Remember when Apple released iOS 7 back in 2013 and every inexperienced designer thought flat design was the greatest thing ever invented? What about the following months where a billion infographics trended about Flat Design vs. Skeuomorphism? I bet you saw plenty of people sharing images about how Android was using flat design years before iOS? If you’re into digital design you probably read into Google’s version of Material Design Principles, too? Now that every big product seems to have tried them all and landed on their favourite, along with every freelance client requesting flat design because “it’s modern and trendy”, let’s discuss where we should really be applying each design principle and why. Flat Design It’s modern, minimalist and easy. Before you learned about gradients, drop shadows, textures and the rest, you were probably whipping up badass flat designs in MS Paint. You may remember Microsoft adopting flat design for some of their software back in the early 2000s along with a lot of other companies, but Apple’s adoption of the style in 2013 really kickstarted the trend again. It allows for streamlined designs that convey information quickly and became a powerful style for the responsive revolution. With this trend came content that felt premium and planned at every turn; gone were dodgy gradient headers that swallowed text, gone were the slow-loading websites with textured backgrounds, gone were the rollover shadows that made every button stutter when your cursor approached – it was clean, accessible and impressive. Until it wasn’t. Every university student that didn’t have the time, energy or skills to design something specific began churning out the same white screen with Helvetica Neue text everywhere. Every mobile app, website and even poster began sporting the same colour schemes plucked off some website claiming to have the best “flat design palette”. Products began trying to differentiate groups of information purely with a change in background colour, lacking real relationships and hierachies. Flat design was being used in the wrong places, by people that didn’t understand why it was a poor choice. Skeuomorphic Design Before taking in what you’re actually looking at, your brain processes a white, lined, paper background. You have adjusted to the setting and already know to expect hand-drawn content over the top and don’t question it. Skeuomorphism allows users to understand a new product immediately because it uses previous structures and designs we are used too from the physical world, allowing our mind to make the link to something we already understand; it feels safe and familliar. From a designer’s perspective it can also give an extra level of polish on any product because many users percieve “realistic” as “high quality”. Skeuomorphism can often require very little imagination in design, because it’s just a case of copying something that already exists in our lives and has done for years. As internet speeds picked up in the early 2000s, websites with metallic-mesh or wooden-finish backgrounds were becoming more and more common. Download sizes were no longer a problem and textures, images and dropshadows were everywhere. As displays improved however, so did our need for higher-resolution imagery, bringing back the issue of download sizes in skeuomorphic-heavy designs. It went further than just the download sizes, though; development time was an important factor in an ever-changing digital world and all these textures and images took time to create and blend together. Flat design punched skeuomorphism right in the spleen and the style was seen as “old hat” by every trendy/hipster graduate. Material Design Smooth surfaces, distinct colours, legible texts, small filesizes and design clarity. When Apple showed off their new mobile operating system boasting a clean new flat design, Google quickly moved away from flat design and introduced their own take on material design; a visual language that synthesizes classic principles of good design with the innovation and possibility of technology and science. Different objects, sections and hierarchies are established through coercive styles and effects. Drop shadows and lighting are applied to surfaces to set them apart; make buttons feel touchable and text legible. Material design takes the style of flat design, but applies the real-world “feel” of skeuomorphism, giving users a natural sense of what actions to take during their journey to achieve their goals whilst using a product. When Google published their take on the material design spec, a flurry of start-ups and social apps coated their iconography and buttons in dropshadows and clashing colours to fit the trend, but without understanding of why. A slight mis-match of lighting affects through a single asset can lower the consistency of an entire product, which is often the case with today’s common use of block-colour icons and dynamic menus. The spec was created with mobile in mind; tempting users to touch and feel a product… a system that translates horribly when used purely to “look nice”. So what do I use and when?? Print: Flat or Skeuomorphic design are the ideal methods for print. Whichever you choose depends entirely on what you are designing for, of course. If it’s a quick-and-casual design, I would reccomend using Flat Design. It takes a lot less effort to get it right, as well as being a very quick, clear way to present information. Skeuomorphism is suitable for more permanent print work, with more character and a longer-lasting premium feel. Avoid material design; print isn’t what it’s for. Web: Flat design wins hands-down. The loading times, ease-of-use, simplistic beauty and ability to direct a user’s attention to the content you want them focusing on is a huge benefit. It is also the most straightforward when creating responsive content (which you should ALWAYS be). That isn’t to say the others don’t have their moment; in a digital age dominated by flat design, skeuomorphism can really make a site POP. It’s still incredibly hard to nail and with the majority of internet surfers being on their mobile, the download sizes that come with skeuomorphism are often tough to justify. Material design in web has a small-but-growing place; web apps. Mobile: Material design is going to encourage users to touch things and make your UI …
Fail fast. Everyone’s heard it before and I fully agree with it. The problem is; you have to hear it a million times before you agree with it, and ten million times before you actually do it properly. Successful entrepreneurs aren’t successful because they kept failing and persevering, they’re successful because they learned how to properly interpret a failure. There’s not a prize at the end of failing for the billionth time. A problem many people have is that with each failure they will pick out the positives and pin their failure on a negative that they choose because they can see it. The real reason for failure needs to be understood, but we choose to pick out a negative we understand and want to improve upon. This means we can fail and improve over and over, but continue to fail because we’re not seeing why we fail, just what we could be better at and what we don’t mind spending more time on. Pinpoint the actual reason for failing, not just anything that could’ve been done better. It’s not enough to fail and call it “learning” – that is just an easy excuse, a fallback we use to tell a good story and mask our underachievements. Learning isn’t helpful until it produces success, measurable in cash. Failure is vital to learn and learning is crucial to improving, but we need to make sure we are learning the truth. We need to learn the real reason our product wasn’t good enough. Don’t listen to what customers tell you they’d prefer and don’t keep the stubborn mindset of teaching them what they want; use your failings to find what they REALLY want. What were they doing and what weren’t they doing? Why weren’t they doing something? Is there another way to approach this problem so they WILL do it? What the customer says they want is often wrong, but what you want to force them into doing won’t work – they’re real people with real wants and needs. Stats and research competitors have done is worthless to you. Go out and get the information yourself because your users wont be the exact same people as everyone else’s. You will fail where others succeed and vice versa, so it is important to find the reason for YOUR failings, not look at what you did differently to somebody that succeeded and pin it on those things. In the same way you can’t copy another person’s success and expect your own – you need to be better. Plenty of times I have copied another person’s approach and failed miserably, without being able to pinpoint my failure because I did what somebody else has done. Nobody else matters – your failures are your own and you need to understand them before you can truly learn and improve.
