How to Adjust to the User Experience Revolution (Paul Boag)

How to Adjust to the User Experience Revolution (Paul Boag)

The user experience is arguably the most important dimension to your brand, product, business, organization. Smashing Magazine defines it as how a person feels when they interact with a system. Elements that are part of a user experience: value, usability, adoptability, desirability. See this post for help in understanding the elements of user experience. All of these are presented by your website, unboxing experiences, your social media channels, customer service emails, etc.

The following is a talk about how designers (not just graphic designers) can adjust to and persuade others to adjust to the user experience revolution. It was delivered by Paul Boag at the Awwwards Conference in London.

Here are the 5 ways to influence your organization toward user experience:

1. Find like-minded people.
These exist both inside and outside the organization.

2. Create a manifesto.
Create user experience principles, design principles; e. g. “simple” “intuitive”; “digit-first” “design with data”

3. Raise the customer profile.
Create a customer journey map; persona; empathy map.

4. Create a vision of the future.
Look to the MagicBand example at Disney. They had to build a prototype first and acquire proof of concept.

5. Work on a proof on concept.
Ask them to take small steps by gathering data and proving that your design will work.

6. Focus on culture.
Realize that adjusting to user experience doesn’t happen over night; culture changes over time.

10 Quick Fire Suggestions for Shifting to User Experience and Design Thinking

1. Show, don’t tell

  • Prototype
  • Visualize the user journey
  • Get colleagues completing user tasks

2. Get colleagues in front of users

  • Open usability testing
  • Record and share sessions with clients/users
  • Make usability sessions mandatory

3. Workshop with stakeholders

  • Workshop customer journeys
  • Collaborative wire-framing
  • Use user attention points

4. Become educators not just implementors

  • Write newsletters and blog to clients and colleagues
  • Use guerrilla tactics
  • Run lunchtime presentations
  • Consider an internal conference

5. Target the selfish gene

  • Latch on to what they care about
  • Focus on their targets
  • Piggy-back on their agendas

6. Rely on data

  • Establish your KPI’s (key performance indicators)
  • Say, “Let’s test that” to push back on criticism of your design

7. Link to the company wide strategy

  • Connect what you do to assumed organizational values
  • Facilitate management’s own goals

8. Change how you work

  • Ask for user tasks, not foundational specs
  • Make testing mandatory
  • Establish some design principles; formalize it

9. Focus on close collaboration

  • Interview colleagues
  • Embed clients in your team
  • Consider design sprints

10. Make use of outside experts

  • At best, hire a consultant
  • At the very least, use books and talks
  • Use data and research to legitimize design thinking

Get Paul Boag’s new book, User Experience Revolution (April, 2017) for kindle here (affiliate link).

May 3, 2017

To Publish or Not? Three Classic Criteria for Evaluating Manuscripts (Arthur Plotnik)

To Publish or Not? Three Classic Criteria for Evaluating Manuscripts (Arthur Plotnik)

In his classic work The Elements of Editing: A Modern Guide for Editors and Journalists, acclaimed editor Arthur Plotnik writes an incredibly helpful and practical guide for aspiring editors or other positions in the publishing industry. It is by now, over three decades later, dated in some important aspects. These areas deal primarily with technology, media delivery, and some now-dated relational dynamics at work on an editorial team.

There are other aspects in which his advice has endured and which reveals his aptitude as an editor. In his chapter titled, “Editor and Writer: An Uneasy Alliance” he offers three criteria by which to judge a manuscript. These elements apply just as well to online content, including the more relaxed medium of a blog. And of course, since most published content these days doesn’t require ink and paper, one may be more charitable in how strictly you judge a work. Nonetheless, the principles that inform your readers’ reception apply just as much, even not more, to internet content consumption over against traditional publishing.

By memorizing these criteria and using them in formal ways to edit manuscripts or articles, you’ll develop a working vocabulary with which you can communicate effectively with your clients.

1. Content

The maxim is true—content is king. It’s what will keep readers coming back for more and investing in your work with their buying power. Within this criterion, Plotnik offers four further specifications for judging: 1. Information 2. Analysis and Interpretation 3. Balance 4. Originality.

2. Readability

This aspect refers specifically to the grammar and style of a piece. Three further specifications are outlined: 1. Appeal 2. Concreteness and Clarity 3. Color and tone. If you present the same thesis in two different works, and embellish one with better style, one will definitely stand out to the reader. For more on this, see the helpful but controversial Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White.

