Aug 262016

Sometimes, web design feels a lot more difficult than it really ought to be, especially when you consider some of the hacky horrors that have been wrought over the years. The likes of HTML tables, CSS floats and frameworks like bootstrap have often forced designers to compromise their creative vision in order to make websites that work across all browsers and devices.

There is, however, a new hope. The CSS Flexible Box layout module – or flexbox as we all know and love it – finally provides an expressive web layout system that works across all modern browsers, and which isn't a nightmare to use.

In this talk from last month's Generate San Francisco conference, Webflow's Vlad Magdalin discusses the incredible power of flexbox and explains how you can use it for real-world web work today, even if you have no experience whatsoever with writing CSS.

And there's more to this session than just talk; rather than simply explain the benefits of flexbox, Vlad puts his money where his mouth is and demonstrates how you can use it – along with Webflow – to create an amazing site in just half an hour.

If you're passionate about web design but find the whole code side of things a little too much, this is essential viewing, and you won't want to miss Vlad's upcoming session at Generate London either.

In The future of web design is not code, he'll outline why we need a revolution in web design: one that will make building for the web more accessible to all creative people, regardless of their coding abilities. 

Come to Generate London for three days of practical web design advice

As he notes, in the last 30 years, every digital creative discipline has seen the emergence of powerful visual software that helps designers get their work done - except for web design. Building a website or digital product still requires that you either become a coder, or work with a developer to bring your idea to life.

In this session he'll provide a glimpse of the future of web design, and explain how software will soon reshape the industry into something much more accessible to designers.

Generate London is coming to the Royal Institution on 21-23 September, and features a packed line-up of practical inspiring sessions, plus a day of in-depth workshops, with top speakers including Jeff Veen, Mike Kus, Ida Aalen and Brendan Dawes. If you want to get ahead in the web business then you can't afford to miss it; book your ticket now!

Aug 262016

There are no absolutes when it comes to branding, but maintaing a dialogue with consumers with a consistent tone of voice acorss all touchpoints can be a great start. Here, as part of a YouTube series for Computer Arts, Brand Impact Award judges Bruce Duckworth and Mark Bonner discuss the state of branding in 2016 and what agencies need to do to survive and thrive, and if specialising can help you along the way...

01. You can collaborate and conquer

“Generalist or specialist? I think we’ve probably ended up being specialists, but we have to collaborate with other suppliers; we have to collaborate with other agencies; and we have to be generous and supportive to those people,” reflects Bruce Duckworth. “My personal view is: be a specialist, and mix with other specialists as required. Be brilliant at everything you do, and most of all, be generous.”

02. Generalists are better placed to think more holistically...

“I feel it’s a bit like branding itself,” reflects Mark Bonner. “There’s a balance we’re all trying to strike. It’s wonderfully rewarding to be able to work in a diverse way; to be making films, to be working in print, to be working in sound design, or designing environments – I love the diversity of what we can do today. Social media, online, it’s such a cloud of opportunities.” 

03. ...but the idea is still king

Bonner goes on to make an interesting distinction: in a multi-disclipinary world, while an agency can be a total one-stop-shop generalist in terms of techniques, technology and media used to realise an idea, finding that killer idea in the first place is as specialist as it comes. “When you zoom out of all of that exciting variety, the idea – the thinking – is right at the heart of that cloud, and I think we are trying to be specialists in that,” he adds. “Having great ideas is still a specialist area, thank god.” 

04. Either way, stand up for design

For Duckworth, whether you’re a specialist or a generalist is by-the-by – the important thing is to blow the trumpet for the industry as a whole. “Designers need to stand up for design,” he urges. “We need to have a voice, and the confidence to realise that we are part of the success of modern brands today. Stand up, be counted, make your presence felt and go for it.”

Book your Brand Impact Awards tickets

Join the world's top agencies at the Brand Impact Awards in September

Computer Arts' Brand Impact Awards reward the very best branding from around the world. Now in its third  year, the scheme's rich heritage of past winners represent the cream of the global branding industry. This year, the Brand Impact Awards received over 160 entries, with 47 projects from 33 different agencies made the shortlist.

