Archive for September, 2012

Desktop Wallpaper Calendar: October 2012 (Halloween Edition)


We always try our best to challenge your artistic abilities and produce some interesting, beautiful and creative artwork. And as designers we usually turn to different sources of inspiration. As a matter of fact, we’ve discovered the best one—desktop wallpapers that are a little more distinctive than the usual crowd. This creativity mission has been going on for over four years now, and we are very thankful to all designers who have contributed and are still diligently contributing each month.

This post features free desktop wallpapers created by artists across the globe for October 2012. Many of the wallpapers this month are related to Halloween which seems to have become a tradition on Smashing Magazine over the years. Both versions with a calendar and without a calendar can be downloaded for free. It’s time to freshen up your wallpaper!

Please note that:

  • All images can be clicked on and lead to the preview of the wallpaper,
  • You can feature your work in our magazine by taking part in our Desktop Wallpaper Calendar series. We are regularly looking for creative designers and artists to be featured on Smashing Magazine. Are you one of them?


Designed by Mohamad Khatib from Lebanon.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Autumn Is The New Spring

“Who says Autumn isn’t fun? It’s the new Spring, after all!” Designed by Marina Zhukov from USA.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Watercolor Autumn

“There is nothing like being surrounded by beautiful, fiery, natural art for 2.5 months every year. This piece was inspired by the Falls I remember back in my New England hometown.” Designed by Rachel Ladew from USA.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Sweet October

“I love eating candy corn in the Fall time. Especially around Halloween. It just makes me think of Fall.” Designed by Lindsay Ebner from USA.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Departing Monsoon Clouds

Designed by Paarva Creations from India.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Fallen Woods

Designed by Dan Ioanitescu from Canada.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Will Miss You On This Halloween

“It’s the Halloween tonight… Jack-o-lanterns and spooky ghosts are coming to fight the haunted house, witches all alive again! But this time don’t miss your friends. It’s time to scare the family, pals and mates with ghosts! Wish you a happy Halloween night again and again.” Designed by Debobrata Debnath from India.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Autumn Squirrels

Designed by Jenny Hurman (Evoluted New Media) from United Kingdom.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Autumn Leaves

“Altering tints bringing belief.” Designed by Lubos Volovar from Slovakia.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012


Designed by from Russia.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Pac Man

“A tribute to the iconic video game, Pac Man.” Designed by Simona Gosu from Romania.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Stinging Nettle

“Stinging nettle in front of Vienna.” Designed by Kai Szendi from Austria.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012


Designed by Katerina Bobkova from Ukraine.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Halloween Moon

“A simple Halloween wallpaper for October.” Designed by Andy Murphy from Northern Ireland.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Dream Of Autumn

“Graphics and hand-drawing picture a cat.” Designed by Irina.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Say “Bye” To Summer

“And hello to Autumn! The Summer heat and high season is over. It’s time to pack our backpacks and head for the mountains — there are many treasures waiting to be discovered!” Designed by Agnes Sobon from Poland.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Sweet Halloween

Designed by Cortando Pixeles from Argentina.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012


Designed by Andrei R. Terbea from Romania.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Cheerful Autumn Days

“This photo was taken in an English garden in Prague. It was a beautiful Autumn day. I was walking in the park and suddemnly saw leaves, cones and other nature objects on the bench. What I saw inspired me to shoot this image. At first I created this photo, and then I photographed still life at sunset.” Designed by Larina Yevgeniya from Ukraine.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Blue October

Designed by Elise Vanoorbeek from Belgium.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012


“A vector illustration of a dragon tipping over a wheelbarrow of pumpkins in a field with an illustrative fox character.” Designed by Cerberus Creative from USA.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Autumn Chillout

“It’s Autumn — chill out and prepare yourselves for the Winter.” Designed by Lasuperbaa from Poland.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Autumn Red

“The colors of autumn captured in New Zealand.” Designed by Ashley Hau from Singapore / Malaysia.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Creepy October

Designed by Christina Mokry from Germany.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Autumn Deer

