We’re happy to announce the launch of a completely new Mashable for iPad app today! And, we’re proud to say that Mashable for iPad is presented by Mercedes-Benz.

We enlisted our old friends at Code & Theory to help us, and time-boxed ourselves into releasing in March. This made our design and development process as agile as it could ever be. And, after many late nights and weekend hours, it’s great to see it live in the App Store today.

The rule of thumb for this app: As you swipe to the right, you’ll get deeper into specific content. As you swipe down or up, you get more stories. You’ll be able to search the universe of Mashable content, or dive directly into a channel like Social Media or US & World. As you then scan articles in the main story stream, you can immediately share to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (all three with one tap), or tap a story to expand it in a reading pane. Once you’re reading the story, a social pane will lock on the right side, allowing you to read or post comments.

From the story stream or when reading an article, you can swipe down into an almost infinite trove of stories that dynamically load ahead of your movement. This is my favorite feature: After I find an article I want to read, I swipe down the page so that the next article immediately loads below. It’s very efficient.

Here are some of the key highlights:

  • Innovative design, built from the ground up, that allows readers to quickly find the stories they want, and easily read story after story.
  • A beautiful photo and video gallery viewer.
  • The ability to share a story to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, all at the same time, with one tap.
  • A new social pane for reading and writing comments.

We hope you enjoy the app as much as we do. True story: When I asked Dan Gardner, co-founder of Code & Theory, what we should do with all of our “free time” now that we’re not working through nights and weekends on this app anymore, he gave a response that literally made me laugh out loud: “Apologize to our wives.”

Download the app now and let us know what you think. And, if you see my wife, tell her it was totally worth it.

 

Horizontal View

The app can work both horizontally and vertically on the iPad, and directional gestures allow you to dive deeper into content.

Click here to view this gallery.

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The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @BMWi on Twitter.

GetTaxiIf modern technology is a universal language, the world is getting schooled in innovation, especially in the public transportation sector.

The global transportation industry has become a testing ground for new payment systems, as cutting-edge technologies have been introduced to taxis, buses and trains worldwide to streamline your jaunts around town. From reserving and paying for a cab with an app to purchasing train tickets via an iPod, various countries are experimenting with new ways to reach out to travelers and make payment and transport a whole lot easier.


Get Taxi


Israel is already making an impact on the mobile payment industry with an app called Get Taxi, which coordinates cab pickups and payments. Without making a phone call, Get Taxi — which is available for Android, BlackBerryand iPhone devices — allows consumers to get a taxi at the click of a button in less than 30 seconds, as though it were an OpenTable reservation.

Once ordered, users can watch and track the reserved taxi on a smartphone’s map as it comes to pick them up — Get Taxi estimates the time of arrival and displays motion in real time. Much like airline travel, passengers can collect miles for free rides or prizes, and payment can be streamlined by saving your credit card information in the app.

The app has been hailed by Time Out Tel Aviv as app of the year, and the host of popular show Big Brother, Israel Assi Azar, tweeted on Friday that after several failed attempts to hail a taxi, he ordered one through the app that showed up just minutes later.

“We’ve had hundreds of thousands of downloads since the app launched, and the news of the service has gone viral,” says Nimrod May, vice president of offline marketing and strategic partnerships for Get Taxi. “Since you get the driver’s contact information ahead of time, parents feel safe sending their kids in Get Taxi cabs, and passengers also feel less frustrated when waiting for it to arrive since they can see where exactly the taxi is headed from.”

Get Taxi’s innovative concept also benefits the driver, bypassing the need for a dispatcher and welcoming cash, credit cards and business accounts for payment. Drivers are also assigned pick-ups close to their last drop location, so they don’t have to waste time or gas getting to their next location. A five-inch device — which is free for drivers and resembles a GPS system — can be installed in taxis to keep track of the latest reservation requests.

“A main component of the success is that the app is simple, it allows users to get full control over something they didn’t have control over before, and that the experience is optimized and seamless,” May says. “We couldn’t be happier with the results so far.”

Founded in 2010, Get Taxi seeks to reinvent the taxi market in Europe, which is valued at about $22 billion, according to the company. In addition to having a presence in Israel, the app is also available in London. Get Taxi plans to roll out the app in Moscow in March and then has its sights set on Paris, Spain, South Africa and eventually the U.S.

To spread more global awareness, Get Taxi is launching a Guinness Book of World Records initiative called “It’s on the Meter,” which will follow a taxi as it travels three continents, 39 countries, 10 time zones and more than 31,000 miles. Right now, the taxi is in San Francisco and will be headed to New York before it takes a ferry to Europe, Russia and then Sydney, Australia.

“We have already tremendously and positively disrupted an industry that wasn’t being tapped with cutting-edge technology,” May tells Mashable. “We think in the next five years that businesses will either have to keep up with the innovation or cease to exist.”


VeriFone Payment Terminals


VeriFone

In addition to being an early adopter to the GetTaxi app, London is no stranger to being at the forefront of other emerging technologies. In fact, taxi drivers in London were incentivized last year with nearly $5,000 to trade in their old models for newer vehicles that are more eco-friendly and boast state-of-the-art technology, such as back-seat TV sets and mobile payment machines powered by San Jose-based VeriFone that let you swipe or tap credit cards.

VeriFone is one of the most innovative mobile payment providers currently testing the waters with new technologies worldwide. Beyond its experimentation in London, the company recently deployed validator technology on bus systems in Turkey, allowing travelers to tap a pre-paid contractless card, issued by the country’s transportation authority to make jumping on board buses easier and more efficient. VeriFone is also using GPS-tracking on buses, so people waiting at a bus stop know in real-time how soon a bus will arrive.

“The buses in Turkey are equipped with GPS tracking and are constantly reporting their location to Verifone’s system in the cloud,” says VeriFone’s senior vice president of marketing, Paul Rasori. “VeriFone then sends messaging to signage at various bus stops to inform travelers that their ride is only four minutes or so away.”


High-Tech Subway Payment


Taxis and buses aren’t the only modes of transportation getting a taste of new tech. Austrian railway WESTbahn recently rolled out new payment technology onboard its trains with the help of the Apple products and mobile technology provided by VeriFone.

“There is a general trend in mobility with companies taking advantage of consumer mobile devices, such as iPhones, iPads and iPods,” Rasori says. “Customer service representatives on WESTbahn trains carry iPods that fit into a cradle to enable easy payments. It takes the customer service windows away, and it also allows people with near field communication-enabled (NFC) mobile phones to tap their devices to make a payment.”

Wireless carrier China Telecom Beijing Limited Company is also testing a new way to pay for its bus and subway systems with its “e-Surfing Traffic Card” program. The service incorporates a radio frequency user identifier module (UIM) card that integrates with China Telecom’s 3G mobile network and Beijing’s transport cards. To pay for a ride, users just need to swipe their mobile phones at designated spots. It can also be used to pay for products at participating merchants.