I’ve got no issue with jobs – they give you cold hard cash and teach you to stop making stupid mistakes. Experience is more important than regular education and money is more important than creative freedom. I’ll be writing a post about this in the near future, but for now I thought I’d share some of my previous job “tests”. Junior Designer Role Company: Your portfolio has captured our attention! We’d like to invite you to complete a small design task,is this ok with you? Me: Sure thing, send it over! Company: As discussed *attached are 3 rubbish tasks with a 48-hour deadline* Task 1 was the easiest: Make a 1200×628 banner image promoting beach destinations for families, using the colour palette attached, flat design and the copy “Save up to 35% on your next trip“. I sent them this image along with my decision not to tackle tasks 2 and 3: Freelance App Icon Design Client: We need an app icon for an idea we’ve had, can you help? Me: Sure! Can you give me some more details? I’ll get started ASAP. Client: Well it’s an app for women of all different shapes and sizes to be themselves and be free without judgement. We’re only willing to pay $10 because it’s quite a small job. This client was definitely not leading anywhere helpful for me, and I was slightly tipsy on a train at the time so I sent them over a few designs for fun: Client: Sorry but those look like breasts to me. Maybe I am missing something? Also we can’t afford an Apple license to make our app, do you have one we can borrow? Me: I don’t see it, but if you can give me some pointers I’m happy to adjust them. I don’t think Apple licenses work that way, though. Client: Oh okay we’ll just make it for Android then. Ummm more different colours I guess? Although not as bright as that pink and blue. Maybe make the icons round as I think square ones feel a bit too simple. I got the last e-mail in the morning and decided to meet their demands: Client: Fuck off you sad pervert.
In 2015 I had a short-term software development role, working on a large creative product that was already used all over the world. In a corner away from the development team was a small collection of desks housing the support team. Their job was responding to e-mails and answering the phone all day to real customers struggling to use the current software. Our job was to make this software work effortlessly for those exact customers. The developers and designers know how to make something do what it’s supposed to do. In this day and age we also know how most simillar products work and how to keep things “simple”. The problem is we want everyone to see the cool little features we’ve coded or designed. In doing so, we often confuse our users because we don’t know how real people are going to interpret a new feature, we just assume it will make sense. This is why every developer and product designer needs to work a support role, dealing with real-world users. Listening to users’ problems, finding out how they got into their current situation and what they were trying to do can really open your eyes to who you’re creating for. You don’t have to become a UX expert, but knowing that users wont stick to your route of using a feature is the first step to creating a more universally understandable product. It can be as simple as the “checkbox function” not making sense, or it could be deeper issues like users trying to take messy routes that clog up your code – people will do whatever they like and you need it all to work how they want it to work. Enter Jon Air. I haven’t a clue if the idea was his own, but he enforced this rule in the workplace (much to the dismay of some employees): you will take a forced 3-month downtime from production and work solely as a member of the support team. One at a time, the team were turned into members of the support team and were dealing with real-world users that were tearing their work apart and using it in all kinds of unforseeable ways. I was not a part of this program, but I strongly believe in it. My interest for UX has grown exponentially over recent years and I believe everyone would create higher quality products if they were to work in a full-time support role. Do it when you get out of university and desperately need a job, then explain in future interviews that you have this knowledge. Explain what you’ve learned that regular developers/designers lack. You’ll be far more useful when it comes to planning and producing products and features than the candidates that have been glued to their screen churning out “stuff that does something” for their entire career. You know how to make useable, useful experiences.