Designed by Amy Hamilton from Canada.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Zfort Autumn

“When nature prepares to rest, it brings very beautiful transformations – immense inspiration resource. That’s how Zfort is inspired by Autumn.” Designed by Zfort Group from Ukraine.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Scent Of Autumn

“After october’s rain you want to go to the backyard, wrap yourself in a blanket and feel the scent of Autumn.” Designed by Sotnikova Antonina from Ukraine.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012


“October in Poland was always nostalgic. I also love to draw things with a pencil, ink and stuff and then colorize and manipulate it in an image editing application. So I’ve mixed nostalgy and my skills and here it is!” Designed by Kanze from Poland.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Spooky Forest

Designed by Colin Whitehurst from USA.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

October Quotes

Designed by Jonathan Guillou from France/Canada.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Superman Goes Halloween

“Superman, chubby bee, and pink rabbit, hit the streets for their first Halloweeen!” Designed by Sean Bobbato from Canada.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Eat, Drink And Be Scary

“This calendar is a play on the olds saying, ‘eat, drink, and be merry.’ I am a huge fan of clean, minimal design. As my college design teacher would say, “give me exactly what I want, no more, no less, do it well, get the A, and let’s move on.” Designed by Brandon Barringer from USA.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Fancy Sugar Skull

“Day of the Dead fanciness inspired by a make-up and rock and roll.” Designed by Barbra Ignatiev from USA.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Weird Season

Designed by Ryan Thompson from USА.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Roger That Rogue Rover

“The story is a mash-up of retro science fiction and zombie infection. What would happen if a Mars rover came into contact with an unknown Martian material and got infected with a virus? What if it reversed its intended purpose of research and exploration? Instead choosing a life of chaos and evil. What if they all ran rogue on Mars? Would humans ever dare to voyage to the red planet?” Designed by Frank Candamil from USA.

Desktop Wallpaper - October 2012

Join In Next Month!

Please note that we respect and carefully consider the ideas and motivation behind each and every artist’s work. This is why we give all artists the full freedom to explore their creativity and express emotions and experience throughout their works. This is also why the themes of the wallpapers weren’t anyhow influenced by us, but rather designed from scratch by the artists themselves.

A big thank you to all designers for their participation. Join in next month!

What’s Your Favorite?

What’s your favorite theme or wallpaper for this month? Please let us know in the comment section below.

Stay creative and keep on smashing!


© Smashing Editorial for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

Pimp Your New Twitter Profile Page with Free Header Images from


It’s merely two weeks ago that Twitter announced the immediate availability of header images on profile pages, a functionality very similar to Facebook and Google+ offerings. Apply a header image and each time someone opens up your profile, be it on desktop or through mobile apps, your newly embedded image will be shown. We all know that this is not actually overwhelming but play kids as we all are, we won’t miss out on uploading our own headers, will we? You could of course unleash your creativity and build a great, earth-shaking header image for your followership or you could just download one of the nice headers they provide over at Actually that’s what I did… Headers In Different Flavors, Completely Free

At the time of writing, offers around 300 different header images for pimping your profile page. The service is completely free of charge, the headers are of varying quality. I found a few dozen that fit my taste easily. Once you’ve found your new header image you download it to your local storage, the desktop in my case.

Now you open Twitter, click on the wheel icon to the upper right side of the screen and choose Edit Profile. On the left sided menu you click on Design. The Design options open to the right of the menu. You have to watch out for the section Customize Your Own. The first option you’ll see there is the possibility to change the header image. You click on Change Header, click on Choose Existing Image, which opens your file-system, where you navigate to the folder you downloaded the image to, highlight it and click Open.

The modal windows lets you fine tune the image segment shown

The chosen header will appear in a modal window, where you can further customize its look by pulling a slider that zooms into the image section displayed. This way you’re able to choose only a certain part of the uploaded image. Once zoomed you can drag the section until your desired segment is shown. Now you click on Save, but be aware that your header is not really saved by now. You have to click Save Changes on the Design tab of your profile edit page too. After that, your followers are presented with your brand-new Twitter header. Woohoo!

