Your Problems are NOT your Users Problems

How many times have you been faced with this:

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I complete captchas on a daily basis and am faced with them wherever I go on the internet. What does the captcha represent to you?

To me as a developer it’s a way that developers use to reduce the amount of spam that is received as a result of automated bots that roam the internet exploiting weaknesses. To me as a user it is a burden on humanity that gets in the way of me achieving my aims and objectives of using the web.

The issue I have with this overused annoyance is that it does not solve any problem that I as a user have! Instead it solves problems that I face as a developer! The real issue here and my big revelation is that:

YOUR PROBLEMS ARE NOT YOUR USERS PROBLEMS

Just stop for a second and read that again! Your problems are NOT your users problems.

If we forget the problem that the captcha solves and focus on our users, captchas are a horrific creation. They interrupt the users flow, get in the way of what the user wants to do but worse that they the humble captcha annoys the user especially when they are so complicated its impossible to work out what the system wants you to type or click. Whoever thought that a captcha was a good idea in my view should be taken immediately and put into room 101.

So what are the alternatives? It would be wrong of me to sit here berate you as a for using a captcha without offering some alternatives.

The real issue is that as developers we need to verify that the person who is using our system is real; I believe a captcha is a lazy way of doing this.

Take this scenario! You have a contact form that you are expecting a user to complete; you are worried that unless you use a captcha you will receive huge volumes of spam because there is nothing to prevent a bot from submitting the form.

In reality it is going to take a few second for the user to complete each of the fields – if there is a long message box it might take even longer still.

Computerised bots don’t hang around when completing forms; they get to the form and they repeatedly spam it submitting it multiple times a second.

A potential solution here is to track the behavior of users on our pages. If we record how long it takes the user to complete the form, we can come up with a pretty good idea of whether our user is a real human.

If we get suspicious that the user isn’t real because the form was completed to quickly then maybe this is the point that its ok to use a captcha. But for 95% of users visiting our site its ok just to let the submission through because their behavior verified that they are real.

Of course the above scenario and solution throws up problems. Is it ok for us to track what our users are doing on our websites; will our users be happy with this? My view is that we need to educate users; make the reasons for this clear within the privacy policy so they can read about it – you could even tell them that the alternative is to have a captcha before every submission and I’m sure most users will sympathize and understand.

The work being done by the guys at NUCAPTCHA explores all of these ideas and is revolutionising the way that Captcha works.

Another interesting way to beat the captcha and improve our users experience is to gamify the experience. If we are going to make the user do something tedious what’s wrong with making it a more enjoyable experience; everyone enjoys playing games. That’s exactly the approach that is being taken by SweetCaptcha as they try to make captchas fun.

I’m not naïve enough to think that the captcha is going to go away anytime soon but I hope that this post will make you stop and think about whether there is a way you can solve your problems in a better way that improves your users experience; or at least makes your user smile to brighten their day.

Of course this is only one very small example of how developers inconvenience users to solve their problems. Next time you are faced with a scenario where you need to solve a problem consider what impact your solution will have on the end user and then ask yourself if your solution is a legitimate burden to a user or whether it to should be resigned to room 101.

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Categories: Design, UX | Leave a comment

Brilliant UX

I’ve recently found myself talking to people more and more about what makes UX either really really good or really really bad.

I came across this image online which I think sums up best practice of user interface design.

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Its important to look at how this manifests itself in real life. The best example of exceptional user interface design that comes into every day life is the common Door Handle.

doorhandleThe door handle is a brilliant example of user interface design because it is quite simply one of the most intuitive objects of everyday life.

I don’t ever remember being told how to use a door handle; and its a concept that in thousands of videos online you see conquered by children and animals alike with absolutely no direction.

This is so true that in nursery schools often the door handle is moved so it is out of reach of the children because staff know if the children can reach the handle then they will be able to open it.

The door handle is quite simply an elegant solution to a complex problem. It hasn’t been over engineered and actually goes unnoticed for the vast majority of the time. Yet imagine the issues we would have if the humble door handle didn’t exist? We would struggle to open doors, wouldn’t be able to lock doors and secure our property, car boots and cars more generally would face difficulties; and if expand the concept to cover the generic handle how many every every day objects would be effected.

