I recently stumbled upon a nice article in Businessweek titled “Ben Terrett on Making the U.K.’s One-Stop Government Website Cool”. This article hits on a few key design issues in the context of a compelling story.

First of all, I’m so thrilled to read how the UK government acknowledged that there was a problem and that it needed to change. Accepting there’s a problem, and on top of that gaining agreement across government was an enormous step in its own right! Even the government realizes nowadays how important it is to think about what their users’ want instead of focusing on the government’s own needs and how they [the government] think it should work. Adoption of an UX mindset of “one site and one user experience” was the first step towards success. Let’s not kid ourselves – folding 1700 websites into 300 on the same platform is a massive undertaking, government or not!

The fact is that we truly are shifting rapidly in this age of constant evolution. I have seen so many organizations struggle with the need to transform themselves digitally. They are just stuck so deep in their own convoluted processes, procurement cycles, and politics. Unfortunately (or fortunately) they seriously need to start rethinking their organization if they want to survive.

I’ve seen people make mistakes by thinking responsive design equals a smart looking website. However, as the Businessweek article clearly demonstrated, it’s not just a design (look-&-feel) project; it’s much more about providing services to end users i.e. being user-focused. It is about applying design to make the user’s life simpler. Focusing on user needs, figuring out what the user is trying to do is vital – make it, test it, apply it, relentlessly. Isn’t this something that all C-level executives should not only read but act on?

Stating the obvious. It’s so natural for me as a designer. If I can’t draw, I can’t design. No-brainer if you are like me who love to design.

The question I got asked in my recent meeting. I thought to quickly summarize why I think it is one of the several essential step. Even though you might have heard before any of this objections such as ‘a tight timeline’, ‘need results quickly’, or ‘cannot show hand-drawn/messy sketches to stakeholders’.

Sketching is quick to iterate concepts
Grab a paper, a pen and boom! Keep your creative juice flowing on the paper. Don’t like it, toss it and start a new one. No need to spend hours creating design experience or interactions using countless design and prototyping tools available in the market.

Sketching saves lot of time.
In every way – designers, tight timelines, project budget, etc.

Sketching enables us to explore design problem space and define solution at the same time.
In natural way, I can communicate my design thoughts and get quick feedback early in the process, in natural way. We all understand the space constrains mobile devices have.

Sketching is cheap.
Countless design and prototyping tools comes with a cost.

I would keep few thing in mind:
Don’t confuse sketching with UI design. Your sketches don’t have to look good. In this phase, you’re not working on your brand, but you are conveying your interaction design ideas. Avoid temptation of going in details otherwise there’s high probability of getting feedback on look-&-feel instead.

Stop at good enough. Your sketches need to get your ideas across. Don’t get lost in (unimportant) details.

Be lazy. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Search for a printable sketching templates online that guide your sketching – whether it’s mobile, tablet or web.

Now, you know why I recommend sketching. Hopefully in your next meeting, you will not ask this question to designer. Happy Sketching!

There are so many moving parts involved when you are in the process of evaluating a website or product. On a daily basis, I work with interfaces means how people are interacting with their devices, not just websites. The field of interaction design is very large and complex, and many things I could be talking about but today I’m focusing on few user interaction key principles.

Just a while ago I was in a process of usability evaluation for this website’s interaction design. What became visible by looking at the interfaces that it failed in all essential principles of User interaction design. I am not talking about the behavior of the interface, today I am talking about behavior of people.

• Consistency
• visibility
• feedback

People are very sensitive to change. Changes in behavior and appearance draws negative attention. That what exactly was happening in here. The elements on the page was literally dancing from one spot to another. When I quickly click through these pages, one thing became prominent that my eyes were not drawn to content, but instead was drawn to the objects that are moving around. This inconsistency was attracting attention, in a negative way. Obliviously, this is not an efficient user experience. There are many additional aspects of inconsistencies that can draw negative attention. The list can go on and on such as colors, layout, shapes, typography, alignment, etc. we need to be very careful in those details to achieve harmony. It is very important that we define styles and patterns and we stick to them.

When we want users to be efficient and task focused, then it’s very important to have visibility. To engage users with design, you need to make sure that all interaction or choices they have given are not hidden. Few things were happening in this case. On one page, there were two images. but, one of them was actually a video. There was no visual clue was given such could be an ‘arrow’ so that users can understand the difference between image and video. When I mouse over it, all video controls appeared. It’s vital to remember that we’re designing experience, not scavenger hunt. If they are not aware there are interactivity exists, then they will not find what they are looking for or unable to complete their tasks. Another factor was affecting visibility was that content on few pages was underneath the two-fold area or sometimes it calls ‘falls bottom’. There were three important modules was hidden in the bottom of the page. Not all users scrolls down the entire page, the result you might miss the opportunity to fully engage them and able to finish their task. There are many ways you can restructure the content so that all modules appears above the fold.