My new header: the result of my personalization efforts

Here are just a tiny few you might like from’s large portfolio:

Related Links:

Encouraging Better Client Participation In Responsive Design Projects // Design Process


Last week at the fabulous Smashing Conference in Freiburg, I gave a new talk, one I’d written just a few hours prior. I chose not to use slides, but instead to speak about three things that I’m incredibly enthusiastic about:

  1. Responsive design is not (just) a design or development problem;
  2. The client participation process is broken;
  3. How to call your client an idiot, to their face.

Here are the (slightly expanded) notes that I made before my talk.

Responsive Design Is Not (Just) A Design Or Development Problem

In all the excitement about responsive Web design over the last few years, someone forgot to tell our bosses and clients, so we’ve been treating responsive design like it’s a design or an implementation problem, whereas in fact it’s as much an issue for business. In fact, it’s an issue for everyone involved: designers, developers, content specialists, the people who commission websites and those who structure the teams who make the websites.

The Traditional Workflow

Here’s a common, if grossly over-simplified, project workflow:

  • Plan,
  • Design,
  • Develop,
  • Deploy.

Into planning, you might roll up content audits, requirements, user issues, wireframes and the like. (Aside: Perhaps it’s because I’ve had too many bad experiences with too many bad UX specialists, but I’ve a problem with any part of the process that limits our potential for great design. This includes wireframes — typically desktop-only wireframes — that are produced and often signed off by a client long before they arrive in the design studio. Nothing is wrong with UX per se, only when it’s prescriptive and not part of a flexible, iterative design process.)

Design is where you’ll find a myriad of creative activities, including graphic and layout design and more. Here, static design visuals — you might call them comps — have been the traditional currency of the visual designer. They’re what designers use to experiment with creative ideas, then exchange with clients for sign-off, and subsequently deliver to front-end engineers as blueprints for building.

Development is likely the responsibility of front-end engineers. I know from experience that engineers often work separately from designers and might have only limited interaction with them.

As for deployment, I know I’m making light of this, but it’s black magic and I simply don’t understand it.

This waterfall-style process is similar to the old-fashioned pre-press workflow that I remember when I worked in pre-digital photography. It took up to seven people to take a transparency from a camera to a color proof. Each person’s work was an opportunity for sign-off, but more importantly it was an opportunity for billing. The same is mostly true of our Web design processes today.

Compare that to what I’ve cheekily been calling a “post-PC responsive workflow�:

  • Plan,
  • Combined and iterative design and development,
  • Deploy.

In this agile-style iterative process, everyone works more closely together, designing, developing, testing, redesigning and refining.

Design Testing and Device Testing

I find testing my designs on real smartphones and tablets while I’m working to be incredibly useful. This means that I have access to several devices. But how can we afford to buy all of the devices we need? This year, Stephanie Rieger wrote about the range of devices we should use. She included iPhones, iPads, Kindle Fire and three different versions of Android. But I think her advice could be misleading.

Mobile phones
Do we really need to own a myriad of smartphones and tablets or do we need just a few to develop an affinity for them? Image: opensourceway.

It’s important to remember that there is a big distinction between two types of testing: design testing and device testing.

Designers need use only a subset of devices, because what matters most is that we develop an affinity for how our designs work on any type of device when we hold it our hands. To be clear, how a menu feels when used on a smartphone is a very different issue from whether it technically works on a particular make or model of smartphone. That’s why designers don’t necessarily need to buy a myriad of smartphones and tablets, just those they need to develop an affinity for.

Responsive Design Requires Rethinking

Businesses (agencies, companies, customers) now need to refactor many aspects of their businesses to allow for better responsiveness. Our clients now need to restructure their buying process. For example, at my agency, Stuff and Nonsense, I still get prospective clients asking us only for static design visuals. They assume we work in Adobe Photoshop, Fireworks or the like and that we deliver static visuals, because that’s what designers have provided them with for well over a decade. That’s why, while many of our clients don’t often expect responsive templates as a deliverable, they love it when they find out that that’s what we deliver.

