinker with?
Come and work with our team!
We are looking for three experienced Content Designers to join the University of Edinburgh’s Website and Communications team as we embark on major projects to launch our new web publishing platform and services.
If you’re passionate about using evidence-based approaches to create great content that meets users’ needs, we want to hear from you.
There are three positions available. Find out more in the blog post. If you have any questions, just get in touch with me.
For my personal view on what it’s like working with the University of Edinburgh, check out my previous blog post: Why I value working in user experience in higher education.
If you still have the Opera web browser installed anywhere, now might be the time to stop.
With its browser business in decline, cash flow deteriorating (and balance sheet cash finding its way into management’s hands…), Opera has decided to embark on a dramatic business pivot: predatory short-term lending in Africa and Asia.
The article goes on to outline evidence of some seriously dodgy practices. What a sad end to the Opera story.
Note — 2019-11-22
We’re looking for a University of Edinburgh PhD student intern to work with us next year. This is an exciting time to join the Website and Communications team, and an opportunity to help us improve high-profile web services like MyEd and the University website. Take a look!
Useful for those who like to write in plain language.
In this case, most people (including, at times, myself) have fallen foul of the trap described here. That of thinking that setting a few breakpoints for smaller screens is enough to be responsive.
It reminded me of Jakob Nielsen’s 2012 article in which he advocated building a complete separate mobile site. This was a controversial viewpoint at a time when responsive design was becoming seriously trendy.
But seven years on, can we truly say the mobile web is a great experience?
The most notable thing about this article is the sorry list of weak excuses offered up by businesses who can’t be bothered to make their websites accessible.
- “…a blind person can always ring Domino’s toll-free number and order that way…”
- Why should they have to?
- “…there is no clear objective guidance on what constitutes an ‘accessible’ website.”
- O rly?
- “The online environment was never intended to be covered by the ADA…”
- Says who?
How about just doing the basics that will help include your customers, and your fellow human beings?
Note — 2019-08-13
Note — 2019-08-07
Is there a way to force all mobile apps to open web URLs in my actual browser of choice, instead of the crappy WebView they make you use? This is one thing I am truly fed up with now.
An interview with Khoi Vinh on the benefits of blogging.
Blogging has always been pivotal to my career. When I was offered my first ‘proper’ job as a web editor at the University of St Andrews, I only really had my blog to speak for. Yet it was enough to get my name out there, and to enable me to develop web skills.
Since then, I’ve had less and less spare time. Now it’s a huge challenge to find the space for myself to blog.
I’d done well last year by publishing something every day. But recently I fell off the wagon. So this line from Khoi Vinh’s interview stood out to me:
I think you’ve just got to do it consistently, repeatedly, and you’ve got to be undeterred by the time it requires and the inconvenience in your life that it generates.
I’ll try to be more tolerant of that inconvenience. It will probably pay off in some way I can’t imagine just now, like it did 10 years ago.
My awesome colleague Lauren Tormey wrote this blog post about a brilliant project she’s been involved in. She has been collaborating with our Information Services Helpline to reduce unnecessary support calls by iteratively improving content with a regular cycle of usability testing.
Over two summers, we had done work to improve content related to getting a student ID card. This was another case of turning long pages with giant paragraphs into concise step-by-step pages.
From July to September 2017, the IS Helpline received 433 enquires related to student cards. For this same period in 2018, they received 224, so the figure nearly halved. I repeat: halved.
Note — 2019-05-18
Blogs that don’t have RSS feeds: Why?!
A sobering summary of WebAIM’s accessibility analysis of the top 1 million homepages. In short, the picture is much worse than we might have hoped or expected.
…we’ve created a web that’s actively excluding people, and at a vast, terrible scale. We need to meditate on that.
Today the world marks the 30th birthday of the web. I could have said ‘celebrates’ instead of ‘marks’. But despite — or perhaps because of — the fact that it’s the most revolutionary advance in communications of our lifetime, the mood seems reflective rather than celebratory. Read full articleComment
A more complicated web — Christian Heilmann
A useful explanation as to why we can’t return to “a simpler web” that enabled anyone to easily become a publisher.
What we consider a way to express ourselves on the web – our personal web site – is a welcome opportunity for attackers… [I]t can be recruited as a part of a botnet or to store illegal and malicious content for re-distribution.
So, to me, there is no such thing as going back to the good old web where everything was simple. It never was. What we need now to match the siren call of closed garden publishers is making it easier to publish on the web. And to control your data and protect the one of your users. This isn’t a technical problem – it is one of user interfaces, services and tools that make the new complexity of the web manageable.
I’m not sure I fully agree with (or even understand) his proposed way forward. But it’s useful to think about how we can balance the desire to encourage self-publishing with fully robust, secure solutions. The game changed long ago.
Putting into economic terms the distinction between blogging and social media, and articulating what we have lost through the decline of blogging.
If you want attention for your blog you have to earn it through a combination of quality, in the sense that you’re producing something valuable for your readers, and trust, in the sense that you’ve produced enough good stuff over time to establish a good reputation with the fellow bloggers whose links will help grow your audience.
