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When we designed the 9th Annual Toy Ride website, we knew our registration form would directly impact rider attendance. Through split-testing, we were able to optimize the form right up until the crucial last week before the ride when most participants sign up. It was a success, and the Toy Ride had a record number of registrations and riders.


Here's what we learned works when designing a form to convert:

Group related items into sections. We used section labels to group "contact info" and "mailing address." Cognitively, it makes the form seem shorter than when it's just a list of fields.

Use left aligned top labels to streamline the visual path.

Use simple labels for common fields. For example, just label a phone number field "Phone" instead of something cute like "Can I get your digits?"

Use self-explanatory questions and answers for uncommon items. While "phone" is self-explanatory, asking if someone can volunteer at the event was not. In those cases, it's best to pose a question in plain language. We asked our users, "Can you help with the ride?"

Left align the submit button to line up with labels and fields. From top to bottom, this creates a single visual path.

Use common labels for buttons such as submit, send, or buy.

Indicate required fields with an asterisk.

Only make required the fields that are actually necessary. (For an impatient user, we only required the bare minimum to contact them: name and email. The other information would be requested at the event.)

Pre-select common responses. (Since the ride was in Chicago, we pre-selected "Illinois" for the state field.)

Inline labels can visually de-clutter a long form but they can also pose a usability problem as the label disappears on click. They should only be used in common fields and where their context gives a clue to the input.

Ultimately, the key to making anything work better is to make it easier. Whether it's a form or a smart phone, if you want people to use it, make it easy. While moving a button from right-aligned to left-aligned may seem trivial, it's another detail that can mean the difference between a user who converts and a user who bounces. When designing forms, remember the KISS principle: Keep it simple, Stupid!



The Herman Cain campaign added a new section to their website called Women for Cain. Unfortunately, this carefully diverse group of women is actually just a stock photo entitled "Four happy young women (holding their thumbs up)" by German photographer Robert Kneschke.




You too can license the Women for Cain on Shutterstock for only $19. Being a stock photo, other people already have licensed the Women for Cain:







The problem with stock photos is that they're disingenuous. The photo featured on Cain's website implies that those four women with their insipid smiles are endorsing Cain, when in reality they were German models who had no notion as to what purposes their eager thumbs up would serve.

Instead of falling back on stock photos, Women for Cain could have taken the time to have professional photos taken of their supporters. Or, if budget or time was a constraint, they could have used a strong typographical logo. There's no need in the design to literally show a group of women giving an endorsement, the content and title of the site already do that.
After spending Thanksgiving with our families, we visited our local big box retailers to get a feel for consumer confidence this holiday season. Surprisingly, most stores had no lines. We felt the new midnight doorbuster sales would draw more people. In fact, only Best Buy had customers lining up.

 
This family of six had been in line for 38 hours.


Late comers to the fray. One man had all of the local Black Friday deals memorized and was instructing people on where to go for the most savings on particular items.


These gentlemen had arrived at 7am on Thanksgiving, making them 12th & 13th in line, to purchase a new TV.


A group of kids on BMX bikes who, like us, had ridden by to see the crowds.


This man planned to buy as many deal items as he could with the intention of reselling them on eBay.

With the unusually few people we saw in stores, we believe that online sales will be more critical than ever. For the first time, so-called big box Cyber Monday deals are just as attractive as their Black Friday brick & mortar counterparts. We've also seen online-only retailers break rank and begin their sales on the Monday before Black Friday as opposed to after. 

Given how frequently doorbuster sales (so named because shoppers literally break the store's doors) can turn tragic, we hope the shift toward online sales continues.
If your HTML is strictly a semantic layout of your content, then you can always change your presentation with CSS and JavaScript. Semantic HTML is intentionally simple. At a glance, one needs only a basic knowledge of HTML elements to understand your content. This keeps pages light, machine-friendly, and easy to maintain.

By being machine-friendly we improve accessibility and SEO. First, universal access devices such as blind readers allow your content to be used by impaired individuals. Second, Google's spiders are able to better understand the intent of your site through semantic markup.