The winning and highly commended projects will be revealed at the third-annual Brand Impact Awards ceremony at the Ham Yard Hotel, London, on 8 September. So book your tickets now to join the world's top agencies and discover 2016's big winners.

Aug 262016

Responsive web design has come a long way since its inception. No longer a theory, RWD is now a well-established standard that has truly revolutionised web design.  

That doesn’t mean it’s got any easier. Designing for a myriad of devices (and global audiences) poses significant challenges. And thanks to Google’s mobile-friendly update last year, it’s now more important than ever to figure responsive design out.  

In this special guide, brought to you by net magazine and Webflow, some of the best experts cover issues that should be integral to every responsive design project, including: 

  • Ben Callahan discusses the difference between responsive and adaptive design
  • Matt Gibson dives into content strategy
  • Sarah Drasner explains how to create scalable animations
  • Andy Davies explores how to make sites perform better 
  • Brad Frost controversially claims that responsive design is dead!

Download The ultimate guide to Responsive Web Design today!

Simply enter your email address in the box below and we'll deliver this brilliant guide directly to you.  

Subscribe to net and get 20% off Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan

net magazine is the number one choice for the professional web designer and developer. Subscribe and we'll send you 20% off Creative Cloud Photography Plan. In this month's issue, discover 20 tools to help you take charge of your freelance business and get over five hours of exclusive video tutorials. 

Aug 262016

Icon can signify actions and tell the user a lot despite being so small. And you’ll have no shortage of them if you grab over 2,000 icons from Iconsmind, on sale now for $19.95!

Packed into this bundle are thousands of professionally-designed icons across 53 different categories – all ready to be used in your next project. These all come in a variety of formats – webfonts, vectors, and much more – so you can use them any way you’d like. Download and modify them, and make them work for web or mobile projects alike.

You can get over 2,000 icons from Iconsmind, on sale for just $19.95. That saves you 69% off the retail price. For any designer working on any platform, it’s an offer too good to pass up!

Aug 262016

With their wealth of imaginative characters, creative creatures and magical settings, the Harry Potter books are an illustrator's dream. We've already seen how the upcoming illustrated Chamber of Secrets is set to be a visual treat, but this isn't the first time the boy wizard's universe has been realised by artists.

Yes, back in the 90s, author J.K. Rowling herself put pen to page, but this time to sketch rather than write. The result are a charming set of character illustrations depicting scenes from the first book in the series, Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone.

Published on Pottermore, the illustrations show early versions of famous characters such as Hagrid and Snape, as well as providing a glimpse of how they evolved.

JK Rowling illustrated landmark scenes from the first Harry Potter book

Other notable sketches include a Quidditch match complete with diagram-like arrows, and Harry's parents reflected in the Mirror of Erised. It's also interesting to see how Rowling imagined Peeves, a ghost character who was never realised on screen in the films.

Regular visitors to Pottermore might already be familiar with these images as they accompany chapters detailing certain characters and events. But for the vast majority of the internet, these illustrations provide a new take on the familiar series, as well as offering an insight into the imagination of the lady behind the words.

Diagram style arrows make Quidditch easy to understand

Peeves finally gets realised

Harry's parents appear in the Mirror of Erised
Aug 262016

The Southern Cassowary was a collaborative project between myself and my friend Daniel Rodrigues. It is the third and last piece of my student reel completed at Think Tank Training Centre.

During my time in school I was mentored by Justin Holt, who is an incredible artist that guided me through the whole texturing process. After deciding to texture the cassowary I asked my talented friend Daniel to sculpt it for me. He was done with the model in a couple of weeks and then I began the texturing/look development process, which I’m going to explain here.

I chose the cassowary because it is such an interesting animal; it has an incredible colour palette, which was an exciting challenge from a texturing point of view. Aside from that I’ve always been amazed by the wonders of nature and being able to recreate something  like that was an incredible achievement for me as an artist.

In this tutorial I will go through some of my texturing workflows and techniques for creating a realistic southern cassowary using Maya, Mari and V-Ray. By analysing real-life references and learning how to breakdown patterns and details, you’ll be able to apply these concepts in your own projects.

