What experience comes first: mobile or simple?

Today, for a personal project, I was looking for a way to make images adapt to the device they were being accessed on. My only two requirements were as follows:

  1. Images should scale down in size as the viewport width gets smaller.
  2. A mobile browser should not need to download the large image.

The simple CSS technique of setting the maximum width of <img> tag to 100% (img {max-width: 100%;}) works great making images render at their native dimensions and only take up the width of 100 per cent of its container. But it does not satisfy my second requirement.

Just a couple of clicks after I started my research, I came across Matt Wilcox’s adaptive-images.com. He recorded a video explaining the method in all its details, too. At the very beginning of the video, Matt described what responsive web design means to him and how it relates to mobile first.

I work for a local government, the municipality of Örebro. Last week, my colleagues and I were presented with two approaches for what is going to be an overhaul of our not-yet-mobile-ready website orebro.se. The first was responsive, safe and well-tried. The second was mobile first, uncomfortable and unknown. Since the presentation, I’ve been thinking about how responsive web design relates to the mobile first approach. Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail I sent to my colleagues today (I borrowed largely Matt’s ideas):

I think it is important for us to have the simplest citizen experience first instead of mobile experience first as a starting point. The simplest experience often means mobile, but not always. It is also important that we make sure that every user gets the most efficient results, when they visit our site. As to the two approaches, I prefer a combination of “desktop first” and “mobile first” (in any case, the end product will be responsive), with a focus on user experience before the viewport size.

Watch Matt’s presentation here:

Adaptive Images is a video by Matthew Wilcox on Vimeo

Retweet and die, or lose at best

Last week, I wrote about how a relationship is a thing between two persons and not between a person and an organisation. I argued that for a business to succeed in building relationships with their clients, it is essential to be personal.

A business can be more personal by, for example, adjusting the tone of voice in conversations with their customers, addressing them by their first name or even exhibiting human traits and emotions. Now, emotions can be expressed in many different ways. One of the most distinct is by concurring with, endorsing or plain liking things their customers say or do.

Here’s an example. When someone mentions your business or links to your site in a positive tweet, it is easy for you to show your appreciation by retweeting them. Thus, maybe totally unaware or unintentionally, you are striving to expose your business to broader masses to gain popularity. What many forget though is that you retweet others’ updates to your followers. That is to people who already have made a conscious decision and pushed the Follow button on your Twitter profile.

Do not offer your followers to come in and feel themselves at home. They are already at your table. Offer them the food full of marrow and the best of aged refined wines. Ask them how their day has been and if they care for a game of Monopoly. Show your followers that you care about them enough not to retweet someone who praises you.

So, how do you show your gratitude to someone who mentions you in a good light on Twitter? Mark their tweet as favourite instead! Show them that you like what they have to say. Bid them in. Show them around. Invite them to the table. Show them why it’s better here.

By retweeting (to your followers) the good things others have to say about you, you are coming across as craving popularity. (Or are you afraid they might fly away?) At best, it might cost you your followers. By marking the tweet as favourite instead, you show the person who might not yet be among your followers some of the benefits to become one—your personal touch, your understanding of interaction and your willingness to start a relationship.

Little failures

Stool

Photo Credit: Evil Erin via Compfight (cc)

Today, my almost three-year-old fell from a stool. No visible consequences like bruises or injuries. Just a couple of tears. Most probably, she was shocked by how the chair could not sustain her little body. The remedy for the shock? The mother’s hug.

With every day that passes, my daughter learns how to adapt to the world around her. Today, the lesson was about motor coordination and what happens when she does not pay attention to where she places her foot. Next time she is on a chair dancing, she will remember today’s incident as an incentive for her to be more careful, most hopefully.

We adults often view children’s falls, mistakes and incompetence as failures: “How clumsy of you!” or “Could you be quiet? Don’t you see I’m busy?” What we usually forget is that we were once little failures as well.

My daughter does not understand gravitation, but she learned its force and effect the hard(er) way. I learned something, too. Thinking twice before I get annoyed at someone’s inability to perform basic in my eyes tasks is my implication of today’s lesson. What’s yours?

Short story: Heavy

Lily lay looking into the dark of the ceiling, listening. Her heart pounded in the silence of the ghastly walls. She wished it tore and choked instead. But it kept beating, to her dismay.

The signal woke Peter up. He rushed out of his bedroom. They had agreed she would only press the red button once. The last 1461 sleepless nights made him look older by sixteen years, at least.

“Yes, honey,” the enthusiasm of the 24-year-old man was wearing off.

And then the words. The heavy words he could distinguish among the myriad of noises.

“Pull… the plug, Peter, you can’t live with me like… this.”

“I’ve made a promise, dear, I’ll keep it as long as I have breath in my lungs,” determined, he hugged the limbless body of his young wife, and fell asleep.

Iceber.gs: the best thing to happen to creative research

Last week, I got a chance to start using Iceber.gs, a rather new web app that helps you save all the cool things you stumble upon on the web. The first impression was positive, so I decided I would share my initial thoughts on the app.

Iceber.gs – Bookmarklet is a video from Albert Pereta on Vimeo.

As Jesse Gardner puts it, ”[Iceber.gs] is like Pinterest and Evernote got together and had a good-looking baby.” It is somewhat true. Probably the most important and obvious thing you notice when you start clicking and dragging things around in the interface is that the idea of saving things you find on the web isn’t new. The most notable example I can think of is Gimmebar, which, just like Iceber.gs lets you save text, images, videos and entire pages.