“Mobile payments technology has made advancements in the past few years across the globe, and it’s only expected to grow,” Rasori says. “What’s happening overseas will eventually come to the U.S. and in some cases, it’s already started.”

Rasori notes that just five years ago, New York City taxi cabs were cash only. Now with the incorporation of credit card systems attached to TV systems, 60% of fares are now electronic, and there could be more innovation on the way.

“In the future, you will even be able to buy lottery tickets from the back seat of a taxi,” Rasori says. “The capability exists and so does consumer interest, so it’s only a matter of time before we see more innovative technology in the public transportation industry.”


Series Supported by BMW i


 

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @BMWi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

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The Customer Experience Series is supported by Webtrends, providing the unified, customer intelligence to deliver real time relevance in every marketing campaign, every digital channel. Learn how.

Bounce rate is the enemy of every website — it’s the percentage of visitors that come to your page and don’t go to any others within the same site. It can be frustrating and costly, especially if you’ve invested time and money into SEO and paid ads to get visitors to your site — you don’t want that hard work to go to waste once the person hits your page.

Businesses need to make sure their first impressions reel in the visitor in order to reduce bounce rate and to keep the person engaged with your brand. To help you combat pesky bounce rates, we’ve put together a list of usability considerations that can be used to lower your site’s bounce rate and improve visitor retention. From optimized page layouts to faster loading, there are a number of ways to keep web surfers hooked.


1. Be Mindful of Ad Placement


Let’s face it, no one likes looking at advertisements, but the reality is that many sites could not survive without them. Advertisements are a necessary evil that allows content providers to make money but too many advertisements can be a big turn-off to your readers.

Advertising that’s too close to your site navigation can cause accidental clicks, which force visitors to leave your page — unintentionally, and in frustration. Too many ads above the fold means your readers have more to wade through before getting to the heart of your site. Also, ads that interrupt your content or present themselves as if they were a part of your website can cause confusion and frustration.

Keep advertising prominently placed but far enough out of the way that visitors can still use your site without having to navigate around a sea of ads.


2. Lazy-Load Third-Party Content


The more third-party services, widgets and content your site contains, the slower your pages will load — and the faster your users will leave. By lazy-loading third-party content (loading content via AJAX when it is needed, after the initial page load) can greatly decrease the perceived load time and allow visitors to start accessing your site’s content while other media loads in the background.


3. Contrast Is Key


No one will stay on a site they can’t read. Of all of the ways to increase accessibility of a site, perhaps the biggest and easiest is to simply use good contrast. Not only does this make the site more accessible to visitors who may have difficulty seeing, but also has the overall effect of making important content easier to find and focus on. Contrast can be a powerful tool for directing the reader’s attention to where you want it to go.

More and more people are accessing the web via mobile devices, which means your site will be viewed on a variety of screen resolutions — in any number of lighting conditions — so your site needs to be as readable as possible in these situations.


4. Have Clean, Accessible Navigation


Just as no one will stay on a site they can’t see, they also won’t stay on a site they can’t navigate. Navigation should be prominent, clear and easily accessible. Consider repeating sidebar or top links in the footer and make sure click targets for menus are large enough for use at small resolutions. Avoid drop-down menus or provide alternatives, since these are inaccessible on touch devices.

If your site has a large amount of content, include search functionality and a site map to help visitors easily find the information they’re looking for.


5. Your Message Should Be Immediately Obvious


One of the biggest causes of a high bounce rate is visitor confusion. If a new visitor to your site has to figure out or hunt down information telling them what your site does, that’s an immediate red flag. Your site’s purpose should be immediately evident, and expressed clearly in both its design and its content.

Tour pages and feature pages can be a great way to give additional information to users looking to learn more, but they shouldn’t be a necessity to understand what your product, service or site provides. Use headlines and graphics to highlight important features and key information. Your content should be organized and supplemented in such a way so that it guides the reader through the experience.

Finally, make call-to-action items descriptive and easy to find. Consider, for instance, the difference between the vague “Learn more” versus the more descriptive “See a list of product features.”


6. No Distractions, Please


Once you’ve gotten a visitor to your site and have managed to engage them with your content, don’t do anything to interrupt that! Keep animation to a minimum and, whenever possible, avoid serving audio ads and disruptive fly-outs.

Interstitial ads, pop-up ads within your text content, and interruptions to speak with live chat representatives and sign up for newsletters can all turn a reader away from your site in a matter of seconds.

Treat your users with respect. Allow them to use your site for its intended purpose by presenting well-organized information clearly … and then getting out of the way.


7. Have a Responsive Layout


Earlier, we touched on mobile site usage and how increasing mobile traffic creates new concerns regarding readability and navigation. If your site gets a large amount of mobile traffic, then you probably want to go one step further by building your site around a responsive layout.

Responsive design is a good (often better) alternative to having specific mobile and large-screen versions of your site. A responsive layout uses techniques, such as CSS media queries, to rearrange and scale content based on screen resolution.

For that extra attention to detail, don’t forget high-resolution images and stylesheets for retina display. This greatly improves image sharpness and fidelity, making your site much easier to see on a small screen on devices supporting retina display technology.

Depending on the purpose, complexity and functionality of your site, multiple versions for web and large-screen may be a necessity. However, for the majority of sites on the web, a responsive design is a great way to ensure that your blog, web app or ecommerce site is easily accessible on a wide number of devices.

What other suggestions do you have for lowering bounce rates? What’s your pet peeve? Let us know in the comments.


Series supported by Webtrends


The Customer Experience Series is supported by Webtrends. What if you could deliver real-time relevant campaigns across social, mobile and web channels? That’s not wishful thinking. It’s customer intelligence. Webtrends shows you how with guides that help you market smarter and retain customers for the long haul with recipes for success and secrets of digital marketing. Go get a guide.

Image courtesy of Flickr, iDream_in_Infrared

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This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

Sure, having a website for your business serves a practical need: to draw net-surfing users to your product or service. However, it’s also much more than slapping on a run of the mill two-column template and calling it a day. Nothing kills an online buzz like a poorly designed or drastically outdated website. Dry and boring default templates, broken assets, confusing pages and invasive widgets do nothing but harm a page’s style, which in turn reflects poorly on the company.

2012 is heralding a new wave of innovative web technologies and design, and a page that stays in step with these trends is bound to pique interest and lower your bounce rate. Even more, a well done and on-trend website remains effective well after the year is over, reeling users in with thoughtful design and building a design-conscious and taste-making reputation. Keep these tips in mind when you clean up your company’s website, and stay ahead of the curve for the new year.