3. Impact

One last aspect by which you can judge a work’s merit is its impact. Is the argument made with: 1. Enlightenment 2. Force 3. Relevance? Another way of putting this is by asking if the work is compelling, and will it stand the test of time? An work’s lasting impact is one of the greatest measures of literature, and it is sheerly amazing but absolutely possible to read works of literature that are thousands of years old and yet still resonate with modern readers. Only writers that understand the human condition are able to pull this off.

November 1, 2016

Two Things Every Designer Has to Master: The Elements of Art and Principles of Design

Two Things Every Designer Has to Master: The Elements of Art and Principles of Design

Today, many people aspire to become a freelance graphic designer. In order to be a good designer you have to be a good artist, and contrary to what some people may tell you, it is a skill that can be acquired with a good amount of practice.

Enter the elements of art and principles of design. By becoming aware of these two things, you’ll boost your ability to perform as a designer and to create good art. Part of your task as a designer is to make these second nature to you.

There are two primary reasons for learning these formal things: 1) It will give you a wider source of raw elements to work with, as all art is made up of these elements, and all design of these principles. 2) Second, it will give you the tools you need to analyze art and design. But practically, it will also give you a working vocabulary to engage with clients about your work, resulting in increased confidence in you as a designer. This is important because clear communication is vital to a working client-artist relationship, and vague impressions or intuitions simply won’t cut it. You have to be able to articulate design vision, specific choices you’ve made, etc.

So here are what are traditionally referred to as the seven elements of art, which are the visual aspects of all art which artists and designers use to create their work:

  • color
  • form
  • shape
  • line
  • space
  • texture
  • value

Next, here are nine principles of design, which, practically speaking, refer to the way you arrange the elements of art to create a good, working design:

  • balance
  • emphasis
  • movement
  • pattern
  • repetition
  • proportion
  • rhythm
  • variety
  • unity

Now, these vary slightly depending on the source. But memorizing these, practicing analysis on art (both on others’ and your own!), and it will make you a better graphic artist or designer. You’ll notice a difference in how you work, and as you begin to use the vocabulary when engaging with your clients, it will increase their confidence in you as a designer.

October 28, 2016

Common Terms Used in the Publishing Industry

Common Terms Used in the Publishing Industry

Working with any industry you’re not a part of yourself can be confusing and sometimes intimidating, as each industry has its own jargon and culture. The publishing industry is no different. Here are some of the most common terms (or a glossary, if you’d like) you might find useful when interacting with editors or other representatives int he publishing industry.

Advance: This is the payment an author may receive before their manuscript is completed, or after it is completed, in advance of revenue generated from royalties off of sales. Popular authors are often enticed by publishers with large advances, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.

Copy: This refers to the written text in any piece of work. It could be words in a manuscript, ad, back cover, etc.

Backlist: These are the titles that a publisher has already completed and are no longer works in progress. This means that the production budget no longer applies to these works, although revenue continues to stream in. In any given fiscal year, the backlist usually makes up the majority of a publisher’s sales.

Blurb: A short written piece that is usually solicited from another person of note that can help promote the book. Usually it is included on the back cover or some other highly visible place.

Editorial: This refers to the stage in a book’s production process that involves editors, including content editing and proofing.

Foreward: An introduction to the book that is usually written by someone other than the author; an additional introduction written by the author may follow the foreward.

Frontlist: These are the titles that are usually the most recently published (0-3 months) and that the publisher is presently working  to promote.

Imprint: A small division of a publisher that has either a certain genre or topic as its primary publishing goal. This often helps a publisher stay focused and allows the personalities or interests of individual editors to shine through that line.

Mass Market Books: These are the smallest, cheapest books to produce that are estimated to sell in high volumes and that are available for low cost to large markets, such as grocery stores.

Monograph: A work that is usually scholarly and deals with a very specific subject, with a limited readership.

Print on Demand: This is the new reality of the publishing industry in the digital age—instead of having to pay for large warehouses to stock palettes of books upfront and have an overhead risk, new technology and production strategies allow publishers to print smaller batches (could be hundreds, or thousands, relative to the publisher’s market) in order to lower risk involved in sales. Rarely are books actually printed one at a time, even with Print on Demand (POD).

Proofs: The complete, typeset final draft of a work that is reviewed by editors and directors of publishing before the work goes to press in order to be printed.

Trade Books: These are books sold with the general reader in mind, instead of technical or academic works that are targeted to a specific market.

Trim Size: The outer dimensions of the final, printed book.

Reading Fees: The payment some literary agents demand in order to look over an author’s work. This is one stream of income for agents.