Compare and contrast this to UI on the web. We regularly see examples of good clean UI, simplistic in its nature, not over engineered and easy for our users to understand. One of the best examples of stunning UI on the web can be seen on the gov.uk website.
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This website learns from the simplicity of the door handle by making it very obvious what to do. A user has w very clear options when they visit the home page, search or click on a relevant link. When you consider the volume of information published on this website it really is a triumph that it has been categorised into 16 clearly defined areas.

Now lets consider the navigation on this website

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I acknowledge that I have selected an extreme example; but in the website above the navigation is confusing, over engineered and doesn’t help the user to find the content that they are looking for.

The creators of the website above have worked on the principle that everything on the website should be accessible within 2 clicks. While this is a good principle in theory there are times when the rules doesn’t work and simply isn’t helpful to our users. As designs as we search to optimise or users experience by reducing the number of clicks we often find ourselves giving users a greater number of choices which only serves to confuse our users.

The moral of the story here is that we should all try to make our websites more like Door Handles; emulate the simpicity and improve our users flow as they access our online content.

Categories: Design, Technology, UX | Leave a comment

Developer Conferences

If you’re anything like me then you will love a good developer conference! The opportunity to share and collaborate with like minded people is sometimes just what the doctor ordered to help make sure those creative juices are flowing.

Unfortunately, in the UK we seem to have a lack of events; especially outside of London. There are a couple of independent events like iOSDEVUK and a few others organised by the tech giants such as Microsoft and Google. The issue is that the vast majority of events tend to happen in the south, in and around London and often us up here in the North feel a bit left out.

I’ve recently been chatting about this phenomena to some of my developer friends and colleagues; and the conclusion we have come to is that if there are no conferences happening locally to help promote knowledge share and collaboration between developers, then the only solution is to set one up ourselves!

We got chatting with some friends; those friends made some introductions and the result is CodeMobile – a conference specifically created for Mobile Developers. The event will take place just after easter next year (18th, 19th and 20th April), is a 3 night residential and has 2 tracks, one for Android Developers and another for iOS Developers.

In creating the conference we’ve deliberately tried to make it as accessible as possible for developers from all backgrounds. The ticket price is as cheap as it possibly can be (Super Early Bird, £275 & £350 Full Price) which will hopefully allow Indie Developers who are not backed by big corporations to come along; and we’ve been fortunate enough to attract a plethora of speakers from both the UK and internationally.

Putting the conference together over the past few weeks has been an absolute whirlwind of an experience and I’m delighted we’ve had so much support and encouragement from within the developer community. We are now in the process of finalising the speakers list (there are still some great speakers to add to the list) and also confirm details before tickets go on sale on 1st September 2016.

As this is a new conference any help and support you can give will be very much appreciated. In particular we need help reaching out to developer networks and communities to make sure everyone is aware of the event. If you’re involved in a local meet-up or know any developers who might be interested a tweet mentioning the conference website or that tags those who might be interested would be hugely appreciated.

We’ve also opened up the possibility of winning some free conference tickets! If you want to be in with a chance then you just need to get your tweet on on follow the instructions on the Free Tickets page of the conference website.

I would love to hear any feedback about the event that you might have! Also if you have any speakers you would like to see at the event please drop me a line – I can’t promise but we will certainly reach out to those speakers and see if its possible to get them to attend.

My dream for this conference is that the developer community take ownership of it and that it becomes a true community event; to that end if you have any ideas or suggestions please drop me a tweet.

Once tickets go on sale please show your support by signing up to attend if you’re interested and able. It would be brilliant to see you at the event! You can also follow @codemobileuk on twitter, and find all related information on the conference website www.codemobile.co.uk

Categories: Android, Apple, Apps, Conferences, Social, Technology | Leave a comment

A Social Review of 2015

So in a follow up to my social review of 2014 I thought it worthwhile to continue to trend and take a look back at 2015 and highlight what has been making the news particularly in the world of Apple. There have been some big technological changes and advancements in 2015 but I think the big thing that is holding us back is mass adoption.

1. Apple Watch Arrived

It seems like a long time ago now but the Apple Watch was finally released to the public. The watch had been rumoured as far back as 2011; and when it was announced in September 2014 it lived up to the hype but we still couldn’t get our hands on it! It wasn’t until April 2015 that I finally got my hands on one but many had to wait several months while Apple processed the back orders.

It still hasn’t changed the world though – it is now the best selling smart watch on the market but it hasn’t received mass adoption. I am still one of only 5 people that I know who has one which even in terms of my friendship circle is a very small percentage. 