Feedback is essential. Users should be aware where they are in the process, what’s happening, what might happen in future, or whether or not something has finished. In current interfaces, there was absolutely no indication was provided throughout the site. not when you are in process of becoming member of that particular site or not while downloading a file from the site. as a user, I would like to see what I am downloading, how far I am in the process, how many minutes or file size are remaining, link or option to cancel if I may wish to cancel during I’m downloading, as well as when I finished downloading. Never fail to acknowledge whatever actions users might have performed, otherwise this might lead to unnecessary repetition of action users just performed. Without doubt this not a good user experience.

Well, there are more additional principles I can briefly talk about. May be some other time? 🙂

I was talking to my friend yesterday. He wanted to buy Turbo Tax software as Tax season is approaching. I suggested him to purchase from Amazon website. I just said it so naturally, but after a while I asked myself a question – is it a website or web application (app)? What do you say while talking to your friend – have you checked bla bla on Facebook website or Facebook app? The website and we app idiom is blurring with all technology enhancements. Do you feel the same way?

If you fail to come up with a concrete set of differentiators right away then keep reading.

What is a website? The core nature of website is still informational. Example of these could be any corporate or personal websites. Even though, all dynamic content that are may be generated through content Management System (CMS). Example: CNN.com, NFL.com, etc. Or any corporate targeted marketing website where one webpage leads to another or it requires you to fill up any forms, etc.

On the other hand, what is web application? The core nature of we app is interactive or dynamic.
Basically web app describes following in general:
• Allows accomplishing users’ goal by performing action through functions.
• Allows you to run app without having to install in your personal computers.
• Requires any browser and internet connection
• Stores data in the cloud so no need to worry about installing apps on your computer
• Requires no extra hard drive space or your computer running slow due to heavy app running
• Example: Google Docs, Gmail, etc.

Take a quick look at my above differentiation outline. I used to just remember only one thing—use your website to talk to your site visitors, and use Web apps to interact with your site visitors. However, now-a-days defining the two is a slippery task.

Lately, website and web apps look and work just the same. For non-technical users it’s really hard to identify the difference between both. Personally as a User Interface designer, I know it’s not an easy question to answer, especially when you examine existing web presences that have been around a long time and have evolved, such as Amazon. Designing User Interfaces, website vs. web app, one could apply many approaches, techniques and principles of User Interface design in general, but that’s not the focus of this blog.

Another example I gave above are CNN or NFL. However, when you start to categorize the above way, you find nearly every site is hybrid. CNN now became interactive means it includes sharing and commenting capabilities, all of which are web apps.

In nutshell, is it safe to say all web apps are websites (or a part of it) but not vice-versa? Interesting – isn’t it? Perhaps, the difference is lost. What would I ask my friend next time – did you read the latest news on CNN website or CNN app? If you get a clear set of definitions, please enlighten me.

Phew! Regurgitating 2012. The design trends grown rapidly over the past year. Amazing changes happened so thought of capturing what I had witnessed last year. Following are few of the cultural shifts I have observed:

Responsive interface design
One of the most exciting trend in application and site design today.
The power of responsive interface design allows page elements to respond quickly to behave and response as per users’ device. Everyone may not know this name but they experience the awesome interfaces that had shifted their mind sets, which are delivering optimal user experience by displaying information that is appropriate to different devices (computers, tablets and smart phones, etc), screen resolutions, sizes, and states they are using. Increasingly, we’ll need to integrate users’ real-world situations into user interfaces.

Designing for touchscreen
The touch screen is one of the easiest to use and most intuitive technology that allows users to navigate a system by touch responsive surface. This technology developed back in 1960’s but gaining popularity and defined the 2000s. the major shift in how world users’ interacts with computers and notebooks. Apple gets the hype, but not the market share. Whatever happens, the design of touchscreen interfaces will continue to drive design and development moving forward, shifted from traditionally mouse-driven interfaces.