01. Gathering references

Research is crucial for a photorealistic result

To achieve a photorealistic result it is crucial to find good references. I recommend using Google images and Flickr to find high resolution images; this way you’ll be able to see and breakdown all the details in your textures. After picking a good amount of references I use a software called PureRef to categorise them. I separate the references based on the casque, beak and skin. Since each bird is so unique, it is a challenge to find a middle point between the photos.

02. Create a good model

A basic model is the foundation of a realistic image

It doesn’t matter if you have amazing texturing skills if your model doesn’t look good, so make sure you have a realistic sculpt to work with. In my case I asked my talented friend Daniel Rodrigues to sculpt the cassowary for me. We worked together for a few weeks until we got the final model. I asked him to sculpt only the primary and secondary details since I was going to work on the high frequency details in Mari.

03. Unwrapping the bird

The 2015 Maya model is useful during the UV process

For this tutorial, the UV mapping process is done in Maya. The 2015 version has new features and the integration with Unfold3D is amazing – it helps me a lot during the UV process. I separate the casque, the beak and the skin in the UVs to make selections easier. In Mari I am able to paint the UV seams, so I don’t have to worry too much about having multiple UDIMs.

04. Baking auxiliary maps

Channel masks are generated in real-time

Before jumping into texturing I bake a few auxiliary maps (AO map, 8-bit Displacement map and Cavity map) in Mudbox. These maps help a lot since they are used as masks to drive and isolate details in specific areas. They can also be used as a channel mask in Mari if you want to project anything in your model. The channel mask will generate a real-time mask based on your auxiliary maps.

05. Create a colour palette

The colour palette helps to achieve a lifelike look

The cassowary is colourful and its blue tones are beautiful. In order to achieve all these variations of blue, ultramarine violet and orange, I create a colour palette. I do the same thing for the casque, which is not as colourful as the skin but still has some interesting colour variations that help bring the bird to life. Again, since the references have so many different colours, I have to find a good balance between the photos in order to achieve realism.

06. Painting the skin tones

The tones are built up in layers

After defining the colour palette I begin painting the skin. I create several layers, each one with a different colour based on my previously created colour palette. Then I create a mask for each layer and start masking each colour separately with a Soft brush. This process enables me to get an interesting colour variation and gradation between the tones. For the black patch on the face I use a different brush to mimic a pattern that I saw in the reference photos.

07. Colour variation

Variation gives the colours depth

Using only basic colours will make your textures look really flat. In order to get some variation I decide to add galvanised textures on top of the layers, lowering the opacity to 20 per cent and changing their Blend mode to Overlay. This is also the time to use the previously created maps. I use the 8-bit Displacement and the Cavity map on top of the layers and change the Blending mode to Soft Light and Overlay to get even more breakups.

08. Add high frequency details

Pores are projected onto the skin

After getting the basic colours and variations it’s time to add some fine details to the Diffuse map. I project human pores on the skin based on my references. Since the bird’s pores have so many sizes, I have to pay attention as to where those details would be placed. After projecting the high frequency detail, I put it on top of the colour layers and change the Blending mode to Overlay.

09. Casque details

Flakes and dry skin are crucial details

After getting all the colour variation I want for the casque, I use some masks that I create in Photoshop to add the flakes/dry skin detail. This step is really important and really helps to add realism to the piece. Looking at the references you can notice that some birds have a crazy amount of flakes and others don’t. Once again I have to find harmony between the references to achieve a realistic result that would fit my piece.


10. Painting the eye

Research comes in handy again

The eye is one of the most important parts of a portrait so I have to pay a lot of attention. I try to find a high resolution photo of a cassowary that I can use for the eye, but I don’t find anything usable. So I begin to search for bird photos in general and I find a great photo of an owl, which has a similar eye pattern. I take the UV masks into Photoshop and colour correct them based on the cassowary eye.

11. Specular/glossiness map

Two different maps are created

After finishing the diffuse I start to convert it into Specular and Glossiness maps. The Specular map will need to be darker where the dirtier areas are and lighter where the cleaner, more reflective areas are. The Glossiness map is doing a similar thing except the tonal values don’t determine specular intensity; they denote specular highlight falloff, or softness. For V-Ray, white areas in the map create a tight specular hit, and black areas a more scattered, diffused specular.