1. Don’t Be Afraid to be Bold


Mail Chimp. Instagram. Pinterest. All of these websites are joined together by a commitment to bold designs and layout. Whether it’s an exaggerated footer, a turn to minimalism or a bold and new typeface, incorporating a key graphical element to a website speaks volumes about the overall composition of the layout — and a keen level of attention to detail. Opting for a bold design element is a great way to modernize a website and keep it on trend in the coming years.

A bold design can be obtained with very little money, especially for those who aren’t necessarily experienced in coding. For example, webpages operating on a WordPress can find a host of free templates that offer a wide range of customizable options to suit any business. New and exciting fonts can be found via Google‘s open API font styles and require a simple set of code to be dropped in for compatibility with a website. Inspiration and how-tos for more hands-on DIY upgrades can be found at coding/design blogs like A List Apart, One Extra Pixel and Mashable‘s Dev and Design channel.

For those with a little more cash to burn on a proper contractor, 99 Designs relies on crowdsourcing to gather great designers for companies looking for a reliable and cutting edge renovation. Companies on 99 Designs are allowed to name their own price, which means a promising design on a budget.

However you choose to go about it, a bold design dusts off the cobwebs on your old page and keeps it fresh for years to come.


2. Use HTML5 … With Care


For the last couple years, people have been buzzing about HTML5, and it’s not just chatter; HTML5 offers a lot of exciting flexibility that can make a website truly interactive. Seamlessly embedded videos, drag-and-drop interfaces and dynamic message posts are all achievable via HTML5, and with relatively little code work.

But it’s not enough to just call up your freelance web designer and throw up some HTML5 features. As with any programming language, there’s always an issue of browser compatibility. While your new and shiny UI outfitted with dynamic HTML5 might look stunning to a user running on the latest version of Chrome, your high-tech page may look like a series of broken features — or nothing at all — to a less tech-savvy user running Internet Explorer 7 (and there’s a lot of them).

This issue has been longstanding in the Internet world, but there are precautions to take in order to ensure that every user has a pleasurable experience on your website without you making a major investment. Modernizr is an open-source, JavaScript-based tool that offers feature detection for HTML5, and it’s just-as-snazzy brother CSS3. Instead of doing simple browser detection, Modernizr will figure out just what features the user’s browser can support and react accordingly. If a user is operating on an incompatible browser, then Modernizr will automatically decide whether to switch to a JavaScript-based fallback of the features or just create a downgraded version.

Make no mistake, this solution shouldn’t be implemented by a newbie to code, but it does provide a simple way to implement exciting and revolutionary features while still providing support for the little guys.


3. Cut the Fat


The traditional layouts for websites often call for separate pages that encapsulate the “About,” “Contact” and other informational areas of the website. 2011 saw minimalist designs from multiple websites, and that often translated to cutting these pages in favor of a sleeker overall design (think Tumblr). Some companies chose to forgo nearly everything to produce a strongly graphical one-page website — blogs like One Page Love and successful networking tools like Flavors.me show that people are drifting towards a bold singular statement that makes a big impact on fellow users.

As we move forward in 2012, further exploration into one-page websites is a given. But a single-page website has both its pros and cons. HTML5 can help create a one-page website that cleverly contains all necessary information via pop-up boxes or other media, but the amount of information that can be on a one-page website is still relatively limited. Do you want your website to make a bold statement about your company and focus less on a blog-style format? If so, a one-page website could be right in your wheelhouse. Are you more interested in showing off testimonials, case studies and blogs from your employees? If yes, then this trend would be worth passing on.

However, that doesn’t mean to forgo trimming entirely. Culling the best parts of your website and truncating the rest will result in a sleeker, more intuitive design — and sleek never goes out of style.


4. Tie in Social Media Intelligently


This tip could also be titled “Quit it With the Widgets.” Announcing your social media presence on your own website is an absolute necessity, but it needs to be done with care. Automatically updating widgets that stream in social media presence seems intrusive and outdated, not to mention that they can be a hassle for a DIY designer to install and maintain.

To put it simply, social media should absolutely be a presence on a business website, but it should not be a dominating presence. Integrating social media, whether in graphic links or a social ticker, should be done with the user’s eyes in mind. It’s simple on paper, but can be difficult to execute. When social media is done intelligently and with consideration, your website instantly will look socially connected and organized.

Are there any other ways you’re keeping your website ahead of the game? Let us know in the comments.

More About: design, features, HTML5, mashable, open forum, trending, web design

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In our recent Designer Tech Series, supported by Lincoln, Mashable wrote about the intersection of tech, entrepreneurship, business and social good. This roundup showcases gadgets from some of the world’s most innovative companies, and we spoke to each company’s design team to learn about how the product’s design adds to its functionality. To read more, click through to get the full story.

1. Nest: The Story Behind the World’s Most Beautiful Thermostat

Nest Labs is turning up the heat in the gadget world with its beautiful, high-tech and smart thermostat. Designed by a team comprising ex-Apple engineers, medical technologists and machine learning experts, Nest isn’t just a pretty piece for your wall — the $249 device saves money and energy by learning user behavior and adjusting itself accordingly. It’s either the most brilliant new gadget category or the most nerdy case of excess tech of 2011. Either way, we love it.

2. Lytro: The Biggest Thing to Happen to Photography Since Digital

With all the snazzy cameras and lenses out there, you might think there couldn’t be a higher-tech photography tool on the market. And you would be wrong. Because the soon-to-hit-shelves Lytro camera is the world’s first consumer light-field camera. Unlike your DLSR or point-and-shoot, a light-field camera captures all the light information from all the rays in its field of view — not just color and intensity, but direction as well. The result is that you can focus the image after the fact, creating a “living picture.” Go ahead, try it below and read on to find out how it works.

3. Retro Speakers Find Style — and Big Sound — in Simplicity

Old is new again … and cool again. Case in point — the minimalist and retro Libratone speakers, the epitome of Danish design. “We design to stand out, but not like a sore thumb,” according to the company’s philosophy statement. “We design to blur the lines between furniture and stereo systems by applying the aesthetics of the Scandinavian heritage to our design thinking.” Check out Libratone’s high-end Live and Lounge speakers, which hit the market in the U.S. in recent months.

4. Microsoft Surface 2.0: From ‘Minority Report’ to Reality

Touch is quickly becoming the most important sense in technology — just take a look at today’s tap- and swipe-operated smartphones, tablets and thermostats. And now, we have surface computing, an area of technology previously reserved for the big screen, a la Minority Report. With Surface 2.0, Microsoft is taking surface computing to the next level. Here’s an explanation of the technology’s history and, more importantly, its future.