I first realised this about blogging when it became clear that comments sections on major websites were almost always cesspits. People in comments sections are generally attempting to freeride on the quality of the website they are posting on.
Bloggers, on the other hand, really need to be high-quality to get any sort of audience at all. That makes blogs generally good.
Social media is quite the opposite. To start getting traction on social media, the threshold is rather low. In fact, often, lower quality works better.
Link via Khürt Williams
Automated front-end development: A critique — Paul Robert Lloyd
A compelling 120-word critique regarding automated front-end development, as provided by a class attribute inside this simple Squarespace template…
It could almost be a dada poem.
No, we don’t really care about your privacy
“We value your privacy” have been the hollowest words of 2018. I am instantly suspicious of any website that displays a flashy pop-up about privacy. Like a small man with a fancy car, it looks like they’re compensating for something.
It’s what happens when you want to be seen to be GDPR compliant, rather than actually GDPR compliant.
This post really underlines how media companies have taken the web in totally the wrong direction.
It shows how media organisations like CNN and NPR brought out lightweight “text only” versions of their websites to help hurricane-stricken areas with low bandwidth.
…in some aspects, they are actually better than the original.
Most importantly, it’s user friendly. People get what they came for (the news) and are able to accomplish their tasks.
It reminds me of the GDPR compliant version of the USA Today website, which many noted was actually a far better experience than the standard version that was filled with trackers and ads.
Because of #GDPR, USA Today decided to run a separate version of their website for EU users, which has all the tracking scripts and ads removed. The site seemed very fast, so I did a performance audit. How fast the internet could be without all the junk! 🙄
5.2MB → 500KB pic.twitter.com/xwSqqsQR3s
— Marcel Freinbichler (@fr3ino) May 26, 2018
Think how brilliant the web could be again, if people removed all the crap from their pages and focused on what users actually need.
Why makers write
This is a bit of a sales pitch, but it is a good piece on the importance of writing regularly.
Deep understanding is necessary for makers. Understanding develops the perspective and conviction needed for bringing products to market. This is why blog-first startups are viable. Writing forces a maker to deeply understand the value they intend to bring into the world.
Keeping it weird
Or, more accurately, stopping it being weird. This refers to the problem that most psychology research is conducted on people that are western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic.
Tim Kadlec considers the implication this has on our understanding of how people use the web.
We’ve known for a while that the worldwide web was becoming increasingly that: worldwide. As we try to reach people in different parts of the globe with very different daily realities, we have to be willing to rethink our assumptions. We have to be willing to revisit our research and findings with fresh eyes so that we can see what holds true, what doesn’t, and where.
After a decade (yes, a decade!) of BadgerGP.com we’re closing down after the 2018 season.
One of the first — and best — Formula 1 blogs is closing its doors.
In 2010, I was honoured to be asked if I would like to contribute an article to BadgerGP. The outcome was, The Vettel-Webber backlash: Are Red Bull losing their Fizz?
As noted by the F1 Broadcasting Blog on Twitter, it’s a shame to see another independent motorsport website close.
Thanks to Adam Le Feuvre, and everyone involved with F1 Badger and BadgerGP over the years.
The FAQ as advice column
FAQ sections are derided by most content designers, myself included. But (as usual) it is not necessarily the format itself that’s the problem. Normally, the real problem is bad implementation.
This piece by Caroline Roberts makes a provocative case in favour of FAQs, by comparing them with advice columns.
The FAQ structure has held up for so long because it is a brilliant pattern. Think the Socratic method. Or the catechism. Or Usenet. Or “FAQs about FAQs.” Or — you guessed it — “Dear Prudence,” “Dear Sugar,” or any other popular advice column. Users will always have questions, and they will always want answers.
What makes FAQs troublesome is incorrect or lazy use. Lisa Wright has already shared what not to do, but perhaps the best way to start an FAQ is to choose each question with great care. For example, advice columnists spend plenty of time selecting what questions they will answer each week.
The web I want
I made my first website about 20 years ago and it delivered as much content as most websites today. It was more accessible, ran faster and easier to develop then 90% of the stuff you’ll read on here.
20 years later I browse the Internet with a few tabs open and I have somehow downloaded many megabytes of data, my laptop is on fire and yet in terms of actual content delivery nothing has really changed.
The future of SEO has never been clearer (nor more ignored)
I don’t always pay attention to SEO stuff, but I found this analysis of trends in search interesting. It seems that search engines are sending less and less traffic to websites. It’s interesting to compare this trend to the original Google ethos, which was that wanting to keep people on your own site was crazy. But that’s where Google seem to be now.
Much like how today I’d take 10 email subscribers to my newsletter over 1,000 Facebook “likes,” I think in the future, we’d all much rather have 10 Google searches for our brand name than 1,000 Google searches for phrases on which we’re trying to both rank and compete for a click against Google themselves.
Are we designers shamelessly good at self promotion?
An analysis of content about design — why people write it, how they look for it, and why it needs to be better.
Last year, we published and shared 4,302 articles and links with the community …
That’s a lot of links.
Most of them 5-minute Medium articles.
Not as thorough as we would like them to be.