12. Bump map

Keep an eye on the details at this stage

The Bump map shares the same source as the Diffuse map, so it will match all the relevant details. First I desaturate the colour and use Levels Adjustment to change the contrast. In this map I use the same high frequency detail (pores) that I painted on the colour. Be careful the grade doesn’t crunch out detail at the far ends of the range – you don’t want to lose detail in the light or dark areas.

13. Attention to detail

Wear and tear are added

In order to make the cassowary realistic I have to observe all the details. These birds get dirty, they scrape and scratch and pick up all sorts of damage and wear and tear. I like to apply these details on a separate layer using the Ambient Occlusion map that I have created previously, as a mask to drive the dust and dirt into occluded areas. I also have to find different textures that match the patterns that nature creates.

14. Lighting setup

Free lighting is applied

Since I am aiming for realism I analyse the lighting from the reference photos that I gathered previously and I realise that most of the photos were taken within a rainforest, which is the natural habitat of a cassowary. So, I use a free HDR called Topanga Forest that you can download here. Aside from the HDRI, I also add extra lights to create an interesting and dramatic lighting setup, as you can see on the image with this step.

15. Look development

Different properties are applied to individual regions

I use V-Ray 3.0 for the look development process. Using a blend material, I separate the casque from the skin using a mask created in Mari and I also create another layer for the Dirt pass using another mask. Doing this means I am able to dial the shader separately, since the casque has different properties from the skin.

16. Eye look development

The eye is made of four pieces

I don’t have a complicated setup for the eye. I have four different pieces: iris, cornea, lacrimal duct and caruncle. The iris geo has a concave shape and the cornea convex. This means I am able to achieve depth and realism with the eyes without getting into complex shading. Next I use a glass material on the lacrimal duct and cornea geo, and a simple VRayMtl for the cornea and caruncle.

17. Add fur and eyelashes

Fur makes a huge difference to the design

To add some realism, I add some fur to the cassowary using V-Ray Fur. The setup is really simple and it makes a huge difference to the final result. I also paint a mask in Mari to decide where the fur would be placed. The eyelashes are polygon cones with different sizes. All are manually placed; it is a simple but tedious task but the variation creates an organic and realistic look to the bird.

18. Final passes/composition

Passes give the image a photographic look

After finishing the look development I take the passes into Photoshop to begin the comp process. I use the Z-Depth pass to give a natural and photographic look to the scene, and I also add a few colour correction layers. The last step is to add post effects to the scene, which are Vignette, Chromatic Aberration, Lens flare and Noise.

This article was originally published in 3D World magazine issue 208. Buy it here.

Aug 262016

Whether you work as an illustrator or graphic designer, web developer or 3D modeller, new design tools are being released all the time, many of them free.

But if your phone, tablet and desktop computer is getting too cluttered with new apps, bear in mind that, increasingly, many of the most powerful new tools are actually browser-based.

In this post we round up some of the best we’ve come across in 2016 so far. But if we’ve managed to miss your favourite, please let us know about it in the comments below!

01. Gravit 

Gravit lets you create vector illustrations in your browser

Since the demise of Adobe Fireworks, tools for creating vector illustration and UI designs have multiplied, with Sketch and Affinity Designer among those fighting for designers’ attention. With both of these those apps currently Mac-only, though, the field remains wide open. And now there’s a new app, Gravit, that offers this kind of functionality right in the web browser. 

Gravit has got a surprisingly full feature set, including auto-shapes, live filters and path editing modes, and best of all, it’s free. What’s more, working in the browser means your design projects will always stay in sync - although the flipside of this is that it’s not much use to you when there’s no Wi-Fi or 3G available.

02. Boxy SVG

Boxy SVG aims to provide an alternative to Illustrator and Sketch

Boxy SVG is another free vector graphics editor aiming to provide an alternative to Illustrator and Sketch. Made for the Chrome browsers, it enables you to open and save SVG and SVGZ files, and import and export JPEG and PNG files. 

Boxy SVG comes with more than 100 commands with configurable keyboard shortcuts, allows you import bitmaps and Google Fonts, and it does groups, transforms and paths. And like Gravit, it’s totally free. 

