Back to the Drawing Board…

Turns out a plugin had a major bug in it, causing this site to go down for about a month. The site is now fixed and content is back up, thankfully, but it does remind me to do the following:

  • Back up content on a scheduled basis;
  • Update on a regular basis when possible (even just monthly);
  • Change the design for autumn/winter;
  • Research further ways to improve accessibility on this website.

Do you have a method of saving your writing or backing up content that works for you?

Delicious Pi(e).

Learning about the Raspberry Pi (3) and projects people can do with them. There’s a project I’m curious to do – fit a Raspberry Pi 3 kit with RetroPie, and create a custom handheld that will run retro games – or even just retro-flavored indie games or even visual novels, such as off itch.io (not compatible with Steam, but with direct downloads, possibly).

Problem: a custom handheld using Raspberry Pi would still run me about $100 – $130, possibly more when shipping and whatnot get involved. There’s the Raspberry Pi itself, plus the wiring, memory card… I don’t have a 3D printer, so I’d have to pay for a special case and buttons to be printed by someone who does have one: I’d also have to get an appropriately sized LCD screen (not touchscreen, though). 

While a good DIY project, not… really sure if it’s worth it, though. 

Ideas? Suggestions?

Access and Inclusion.

So accessibility is one of those words that mean a lot, and sometimes doesn’t mean anything at all.

What do I mean?

In terms of “accessibility in tech”, like binding expectations of WCAG 2.0 and the United States Section 508, accessibility tends to mean equivalent access to information. Can someone with disabilities make a purchase on a store website or platform, for example, or find the newest post on a blog? But as designers and website creators, we cannot design for every single condition, or design for what we do not know. Which brings me to reductio ad absurdum: when informed about guidelines for menus and changing contexts, someone got frustrated, swung their argument the other extreme, and told me: “Well, why can’t we just have a screen before the person gets to the content, asking them what condition they have??”

Due to privacy laws and issues around diagnoses, ability, and social expectations, that gets complicated really fast – and often unlawful. Like I said, reductio ad absurdum: bringing things to a inflated, absurd conclusion.

But access to information does not always mean the website in question is inclusive.
Some websites only have site maps as a nod to accessibility. For a long time, some sites used a text-only page, stripped of any formatting at all, as their “accessible option” buried in the footer of the website or underneath a couple of levels of navigation. Some websites code their menus with “mouseclick” functions and ignore keyboard or other accessory use entirely. If the person does not have a mouse, or pointer equivalent, they might not be able to navigate the site at all. (This may also apply to the use of tablets and smartphones, though tablets and smartphones have additional considerations.) 

This is a bit like saying your building is accessible, when the nearest restroom stall to accommodate a wheelchair is on the third floor and there are no elevators. Of course, to many abled people, putting in a ramp to standards (i.e., have the ramp actually be functional for wheelchairs – the correct range of incline, etc) or refurbishing the building to include an elevator, seems too expensive and too much effort for very little gain. They don’t personally need a ramp or a larger bathroom – they might even see it as just a matter of convenience, or luxury, and not need.

Inclusive design, by contrast, takes the principles and includes them from the start. 

When inclusive design is used from the start, there is less perception of “extra work” – it’s part of the process already. Inclusive design leaves room for change, but also does not relegate parts of the population to one walled-off section of the website and then saying that the work is done.

What can you do to make design more inclusive?

Much of user experience issues really relate to one property: active listening.

I like analytics. Eye tracking software and applications have their place. And applications like Google Analytics can help us figure out where people might leave in frustration, and give us information on what browsers, what devices they use. But if someone says: “This font is difficult for me to read”, listen to them. Believe them. Ask what might be better. If someone says “I can’t tell if this is a button or not”, take a look at it and don’t discount the person out of hand.

Ask questions, but respect your users as people.