Design and development teams need to reorganize. It’s a fact that purely visual designers have the most to learn.

Those Photoshop or Fireworks static visuals I spoke about are no longer equipped to provide what we need from them in a responsive context. As I’ve said before, it’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight. More on that in just a minute.

The Client Participation Process Is Broken

I know that most people know me from my writing and speaking about CSS, and some people might not know that I make my living by designing for clients. In the last year, I’ve worked on projects with STV, where I’m part-time the design lead; the Hillsborough Independent Panel, whose report into the tragic deaths of 96 Liverpool fans in 1989 I designed the website for; and the ISO, the International Organisation for Standards.

Every designer should want to make the best work possible, feel proud about that work and make their clients happy. Unfortunately, the ways that designers and developers and our clients have communicated in the past has so often lead to frustration, unhappiness and, most importantly, work that failed to meet everyone’s expectations.

For a designer, sharing regular feedback with clients and involving them in every step of the design process might sound like a risky proposition, but it is necessary and beneficial to the design process — when done properly. Image: opensourceway.

Think of the traditional media that we used to communicate our designs: static wireframes and visuals (comps) that we made using drawing tools such as Photoshop or Fireworks, many of which pre-date the Web. These visuals are like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Think about the aspects of design that a static medium cannot communicate and all of the possibilities for misunderstanding that this creates. Static visuals cannot do any of the following:

  • Display Web fonts or browser font rendering;
  • Demonstrate different browsers’ CSS capabilities;
  • (Easily) demonstrate percentage-based layouts;
  • (Easily) demonstrate animations, transitions and pseudo-classes (states).

When I say “easily,� I mean not without hours of tedious repetition that we could otherwise spend being creative.

This isn’t to say that designing in a browser is always better. Unlike Stephen Hay, I use Fireworks to design atmosphere (typography, color and texture) and to develop fine design details, an extra layer of polish, after all of the sketching and interactive prototypes are done.

Design Atmosphere

What do I mean by “atmosphere�?

Many people continue to mix layout with other aspects of design. How often has a client said to you, “I don’t like the design� when they really meant, “The sidebar should be on the left, not the right�? That’s why we need a new word for what’s left when we remove layout from a design. I call what’s left “atmosphere� because atmosphere is often about something that you feel but can’t explain, like the atmosphere in a room after two people have been arguing, or like the atmosphere at a great concert or football game.

Worse than being inefficient, static visuals set the wrong expectations in the minds of our clients. I wrote about this very thing back in 2009.

Aside: Why are most websites fixed and centred at 960 pixels? Could it be because a designer showed their client a 960-pixel-wide static visual and asked them to sign off on it? That’s what developers have been told to build. That’s why, in the past, we’ve spent hours hacking HTML, CSS and JavaScript to make rounded corners display in old versions of IE. We sold rounded corners to our clients through those visuals. It’s our own stupid fault. No one else’s.

Even small “snapshots” of the design, such as these from Dribbble, can communicate atmosphere — the visual direction, style and overall feeling — of the new website. Images: Fluid Type, Fig. 49 by Trent Walton.

Work in Photoshop and Fireworks, by all means (I do). Make static visuals as rich and as detailed as you want them to be. Just don’t set the wrong expectations by showing them to your clients as examples of how their website might look across browsers and devices or by using them as sign-off artefacts. The same goes for screenshots of Web pages. Set the right expectations by demonstrating interactive designs made using HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

How To Call Your Client An Idiot, To Their Face, Without Getting Fired, And Then Have Them Thank You For It

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that clients love to feel involved in the design process. Sometimes, though, they make suggestions only so that they feel they have put their stamp on the project. I know that occasionally designers think that such requests aren’t necessary and that sometimes they’re stupid. Don’t worry. You are allowed to say that to clients (more about that later), but better still, avoid the issue entirely. Here’s how…

Don’t email pictures of websites to your clients and then ask for their “thoughts.� Are you mad?! In the same vein, don’t simply upload static visuals to Basecamp and expect constructive feedback without providing some direction on how to receive them.