03. Figma

Figma wants to become a ‘Github for designers’

Figma is aiming to become nothing less than a browser-based alternative to Adobe’s desktop software. (Note: despite the name, Adobe’s Creative Cloud software isn’t fully based in the cloud; you still have to download it to your machine). Figma is firmly focused on team-based collaboration, and the makers hope that it will become a ‘Github for designers’, enabling the community to share design assets in the same open-source way developers share their code.

It’s very early days for Figma, though, which has not yet been fully released. However, you can sign up to reserve your spot in the Preview Release (essentially a browser-based version of Photoshop), while the full feature set is expected later this year.

04. Unique Gradient Generator

Unique Gradient Generator allows you to create blurry backgrounds for your website

This browser-based tool helps you to do something very specific: generate beautiful blurry background images that you can use in any project. It basically a stock image, extracts a very small area of it, scales it up to 100%, then uses an image smoothing algorithm to create a cool blurry background. 

To use this as an inline image in any HTML element's background, just click the Generate CSS button and you’re ready to go. Note that the images used are all public domain stock images, so there are no worries about copyright.

05. Modelo 

Modelo allows you to share 3D printing designs via your browser

Sharing your designs for 3D printing is surprisingly difficult when the client doesn’t have the right 3D software at their end, or just doesn’t know how to use it. Modelo is a browser-based collaboration tool that solves that problem. 

By harnessing the power of the JavaScript API WebGL, Modelo enables you to view, review and manipulate your 3D model in their browser without the need for any additional software. The app also uses a customised rendering engine and clever compression algorithms to dramatically reduce the file size of the models, so you aren’t waiting around all day for them to upload. You can sign up for the free beta on the Modelo website.

06. Browser Calories 

Browser Calories measures the weight of your page and compares it against your performance budget

Right now, one of the biggest issues in web design is page weight, which has a huge effect on conversion, retention, SEO and of course, how frustrated your users get when they’re on slow connections. Now here’s a quick and easy way of keeping an eye on your website’s page weight. 

Install this browser extension and you'll see a doughnut icon next to your address bar. Every time you hit it, it will calculate a ‘performance budget’ based on the tab that is currently open in your browser. You can also configure comparisons based on competitors, or whatever number you come up with. Browser Calories is available as a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox and Opera.

07. Vectary

Vectary offers an easy route into becoming a 3D designer

Want to get into 3D? Vectary is a browser-based tool that aims to make it easy for both beginners and experienced makers to create 3D designs. You can create your designs within the web browser user using a series of sliders and standard modelling tools, and they’re automatically saved into the cloud, allowing for easy sharing and access. Vectary has not yet had a full release, but you can sign up at the website for access to the closed beta. 

Aug 252016

Design for all the devices! Anna Dahlström will be speaking about the importance of building device-agnostic UX systems at Generate London, 21-23 September. She'll walk through why device-agnostic design matters, what it means and how we go about it; book now!

I started messing around with HTTP log files and user agent strings over 15 years ago, analysing and attempting to understand all the different devices rocking up at the early John Lewis ecommerce websites. What advice would I give myself, if I could go back in time?

It would be this: Every website or product you work on from now on will be broken – you just don't know where, on what device or browser, or how severely. If you hunt these defects down, you'll make easier money for your clients than almost all your other work put together.

It's taken me 15 years to realise that despite the tendency of customers to complain quickly, the vast majority won't report bugs in your device experiences. If you get a small number of complaints, you probably have a major disaster on your hands. If you don't get any complaints, it's likely still broken.

We can't rely on website visitors to be our 'canary in the coal mine' for device and browser problems – we have to take responsibility, and become smarter and more proactive in how we test. Device compatibility is a right not a privilege, and getting it wrong is a form of neglectful discrimination.

This article outlines the key rules to remember for cross-device optimisation and A/B testing. Tackle the optimisation tips first. If you're making basic mistakes with device compatibility, performance and usability, there's no point bothering with A/B testing. Find and fix the broken things first. Then, when you've got enough traffic to run A/B tests (at least 500 conversions or checkouts a month) – you can make some new mistakes.

01. Don't assume responsive solves everything

I once built a tiny mobile site that's not responsive, yet now takes the best part of a billion Euros in revenue every year. For the tasks required, it's perfect. It's not responsive in fluid layout terms, but it is responsive to the needs of almost everyone who uses it. Know the difference.