Technology and numbers aren’t always this impartial, universal thing. Humans create technological advances: humans decide what is worth measuring, and why, and which measurements are deemed acceptable. But the human factor is often relegated to the marketing division or a call center bank – and often with side helpings of sexism, insults to any sort of intelligence or wisdom, lack of adequate career planning, and more. This only widens the gap between developers/engineers and anyone else, and furthers resentment that has practical and real consequences.

Respect experiences. Respect intersectionality. 

Design and The Job Search.

Credit where credit is due – over to my colleague Chris Bell of Risky Content – for inspiring me to write a little about this.

Job searching can be exhausting. It’s difficult to stay positive when it feels like you’re just submitting applications into a void – if you’re lucky, you might get an automatically generated email saying that the application was received. If you’re not, you just feel like nobody’s out there. And that’s at the application stage, not even any further down the line.

For a writer transitioning into the digital scene, whether it be digital marketing / SEO or content writing, how can you make the search more effective?

I don’t have all the answers, but if you’re scrambling for suggestions, here are three.

1. In the application stage, focus on tools/software/numbers, as appropriate.

Do you know how many users use your system, or refer to your marketing materials? Did you come up with a style guide by referencing a particular established style (APA, Chicago, et al)? Do you have pageviews for articles? Conversion rates? Keep track of that stuff if you can and use it to bolster your applications. If you are not doing so already, keep a file of accomplishments related to your work and career interests for your own reference. If you are familiar with particular software, such as Adobe Photoshop, even at a basic level – say so. Names and numbers mean a LOT at this stage as both HR folk and application management software initially scan for key words.

2. Try to figure out where the jobs you want, are posting.

This one’s a bit trickier and takes a little more research, due to the vast array of job boards and listings out there. But it’s possible to ask around and say: look, I work (or want to work) in tech, should I look at Dice or The Ladders for my information? Those sorts of questions, that sort of research. If you have access to a professional organization’s job boards, use those as well, but be aware of any guidelines that the organization may impose upon the listing.

3. While you’re at it… Study.

If you have the finances to do so, look at Treehouse or the videos on Lynda.com. If your focus is on writing for the digital space, maybe check out related skills like learning about typography, to CSS (visual presentation), or learn about content management systems like Drupal or WordPress.

Likewise, if your focus is on writing/editorial, it may be helpful to occasionally check the established styles as updates happen, such as the recent inclusion of singular “they”. In the digital world, I’ve seen mainly Chicago style and APA be used as the basis for in-house style guides, though I am sure there are places where other styles are used. If you are involved with making in-house style guides, note that the main reason is for consistency. Departures from “accepted style” are appropriate depending on the client, industry, and other factors, just remember to detail your reasoning for a decision if it is under some argument.

Advocating for UX

Advocating for UX is something I myself am trying to learn how to do, and to continually improve upon; after all, user experience is in so many things. We use it in the realm of the Internet, of course, to talk about software, applications, games, and websites, but we see user experience in so much else.

The obvious examples might be things like Disney World, or if you visit an Apple Store (especially an Apple Store that is standalone, like in New York City, in which the existing architecture or surrounding environment is used to convey certain things). But other examples are things like the basic shape of a gaming controller – the rounded grips seen on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis have morphed into the kind of controllers we see as standard across consoles today, because those controllers (as opposed to the more stick -or – bar like controller of the original Nintendo system) caused less hand and wrist strain over time, enabling players to play longer sessions at a time and to play even longer games. You can think of other product designs that are becoming prominent – the Chemex coffee maker is a good one to research too – partly for ease of use, effectiveness of product, and so on.

Now, of course user experience isn’t just product design. It’s not just behavioral psychology either. There’s a lot of disciplines user experiences intersect with, partly because of the nature of the fact that we’re human, and human experiences aren’t easily┬ádefined by one particular thing.

But why is it so difficult to make the case for UX to be included as a factor in developing applications and products? It’s not just for large multinational conglomerates – all it takes is a team to be on board with trying to make things easier on the user, on figuring out their needs, on what they actually do.

After all, isn’t it worth it to try and make an application people enjoy using, than an application people merely put up with?

Learning UX, and the future.