5. A Closer Look at the iPhone-Controlled Coffee Brewer

During a time when we’re all multitasking, it’s nice to know that you can brew four cups of coffee in one minute out of a stainless steel faucet with just a few taps on your iPhone while you get ready for the day in the other room. Yes, as you’ve probably guessed by now, the TopBrewer isn’t your standard coffee maker. Purveyed by Scanomat, a family-owned company in Denmark, the TopBrewer is the world’s smartest and sleekest — everything but a swan-neck faucet is hidden in a cabinet — coffeemaker to date. Here’s an explanation of how it works, along with a peek at the modern barista — an iPhone app.

6. The Android-Powered Smart Watch Marries Luxury and Tech

Another technology that originated on the big screen is the smart watch, like the one worn by Dick Tracy. And now it’s arrived in the real world. Italian designer tech company i’m has debuted its i’m Watch, marketed as “the first real smart watch.” The i’m Watch can run nearly anything on its customized Android interface, and it tethers to your smartphone (yes, even BlackBerrys and iPhones) to handle phone calls, SMS, music and apps. But in addition to supreme functionality, the i’m Watch is also incredibly good-looking.

Which of these gadgets most piques your interest? Let us know in the comments below.

More About: Designer Tech Series, features, Lytro, mashable, microsoft, Nest Laboratories, trending

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The Leaders in Design Series is supported by Volvo.

Competition in Apple’s App Store is so tough that even strong concepts must be planned to perfection before any development should start. So enter App Cooker: A hot new iPad app that makes sure other apps have the right ingredients in place before any development begins. App Cooker ($19.99) from Sophia-Antipolis, France-based Hot Apps Factory helps aspiring designers organize, plan and get app projects ready for production.

30-year-old Xavier Veyrat — the designer of App Cooker — spoke to Mashable about the development of the platform and the steps that go into creating a masterpiece app recipe.


Q&A with Xavier Veyrat, App Designer


Have you always been into design?

Always. I’m crazy about it. I loved to draw when I was a kid, but I never went to art school. I actually studied law, business and management. But every time I worked on a project with design, it reinforced what I really wanted to do. I joined a team that needed an app, so to make it, I watched online tutorials on YouTube, read articles on blogs and practiced a lot. I love to look at interfaces and simplify them so they can be used without instructions. I hate to read instructions.

What type of design inspires you?

Companies such as Apple, Dyson and Braun are some of the main sources of my inspiration because they care about usefulness and beauty at the same time. I’m also inspired by show-and-tell site Dribbble and social sites that focus on design — they provide an incredible source of ideas. I am an observer and a huge consumer of apps — I have more than 1,000. It helps me learn which designs work and which ones don’t.

 

How did the concept for App Cooker come about?

Two years ago, I started to work on a gaming app with my partner Johann. As we designed the app, we realized that there was nothing on the market that was project-planning oriented to help people get started with the creation of their own apps. I did the design on Illustrator and Johann did the coding. We ended up wasting a lot of time, since making a clickable mockup would have been a far more efficient way to jump in. App Cooker provides that clickable mock-up prototype and gathers up all of the key components of an app before any coding and polished design starts. It helps designers to conceive, design and test interfaces without a single line of code in the context of an iOS device. For example, you can rotate the screen and the mockup will display another version of the design. It’s extremely valuable for app designers at all skill levels.

What makes a good app?

A good app is based on a clear scope, a robust mockup, a coherent design and good marketing. If one of these aspects is strong and another one is not, it won’t work. It’s like preparing for the Olympics and although you may be a top contender, if you don’t show up on competition day and give it your all, you probably won’t win. Apps also have to be smart and fresh. Look at the “Photo” app on the iPhone — it’s one the most used of all time and it’s so simple. So the vision and execution should be fresh, clear, simple and unique.

“I’m a firm believer that good design comes after you sketch it out ten times.”

How did you approach the design process?

We wanted the app to be easy to use and have different colors to separate the different aspects of the app. I’m a firm believer that good design comes after you sketch it out ten times. But overall, we made more than 30 iterations to get to the design of the app board, which serves almost like a homepage, what we wanted it to be. For other parts of the app, we made up to 200 versions, at least. You have to keep going and trying new things until you get it right.

How is this concept different than others on the market?

App Cooker is the only app that allows designers to experiment with prototyping from a project point of view. Mock-ups shouldn’t be just graphics anymore. Users need to be aware of the key aspects of a project right from the start, from the name, idea and logo to the cost effectiveness and how it will look once it’s coded. Without this centralized approach, developers and designers have a tendency to move right on with production and trouble shoot when it’s too late in the process.

 

What advice would you give to an aspiring app designer?

A good designer is someone who learns every day with a little dose of criticisms. Also, stay on top of other apps in the market too. I love list app Wunderlist, as well as Soulver — a calculator with a soul and helps you find design ratios — and chart app LovelyCharts. Some of my favorite apps have the same vision as App Cooker, which features a future where the iPad is used to achieve tasks better than on a computer.

Where do you see app design going in the next few years?

This is the golden age of app design. Yesterday, everyone wanted a website, and now everyone wants an app. App design is going to help evolve us more into a prosumer environment, where the consumer produces the content they want. We’re positioning ourselves to help the future app makers of the world, and it’s an exciting place to be.


Series supported by Volvo


 

The Leaders in Design Series is supported by Volvo. Experience the newest Volvo for yourself. Step inside the 325hp 2011 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design at volvocars.us.

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This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

There’s an unpleasant moment that occurs for entrepreneurs more often than it should. Someone asks for your business card, and you hand it over. They say, “Great, I’ll check out your site!” You say, “Excellent, but ignore the ‘Shop’ section — it’s out of date. And, oh yeah, the email newsletter link isn’t working, but I can add you manually to the list if you want. And … well the design is a little embarrassing …”

By this point, the person who was excited about your product just moments ago has finished the drink they were sipping and is looking for a polite way to exit the conversation — immediately.

It used to be the case that developing a robust web presence for your company was expensive and therefore often inaccessible to newer companies or those without large ecommerce or digital marketing budgets. Today, thanks to the ingenuity of fellow entrepreneurs, this is no longer the case. “You can operate at the same scalability and efficiency of a large company,” says Harley Finkelstein, chief platform officer of Shopify. “You may not know any angel investors — today it doesn’t really matter.”

Here are some of the tools that you can use to make your business seem as if you have a giant team — and bank account — behind your company’s online presence.


1. ReTargeter


Traditionally, running ad campaigns on large news sites in order to reach millions of potentially qualified leads is cost-prohibitive for anyone without a multimillion-dollar (or at least a many thousand-dollar) advertising budget. But what if you could narrow down the audience so that you were just reaching people who had actually expressed some kind of interest in your product?

ReTargeter allows you to do just that. By adding a simple snippet of code to whatever pages of your site you’d like to track (a similar process to implementing Google Analytics), ReTargeter’s system allows you to purchase advertising that shows up repeatedly for those people who have visited the aforementioned site pages. Voila — you look like a company that has the budget to wallpaper nytimes.com.