The process is as simple as separating style from substance. The HTML elements tell you their intended use. For examples, tables should only be used to display tabular data, and never to lay out a site. Let's take a look at the EtherCycle process page:



Because the process page is a list of steps with explanations, we've defined it as a definition list with each step being a term and the explanation being the definition. Take a peek at the code–

<dl id="process">
 <dt>Learn</dt>
  <dd>
   <p>It is fundamental to a project's success that we understand your business. We do this by auditing your content, interviewing key stakeholders & customers, reviewing analytics data, and listening to you.</p>
  </dd>
</dl>
 

All the styling (including the images) are done in CSS3 using selectors–

#process {
    counter-reset: toc 0;
}
#process dt:before {
    content: counter(toc, decimal) ". ";
    counter-increment: toc;
}
#process dd {
    margin: 0 0 3em;
    padding: 0 1em 1em;
    position: relative;
}
#process dd:nth-of-type(1):after {
    content: url("/img/processLearn.png");
    left: 42em;
    position: absolute;
    top: -2em;
}

While semantic code has always been possible and encouraged, only now with the flexiblity of CSS3 are we able to fully realize semantic sites without sacrificing presentation.
The attraction to social media is its authenticity. People like the idea that they're talking to an insider at the business, not just reading ad copy in a newsletter.

That's what is so ridiculous about social media consultants. As experts, they should understand that for a social media campaign to be truly effective, it has to be authentic. Yet any business can hire these same experts to write tweets for them. That's the most inauthentic thing you can do. It's a contradiction, isn't it?

If you want to succeed with social media, you only have to be yourself. You know your brand better than any guru ever will.
Throughout the design process, we include our clients in every step by submitting each design for their feedback. The best results come from this collaboration. However, not all feedback is created equal.

There are three kinds of destructive feedback we've seen:
Solutions – Instead of stating a problem, a design solution is offered. For example, wanting a stronger call to action could be expressed as "Let's make the button blink."
Ambiguity – Offering a meaningless phrase like "make it pop" will lead to frustration on both sides.
Personal criticism – While this rarely happens, feedback can take the form of an insult such as "this looks phoned in." This isn't professional for obvious reasons.

The two-step solution to giving great feedback is to be in the right mindset and then ask the right questions. When reviewing a design composition, keep in mind the goals of the business and those of the audience, then ask yourself:
Is the color palette cohesive with my existing brand materials?
Is the navigation intuitive?
Is the tone right for my audience?
Does this reflect my organization?
Does this help users achieve their goals?
Does this help achieve my business goals?

The best results are realized through creative collaboration. The client knows their customer best, and the designer knows design best. When both parties work well together, everyone is rewarded with websites that are both beautiful and useful.
Music can set the mood, and it can also inspire. Here are some albums we've enjoyed in the office:

Trace Bundy: Adapt – Incredibly technical acoustic guitar.

The Glitch Mob: Drink the Sea – This has been called the best electronic album of 2010.

Johnny Flynn: A Larum – Everything you like about Mumford & Sons but better.

Murder by Death: In Bocca Al Lupo – Dark indie rock inspired by Tom Waits.

Opeth: Heritage – Phenomenally well-produced progressive rock that is as complex as it is melancholy.

Happy workers are motivated and productive workers. (And in our case, it also makes us more creative pixel workers.)

Most managers acknowledge the importance of levity in the workplace. They know emotional fulfillment is important, but they don't know how to foster it. They then make the mistake of trying to plan fun with treat days or awkward mid-day parties. You can't plan for fun.

Fun is about spontaneity. You only need to give your employees the tools to have fun. Forget office policies and planning. Let it just happen. We learned this first hand when a developer brought in a pair of dollar store dart guns. Within two weeks, everyone had brought in Nerf guns. When appropriate, we can now blow off steam via onslaughts of brightly-colored foam projectiles. I firmly believe that we're a better team as a result.

While having a better Nerf arsenal than your competition won't guarantee success, it will liven up your office, and that may improve your bottom line.

I'm Obsessing Over is a advertorial photo-blog for Yvonne Estelle's that we took from concept to launch in four days.

Brainstorm
In an afternoon session, we conceived and planned the project with the client. At the end, we had a domain name, and a plan.



Wireframe
With the meeting still fresh in our minds, we sketched wireframes of the site using old-fashioned pen and paper. (Sketching is the most overlooked tool in any designer's toolbox.)



Design
In PhotoShop, a mock-up of the design is created based on the wireframe.



Launch
After two days of coding and testing, the site was pushed live.
Don't.
You can't outsmart Google. Tips, trick, and secrets for better rankings only work short-term (if at all.) Google is literally constantly tweaking their search results through multi-variate testing of their algorithm.

Content is the best SEO strategy.
More content means more long-tail keyword phrases which means more opportunities for people to find you in searches. If the content is both useful to the user and relevant to your site, it is likely to convert.

$196.29B
The next time you're tempted by the promise of better rankings with no work, remember that Google has a market capitalization of $196,290,000,000 with which to hire teams of people smarter than the self-styled SEO expert who just cold-called you.