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A List Apart: for makers of websites

User Research Is Storytelling

30 May 2024 @ 6:04 pm

Ever since I was a boy, I’ve been fascinated with movies. I loved the characters and the excitement—but most of all the stories. I wanted to be an actor. And I believed that I’d get to do the things that Indiana Jones did and go on exciting adventures. I even dreamed up ideas for movies that my friends and I could make and star in. But they never went any further. I did, however, end up working in user experience (UX). Now, I realize that there’s an element of theater to UX—I hadn’t really considered it before, but user research is storytelling. And to get the most out of user research, you need to tell a good story where you bring stakeholders—the product team and decision makers—along and get them interested in learning more. Think of your favorite movie. More than likely it follows a three-act structure that’s commonly s

To Ignite a Personalization Practice, Run this Prepersonalization Workshop

16 April 2024 @ 7:51 pm

Picture this. You’ve joined a squad at your company that’s designing new product features with an emphasis on automation or AI. Or your company has just implemented a personalization engine. Either way, you’re designing with data. Now what? When it comes to designing for personalization, there are many cautionary tales, no overnight successes, and few guides for the perplexed.  Between the fantasy of getting it right and the fear of it going wrong—like when we encounter “persofails” in the vein of a company repeatedly imploring everyday consumers to buy additional toilet seats—the personalizat

The Wax and the Wane of the Web

29 February 2024 @ 2:45 pm

I offer a single bit of advice to friends and family when they become new parents: When you start to think that you’ve got everything figured out, everything will change. Just as you start to get the hang of feedings, diapers, and regular naps, it’s time for solid food, potty training, and overnight sleeping. When you figure those out, it’s time for preschool and rare naps. The cycle goes on and on. The same applies for those of us working in design and development these days. Having worked on the web for almost three decades at this point, I’ve seen the regular wax and wane of ideas, techniques, and technologies. Each time that we as developers and designers get into a regular rhythm, some new idea or technology comes along to shake things up and remake our world. How we got here

Opportunities for AI in Accessibility

7 February 2024 @ 2:00 pm

In reading Joe Dolson’s recent piece on the intersection of AI and accessibility, I absolutely appreciated the skepticism that he has for AI in general as well as for the ways that many have been using it. In fact, I’m very skeptical of AI myself, despite my role at Microsoft as an accessibility innovation strategist who helps run the AI for Accessibility grant program. As with any tool, AI can be used in very constructive, inclusive, and accessible ways; and it can also be used in destructive, exclusive, and harmful ones. And there are a ton of uses somewhere in the mediocre middle as well. I’d like you to consider this a “yes… and” piece to complement Joe’s post. I’m not trying to refute any of what he’s saying but rather provide some visibility to projects and opportunities where AI can make meaning

I am a creative.

29 January 2024 @ 3:53 pm

I am a creative. What I do is alchemy. It is a mystery. I do not so much do it, as let it be done through me. I am a creative. Not all creative people like this label. Not all see themselves this way. Some creative people see science in what they do. That is their truth, and I respect it. Maybe I even envy them, a little. But my process is different—my being is different. Apologizing and qualifying in advance is a distraction. That’s what my brain does to sabotage me. I set it aside for now. I can come back later to apologize and qualify. After I’ve said what I came to say. Which is hard enough.  Except when it is easy and flows like a river of wine. Sometimes it does come that way. Sometimes what I need to create comes in a

Humility: An Essential Value

22 June 2023 @ 1:00 pm

Humility, a designer’s essential value—that has a nice ring to it. What about humility, an office manager’s essential value? Or a dentist’s? Or a librarian’s? They all sound great. When humility is our guiding light, the path is always open for fulfillment, evolution, connection, and engagement. In this chapter, we’re going to talk about why. That said, this is a book for designers, and to that end, I’d like to start with a story—well, a journey, really. It’s a personal one, and I’m going to make myself a bit vulnerable along the way. I call it: The Tale of Justin’s Preposterous Pate When I was coming out of art school, a long-haired, goateed neophyte, print was a known quantity to me; design on the web, however, was rife with complexities to n

Personalization Pyramid: A Framework for Designing with User Data

8 December 2022 @ 3:00 pm

As a UX professional in today’s data-driven landscape, it’s increasingly likely that you’ve been asked to design a personalized digital experience, whether it’s a public website, user portal, or native application. Yet while there continues to be no shortage of marketing hype around personalization platforms, we still have very few standardized approaches for implementing personalized UX. That’s where we come in. After completing dozens of personalization projects over the past few years, we gave ourselves a goal: could you create a holistic personalization framework specifically for UX practitioners? The Personalization Pyramid is a designer-centric model for standing up human-centered personalization programs, spanning data, segmentation, content delivery, and overall goals. By using this approach, you will be able to understand the core components of a contemporary, UX-driven per

Mobile-First CSS: Is It Time for a Rethink?

9 June 2022 @ 2:13 am

The mobile-first design methodology is great—it focuses on what really matters to the user, it’s well-practiced, and it’s been a common design pattern for years. So developing your CSS mobile-first should also be great, too…right?  Well, not necessarily. Classic mobile-first CSS development is based on the principle of overwriting style declarations: you begin your CSS with default style declarations, and overwrite and/or add new styles as you add breakpoints with min-width media queries for larger viewports (for a good overview see “What is Mobile First CSS and Why Does It Rock?”). But all those exceptions create complexity and inefficiency, which in turn can lead to an increased testing effort and a code base that’s harder to maintain. Admit it

Designers, (Re)define Success First

12 May 2022 @ 2:00 pm

About two and a half years ago, I introduced the idea of daily ethical design. It was born out of my frustration with the many obstacles to achieving design that’s usable and equitable; protects people’s privacy, agency, and focus; benefits society; and restores nature. I argued that we need to overcome the inconveniences that prevent us from acting ethically and that we need to elevate design ethics to a more practical level by structurally integrating it into our daily work, processes, and tools. Unfortunately, we’re still very far from this ideal.  At the time, I didn’t know yet how to structurally integrate ethics. Yes, I had found some tools that had worked for me in previous projects, such as using checklists, assumption tracking, and “dark reality” sessions,

Breaking Out of the Box

9 December 2021 @ 3:00 pm

CSS is about styling boxes. In fact, the whole web is made of boxes, from the browser viewport to elements on a page. But every once in a while a new feature comes along that makes us rethink our design approach. Round displays, for example, make it fun to play with circular clip areas. Mobile screen notches and virtual keyboards offer challenges to best organize content that stays clear of them. And dual screen or foldable devices make us rethink how to best use available space in a number of different device postures.