The watch is brilliant though; it’s the first smart watch that I have religiously worn on a daily basis. That said I’m probably not alone in that I use a very small fraction of the features. I love that Micky Mouse tells me the time, and it’s very useful to see when my next meeting is. The Taptic feedback on google maps has come in handy on a couple of occasions and the ability to read text messages without getting my phone out of my pocket is helpful. Sending my heartbeat to the other 4 people that I know with a watch was fun for 5 minutes, and the ability to send drawings amused me for a few hours but in reality these gimmicks while good for show stopping media launches have little value to the long term use of the product.

The big question is whether it’s prohibitive price tag will ever allow it to become mass market? I hope that it does but I fear if there isn’t a drastic increase in adoption during 2016 it may simply become an apple fringe product at best.

2. New Apple TV

Again this was very overdue, rumoured and promised for years but finally this year we got our hands on the new Apple TV. Apple very kindly gave Apple Developers a new box for free and it hasn’t disappointed. It seems the uptake is healthy and the feedback seems generally positive. The TVOS App Store still has a very small number of apps but I guess this is to be expected. 2016 will see an explosion of apps and I’m optimistic that the future of Apple TV will see it challenge the games console market.

3. IPad Pro

Sticking with the Apple Trend Apple launched the iPad Pro. To say I’m septical about the need for a bigger iPad would be a huge understatement; that said I’m writing this article on one and it has to be said I find it much more comfortable to use that either the iPad Air or the iPad Mini. My issue with it is that it is largely a laptop replacement and that’s how I’m using it! It feels to me like it needs to have a greater range of software abilities and iOS is a little limiting on the device. That said I don’t subscribe to the need to have a full version of OSX on the device and I’m not sure that would work well. Maybe iOS needs to morph into iOSPro or similar? And it’s definitely time that Apple dealt with the issue of file management within their flagship mobile operating system.

There have been other steps forward, Apple Music launched with great hype; as expected we got a new iPhone (6s and 6s Plus) the next generation of OSX also has some nice enhancements. I still have the feeling that Apple are riding the crest of a wave though – they are still the most profitable company in the world but somehow in the mix of all of these new products I still continue to want more from them. I don’t know what I want but whatever it is I feel it needs to do what iPhone did back in 2007 and change the world!

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HTML Elements

It seems to me that everyone can build a website! Some people build websites better than others; many use outdated technologies or haven’t stayed up to speed with web standards and the latest developments within HTML5 jQuery and the like – but none the less building websites and adding content to the web is easier than ever.

I recently came across this periodic table of valid HTML elements. So if you’re building websites; aren’t sure if the tag you are using is allowed; or just want to explore your knowledge of HTML markup take a look! You never know you might just find a tag that you didn’t know existed and it might solve a problem that has been bugging you for months. Enjoy!
  
If you want more information on any of the elements check out W3C.

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iOSDEVUK – My Favourite Bits!

So last week was the fifth @iOSDEVUK and what a brilliant week it was. Its always good to meet up with everyone in Aberystwyth and to share ideas and experience so that as a developer community we can learn to build better apps that surprise and delight our users.

I thought I would do a brief roundup of my highlights of the week and share one or two things that I learnt along the way.

Creating Usable Apps – Maxim Cramer (@mennenia)

This was by far one of my favourite sessions. Maxim looked at how developers should engage users in the development process and how that feedback can be used to improve apps. The session was very hands on and it was great opportunity for us to get some feedback on the new @chestersu app that we’re building and also to input and provide feedback on the Capital One iOS app. Great learning and incredibly useful.

#TopTip, get a user to test your app today – go up to someone in a coffee shop and ask them to do something on your app and watch what they do! Remember to tell the user that we are testing the product though; and not them!

iOS top trick – Chris Ross (@darkrock)

This just goes to show that you can always learn something new about the platform you use everyday. I can’t believe I didn’t know this before Chris featured it in his lightning talk – if use the panorama feature on your iphone you’re used to taking panoramas left to right. Did you know you can take a panorama right to left just by tapping the arrow to change direction?

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Doing Mobile at facebook – Simon Whitaker (@s1mn)

I’ve seen Simon talk a number of times and he never fails to disappoint. His talk on facebook explored a whole myriad of things from development practices, how Facebook handles scale and the problems associated with this and not forgetting the fact that the facebook mobile app is over 100Mb because it contains 18000 classes. Brilliant value and great talk!