Content and image slideshows
Eureka moment. Spotted the subsequent popularity of slideshows all over on the web to display content and unique features. Just the ease of using this feature. These galleries are perfect for demonstrating a quick glimpse of inner-page content. Even the newspaper industry acknowledged what users want and started incorporating user centric approach. Recently, USA Today website rolled out with having an impressive user experience; innovative approach of sliding news. They put visual firsts; gave a new life to dead online advertising model by incorporating cool slideshows.

Tons of freebies
Honestly you know this as well. Anything and everything you want for free is right out there on the internet. Designers were never shy to spread and share their knowledge with other designers but now it has become popular trend. Free tutorials, layouts, interfaces, logos, banners, etc etc etc. Initially there were few communities were spreading goodies but now this is on the next level. Enjoy free downloads.

Data moving to the cloud
The day is near when hard drives, CDs, and even flash drive will soon become obsolete. The data will become centralized. The virtualization practice – this is quite a change from previous trend. There are tremendeous amount of planning to manage the change how we do things, how we see things, even the way we think about things.

These are the trends I saw in 2012 but if you have noticed more, please feel free to add more to this list.

Let me start by asking you this relevant question.

Have you ever struggled viewing any website that it requires scrolling from right to left or magnifying or whatever-else-ing in order to view it comfortably from your smart phone? Many times you get frustrate that you cannot view that entire page, content on the page. you’re too busy adjusting you screen so many times so that you can read the content what’s on that page.
Raise your hand if this happens to you. I have good news for you.

The internet isn’t on your computer screen anymore. This does happens only with smartphones but you struggle viewing in your tablet too.

When you view same page that has a big image horizontal image on top, this easily break layouts.
We are keep adding devices for our ease. With more devices come varying screen resolutions, definitions and orientations. New devices with new screen sizes are being developed every day. When will the madness stop? It won’t, of course. After all we all love technology. We love smartphones. We love to read in tablets while we’re relaxing on sofa. In the next five years, designers need to design for a number of additional inventions.

Recently, a discipline called ‘responsive architecture’ has begun. Which involves resolution-aware layouts. Where the layouts magically adjust itself to more comfortably fit the new width of the browser.
That means, when you look at the bigger top image on top, it will adjust and become smaller while viewing from smartphone. The graphic will rotates from landscape to portrait view. If you’re to fill up a form, the text entry will adjust automatically and flow vertically so that it becomes super easy to fill. The website responds to YOU, rather than making you deal with it.

Almost every clients’ now wants a mobile version of their website. It’s practically essential after all. Until last year, I only heard from clients’ that I want to design a website which is browser compatible. Means, it doesn’t matter what browser you are viewing, it looks; appear the same. when I write the HTML or Jscript code, I am writing for every browser.

Responsive Design. One more addition in designers’ plate. The designers have to keep update themselves. The first rule of become designer to be adaptable and have a knack of embracing all newer technology and trends. Of course writing a code is not as easy as making mac and cheese. So don’t complain that why your website cost you so much or your designer is charging you so much. Every designer has to write more codes in the back end so this appears seamless.

So you might be thinking so who is designing this? everybody. let’s look at some examples.
So next time if you are sitting in work meeting and you want to be seen. Or hiring a web designer or web professional to help you with designing your website, just don’t forget to ask. Is this Responsive Design? Don’t just tell them that I made you aware.

Read more helpful links:
Ethan Marcotte, who wrote an introductory article about the approach

Have you or your corporation ever struggle to keep track of all images that being purchased over the years?
Does it cost you a fortune for not keeping track of all image licensing?
Have you ever purchased the same image again without knowing that you had already purchased that same image before and now your expense got double?

The answer to any question above is ‘yes’ then you might want to keep continue reading. The thought must be running in your mind would be how would you prevent these from keep happening? Well, you need to start thinking about Digital Asset Management.

If you are wondering what Digital Asset is, then it is any form of media that is being transformed in electronic format that has a ‘value’ to the company. Few of the Digital Assets examples are photos, videos, images, audios, etc. A Digital Asset Management is a tool that helps you create a library of your digital assets. Digital Asset Management is a centralized place to store, manage, search, share, and distribute your digital assets of your organization.

Subsequent are few of the purpose you can accomplish by formalizing Digital Asset Management Process in your organization, which:
• allows you to create centralized repository that stores and organizes all digital assets in one convenient location
• allows you to keep track of all digital assets efficiently
• allows you build equity of your digital assets
• allows you to gain greater control of your digital files
• allows you to save significant resource time
• allows you to keep up-to-date with all image licensing that includes copyright protection

Now that you have read so far reveals that you certainly are interested reading more about various solutions. There are a variety of options available out there in the market. Not sure from where to start? I would like you to fist grab a pen and paper and right down your/company goals. Ask these questions to yourself such as – What are your goals and expectations? Does this solution have critical features you require? Is this solution scalable enough? How many numbers of users that will be using this software/product? Is this solution secure? The top DAM challenge is Usability. Do some detail research about the various solutions they are offering and pick the winner.