Furthermore, ReTargeter’s reach extends beyond the outlets that some small business owners might be accustomed to. “If they’re spending that sort of money on display, the real goal is to have access to more inventory than just the Google network,” says founder Arjun Dev Arora. “We’ve gone out and partnered with Glam, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and more.”


2. Shopify


Once upon a time, a few big players had a lock on the ecommerce market. If you wanted to sell your wares online, you had to play by whatever rules eBay or Etsy set. It’s obvious that today, any potential online store owner can buy a domain name. But, then what’s next?

Shopify was designed to answer that question. Their technology makes it easy to create a totally customized, extremely professional-looking storefront with little technical effort, thanks in large part to its database of pre-designed templates. Shopify also takes care of the back-end, providing analytics, the ability to create special promotions, and tools to accept payments and track your orders.

Finkelstein names iPad cover designer DODOcase as a business that’s leveraged Shopify’s resources well to make the company appear as if it’s created a much larger footprint than it actually has — and that illusion has helped the company grow its bottom line. “Today it’s a multimillion dollar business — and they still don’t have an office,” he says.


3. SinglePlatform


Restaurant owners are usually busy with their main objective — you know, making sure food gets to the table in a timely and delicious manner. But ignoring website upkeep and presence across social media channels is missing an opportunity to connect with and market to customers.

SinglePlatform allows business owners to upload offers, menus and photos to one, well, single platform, and they do the rest, populating the content across social media channels and the company’s own website. Though the company began by serving the restaurant community, it’s now expanded the offerings to all types of businesses — spas, daycare centers and even sky diving companies. With a few minutes of work a week, you end up looking like you have a dedicated web and social media staff.


4. Unbounce


Want to create a special offer for the holidays to run on your site? What about five different special offers, depending on where your users are coming from? This could be a nightmare for whatever graphic design resources you have on staff, but Unbounce allows you to create various pages without tapping into your tech team — it’s a system they say is just as easy to use as PowerPoint.


5. Grasshopper Group & Twilio


No matter how big your staff is, it’s simply impossible to always be manning the phones. The last thing you want to do, though, is miss a call that could have turned into a sale. Grasshopper Group enables you to create a professional phone system without the cost or hassle of an enterprise level solution. Add extensions, pre-recorded greetings and (an often necessary evil) hold music. When you do need to miss a call, you can receive your voicemails transcribed as emails for easier processing and forwarding around to stakeholders.

If you’d like to incorporate text messages — say, notifying a customer of a purchase they just made over the phone — Twilio is an incredibly robust tool for this very function. The API also allows for innovative integrations and customizations should your business need them.

Do you have any can’t-miss tools for making your website more thoughtful and robust? Let us know in the comments below.

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Ever find yourself in the rabbit hole of the internet, bookmarking and screengrabbing things you want to buy or images that inspire you? Well, judging from Pinterest’s hockey-stick growth, you’re not alone in your digital collecting and curating.

The invite-only social discovery platform launched in March 2010, the brainchild of Paul Sciarra, Evan Sharp and Ben Silbermann, with the mission to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting,” opining that books, recipes and items can bridge the gap between strangers. In October, the site surpassed 421 million pageviews, which means that each of its 3 million users are spending quite a bit of time there, pinning and organizing images to help them plan their weddings, decorate their (oftentimes, dream) homes, create bucket lists and manage an inventory of favorite images — no small feat on the ever-growing web. Images are presented in a bulletin board format with links to the original URL of the item or the info of the user who first uploaded it, so you know where it came from if you want more detes.

While Pinterest has been around for 20 months, it’s only recently hit the tech blogosphere after catching on with a more DIY, Etsy-frequenting crowd of moms and designers. It’s simple, it’s intuitive and it’s user-friendly, which explains its organic, grassroots growth. By now, of course, tech has taken notice, and the site has since received $37 million in funding.

Pinterest’s simplicity and browsability comes from the nimble fingers of designer Evan Sharp. Mashable spoke with Sharp about the site’s design, its growth and how his background in architecture comes in handy.


Q&A with Evan Sharp, Pinterest Designer and Co-Founder


Tell me about the backstory of Pinterest — where did the idea come from?

Myself and two of my friends were all working on the site at the end of 2009, more as a fun project than as an aspirational startup — two of us were really big collectors as children. I was always collecting images on the web in folders on the desktop of my computer, but it wasn’t a very good system for remembering where things came from or who made them. We wanted to create a place where you can go to upload or collect things on the web and simply organize it the way you want to [each with its associated metadata].

Why did you decide on the bulletin board-style aesthetic?

It’s funny, when I was first designing the website, the grid that’s the layout of the site — what you call a bulletin board — is the thing I spent by far the most time working on. We did about 50 iterations. We were trying to find a way of displaying these collections that felt very personal but also felt like a collection more than just a few images. I’ve always felt that the linear, chronological feed that you see on a lot of big social services is really great — and before the feed there was nothing, so it’s certainly a great advance on the web — but it’s not always ideal, especially for a visual product, and that’s why we spent so much time working on that layout. And it’s been great for us — the grid is the visual hallmark of our site.

What sites inspire you, and where do you look for design inspiration?

I do look at a lot of apps and websites, but most of the precedence for what we’re doing is actually in physical spaces of discovery. A lot of them are museums, libraries or retail spaces, like a grocery store. If you think about how things are presented and laid out, you start to realize that the entire space is organized to allow you to discover all the things the store is selling. And if you walk into a bookstore, you can be overwhelmed with thousands and thousands of books, but they’re categorized, and all of them are actionable by you — you can walk over and take them off the shelf and open them. There’s a lot more history to those ideas [than the web] — people have been working out [display designs] for hundreds of years.

Pinterest is big with the ladies and is popular for wedding planning, fashion and interior decor — what did you think Pinterest would catch on for?

When I was designing Pinterest, I was in grad school for architecture, so I was using it for architecture-related drawings and buildings, and I always assumed it would catch on with the design and architecture world. It has, but it’s caught on in so many other verticals, too. Home decorating is one of the big ones. I didn’t think as much about target audience as I was thinking about creating something that was really cool and that could have enormous potential as a platform if we ever wanted to invest all of our time in it [which has happened].

A lot of tech startups these days break through on a tech site and then trickle down to a mainstream audience, but your growth has trickled up — why is that?

“We didn’t build this company to build a really hot tech startup … It came out of what we wanted to build more than the idea to build.”

Part of it is that we didn’t spend a lot of time trying to get tech coverage. We didn’t build this company to build a really hot tech startup; what we wanted to do was build a product — and also a company — that we wanted to work on for the next five or ten years. And a lot of that is hiring the right people and building a really great team, but another part of it is building a product that people actually use and that enhances their lives. It’s part of our philosophy — we want to build something that everybody finds useful.