Don’t wait until after weeks of work before having a “big reveal.� Down this road lies frustration and resentment. Instead, keep clients involved at every step, all the way through the design process, and not only at those traditional sign-off points. That’s why for the last few years I’ve tried hard to physically work alongside my clients as often as possible. When that’s not an option, I set up shared Dropbox folders so that the client can check in on my progress as I work. We even keep a Skype window continually open.

Set up the proper environment to receive structured feedback, and then ban all unstructured feedback you might receive by telephone or email. Insist that your feedback sessions be face to face when possible, and then limit their scope to aspects of the design. For example, ask for answers to specific questions about typeface choices and typography.

At my design agency, I help facilitate structured feedback by organizing feedback workshops with our clients. More on those now.

Please remember: you are the designer. You are the person who has been hired to solve a problem that the client either couldn’t or doesn’t have the time to solve themselves. Your solution to that problem is worth a lot to their business, so never underestimate your role, skills and influence in the design process.

With that in mind, remember that you can set rules about receiving the constructive, structured feedback that’s so important to helping you make a great design.

Rule 1

As mentioned, don’t ask for unstructured feedback out of context. Emailing or uploading static visuals just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. You must control the discussion, so take the time to explain your designs and the thinking behind the decisions you’ve made. I’ve found that, because of this approach, my clients enjoy learning about what goes into making a design and are far less likely to request unnecessary changes simply to put their mark on the project.

Rule 2

Take control of the environment in which you present your designs. Host feedback workshops or design “crits,� and use them to get to know your clients better and to develop a deeper relationship with them. Make these workshops face to face when possible, and set time and scope limits, even if you hold them over Skype. These workshops work best when everyone is encouraged to be honest and to let their ideas out in the open. That’s why, although it may seem a little old fashioned, it’s important for someone to keep a written record of what everyone has said.

Make it clear to your client that only the people who show up to a workshop may have an opinion about the design. This must include even the CEO, who sometimes makes “helpful� suggestions 24 hours before launch (or when you want to get paid).

Rule 3

Remind everyone to leave their feelings at the door, because in a design crit only the work matters. Personal feelings don’t matter; so, inside the crit, frame the conversation so that your clients can openly express their opinions. Encourage them to speak their minds, to be brutally honest if they need to be and to scribble across your notes and sketches to get their point across. By the same token, you’re free to disagree with any suggestions they make. Be free to say the suggestions won’t work, and suggest better alternatives. This shouldn’t be about ego, only about the integrity of the work.

If you feel they aren’t listening, you’re free to call them an idiot, too, if you must. Say it to their face, and don’t worry about getting getting fired — if you’ve established a good enough relationship with them, they’ll thank you for it, too, because they’ll know you have their interests at heart and are passionate about doing your best for them and their business.


© Andy Clarke for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

Use inherit to reduce repetition of CSS property values

Every now and then you will find yourself having to repeat the same value for a particular property in several CSS rules. Sometimes doing so is necessary, but there are some situations when you can use the “inherit� value to avoid repeating yourself.

In my experience, the properties I use inherit for most often are color plus properties related to background and font (both shorthand and the individual properties like background-color, font-size and font-family).

A few examples, then.

Read full post

Posted in .

Copyright © Roger Johansson

Fixing A Broken User Experience // UX Strategy


Unless you’re developing completely new products at a startup, you likely work in an organization that has accumulated years of legacy design and development in its products. Even if the product you’re working on is brand spanking new, your organization will eventually need to figure out how to unify the whole product experience, either by bringing the old products up to par with the new or by bringing your new efforts in line with existing ones. A fragmented product portfolio sometimes leads to an overall broken user experience.

Understanding an organization and its users and designing the right interaction and visual system take exceptional effort. You also need to communicate that system to teams that have already produced work that doesn’t align with it. This isn’t easy work. In this article, we’ll introduce you to a strategy for fixing the broken experience that starts with surface improvements, goes progressively deeper into structural issues and ends with a big organizational shift.