It’s midnight and I’m scrolling through the same posts on Facebook as I have been all evening. I’m up late because I get my best work done at night, but in reality I just read pointless social media content repeatedly because I don’t want to miss anything and getting up to do my “before bed routine” feels like a chore. That was me. That’s probably you, too. Once you’re willing to admit “I work best late at night” was a phase you went through as a teenager and is now a poor attempt to make yourself feel better, I have a real work-pattern that’s worth trying. It’s been working wonders for me both personally and professionally. I should note that I am currently working from home; this isn’t suitable for your average 9-5. Grab yourself a pen and paper. Write out your to-do list for tomorrow. Make sure each “task” is small and manageable; anything too big and you’re more likely to avoid that task, drag it on or even stop halfway through. Break down bigger tasks if need be. Your to-do list should ideally contain 5 crucial tasks that, when complete, would make tomorrow a “success”. Now however long you think those tasks should take; you’re wrong. Assign each task a single hour. The task you want to do least comes first, and that task begins at 07:00 tomorrow morning. Getting these mundane tasks out of the way early gives us a positive outlook on the rest of the day and also wipes out the option of pushing it to the next day because we’ve “already done enough”. Order your remaining tasks for each hour increment for the rest of the day. Your to-do list should wrap up somewhere around 13:00. This planning activity should take place every evening, before you get into bed but after you’ve had time to reflect on the day and know where you are with your current project and what steps are required to progress. The idea behind this schedule is to have all your tasks finished around lunch time. The rest of the day is then yours to explore, experiment, adventure and create. Personal projects are something you no longer feel guilty about because you genuinely DON’T have something important you should be doing. Going outside and ditching the technology becomes a real possibility. Relaxation can come naturally, rather than being a forced experience that leaves you feeling more on-edge than before. You see more, do more and achieve more. “But the reason I avoid a 9-5 job is so that I can get up whenever I want!” There’s something very satisfying about starting work early. It motivates me to make the day count. Diving straight in and avoiding the internet for as long as I can also means I get the horrible tasks done a lot faster than I was dreading. A strong start can mean you’re a few tasks clear by the time most people are just sitting down at their workstation. What a great feeling. Of course there are the other days. The “I don’t have to get up early, so I won’t” days. They decrease drastically over time. The more successful days you have, the more driven you become to continue the trend. It stops feeling like something you’re actively trying to do and becomes the norm… but I’ll admit slip-ups happen to begin with. It’s fine as long as you don’t let it happen consecutively. Getting enough rest is incredibly important to the Done By One system, so I recommend reading It All Starts With Sleep by my old university coursemate Sam Billingham and moulding that information around yourself and your goals. This schedule has given me the freedom to tinker with my own ideas a lot more. Following a vision is no longer a risk, it’s an experiment; if it doesn’t work I can happily drop it and move on because it was FREE time. I have more time available to see beautiful things, to socialise in the real-world instead of online and to read more books. Real free time gives you freedom.
I’m sure we’ve all made the decision to read more books. Probably multiple times. After months of eyeing up a book, I would eventually add it to a wish list or something, then when I finally get around to buying it; it’s on the shelf after 30 pages, regardless of quality. Now I am really really really old I find myself being a bit more organised, with some extra time on my hands and the need to keep my brain busy and fresh. I also gave up watching TV a few years ago and there’s not a lot to do when you’ve decided to stop working for the night. I’m finally slapping my eyeholes down on some print and can honestly say this is the more productive and switched-on I have been for years. We read things online aaaaaaaall the time. It’s always being forced down our throats through every platform, but a lot of it is written by absolute nutters that find very skewed “facts” to back up their ideas. Whilst still true with books, it does help to filter out some of the crap. If you can find a credible author with some strong experience in your area of interest it can be a very refined, cheap and personal educational experience. Here’s some of my personal recommendations: Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk The Lean Startup by Eric Ries The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5 by Timothy Ferriss The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh One Simple Idea by Stephen Key Startup Playbook by David S. Kidder E-Myth Mastery by Michael E. Gerber The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco Remote: Office Not Required by David Heinemeier Hansson ReWork: Change the Way You Work Forever by David Heinemeier Hansson Do Fly – Find your way. Make a living. Be your best self by Gavin Strange
Blog posts, videos, e-books and infographics are all over the place. There’s information available freely to us all about anything we care to learn. The problem with this, is that you can also prove/disprove absolutely ANYTHING because somebody, somewhere, has written something either for or against whatever the subject is. Below are a few e-books I have found helpful over the years. I’m not saying they’re all gold, but they have all been somewhat helpful to me, and I hope they will be to you, too. 17 SEO myths you should leave behind in 2016 (HubSpot) The right mobile development environment for a higher ROI (testdroid) The fundamentals of mobile game development and testing (testdroid) 3 ways to build an efficient mobile development team (testdroid) 5 things to consider when adopting mobile test automation (testdroid) 15 qualities of a superb mobile app tester (testdroid) How to build a million download mobile game (testroid) How to build large scale in-house device labs (testdroid) Keyword Optimization (Elvado Rossi) Increase the ROI with the help of mobile test automation (testdroid) App Promotion Guide (Mobilispot) If you find any of them useful or interesting, throw the author a follow or see if they have any services you’re interested in. Most e-books are just glorified ads, after all!