Not deep at all.
Not as honest as our industry deserves.
This makes me wonder if my own approach — blogging daily with a link to and short remark about a 5 minute read — is wrong.
We definitely need to find more ways to write and think more deeply about design, and spend less time with superficial, self-promotional clickbait.
See also: Platforms, agile, trust, teams and werewolves — on why we need to see more stories about failure.
How to set up a website: a guide for the alt-right
Are you a fascist? Have you been throwing your toys out the pram because some digital platforms have finally grown a pair and removed you? If so, Bruce Lawson has some advice for you on how the open web works.
Of course, it’s perfectly possible no-one will visit your website to read how Bin Laden faked the moon landings in order to draw attention from the fact that Marilyn Monroe was a CIA-funded muslim who invented income tax and fluoridated water in order to seize your guns and pollute your precious bodily fluids. But that’s freedom.
“Google was not a normal place”: Brin, Page, and Mayer on the accidental birth of the company that changed everything
Fascinating article about the early days of Google. One eye-popping section recalls how they originally tried to sell their technology to other search engines, only to be knocked back.
I remember going to this one meeting at Excite, with George Bell, the C.E.O. He selects Excite and he types “Internet,” and then it pops up a page on the Excite side, and pretty much all of the results are in Chinese, and then on the Google side it basically had stuff all about N.S.C.A. Mosaic and a bunch of other pretty reasonable things. George Bell, he’s really upset about this, and it was funny, because he got very defensive. He was like, “We don’t want your search engine. We don’t want to make it easy for people to find stuff, because we want people to stay on our site.” It’s crazy, of course, but back then that was definitely the idea: keep people on your site, don’t let them leave. And I remember driving away afterward, and Larry and I were talking: “Users come to your Web site? To search? And you don’t want to be the best damn search engine there is? That’s insane! That’s a dead company, right?”
Why content should be published in HTML and not PDF
The crusade against PDFs has been one of my constant hobby-horses over the years. It has also led to some of my toughest battles in my work.
Users hate PDFs, because it makes it harder to use content. But content owners love PDFs, because it makes it easier for them to create content. It is the ultimate in user-hostility. “Who cares about the users? PDFs make my job easier for me.”
So it was great to see two trusted sources reiterate the importance of getting rid of PDFs, within days of each other.
This has also reminded me of a small project I promised I would do, but never got around to — to publish my dissertation as an HTML webpage. The idea was to demonstrate how versatile HTML is, even for things like technical or academic writing. Maybe I’ll return to that this autumn.
Note — 2018-08-08
It’s no wonder newspaper websites are in trouble. Their latest scheme is to “lock” content by turning it into squiggles unless you watch at least 6 seconds of an advert. Needless to say, this is a horrible experience, and only makes it all the more likely that I’ll turn away from certain websites.
I’m afraid to say that I know I’m going to have a dreadful time any time I try to read anything on the Scotsman or any other Johnston Press website. Every time, I am bombarded with a cacophony of offensive adverts, which grind my computer to a halt. And when they deign to show me the content I came for, more often than not it’s badly written, and clearly a rush-job by a stressed-out writer being made to churn out any old crap in the name of volume.
Why would I bother following a link to the Scotsman website again?
Four modes of seeking information and how to design for them
This is an old article, but some good brain food for those information architects out there. A good primer on some different ways people try to find content.
In my work on intranets and complex websites, I noticed a range of situations where people didn’t necessarily know what they needed to know. Additionally, when I opened my browser history to look for examples from recently-visited sites, I noticed that the majority of my own time was spent trying to find things that I had already discovered. These two modes didn’t fit into the concepts of known-item and exploratory information seeking. I call these “don’t know what you need to know” and re-finding.
I spent a while letting this rattle around my head, talking with IAs and designers, and realized that most only thought in terms of known-item searching. When discussing the other types of tasks, they’d ask with a horrified look, “So how do you design for that?”
How come I end up where I started?
Adriaan Pels ran the popular Radiohead fan site At Ease for 20 years. The costs of running the website got out of control before his web host unexpectedly pulled the plug last year.
I used to be a very active participant on the At Ease forums, but that probably ended when I became a more active blogger / studies took over / I got a proper job / whatever. I stopped reading the website at some point as well. I still looked in occasionally, but I could tell that Adriaan didn’t seem to have as much time as he needed to look after it properly.
I didn’t even realise that At Ease had disappeared off the internet. It’s so long since I’ve tried to visit.
But it was good to see this update from Adriaan, although I’m sorry he’s lost the whole website.
Stylish browser extension steals all your internet history
If you use the Stylish browser extension, you ought to have a read of this. It might make you want to uninstall it immediately, as I did.
It appears that last year Stylish began collecting users’ data, including their full browser history, and even the contents of Google search results.
The above blog post explains exactly what is going on, and why it is a problem.
This is a great shame because Stylish provided a brilliant function enabling you to improve bad or unsuitable web designs very easily. I even created a style that improved the user interface for live timing on Formula1.com — which I still used up to last weekend, and has been installed by almost 500 others.
Not any more — I have uninstalled Stylish from my browser.