Royalty: The percentage an author makes from the sales of their work. 15% is a standard industry rate for experienced authors. The rate will also vary depending on whether it’s a soft or hard cover work, and can be as low as 6%.

Slush: This is the collection of unsolicited works from authors to editors or literary agents that are hoping to be published. The larger this work, the greater the stress on editors.

October 25, 2016

Top Shelf Book Cover Award Winners for 2016

Top Shelf Book Cover Award Winners for 2016

Top Shelf is a book cover design award dispenser for the ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association), and last week they just announced their 2016 winners. In this post I wanted to offer some brief observations about their selections. Note that they list their criteria as:

  • Its appropriateness for the market
  • It level of conceptual thinking
  • Its quality of execution

These are fine criteria by which to judge a book, although the first will unavoidably limit creativity and originality. However, for the sake of sales, it’s an important one that publishers can’t ignore and will obviously want to prioritize. That’s because book cover designs should resonate with the genre and have basic commonalities with other works in the market. This draws customers to those covers, likely resulting in their picking up the book (or clicking through), which increases the likelihood that they’ll purchase it.

Overall, Top Shelf did a good job at selecting the winners, although several of them, including A Very Different Christmas, KJV Credal Bible, Pressing Pause, and Street God seem to lack originality.

Celebrating the Saints is a fresh application of a concept seen regularly in graphic design, and for this reason should rank high on this list. Conscience is a also a neat concept, mixing geometric lines with clear and clean design.

Which Covers Will Help their Books Sell Best

Of all these cover designs, several stand out as having a high likelihood of helping convert to a sale. Of course this depends also on where the book is placed and relative to what other products, whether on a shelf in a store or in an ecommerce space.

Celebrating the Saints uses a bold red with a recognizable face on the cover (Jesus), so it will likely intrigue customers. Create vs. Copy has good contrast by having a white background with bold, red type in its title. The Holman Rainbow Study Bible has great contrast and use of color by using that many colors on a solid black background. Finally, Silence & Beauty will likely capture people’s attention since it uses subtle characters in a non-English language.

The Covers with Least Amount of Lasting Impacting

Without mentioning specific designs, some stand out as probably not adding enough value to the book. Some concepts that are likely considered cliché and already appear dated would be ones that use mixed typography and hand-drawn foliage elements. Another concept that lacks originality (but doesn’t necessarily equate with poor design) is one that lays type on top of stock photography.

Some on this list rightly belong here, while others may have sneaked on at the expense of others that were released this year. The 2015 awards list had some notable winners, especially The Biggest Story.

October 18, 2016

4 Things Editors Want You to Know

4 Things Editors Want You to Know

The publishing industry in the 21st century is remarkably different than it was 20 years ago. Many things have changed, with online retail (and its undercutting traditional business models), digital publishing, new ways consumers are engaging content, and self-publishing platforms being the large factors.

Unfortunately, these changes have only accentuated the difficulty editors have in faithfully producing excellent work while simultaneously managing the expectations of authors. While these may seem harsh, they aren’t meant to deter you from writing. Rather, they should be taken as pieces of advice that can help you understand how to move forward in your desire to write (more on that to come). Some will encourage you to “never give up,” however, these factors should be weighed against what your hopes for writing actually are.

Without further delays, are four points that editors wish authors knew.

Unsolicited manuscripts/articles are countless.

Mind the hyperbole. Nonetheless, here’s an unfortunate but sobering reality: many publishers have large rooms where they simply dump unsolicited manuscripts. They are likely waiting to be thrown into a scheduled recycling program or by some very small chance happen to have the cover letter skimmed by an acquisitions editor. But most publishers have a policy listed somewhere on their website stating that they do not receive unsolicited manuscripts. This means that even manuscripts that a smaller publisher would be favorable to will likely take months to be handled by a decision-making editor. Then it will require more time, likely somewhere between 3-6 months to undergo a review process.

A good book is not good enough to publish.

The publishing/book market is incredibly oversaturated, and this means that even good to great books likely won’t be published by an reputable publishing house. It is estimated that somewhere between 500,000-1,000,000 books are published every year in the US alone. Most publishers these days offer little to no marketing support for projects they actually pursue, and this means they are looking for writers with established platforms. If you hope to self-publish, which is an option, you should come to terms with the fact that, statistically, it will sell less than 250 copies. Some have cautioned that self-publishing is “an exercise in obscurity,” but depending on the nature of the project, it may not be futile, if your hope is simply to be able to hand people something that is meaningful to you (and written by you!).

An editor is not under any obligation to offer feedback.