The Hierarchy Of Effort

Many large successful companies end up in a situation where they must maintain dozens, if not hundreds, of applications in their product portfolios. These huge suites are the result of mergers, acquisitions, different sets of user needs, legacy services and contracts, and the inefficiencies that naturally develop in huge organizations. Sometimes the reasons for so many different product lines are legitimate; other times, the wide set of offerings doesn’t serve anyone’s needs particularly well. Users will often struggle to learn a suite of related products because of major differences in how they look and operate.

The initiatives to fix these broken experiences are referred to in ambitious and somewhat generic terms, such as “common look and feel,� “unified online experience� and “unified look and feel.� Regardless of the term, the common elements represent a drive to bring consistency to a large set of products in multiple stages of development and spearheaded by a centralized internal group. There’s a sense of urgency; we often meet with some internal resistance; and frequently we’re charged with fixing a previous agency’s failed attempt to deliver design and guidelines that can be metabolized by the client.

The Hierarchy Of Effort
The hierarchy of effort to fix a broken user experience

One effective approach begins with surface improvements, goes progressively deeper into structural issues and ends with big strategic organizational shifts. We start with the low-hanging fruit and at each step reach higher to develop products that will ultimately deliver great experiences. It’s worth noting that this approach was developed to make it possible for a team to make incremental improvements to products already under development, but also to look ahead to future releases, when rewriting code or rethinking interactions won’t be so disruptive.

If your organization is working on its first product, then this approach would be totally backward. But in a large organization with a lot of history and many products, this approach will help you articulate both a short-term and long-term strategy for building a product portfolio that delivers a user experience that is learnable and builds confidence and a portfolio that makes your work easier and more effective.

Visual Consistency and Simplification

The lowest amount of effort required is at the bottom of the pyramid, so we suggest starting there. Sure, it’s lipstick on a pig, but simply taking a consistent visual approach will help to bring many different products under a shared brand experience.

Visual Consistency

Assuming you’ve done the groundwork to articulate the design of an ideal experience, the simplest and arguably easiest way to start implementing it is to reskin the products currently under development. Finding ways to simplify and excise unnecessary information, unifying the information architecture, and adopting standard fonts, colors and controls are all relatively low-effort ways to improve existing products.

This is the foundation. It won’t improve a poorly designed interaction, but it could dramatically increase the appearance of unity to the end user. Products that have a consistent visual language will clearly convey their membership in a single portfolio. The benefit of improving the visual system first is that changing or adjusting the skin of an application is much easier than changing things such as behavior, which will require rethinking and recoding fundamental aspects of the application.

Behavioral Consistency

If your organization has simplified and unified the visual language, the next step is to make the behavior consistent. This is basic stuff: disciplined reuse of patterns instead of applying patterns ad hoc from a grab bag of widgets, and unifying the nomenclature and conceptual frameworks. Hopefully, any individual product will have internally consistent patterns; it’s when you look at sets of applications that were developed by different groups or obtained through acquisitions that you usually see wide discrepancies.

Behavior Consistency

Assuming that the given design expresses high-level principles and provides a basic set of pattern libraries, the goal at this stage is to evaluate individual products and figure out how much work is required to align them. This work entails at the very least replacing widgets in some applications. It usually also entails a decent amount of coding and testing to ensure that the revisions contribute to a consistent experience. Maintaining a shared approach and understanding will require more coordination between development groups.

Behavioral consistency makes it easier for the end user to learn a tool and then to transfer those skills when picking up related tools. The user has to build only a single mental model of how the applications work. This gives them confidence and enables them to pick up new products without facing a steep learning curve and without being confused about how things are done.

Behavioral Optimization

The prior step was done solely to align the behavior of the various products. A deeper level of work is required to optimize the behavior and to make the applications more powerful and easier to use.