How does your background in architecture help you when it comes to web design? What lessons carry over?

Architecture is really difficult, and it takes a long time to master the third dimension. Going through an extremely rigorous and work-intensive graduate program in architecture formed a process in me, the process of taking theoretical concepts and then executing and working those ideas out in design. A lot of [the process] is about technique and spending the time designing, but there’s such a rich history of architecture and a great body of theory and knowledge, and an enjoyable part of [moving to web design] was learning to take abstract ideas and concepts and then solve them tangibly. The history of the process of architecture is really amazing in and of itself, and it’s been really helpful to me as a designer.

You previously worked at Facebook — what lessons you bring to Pinterest?

I’ve always seen the product design team at Facebook as “owning” the idea of product design in a very real way, even though there’s not a lot of visibility to what they’re doing every day. It was really helpful for me to go through the rigorous gantlet they have — it’s a great example of how a really big company can value design in a way that doesn’t interfere with what all the teams are doing. Learning how the company operated was really valuable for me, and I think it’s been really important for Pinterest’s success as a design product.

What things do you pin on your own boards?

I’ve been doing it for so long now that it’s changed a bit, but I’ve always pinned the design and architecture stuff that I find inspirational. A lot of the rest of the things I do came out of what I found interesting on the site. In the early days, I was pinning stuff from other places besides Pinterest, but now a lot of my things are repins — the Star Wars board, the travel board. There was a lot of Star Wars on the site — it’s interesting to see what patterns come out when millions of people are pinning things.

Judging from the userbase and the pageviews and anecdotal evidence, there is an obsession with Pinterest — why do you think that is?

I think it’s twofold — at a basic level, it’s just a great place to go to see things that are interesting to you. Every time you go, you should see 50 to 100 things that hopefully are relevant or interesting to you. But the flipside of that — and something I didn’t expect when we built the product — is that there are are tons of people using the pictures to find things that impact their everyday life. People doing crafts projects, planning birthday parties, designing a home on the cheap. There are all sorts of life tips that come out of Pinterest. So now, not only are you finding stuff that’s interesting, but you’re also getting off Pinterest to do the things you’re finding on the site. What that means is that, at the end of the day, Pinterest can really complement your life instead of being a timesuck.

In “Pin Etiquette,” it says that Pinterest is not a place for self-promotion. How, then, can Pinterest best be used by brands as a marketing tool?

A lot of brands are using Pinterest to share more about their brand; a good example of that is Whole Foods. They’re not just sharing the produce available at Whole Foods, they’re sharing [images of] a healthy lifestyle. West Elm isn’t just sharing the furniture they sell, they’re sharing interior design tips. And the Today Show isn’t just pinning that day’s guests [to promote the episode]. For most consumer brands, the idea behind your brand makes sense on Pinterest.

Lastly, what’s the company culture like at Pinterest?

One of the most exciting things for me now that we have a product that people love, is building a team at a company that people want to work at. What’s cool at Pinterest is that we have people who love the product, but the common thread on our team is that all of them have real interests and passions outside of Pinterest. Building a team of people who are generally interested in the world is great because that’s what the product is about, but it also means we’re creating a place where it’s really exciting to work. We’re designing a company as much as we’re designing a product.


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Font designer Steve Matteson, 46, is behind some of the most recognizable typefaces on consumer products today. From the Droid series of fonts in Android’s mobile phone platform to Xbox, Xbox 360 and the suite of fonts that comes with Microsoft products, such as Windows 7 and Microsoft Office, Matteson’s work is everywhere.

While attending the School of Printing at Rochester Institute of Technology, he became enchanted with the text printed on the pages of books. He studied calligraphy, design and typography, and set out to turn this passion into a full-time career. He now works at Monotype Imaging, which specializes in typesetting and typeface design. It’s the company that has brought us various popular fonts including Helvetica, Times New Roman and ITC Franklin Gothic.

Mashable spoke with Matteson about his love for design and what drives him to keep pushing the creative envelope.


Q&A with Steve Matteson, Font Designer


How would you describe your design style?

I approach design from a problem-solving perspective. Most of my work over the past 25 years has been focused on creating custom typefaces for specific environments, such as mobile-device screens or corporate branding. This gives me a set of rules to work within and depending on the project, it can either restrain me or free me up to embrace self-expression.

Are you particular about font styles?

Type gives a voice to the author’s message, and it’s bothersome when there is a disconnect between the two. The only time I’m very particular about typeface styles is when they’re used inappropriately or without imagination. It’s how a musician feels when a certain composition is played in a style that’s out of place. For example, Comic Sans is perfect for comic books but awful in formal settings. G.F. Handel’s Messiah would be bad in a hip-hop mix.

What’s your font of choice?

“Type gives a voice to the author’s message, and it’s bothersome when there is a disconnect between the two.”

The typefaces I use every day are dictated by what I’m producing. I’m a big fan of book typefaces and those with some character. I tend to use designs with an organic, non-mechanical appearance. My favorite design is the Font Bureau‘s version of Californian, originally designed by Frederic Goudy for University of California at Berkeley.

How does one become a font designer?

People have come to type design from many different backgrounds. Thanks to type-design computer software and a few college degree programs that now allow students to study design type from an early age, more are attracted to the field. It seems like a narrow discipline, but it requires a wide variety of influence. Some of the best text-type designs came from book designers such as Bruce Rogers, Fred Goudy or Jan Tschichold. Lettering artists and calligraphers have made huge contributions to expressive type designs. Again, type design is similar to music. You have a framework within which to work: key signatures, tempo, rhythm, genre and so on. Successful composers are drawn to this framework and work within the limitations. Designers see a similar framework to work within in type. They are either smitten by it or never come back.

 

Droid Sans, the font

 

What design or project of yours are you most proud of?

My proudest achievement is probably the designs I did for Google’s Android mobile platform. Droid Sans, Droid Serif and now OpenSans — based on Droid Sans — have become very popular. I really like these because while they are highly utilitarian, they also have a lot of me in them. They weren’t made so neutral as to prevent me from expressing myself. It’s also rewarding to see my work used by huge numbers of consumers every day.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced with design so far?

The typeface family I designed for the hardware of XBox 360 was the biggest challenge. The company wanted a new typeface family to reflect the redesign of the device, but I couldn’t see any of the hardware designs in progress or how the typefaces would be rendered on the XBox screens. I had to take the designer’s word for it that I was headed in the right direction throughout the six-month project. When I saw the final product with my typefaces, it was a relief that it successfully provided a unified brand voice.

How is design for companies different now than it was a few years ago?