Learning tools like programming languages, while difficult, is easy in the respect that you are learning discrete techniques. Even in the case of learning Ruby, which is more forgiving in terms of what syntax is acceptable syntax, the person is still relegated with strings have to be within “” marks, break and end marks end conditions for loops, and so on. It’s rather fixed.

User experience, however, can be difficult because it’s fuzzy. User experience relies on people – predominately users – much more than other tools in the technical toolbox. What makes great user experience? The use of color? But different cultures tend to respond to color in different ways. Multi-channel synchronization a la Disney with their parks or Apple with their stores? It depends (especially if the client or organization is small and thus doesn’t have multiple media channels and/or physical artifacts to manage).

User experience requires critical thinking, a good amount of interest in psychology, and creativity. Assumptions must be investigated and discarded if they do not fit what users actually do (instead of what users necessarily say they do).

While technology has been at the forefront of everyone’s life whether they want it to or not, issues of cybersecurity race with the ramifications of the tech bubble in Silicon Valley. VR headsets are on order on Amazon at the same time there are headlines about the dangers of self-driving cars. We are in an era where the humanities can make a crucial difference in technology in terms of what kind of problems technology can be applied to worldwide, or in terms of how technology can better improve human lives – and yet, in the United States, the arts and humanities are among the first discipline fields to be cut in schools. These often include the social sciences, such as psychology and sociology, as well as “traditional” humanities fields like philosophy and literature.

We cannot have the field of UX without the input of the humanities. Even its parent discipline, product design, owes a substantial debt to behavioral psychology; the study of what people do and think and /why/ they might do what they do. Likewise, if the humanities disciplines are destroyed, we may lose even more sight of what technology can help us do – help people to read, help us study history, enable us to retain memories of our favorite poems, help a village learn a language before it is forgotten to time, enable grandparents to see grandchildren half a world away and get farmers in touch with cooperatives or microlenders for new seeds or new ways to help grow food.

 

Lessons.

If you are interested in learning code – or even business practices, WordPress systems, or design tools – please check out Treehouse via this referral link.

I myself am learning Java, Ruby, and more about CSS and WordPress thanks to my Treehouse access: and while I know that this page is itself not the best in terms of UX, I am always trying to improve it thanks to what I learn.

Languages!

In the midst of everything else, such as working, doing presentations (I’m in the midst of compiling a presentation on the Meiji era and yokai-ology), I’m also doing Duolingo for learning languages.

Currently, my “top” languages are French and Ukrainian. I also plan on trying to learn Romanian when Duolingo finishes the course, though having the French experience may help (as Romanian is another Romance / Latinate language).

I wish Duolingo would be better at doing languages like Japanese or even Mandarin, though, but as it’s a free community-based project, I can see why they may be having trouble. I hope to post a review of a Japanese language-learning tool (Japanese: The Game) soon, though.

Flowers.

The name of this site has “flowerstorm” in it, and while that is technically a rendition of a Japanese word (hanafubuki), the phenomenon doesn’t really occur in the autumn – instead of flowers, it’s leaves in the air!

So instead, I took inspiration from Halloween and gothic culture and went with a dark red rose for today’s post.

We think of roses as romantic, but different colors of roses themselves have their own meanings. Red might mean romance, but a dark red (or dark purple) rose may mean passion, sacrifice, or death. A blue rose has been a symbol for impossible things and impossible dreams for years.

I use flowers and plants as a motif in the game I’m developing (appropriately called The Night Flower, which you can see more about on its own site), from describing the main character as a flower, to several characters having nicknames after flowers, to having some non-player characters named after trees. In the second chapter of the game, as well, the landscape is in autumn and dead trees are starting to be seen; but in that case, it is not a mere autumn that the landscape reflects, but that that section of the land is dying and might not come back to full health.

We may not think of flowers all that much anymore, but when you see them – or catch a whiff of scents based on flowers / trees, like rose or violets or cedar – they can definitely reflect a mood!

What do you think when you think of them? And do delving into meanings and associations like this help with design? I think so!