The main difference between between the two apps is probably the ease of use, although both are very fast and pleasant to play with. It seems that Iceber.gs developers have put more time into making the app both simple and powerful.

So, what makes this web app stand out from the crowd of similar services is the execution. If you could touch Iceber.gs, it would be smooth and cool. Unlike its name, it would have a graceful posture and be feather-light.

Iceber.gs is not a mobile app, it is best used on a desktop or laptop device. The front page looks good on an iPad and Kindle in landscape mode, but I haven’t tested it on a tablet, so it is hard for me to know whether it works at all.

I would characterise Iceber.gs’ area of expertise as “creative research and online inspiration for an individual”. Although it is possible to share your saved findings with others, Iceber.gs do not have a feature built around the social aspect of the web (unlike the already mentioned Gimmebar, for example).

I use neither Pinterest nor Evernote, I am a little skeptical as of the value such services contribute with in my workflow. However, I am now in the process of looking for inspiration for creative research and this tool is proving to be very useful. Maybe, it will prove its worth in a way that will make me want to use it more, hard to say.

Iceber.gs is still in beta, but you can request an invite on their website.

Feeding the machine

Alongside the glassy buttons and text reflections, one of the characteristic traits of Web 2.0 was user-generated content. Wikipedia, though being the most popular collaborative creation in the world, is no longer “the largest collection of shared knowledge”. The Internet is. And we are feeding the machine.

“But how can I be feeding it by taking photos of my cat and sharing them with my friends?” By and large, the machine is indeed indifferent to your cat as it is to it. I believe, however, that the key is not the individual, but the cumulative, joint aspect of knowledge that may present danger in this context.

Sometimes, I wonder if Eagle Eye or I, Robot or any other similar fictional discourse is becoming the reality. Knowledge is power, but so is the access to shared knowledge if you know how to manage it. Which can become an obsession, and ultimately domination.

True freedom of speech

When I went to school, one of my classmates (let’s call him Danny) was short. Not abnormally short, just shorter than anyone else in class. One day I was being picked up by my mother. The other kids sat waiting for their parents, talking. For some inexplicable reason, probably just stupidity on my part, I shouted as we were walking past the youngsters, “And this is Danny, ma, look how short he is!”

The choice of words in a given situation is crucial for a message to come across. Just because you can say something does not necessarily mean you should. Freedom of speech is bound by limitations. My freedom to express what I believe must be guided and controlled by whether my words will harm or offend others.

The problem does not lie in my uttering the words of hate, disdain or scorn. It lies in my fostering the thoughts in my mind. The words are the result, the reflection of what’s happening inside.

But we are free to use language to encourage one another, build each other up. True freedom of speech is not about saying what you want—it is about saying what you should. It is also about knowing when to talk and when to keep silent.

When my mother and I left the school building that afternoon, she touched my shoulder and told me, “You know, some people do not like their height, and if you remind them of it, they may get offended. It wasn’t polite of you.” Her words stayed with me since shaping how I view people different from me.

I never got to apologise to Danny. To exercise my freedom to resist the norm, to burst it. But some day I will. Not because I should, but because I want to.

Cultivate customer relationship by being personal

Deep down, people do not want a relationship with your brand or your product. Yes, they love it and cherish it. They develop a strong attachment to it. They feel incomplete without their phone or what they associate with your brand. But it is not a relationship.

When people are involved, a relationship is a connection between two persons. Not a person and a machine, or a person and a concept. Interaction, as a means to cultivate the relationship, is possible if both parties are inclined to feelings and reason.

Today, many companies miss out on what a relationship with their customers can offer. If only for a deeper understanding of the needs and demands of your customers, you might want to reconsider your social media strategy. Mind that I am not talking about your reputation online in general or the number of your Twitter followers in particular as being the sole sign of your success, if any.

Balsamiq’s personal touch

Balsamiq Mockups is a wireframing tool. Balsamiq Studios, the small company behind it, has been on Twitter since April 2008, one month after it was founded. @Balsamiq have 11 527 followers. As they state on their website, “[they] aim to WOW you through [their] support and outstanding user experiences”.

Their strategy is to be a down-to-earth, easy-to-talk-to and overall cool buddy you would want to grab a beer or two on a Friday night. This impression is achieved by being personal—in conversations and the way they invest in the relationship with both their current and potential customers. Here’s how they do it. Balsamiq’s avatar on Twitter is an animated .gif-image with portraits of the team members who engage with people on Twitter. Moreover, they append each tweet that is a direct reply to someone with a signature at the end, e.g. “-Mike” or “-Peldi”.

SJ’s in a tough spot

SJ (which once stood for Statens järnvägar, “National railway”) is a Swedish state-owned company that runs railway passenger traffic and is one of several train operators within the railway system. @SJ_AB have been on Twitter since October 2009 and they have 19,694 followers.

Their main goal for engaging with the Twitter users is to provide customer support. If any, one would deem the arena perfect for personalising one’s replies on the quest of building up a loyal fan base. Especially with the daunting multitude of unhappy winter-season customers that the company has.

SJ claim 85 per cent of their Twitter followers are satisfied (in Swedish) with their presence in the medium. Unfortunately, they fall short of being perceived as willing to take the relationship with their customers to the logical next level. Mere presence does not cut it any longer, for people crave a personal approach.

Watch and learn

What do you want your business to be associated with online? An ordinary customer service that everyone expects of you? Or an extraordinary encounter with your customers that makes them ambassadors for you?

If you want to stand out, watch and learn. Examples abound.