The adoption of web fonts technology by browser manufacturers has created a rebirth in typographic expression on the web. Companies are seeing a huge shift towards recreating their collateral for the web and mobile. Even in the last 2 years, we saw a lot of ‘web safe’ system fonts conveying corporate messages — such as IKEA’s switch to Verdana — now you see the corporate brand voice in the proper corporate typeface. It’s like the desktop publishing revolution all over again.

 

What advice would you give to inspiring and up-and-coming designers?

Don’t be discouraged by the overnight success of peers. This can lead to impatience and bad-decision making. I’ve seen a few designers flame out as they try to keep up with self-promoters with large web-based followings. Hard work is definitely the only way to succeed, but balance is also important. I turn to cycling on the roads and trails of Colorado. I also play trumpet in two ensembles and carve letters into stone. The creative energy has to come from somewhere, and if it’s constantly depleted, it’s not going to recharge.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, esolla


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One of the most common misconceptions about director/architect-level designers is they do less work (produce fewer wireframes, specifications, etc.) than junior-level designers. In fact, their work is more complex than people initially imagine when starting out in the field. You have to balance many ideas, requirements, and people, and have to make independent decisions that will cost thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars. The buck stops with you. This is a level of responsibility you have to endure, if not enjoy, to thrive in higher-level design.

When I was an entry-level designer, I would be handed various interaction design problems and asked for a solution. I would then present three or four solutions to my immediate managers and be done until the next such request. I was always curious what happened after I handed it off. I came to realize that there were several more handoffs, each getting more precise and more fierce as it moved up the chain of command. Different teams would have to get involved, then team leaders, then finally stakeholders, each giving opinions on changes, personal ideas, and ways to try and cut costs. The balancing act that you must do for that is beyond the scope of this article, but I will try to help you deliver the best possible solution you can.

This article is an overview of how to deliver completed designs to other teams or stakeholders in the highest levels of design. I am not going to explain details of design process, because you likely have one of your own, your team’s, or your company’s. I’ll specifically tackle how to walk into a large meeting to present deliverables and get the best reception possible.

I should also add that my experience is with large corporations, such as Microsoft and Apple. How I present ideas to colleagues may be very different than how a vendor or a design agency would present an idea. My strategies for delivering designs are meant to influence a set of peers to maintain the best possible experience for the user. Your focus should be entirely on what’s best for the customer.


Share Documents in Advance


Include all relevant documents including the specifications, executive summary, UX testing materials and, if possible, other requirements that stakeholders have given you. If they want to read before the meeting, you should facilitate that in every manner possible. Air out your dirty laundry, include links to past specs and meeting notes if applicable.

The importance of this step is to help them prepare for the meeting. It’s bad form or just bad judgment to introduce a new idea or direction in a large meeting without proper warning. The initial kneejerk reaction will most likely be negative. Resistance to change is inherent. It’s better to give them as much preparation material as possible to facilitate a speedier meeting. You’ll be able to presume understanding of the concepts or reference the materials you have sent out during the meeting with more confidence. I like to include past UX testing findings with notations. This lets me speak directly about the customers’ needs when discussing solutions: “As you can see, six out of seven customers were searching for a way to do X. This pushed us to design a solution for X.” Also remember at the beginning of the meeting to make sure everyone got the materials and to ask if anyone had any questions.

Some examples of documents that I have given out prior to meetings:

  • UX findings, executive-level summaries (two to three sentences discussing the results of an entire testing round)
  • Excerpts from books describing certain design ideas or thoughts (one in particular I have given out several times is Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice)
  • Links to or wireframes of past designs and findings, or conclusions gotten from those designs
  • Links to TED talks (Barry Schwartz gives a great one)
  • HTML/Flash/WPF prototypes in a ZIP so they can play with them before they see them in your presentation
  • Sketches or drawings of past designs
  • Links to specific points in videos of UX Testing for particular quotes

Know Your Colleagues


Be familiar with each of the personalities in the room, and why are each of them has been invited to the presentation. Determine the roles of each member and make a mental note of the history your design team has had with them. Try to anticipate what each person might challenge you with. Think through questions that each may ask and try to determine if there will be any “gotcha” moments beforehand.

At Microsoft, from my recollection, approximately 50% of the employees have a title that’s some variation of “program manager,” or PM. This is a very general job title and can represent so many different types of roles. The PMs I usually came into contact with were software PMs, whose job is to watch the money. They keep track of the timelines, the budget, and generally keep an eye on all the different teams working on a particular feature set. They ensure everyone is working as hard as they can and that we finish on time and on budget.

When presenting to a group of PMs and developers a significant change to current thinking or process, the reactions will be varied. Many things are on the minds of the participants, including timeline, amount of code, impact on the customer, impact of the footprint (memory or cycles), etc. The developers may invite the challenge of trying to come up with something ingenious to solve the problem of developing your solution, but the PMs may want to keep resource utilization to a minimum. Conversely, the developers might not want to get that deep into the code for something they see as arbitrary and unnecessary because it will have a low customer impact, while the PMs push for more “wow” moments. This is why it’s important to understand where each of the meeting participants is coming from. If one of the PMs is constantly fretting about deadlines, be prepared to speak directly to how your designs will actually affect the deadline.


Do Your Homework


Are there any academic papers relevant to your designs? Have you checked ACM? Developers and PMs react positively to peer-reviewed academic papers given as support for design decisions. Being able to cite testing results or give specific examples from an academic paper is worth its weight in gold.

It’s also worth investigating whether there is any company history that might bear on your work if this is an ongoing version of a product with significant development history. Has this particular solution been tried before and failed? If it did fail, be prepared to speak to that history and how your solution is different and an improvement. Be specific. Have all raw notes, summaries, and findings from user testing ready to go. Be prepared to deep dive into the results as much as you need to be. Be able to cite specific testing answers if need be; more times than not, it’s very useful. I have found that when PMs or developers don’t want to do a particular piece of a design—perhaps because of the number of hours it will take or its perceived risk to the stability of the build—they will hammer it incessantly, challenging the thought process, the reasoning, or the design process. These concerns are easier to respond to when you have user testing results ready at hand, and have organized them in a way that anticipates how you might need to use them to respond to concerns.

When you start designing a particular feature or add-on to a product, remember that you are not the first. There should be a massive amount of documentation on why the designers got to the point you are at now. If you were designing for Microsoft Office Help, for example, you would not expect to go in fresh. There is a massive amount of documentation, designs, test results, and other political/corporate decisions that went into where it lies.

Before presenting some new and interesting feature or add-on, always make sure that you have researched the history behind it first. Talk to some of the senior people; do they have any recollection of that particular feature ever being introduced? Can they recall any unwritten corporate decisions, legal problems, or technical issues that led to its currently not being implemented? Research the idea or feature to the best of your ability to help prepare yourself for speaking to why it should be implemented now if it wasn’t in the past.