Sometimes people think that responsive web design is a sign of digital mastery. It's just an attribute that conveys nothing of quality – like saying 'we have a website' or 'our website lets you click things'. It's no guarantee of a great cross-device experience.

I see many responsive sites that have a superficial slickness but fail on usability because the team has ignored customer knowledge. One good example is an ecommerce website that went responsive and lost 40 per cent of its revenue. It had built a great mobile experience but the desktop version sucked, and that's where 80 per cent of the money came from. Knowing where the golden goose is helps if you want to avoid killing it!

02. Do your research first

Optimising a site does not start with hacking at the page content. It starts with doing your research so when your lips say 'customer journey' , what comes out isn't a fairytale. It's vital to know the visitors, their tasks and goals, entry points, device mix, paths, flows and abandonment areas first. It is very difficult to solve a problem you don't understand.

Using analytics data with user experience research, surveys or feedback is a rapid and lightweight way to remove bullshit, ego and assumptions about 'the journey'. One hour of informed data is worth a thousand hours of unchallenged opinion.

Further reading: 'Conversion research in one hour'; 'Session replay tools for research'.

03. Track people, not devices

A Google Analytics User ID view showing overlapping device usage

Unless you're using an analytics set-up that tracks users, you'll just end up tracking devices instead. Companies complain that their 'mobile' traffic isn't converting – and we find that the traffic is actually converting, just on a completely different device.

People may use their phone to browse and add a product to their basket, but find it's tricky to get through the checkout, so finish the sale on their laptop. The site thinks of these as two people: a mobile customer and a desktop customer.

So your conversion problem is actually an attribution issue. How can you credit the sale to a device experience if the customer uses more than one device? Google Analytics has a user view you can switch on (for logged-in users) that lets you track people, not devices, and there are many analytics tools to help you make sense of this.

04. Don't ignore the wider context

In this hyper-mobile device world, context is everything. What you need from an airline app might be very different 48 hours before your flight compared to when you're running for the gate. For that person with the phone, you need to consider the factors that impact the experience. These might include the tasks, goals, device, location, data rate, viewport, urgency, motivation, data costs, call costs, or even the weather at the time of their visit!

05. Get out of the office

Making better products shouldn't involve long days spent in the office. Why not break up the work day with visits to coffee shops and pubs? This is one of the cheapest ways to find customers for UX research. Offering a beer or coffee in exchange for feedback on your prototype or design is a priceless return on investment. And don't forget the website – if you have traffic, you can recruit people and run tests with them online too.

Further reading: 'UX tools to rule them all'.

06. Don't assume everyone uses iPhones

Diagram showing the percentage splits across device classes, OS and models

In most analytics set-ups, iPhone models are lumped together, suggesting these are the main customer devices. If you just look at models in your data, this will skew your thinking; you need to split devices by OS or platform to see the real picture. Google Analytics might say my top model is the 'iPhone' but even a handful of top Samsung models may add up to a much larger audience.

Every time someone is tempted to focus on their own personal device preference instead of the customer mix, direct them to the diagram above right (it's worth sticking it up on your office wall) to remind them what the data says.

Further reading: 'The ultimate guide to using Google Analytics for cross-device optimisation'.

Discover why your designs should be device-agnostic at Generate London

07. Don't forget call tracking

A mention for a free and rarely used technique. If you have touch devices that can make phone calls, you can track calls. Simply add an event (or pageview) to your analytics data each time someone taps a phone number to call you. Then you'll know how many calls you get, exactly what web page people called from and which marketing campaigns or sources drove the most calls.

I used this data to analyse a PPC account for a large company. When we factored in the sales coming from phone calls, it completely changed our bidding. The saving was 40-70 per cent lower bills for PPC but the same amount of revenue.

08. Use real data to track website speed

Not many people know that Google Analytics collects real visitors' measurements of how slow your pages are, every day. Rather than imagining the performance (as you browse your site on a Wi-Ficonnection), you can let the data tell you where it sucks. Look at the DOM timings report: this records how long the webpage structure and content takes to load. Making sites quicker is a game changer.