Selfie Ideas – Chris Wilson (@abitofcode)

Who knew that if you take a selfie through a loo role you would look like the moon! #toptrick and great lesson! #tryit

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Magic Transitions – Shawn Welch (@shawnwelch)

This really is useful; the library developed by square allows users to create magic transitions similar to keynote. Once this is open sourced I think we’ll start to see some really cool transition effects coming to iOS apps #cantwait.

Core Data Multithreading – Marcus Zarra (@mzarra)

Marcus is always fantastic value; I’ve seen him talk about core data 3 or 4 times and I always come away having learnt something new. This year the talk was all about multithreading and how it is now possible to create multiple Persistent Store Co-Ordinators across multiple threads. If you need to know more about Core Data read his books! #Brilliant

So that was my favourite moments from @iOSDEVUK – as always I could have written about so much more; from the new friends made at the conference dinner to the annual Rummers reunion that must surely be about to enter mythical legend.

Huge big up to everyone involved with organising the event; can’t wait for next year!

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A perplexing keynote

So Apple held there September Event on Wednesday and I’ve got to be honest; I’m a little perplexed. If you haven’t seen the keynote you can watch it here 

The rumours by en large proved true; the new Apple TV complete with SDK is definitely a welcome addition to the line up; and the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6SPlus isn’t exactly a revelation. I laughed when Tim played the iPhone video as I genuinely believe they could have used the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in place of the new devices on screen and no-one would have noticed.

There were 2 things in the keynote though that left me wondering why.

First off; MICROSOFT! What were they doing? I had visions of the Steve Balmer Developers, Developers, Developers moment being repeated – surely Microsoft don’t believe that if Mohammad won’t go to the Mountain then Microsoft must go to the developers?

Its more than that though – I can accept the argument of the two companies “burying the hatchet, and Microsoft not feeling the need to compete; but in allowing Microsoft to present Office on the iPad Apple in my eyes have effectively acknowledged that the Office suite is a superior product to iWork and in some ways have abandoned Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

The second why moment in my view relates to the new Apple Surface …. sorry iPad Pro. That thing is huge and well expensive! I may well come to eat my words, but why would you want to have a tablet that size? For me I’d have preferred them to keep the existing overall size of iPad but introduce a thinner bezel to maximise screen real estate.

Then, there is the Apple Pencil – need I say more than to quote Steve Jobs “If you see a stylus, they have got it wrong” – #notconvinced; that said I’m sure some artists and graphic designers may find it useful, I just don’t believe its right for the mass market.

So there you have it; Apple have gone mad – well maybe not mad, but it strikes me that they are once again struggling to innovate.

I believe they don’t really know what to do next with iPad and are floundering for its next big success. For me they just need to slow down a little; there isn’t a need to have a brand new iPhone every year, and certainly not a brand new iPad – I’m not saying never refresh the product again; just take some time out and then introduce something new and innovative to the market.

Its time for them to take a risk and I fear if they don’t perhaps we are going to see that they have already ridden the crest of the wave and are about to watch the wave break over cupertino and the apple campus.

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Social Media: Does it complement or detract from life?

Social media is key part of all of our lives and everyday it seems that something happens to reinforce its impact on our lives. It is estimated that the average person in america spends upwards on 37 minutes per day social networking and that 46% of web users are influenced by social media when making a purchase (https://www.marketingtechblog.com/2014-statistics-trends-businesses-social-media/).

During the social media boom around 2006 the younger generation (18-30) were by far the quickest to adopt the technology; but recently the largest growth has been seen amongst 45-50 year olds. I think its impressive how older generations are adopting the technology and making use of it in ways that I wouldn’t have even imagined.

Personally, what I find most interesting is that as older generations come on board it seems that the technology is being used more as an extension of social activity that is already taking place offline. One of the most vibrant Facebook groups that I am a member of is the `Consett and District Heritage Initiative. Consett has always had a large number of individuals interested in local history and groups such as this are extending activities that already take place offline to allow a greater number of people to get involved with the conversations and really bring history to life.

With social media being used in this way I wonder if critics ever had anything to be worried about when arguing that online social interaction was going to have a negative impact on real life social interaction. I find that my online life compliments and enhances my actual life and far from becoming more of a recluse it actually causes me to interact with a much greater range of people some of whom I would otherwise not have the opportunity to interact with.

Whats your experience of social media? Does it enhance or detract from your “real life”?

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