Understand the Technical and Engineering Requirements


If you don’t quite understand why engineers cannot implement a particular requirement, ask questions. Generally, you will find a dev or two who loves helping with and learning about design. It is very helpful to have an ally in the development team, someone you can confer with, bounce ideas off of, or get good development advice from. In my experience, there is always at least one developer who is more design savvy than a normal developer. Relationships with this type of person are invaluable in the design process. Feed your designs to your design-savvy developer for feedback on the complexity of implementing the designs how it would affect the product technically.

Be friendly with developers. They are not your enemy (most of the time). Developers are fearful of designers’ ability to create thousands of lines of code with a simple sketch. So instead of approaching your design work simply from a designer’s standpoint, approach it as someone who would also have to build it. Whatever you get approved, someone is going to have to labor over to actually implement.

Be precise and be exact if your aim is to get full sign-off on a design. If you don’t get this detailed in your review, expect to have to do another review when you do. Do not go into a meeting and describe a “slow animation that sweeps from the left;” do go into a meeting and say, “The animation begins and lasts for 0.3 seconds, and here are four slides, from 0 to 0.1 to 0.2 to 0.3 and the resting state at 0.4.” But even this isn’t enough. Make sure you have talked to a developer first to see if this can even be implemented in the manner that you want it to be.

Understand the overall system ramifications of your design are beyond the scope of this article, but I would suggest you gain a familiarity with all the workings of your particular application or solution have on whatever system it may be running on. This includes, but it not limited to, the variables that are changing hands, the memory load, the machine cycles, the net connections, etc. Try to understand as much as you possibly can before asking the next level of stakeholders. What is the effect on the rest of the application or experience? You don’t want the entire experience to pay a tax (in whatever machination that may come in the form of) for a small feature that it shouldn’t have to pay.


Conducting the Meeting


At the start of the meeting, explain the goals for the meeting and what you want everyone to get from it. What you’d ideally like is universal buy-in and strong approval for your design so it can get sent to production, but if you don’t get that, don’t freak out. If you do get rejected, try to understand everything you can about why you got rejected. What were the specific points that supported their criticism? Can you fix them? Take critique well. Remember that arriving at a solution is not easy, especially when you’re working with larger and more complex systems. You may get approval for 90% of the design, but stakeholders might request tweaks or different variations on particular details. This is the easy part. Tweak or do these variations in quantity—three or four of each—and present them to a smaller audience, sometimes only the dissenters. This should help you get to the next level. Iteration is part of the process. I have personally gone through 8-10 design iterations on a particular feature before I finally got approval. Don’t think of it as 20% rejection, think of it as 80% approval!

Some additional tips for running the presentation:

  1. Try to keep questions until the end of the presentation, remembering to leave ample time for questions and challenges. Depending on how radical, new, or complex your solution is, be prepared to spend a larger portion of the meeting receiving and responding to feedback.
  2. If you get challenged, ask questions. Try to understand exactly what they are saying and understand their reasoning. Also try to make sure everyone else in the room understands it. This is very important if you need to explain the challenge to your team after the meeting.
  3. Answer direct questions directly. If you do not know the answer, say, “I’ll find out and get back to you.” Then get back to them with an answer soon after the meeting.
  4. Answer direct challenges directly with all relevant documentation. If you don’t have it, do not try to persuade them with vague answers. Tell them what you have, why you made the decision, and let it stand on its own two feet. Do not get defensive beyond reason. If something is challenged, explain how you got there and let it rest. Do not repeat yourself (this is rule #1, as repeating yourself will make others feel talked-down to). Do not defend the solution like it is you personally. Do not fumble for answers. If you can’t answer the challenge directly, respond with “I’ll find out for you.” Letting feedback get to you personally is unprofessional. You are not an artist delivering a masterpiece.
  5. You may encounter unreasonable challenges and you can get “edge-cased to death,” which is what I call it when people try to kill things with the most unreasonable of problems. I also call this the “one-armed man in Uganda” challenge. I actually had someone bring up a one-armed man in Uganda as a possible customer and therefore we needed to think of him when designing a solution. This can be extremely frustrating, but if you have critically thought-out your design beforehand, you will be prepared.
  6. Though you may feel you have answered someone’s question or challenge completely, ask the person if he feels you’ve completely answered his question. Just because you think it answered it does not mean you have.
  7. Be transparent about the entire process you took getting to the design. Have slides ready showing testing subjects, iterations, sketches, and any other materials that you may have collected along the way.
  8. Address problems with the design honestly. Be transparent about all the things that have given you headaches over the course of the project. Helping people understand the journey you’ve been on helps them respect the destination all the more.
  9. Talk about the user or the customer directly. Your job is to ensure the user has a great experience, not to make the developers happy. As you move up the ladder of stakeholders, you will find a common trait: they all care what customers think. Speaking directly to how designs affect customers will keep the conversation rooted in your sole purpose, to make the customer happy on all levels.

Always remember to do what is best for the user. You aren’t there to make your colleagues happy or sad. In the end, you all have the same goal. You all want to make the customers happy and create a piece of software that you are proud of. This can be one of the hardest parts of working in the UX field. Trying to be a voice for the user’s point of view in decision-making. Senior colleagues will all have their own ideas what is best, so use the user’s perspective as an objective frame of reference for responding to them. Don’t explain things in terms of your own opinion; rather, speak in terms of the user. Don’t say, “I picked this because it was a cool design;” instead say, “We chose this design because it tested amazingly well with current/future/target customers.”


Closing the Meeting


Go over what you have agreed upon and ensure it’s clear. Give action items with dates to everyone who needs them. If someone assigns you an action item but says they need to find something first, call that out; if they don’t find that something, you shouldn’t be responsible for the action item. Schedule meetings immediately following other dates and action items. Your job is to get this through to production. Your job is not complete until it is.


Aftermath


Discuss the meeting with teammates who were not available to attend. When discussing challenges that were brought up, give them the best representation possible rather than being dismissive of them or making straw men of opposing arguments.


An Unspoken Truth


This piece of advice I have saved for the end is generally not talked about in senior level/corporate design circles, but it I think one of the most crucial aspects of getting approval for a design. I think it was best said by a very respected designer and dear friend of mine (who shall remain nameless): “The best way to get a design approved is to let them think it’s their idea.”

I cannot emphasize this enough. By leaving strategic holes in your design and allowing others to come up with conclusions or obvious fillers, it reinforces their own personal stake in the design. This will get them personally involved in the approval process as one of your biggest advocates, since they’ll equate defense of your ideas with defense of their own. This whole idea is rather sketchy, so use it with caution. You will be giving up some ownership of your design, but in the end remember your goal is to make the best experience for the user. It’s about them, not us.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Yuri Arcurs, Flickr, poolie

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