As an author, you have put countless hours into your work. It is a labor of love and usually deeply personal. However, it is simply unrealistic to expect an editor to actually read your unsolicited work thoroughly, not to mention offer any kind of feedback. An editor’s primary role is to identify works that will suit their publishing purpose, and give further shape to those works. Sometimes persistence is welcome and may result in actual feedback. However, you shouldn’t take offense when an editor prioritizes their immediate work. You are likely not to receive any response, and if you do, if will likely be a generic response offered to many—don’t let this surprise you.

Detailed feedback is a good sign.

Here’s a bit of ironic if not good news. Although it’s easy to take offense at detailed feedback, when an editor spends that much time with your work, it should be taken as flattery. Most of the time, an editor will look for excuses to quickly pass over a submission because of the high volume of unsolicited works. So when she actually reads your work and takes the time to critique it, it means there’s something there that has caught her eye. While this doesn’t mean she wants to pursue your project, you should welcome the comments and use it to hone your writing craft.

With these seemingly severe points, let me offer 4 points of advice that can help your chances of getting published: 1) Hone your craft by writing every day. 2) Consider working with a literary agent. 3) Invest some time in building your platform. 4) Network and try to build relationships in the publishing industry. More on these later.

October 13, 2016

The Best Free Stock Photography Online

The Best Free Stock Photography Online

Here’s the truth—you can get by running a large blog without having to pay an expensive monthly subscription for access to a database of stock photography. In fact, there are several beautiful, free databases of stock pictures that have a keen eye for creativity. The results will likely surprise you. Below I list several of my favorites.

I’ve left off a few leading sites because they not only require you to sign up for emails, but you can’t view them immediately without gaining access via your email account.

Burst by Shopify

Burst was created by the leading ecommerce platform Shopify as a way to empower entrepreneurs with quality photos, especially the creative class. Their work is licensed under Creative Commons (CCO) which means you are free to do most anything you need with the picture, although crediting the artist is encouraged.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is an American non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. This is always your safest bet for finding free images! Do note that even Creative Commons recommends that you confirm the image is safe, as they usually just turn up images using other search engines.


This is probably one of my favorite sites for free stock photos as the quality is usually very high and the site states that no attribution is required. At most sometimes you’ll have to enter CAPTCHA to prove that you’re not a computer simply stealing images to create other databases. It is fair to be weary of claims to free images, but see this question and answer posed on Pixabay’s forum in regards to their diligence in ensuring photos are actually safe to use.

Pexels is another database of free stock photography similar to Pixabay. It has stunning, high quality pictures and it also claims that all of its images are under Creative Commons licenses and do not require attribution.


Unsplash is a database of Creative Commons photos whose tagline is, “Free (do whatever you want) high-resolution photos.” It is owned and run by Crew, a freelance database agency. Their pictures are simply stunning.


Here’s another database that seems to pride itself in taking down the stock photography industry. They claim their photos are free, but you do have to offer your email in exchange for access. Their aim is “to be just like coffee for the modern creative.”


Here is another database that require you offer your email in exchange for access, but whose picture quality makes it worth it. They also have a premium option that claims they’ll give you photos that are exclusive to you, and have never been published anywhere before.


This is a fun database, as you’ll immediately notice that they are a silly take on stock photography. All images were done by one photographer though, so of course this means that this will be reflected in the selection available.

Public Domain Archive

The Public Domain Archive is probably your safest best for making sure you have copyright-free photography. The nice thing about this database is that there is a nice category menu on the right side, but you’ll quickly come to realize the limited selection here as well after you get two pages in.

Disclaimer: Copyright laws should be observed carefully and users should do their own research to verify whether an image is legally allowed to be reproduced on a place like a blog or website. I make no final claim that any of these sources are properly set up in a way that legally gives permission for their use.

October 11, 2016

6 Key Insights to Help You Understand Sales and Persuasion

6 Key Insights to Help You Understand Sales and Persuasion

Mark Macdonald recently published a must-read on the Shopify blog for anyone interested in ecommerce, or marketing in general. It’s called, “6 Psychological Triggers that Win Sales and Influence Customers” and it is powerful insight. Really, most everything published on Shopify’s blog is worth reading, so I encourage you keep up with them here.

Macdonald’s piece uses Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion as the foundation for his application. The six principles every person involved in ecommerce must know are:

  • Reciprocity
  • Commitment & Consistency
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Social Proof
  • Scarcity

Read through his examples of how brands are using these principles to convince their customers to follow through with the transaction. I was tempted to select just one or two that I think are most powerful, but the truth is, these principles work best when they work together, cumulatively.