In a nutshell, Digital Asset Management process will help you build equity of digital assets; create a foundation for productivity, collaboration, and imagination.

Helpful links:
Read a definition of Digital Asset Management on wikipedia
Click here to see few options available in the market
Few more options

Even when you have a great strategy, great products, and great messages to deliver but how you are delivering your message does matter among all these flood of messages floating all around us. Every message is trying to get our attention so delivering your message creatively that stands out is vital.

You might have heard marketing people say this before, ‘content is king’. I concur. However, aesthetics has the same importance as content. Compelling content and appealing aesthetics – both requires cultivation and time. If you are determined to winning the attention game then both goes hand in hand like a royal couple.

To stand out in a crowd, creativity is the key. Imagine this: what if you have added some great product or great message but have not change the look-&-feel of your company website? It might fail to gain the client’s attention. But if you approach with ‘the big bang of creativity’; a new fresh look of your company website then your website will not go unnoticed. After all, that is the ultimate goal your marketing team might try to achieve, which is to stand out against the competition.

Clients should remember your company’s name over others. If you’ve asked to provide a company name about the specific product then how many names do you remember which offers similar features and benefits? Just one or two, correct? You want your company to be one of them. The average human brain can only store limited information. Creative can help you achieve the success and excellence you strive for.

Let me give you an example of banking industry. Few years back marketing team of this bank came up with the strategy to talk about their products that their bank offers. For example we have product A if are single mom, we have product B if you are first time home buyer, we have product C if you want to invest in your kid’s 529, and we have product D if you want a loan, etc. The statistics indicated that this bank’s rank was falling. They realized that it was time to define a new strategy to gain their clients back. Instead of talking about products, the newer strategy they came up with is to talk about the clients’ circumstances and emotions. The various research methods made it clear how important it is to attract clients to you instead of pushing yourself to them. Every client’s have different types of challenges or struggles in their lives such as single mom have her own challenges raising kids and financial shortfalls, a person who lost his job and worries about paying bills and mortgage, etc. The ’emotional design’ played role here, which became a powerful tool in creating exceptional user experience. They started building stories around various scenarios, added persona to this story along with the creative touch. Along with the content strategy, they revolutionized their aesthetics. They changed the entire look-&-feel of their brand in all the channels such as TV, radio, online, Social media, etc. Today, the stakeholders are celebrating their record-breaking quarter after another. This was just one of the examples but we have seen transformation through aesthetics in many big brands such as coke, Pepsi, etc.

Content and creative should be a part of any marketing strategy. The problem is that creative development starts after decisions have made about creating a new strategy or message. Actually, creative development should start at the same time when you start to plan and discuss to build a new strategy.

I am not saying there are no challenges to incorporate strategy and creative at the same time in an early stage in the process. There are so many moving pieces are involved that sometime strategies completely changes compares to the early stage of strategic briefing document. One needs to be very flexible while working with the multifunctional team. Every team in your company from marketing to product team should meet their needs.

We have been hearing about ‘Clouds’ but have you ever heard about the ‘Creative Clouds’? Well, then you probably might be wondering what this means. In other words, the Creative Cloud is a membership Service introduced by Adobe systems, a multinational well-known software company who focuses upon creation of multimedia and creative software products. A digital Creative Cloud Service is the digital hub that lets you download and allow you to install any Adobe Creative suite 6 applications on your desktop. This means, the actual software is not hosted on the Cloud out there but you can download any Adobe softwares on your desktop from the Cloud. One can access, share, publish their work; collaborate and sink the original files from almost any digital devices such as desktop, ipad, mobile, etc.

I really got excited when I heard first time that Adobe is working on the beta version of Creative Cloud back in end of 2011. I heard about having the limited functionality but now with the full launch of Creative Cloud, Adobe is unveiling much bigger offerings to all of the CS6 desktop applications, along with the analytics, and TypeKit fonts.

