Lessons learned from PUSH UX Conference: from Medium to Mozilla

This friday, I had the opportunity to attend PUSH Conference Munich and hear from two talented designers and user experience professionals. The first, Dustin Senos gave insights into what he’d learned from the process of designing for Medium. Jen Simmons finished the day with a call to action: it’s time to bring real art-direction to the web!

Speakers: Dustin Senos (of Medium) & Jen Simmons (of Mozilla)
Conference: PUSH, UX Design
Date: 23 Oct 2015

Things learned at Medium

So, Medium. A content platform that is “a community of readers and writers offering unique perspectives on ideas large and small.” Medium identified the intention that their writers had – this came from user research. The need was apparent: people wanted to write – but there were too many roadblocks.

Medium notes, people wanted to write but there were too many roadblocks

author’s notes on Medium’s design process

WordPress distracted from the writing with layout and design decision writers didn’t need to make, “so at Medium we, as designers made a lot of decisions for people.”
This design principle was: direction over choice. And then obviously Medium also provided the platform. Initially medium was invite only with a mailing list (people thought it was exclusive, but in reality their server wouldn’t have coped with the traffic at that point).

Dustin asserted that “it’s easy to make good design, but it’s really hard to design good experiences.” He followed with what he called the vegetables of design. These included four areas to avoid:

  1. Not establishing success criteria
  2. Designing for the wrong person
  3. Not exhausting your options
  4. Being too clever
Dustin Senos, photo by PushConference via Twitter

Dustin Senos, photo by PushConference via Twitter

His best practice for iterations:
Involve engineer s up front with designers
Process should let them both have a voice
Ask, what’s the quickest way to learn?

Area 4 : Being too clever resonated with me because Dustin said one way to identify if your team was falling into this trap was if your critiques involved too much explanation.

The goal is to achieve the user’s intent.

At medium they practiced DCT
This is a model for a feedback session where you can’t over-explain the design:
Designer should state the goal
State user intent
Show a comp/mockup*

*don’t show one screen, show where they’re going and where they’ve been/how they got there.

Q&A: two last interesting insights

Audience question:
Q:How did you know when you were ready to ship?
A: Medium Founder Ev Williams “does it make the world better right now? Is it better than what already exists?”

My question: Medium was the first to show reading time on articles (ie. 12min read) – what user research led to this insight?

A: It was a hunch that Dustin & a developer had – they implemented it and then the analytics they used at Medium to show time reading validated it because people were reading longer.

I think this goes to show that knowing your success criteria does help you have better hunches.


Modern Layouts: Getting Out of Our Ruts

Now’s the time [to enable] real art direction on the web.

Jen Simmons was kind enough to put her presentation online so I will talk less about the details and more about what I took-away from it. Essentially, she argued the case for things not looking the same anymore.

Dave Ellis, Unique

Dave Ellis, Unique website wireframe

Something so simple, and obvious that it needed to be restated: layout should serve the content. Her brief history of layout on the web pushed us to remember that design predated the web – that we ought to translate the great print designs, not transfer them. She backed this up with css examples of what was possible now on the web and what was coming – see some on her site: thewebahead.

Her message was: be inspired by the tone, the energy we get from inspiring magazine layouts. Break out of the grid we have currently – because there’s no reason to have this assumption that responsive design is “moving the sidebars around.”

You can see her presentation here.

These talks are meaningful to the PublishingLab; we can learn from Medium’s process – to work toward the goal for the reader. We can take these code snippets from Jen with the freedom to play with layout as a pertinent reminder that our hybrid workflow isn’t just limited to output but that the layout can influence both directions too.