Behavior Optimization

This step reworks the products even further. It means evaluating the current products against the user’s needs and goals and looking for ways to eliminate work and to simplify the patterns. This assumes some measure of design effort beforehand to identify the areas where this will make the most difference. It assumes a commitment to user-centered product design, some research, as well as personas and scenarios. Without these, you’ve got no way to decide what patterns to simplify, which work to excise, and what user needs to anticipate and solve for.

An optimized experience enables users to perform their tasks with less or more effective work. Any work that’s performed is captured in such a way that users aren’t asked to perform the same task twice. Smart defaults are captured and leveraged to make tasks flow more quickly. Where possible, shift computing work to computers, and judgements to humans. Mine data to see broader patterns and opportunities that allow the system to anticipate and meet needs before they become issues.

This is where you do everything you can to make each application the best it can be. It takes a lot of work, with new interactions introduced and much code rewritten. A considerable investment of time and effort is required.

Unified Experience Strategy

The result of the last iteration is a set of products that do what they do best. The point of this iteration is to rethink how the suite works together. This often means rethinking product strategy.

Unified Experience Strategy

Designing a unified experience requires looking at the big picture, reevaluating the internal product silos in the organization, and reconsidering the ideal workflow for individuals and between roles. It could lead to collapsing multiple products into one, bridging gaps with new products, eliminating redundancies in capabilities or refocusing the service. This kind of work takes deep organizational commitment and a strong mandate. It takes long-range, instead of short-term, planning. It can’t be done quickly, and doing it well takes organizational honesty and courage.

The real beneficiary of this kind of effort is the end user, because this product strategy is user-centered. The company recognizes that the product exists to help people perform their work and that they might use other tools and services to accomplish their goals. Users don’t exist in isolation; they share work with others. Success isn’t measured by how well they perform a task, but in how competently they traverse a complex and dynamic ecosystem of people, data, devices and services. When a company brings their product line to this stage, both the organization and the product line have been transformed.

UX Culture

All of the prior steps were aimed at fixing a broken user experience. By following them as an iterative path, it becomes possible to greatly improve a severely broken user experience. The way to avoid having to repeat this cycle in a few years is to transform the organization itself. Software and services are conceived and developed in a particular organizational culture, and this has a profound effect on the products. Products coming out of an engineering-oriented organization bear the unmistakable focus on technology; services with a focus on sales deeply communicate this; and products that come out of organizations with a UX bent cannot avoid their focus on a good user experience.

UX Culture

If you want to repeatedly deliver a great user experience, you need to go deeper than applying design to the surface. Your organization needs to understand and commit to making user experience a core priority. Executives have to support or advocate for the unique perspective that design brings; capable designers have to work for a user-centered approach; and a user-centered way of building things has to be integrated into the organization.

A great user experience almost never just happens. Understanding the user and keeping their needs as your priority throughout the design and development stages take deliberate effort. Products and services are created by teams of people who collaborate to bring an idea to life. The output is ultimately shaped by the agreements about what is important, the methods of performing the work and decisions on how to measure things. A shift in organizational culture takes the most effort and the longest time, but it results in the largest, most pervasive and most coherent shift — not just for the organization and its products, but for those who use them.

Isn’t This All Backwards?

“But wait,� you’re thinking. “Isn’t this all backwards? Shouldn’t you design the whole system around the right workflow, optimize the behavior within it, make sure it’s consistent with other products, and finally make sure it’s visually simple and clear?� Yes. Yes, you should, especially if you’re making a brand new product.

But we see again and again that few large companies really have the ability to clear the table, start with a clean slate and build something utterly new and great. Most start with a line of products that cannot be abandoned. They have applications that are supported by various teams around the world, perhaps owned by different subsidiaries and in various states of compliance. While you can design the ideal experience, you can’t just build it. Moving toward something whose design really delivers will take many iterations. This situation isn’t great, but it’s the reality. When you find yourself here, you can’t boil the ocean. You have to start somewhere. In our experience, starting at the bottom is a very practical way to move forward.

(al) (jc)

© Stefan Klocek for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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