There is a huge correlation between performance and conversion rate so if it's slow, you're spending marketing money just to send people to your competitors!

Further reading: 'Interpret site speed'.

09. Copy the testing method, rather than the creative

When you look at the tests other companies have run, you have no idea if they completely borked the test or not. Their data, method, QA or sample size might show they made elementary mistakes. They might have run the test for too short a period of time or not checked if it was collecting data accurately. You just don't know.

And even if you did have all the background info, you still couldn't predict if their method would work for you. Your customers, marketing, website and everything else are completely different. In short, the best practice rules for testing are mainly about copying the method and not the creative.

Further reading: 'The endless suck of best practice and optimisation experts'; 'When conversion optimisation best practices fail'.

10. Don't test without planning

There are millions of things you could test in places all over your site. If you just 'get started' you might eventually get an optimal website – but the heat death of the universe will get you first. If there is stuff broken in your experiences, you need to fix that first (before testing) as otherwise it will drag everything else down. Once you have the basics of performance and device compatibility, use analytics to identify opportunities.

'Just changing stuff' isn't a good enough reason to test; you need evidence or insight to drive a good test. The best learning comes from having great questions to channel into your testing.

11. Establish your hypothesis

Ask people to describe the test they want to run using this sentence. If you’re laughing, it’s a bad test

The Hypothesis Kit is one of the most useful things I teach:

Because we saw [data/feedback] we expect that [change] will cause [impact]. We'll measure this using [data metric].

Asking people to frame their question or A/B test in this way forces them to think about why they are running the test and how success will be measured.

Further reading: Hypothesis kit 3.

12. Run a test calculator first

It's really good practice to run a test calculator before you A/B test. If it says it will take around nine million years to finish, you can do something more useful with your life.

13. Don't stop at 95% confidence

It's a very common noob mistake to make with A/B testing. You should decide your test time in advance, then run it for that time, stop it and analyse it. Most of the tests being run in the real world are completely fictional – and that's why people get disappointed when the promised 'lift' in conversion does not arrive. Calling tests wrongly or waiting too long for results are common problems that should be avoided.

Further reading: 'Statistical significance does not equal validity'; 'Why every internet marketer should be a statistician'.

14. Segment by device class

If you have different devices or breakpoints in your design, the A/B test will look completely different. If you're not sure how your design looks on all devices, how can you be sure it works at all? If you don't analyse and segment the data by the different device classes or 'breakpoints' , how will you know the behavioural shift? One of my clients stores the exact design the customer saw in their data layer, which is very useful.

Always understand how you're targeting or segmenting people across mobile, tablet and desktop device classes. There is no 'average' visitor – not when the device experience varies so hugely.

15. Don't forget QA testing

If you haven't worked out your device mix, you are probably not QA testing your A/B tests either. That means quite a few of them are probably broken – and if your A/B tests are broken, your data and decision-making is likely flawed. About 30-40 per cent of all my test designs fail basic QA, even with high-quality developers – that's JavaScript for you! Assume it's broken until proven otherwise.


Here I've covered a number of tips for improving your cross-device experiences. When you're starting out, knowing your device mix and understanding the customers behind those devices is vital. The next stage is to work with data to help you prioritise your efforts. Making a good testing list (with the aid of Google Analytics) cuts the effort for developers, but will increase the number of defects you remove on popular devices.

Designing great cross-device experiences is a careful balance of data, intuition, empathy and experimentation. If you allow these to occupy the space usually filled by ego and opinion, good work will flourish. As Stephen Hawking said: "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge."

Learn about the importance of device-agnostic design with Anna Dahlström at Generate London!  In Building device-agnostic UX systems, she'll explain why you should let content guide layouts, and move away from designing pages to focusing on the modules that those views are made up of. Book your ticket now!

This article originally appeared in net magazine issue 279; subscribe now

Aug 252016

In the world of typography design, 2016 has seen some landmark events. Perhaps most notably of all has been the centenary of the London Underground font, P22 Johnston. Despite have undergone a subtle redesign recently, the Johnston typeface has remained a recognisable feature of the London Underground, and it prompted the team at printing company Solopress to discover the UK's most recognisable font.