It’s also a useful exercise to reflect on how these subtle forces work on our sub-conscience in every area of life. They are very real not just in the marketing and consumer world, but also at a basic human level. So many of our decisions are guided by these principles. Organizations, especially religious ones, ought to take note and consider the applications for how their own self-understanding.

October 7, 2016

The Top 3 Challenges of Running a Blog

The Top 3 Challenges of Running a Blog

1. Creating valuable content, consistently.

This is probably the number one hang-up for writers and creators, especially if you don’t earn a living off of your blog. It will be easy to get sidetracked when other perceived priorities are competing for your time. So here’s the way to beat this challenge: decide that you will write consistently—ahead of time. Don’t just write when you feel like it, or when you have free time. Set aside a special time during your day, or once a week when you will be intentional about writing. Perhaps before your morning routine, or when others in your home have gone to bed. Practice this and make it a habit, don’t rely on moments inspiration (but when those cherished moments do come, be sure to begin typing away, too!).

2. Identifying your best content.

The more diverse your content is, the more difficult it will be to identify the kind of content that is doing really well. You’ll have to measure things like engagement and social sharing against organic traffic that is coming from sources like search engine results. Ultimately, you’ll have to zone in what your readers want, unless you are perfectly happy writing for the sheer pleasure of it. There are several ways to overcome this. First, make sure you are using some kind of native statistics tool, or at least making sure you’re tracking traffic with Google analytics. You could also send out a survey to readers using Google forms or SurveyMonkey. In the process, you’ll have to decide if and how much of your content will be determined by what your readers want.

3. Gaining and retaining an audience.

What will you do if you feel good about the quality of your content but you haven’t quite hit the jackpot on gaining and retaining an audience? The truth is that markets online are becoming increasingly saturated, and this problem isn’t going away. Easy, free access to valuable content—and the additional products that they’ll try to sell you—is becoming the norm. The Internet will become more and more integrated in the majority of people’s lives. The key to overcoming this is persistence. The sooner you start on your blog—and keep at it—the further you’ll be ahead of other late-comers to the game.

In future articles, I hope to offer further, more pointed advice on how to overcome these challenges. Stay tuned!

October 5, 2016

How to Start a Blog in 5 Easy Steps

How to Start a Blog in 5 Easy Steps

Starting a blog is now easier than ever. In this article, I would like to share the first steps you’ll need to take in order to start a blog (in the 1990s, “weblog” was shortened to blog). After reading this, you’ll know perfectly well how to start a blog and will be well on your way to publishing content, just like the pros.

Here are the first considerations:

1. Decide on a publishing platform.

Do you want to pay for your blog, or would you like it to be free? There are many free platforms, the only catch is that it will always read as a sub domain (or, your work will always be attached to another’s brand). So, the URL would be, to take a common example. There are numerous free platforms available. WordPress and Blogger have long dominated the scene. If you’d like people to access your blog via a professional sounding website, at the very least you’ll have to buy a domain (or URL) and have it redirect to your blog platform. 1and1 is a domain registration program I’ve used many times.

2. Choose a name.

This is necessary to set up the subdomain and/or account for your publishing platform. The best idea is to select a name that reflects the kind of writing you’ll be doing, especially if you have a niche. In most cases you can change the name later, but this may affect how your work is perceived and/or your following.

3. Settle on your audience and niche.

This step may be done in conjunction with the previous one. This is important because the most successful blogs all have a niche—it’s what makes interested readers return to your blog. It keeps them loyal to the brand that you’re developing. So who are you writing for? Your mother? Your work team? Your entire social network? You’ll have to custom tailor your content to be appropriate to these audiences and their specific interests.

4. Establish through a publishing strategy.

How often will you publish to your blog—every day, or a few times a week? This is referred to as posting frequency. If you are overly ambitious to start, your audience will soon notice if your posting frequency drops. To build loyal followers, most people expect at least 2-3 posts every week. Of course if you post daily, that will increase your SEO standing, which basically refers to how well you rank on search engines. Whatever you decide, stick with it and remain consistent.

5. Start writing and hit publish!

Finally comes the most fundamental part of blogging—actually creating valuable content. You don’t have to type your work in the platform and hit publish in real time. Most platforms allow you to schedules posts. So you can write 15 entries, stream-of-conscience-style at that cabin in the woods, then enter it into your publishing platform later and space our your posts. Either way you choose to do it, keep it up and stay in the game.

October 3, 2016

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