Yet everything has its own pros and cons, this type of cloud service also has them. Read below my observations:

The Adobe Creative Cloud subscription allows users to use any of Adobe Creative Suite 6 app for a monthly rate of $49.99/month with a one year commitment (The introductory special offer as of today is $29.99/month) or month-to-month for $74.99. Also, if you are a student or need Creative team rates, Adobe is offering separate rates. I am interested in the Creative team rates as I manage the Creative team, which is $69.99/month on an annual contract. Now let’s do the math. Currently my team has been using Adobe 5.5 suite since it came out. We bought the old version of Adobe creative apps one time and upgraded the newer version twice within 6 years. As a result, we end up paying around $2000 for entire purchase and software upgrade. Now let’s compare with the Cloud Service. If I sign-up for a monthly service, this will cost me around $840/year. Then this will be a really expensive solution.

In addition, say if you decide to discontinue the Cloud Service and go back to old ways of owning/purchasing Adobe apps, then Adobe lets you download that current version free of charge, only for once. However the catch is, such downloads does not have any warranty or support or any kinds of updates will be provided. In my opinion I feel stuck here. This means that I will be forced to use that same version; I can’t update it to the next version. If I decide to purchase Adobe apps in future, then either I have to buy new apps (obviously it is an expensive solution) or start the cloud service again.
In this case, I would stick with the retail version; buy the traditional CD over using Cloud Service.

This subscription is great if you:
• Want to use all current features and updates as soon as it’s available. You don’t have to wait for the next release or until you buy the next version. Honestly, this is really exciting and powering.
• Want to use this service for a short run. If you wish to use the Creative app for a limited time or want to learn any Creative app or you are a student, then this will be a perfect solution for you. But it will cost you a lot if you are using this in a long run.
• Want to look cool in the crowd that you are using current technology.

If you ask me to sum it up, what I recommend? The answer would vary depending upon your individual goals or what you are trying to accomplish. Absolutely it will be a best deal if you want to use the service short-term. If you are one of them who do not want to spend lot of money up-front, if you just want to get acquainted with newer version, student, etc. On the other hand, if you are a creative professional or in any profession where you use Adobe apps every day, then it might be better off buying the DVD and own the apps. This is a matter of personal preference as buy a car or rent a car.

I would like to hear your thoughts as well. What would you prefer – lease a car or buy a car? Oops…Adobe Cloud Service vs. purchase Adobe Creative Suite?

Brand is everywhere. So, where do Brands live? Look around and you will find yourself surrounding within Brands. It lives in your everyday’s life. Look in the refrigerator or in kitchen cabinets, underneath kitchen sink, in supermarkets isles, or in the drawer of your office. Brands ultimately live in the minds of customers.

The American Marketing Association, a professional association for marketers across the US, defines a Brand as a “Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”

In past, it was just a logo or a design of a company who want to spread a word out about their product or service. The definition of a Brand evolved pretty significantly throughout in past decade. Today, it is much more than just a logo or a design. Brand is all about the customers’ opinion about the product, expectation, experience, memory, relationships which collectively are the grounds where the customers’ returns and choose the same product or service. These are the factors on which customers’ choose one product or service over another. Brand is a promise and expectation. It is an unspoken contract company makes with their customers.

What does Branding do?
Branding does lot of things. Brand returns the promise and customers’ expectations. So what is the Brand promise? This usually doesn’t convey in the advertising but it reflects ultimately what it means. What do you think when you think about Disneyland. It’s a magical experience. It is a bonding time in a family. It lives in your mind as a life time memory. Whenever you think about magic or magical moments, you automatically think about Disney experience. Ultimately, this promise creates the relationships. The expectation of fun and happiness, spend a quality of time with a family, the experience you will receive when you visit Disneyland.

Starbucks. What comes to your mind when you hear a word Starbucks? A lifestyle or connection, right? Do you know that Starbucks didn’t spend a single dollar on advertising before 2009? At present, Starbucks is the largest coffee shop in the world, who owns more than 17000 stores worldwide. Brand gives you a promise that the customers’ will receive when they use your product or service. Brand makes you feel greater when they are part of it. This easily blends well in customers’ lifestyle – coffee and connections.

Do you want to know what these top Brands worth?
The fight between the top 10 most valuable Brands continues as we enter in 2012. As of today, the coca-cola remained on top; valued at 71.86 billion followed by IBM 69.90 billion, and Microsoft 59.08 billion as a 3rd place.

The question you might have now but why Brand?
Because Brand identifies the truth
Because Brand tells the story
Because Brand have appeal
Because Brand increase revenue
Because Brand builds valuable emotional ties.
Brands are all around us. Which lives in our; customers’ mind…that is Brand.
It is an unspoken contract we make by choosing to employ same product or service over and over…that is Brand.