Having surveyed 1,000 people, it turns out that the humble Arial font is the country's most identifiable typeface, with 33% of participants correctly recognising it. Could this be due to it's prominent position on Microsoft Word font menus, or perhaps it's because Arial has a formal but not boring appearance which means it gets used a lot?

The London Underground font, Johnston, turned 100 in 2016

The go-to font for essays, Times New Roman, came in at second, but it's not all formal typefaces that made the shortlist. Every designer's worst nightmare, Comic Sans, was the third most recognisable font, but maybe because its infamous reputation has turned it into something of a legend.

However it's not all bad news for Comic Sans, as 1 in 12 people surveyed found the font trustworthy. This wasn't enough for it to take the top spot on the trustworthiness chart though, instead people found Times New Roman the most reliable typeface. Surely this is down to years of using it in school reports and papers?

If the Solopress findings have whetted your appetite for typography trivia, you'll be pleased to know that they've also put together a font quiz where you can put your knowledge about wordmarks to the test. There are also plenty of links to more enlightening articles related to typography.

Aug 252016

Houdini is a powerful beast, with tools for building VFX used in many Hollywood movies. But the initial learning curve is steep, so we've compiled this list of tutorials to get you started with some of the most fun and useful tools and workflows on offer, from liquid effects to destruction. 

01. Procedural oceans 

Creating an ocean surface is a task often left to specialist tools, but incredibly believable results can be achieved with Houdini’s built in tools. FX Hive have this great video, showing you how to get setup and rendered, where they cover all the details and pitfalls. 

02. Realistic fire simulations 

Although the Houdini defaults for fire and smoke are pretty good, it’s possible to make them look a lot more realistic and, in this video, Henry Medhurst shows you how. With a light-hearted and easy-to-follow style, Medhurst runs through the entire process, showing exactly how to get the best out of your simulations. 

03. Volume Booleans 

Striking results and with uses from abstract to footprints in the snow

There are some tasks or effects that are really quite tricky to do in many applications that Houdini handles with ease. Working with volumes is one of these, and in this tutorial, Moritz of Entagma shows you how to create a look of one object displacing another via voxels. 

04. Point and polygon bevelling 

Although Houdini is great for handling assets created externally, it's also a competent modeller. In this video you will learn how to introduce the bevelling tool into your modelling workflow. Find out how to use it’s various options, like bevel shape for vertices and how to access the subdivision options.

05. Curvy extrudes

Houdini’s modelling toolset has some fun little tricks up its sleeve, including this technique for creating extrudes that follow a curved path, rather than the usual linear path that we commonly see.

06. Crowd simulations

A recent addition to Houdini is the Crowd Simulation tool set, which, unsurprisingly, lets you build background crowds for your visual effects shots, complete with dynamics interactions. This intro tutorial from Guillaum Fradin, gets you up and running with the tools, followed by detailed videos that all combine for a full rundown.

07. Waterfall simulations

Go Procedural created this tutorial some time ago now but it is still one of the best tutorials out there dealing with the workflow for creating a waterfall. The video covers everything from the interactions of the main body to the generation of splashes, using Houdini’s Flip Fluids solver, which is most suited to this mid-level kind of work.

08. Procedural spider’s web

In this tutorial, Tolya Shuverov demonstrates how you can create a totally procedural spider’s web inside Houdini. The video isn’t narrated, but it’s clear and easy to follow and, if a web is something you need to make, will save you an awful lot of time, should you be thinking about making one manually.

09. Lava like a boss

Lava this realistic is easy with Houdini. If you know how

VFX artist Ben Watts' site not only houses his excellent portfolio but also a selection of really useful tutorials. Well presented and thought throughout, they are all worth a watch but this one (actually half of a pair) is particularly good. The results speak for themselves but if you need thick, hot, spurting fluids Ben is your man.

10. Madelbrot and Mandelbulb

For the last tutorial in this list we return to Entagma and its fantastic video on Mandelbrot sets. If you’ve ever been interested in either chaos theory, mathematics, or abstract but formula driven art then this is the training for you. Renders of Mandelbulbs, the 3D counterpart to the fractals we are all familiar with, are beautiful and mesmorizing. Certainly worth investigating.