Issue 34 // Pioneering

As the mobile landscape unfolds before us, we continue to face a tough decision: remain in settled territory or venture into the unknown? There are exciting challenges in supporting new devices and technology, but often we're on our own. Mobile designer Caleb Andrews discovered this first-hand as he took on the task of designing extensions for MailChimp’s iOS app. He returned unscathed from the wilderness to tell his tale.

Caleb is joined in this issue by guest contributor Jessica Ivins, one of Center Centre’s inaugural faculty members. Jessica gives us a peek at how things are going at the “Unicorn Institute” (which was successfully funded on Kickstarter one year ago this week) and shares her story about building a learning-centered culture.

As always, we conclude with a round-up of UX links from around the web.

Forward to Friend
Editors: Jason BeairdLaurissa Wolfram-Hvass, & Gregg Bernstein.
Illustration: David Sizemore
On Twitter: @MailChimpUX

Designing MailChimp's iOS 8 Today Widgets

by Caleb Andrews

Extensions are deceptively powerful widgets that connect users with your apps from other third-party apps in a natural way. As iOS 8 adoption rates approach 75%, we decided it was time to start using them in our mobile app.

Of the eight types of available extensions, a Today widget was the best option for providing fresh account information to our users. My goal for MailChimp’s Today extension was to find a way to reveal information that’s genuinely useful. We have a lot of data we could share, but what’s most valuable to our users? What’s worth pulling down the notifications center for, and why would someone do that often?

As we considered these questions, we concluded that we really needed two separate extensions—one for campaigns and one for lists. The Campaigns extensions would show users a minified version of their latest email, with the option to view the report in full. Our Lists extension would provide the current subscriber count of a specified list, with the ability to add individual subscribers on the go. It’s simple, it’s obvious, and it’s the kind of information we look at regularly in our own UX Newsletter account.

Figure 1:Initial sketches for our Today widgets

Wunderbar! We’ll just whip up a Today extension and drop it in, right?

Well, here’s the thing: while there’s some information on how to program a Today extension, there isn’t much in the way of designing one. In fact, all of the examples I found were . . . not so great. Distracting typefaces, poor alignment, and vague onboarding steps were common faire—even among respected, design-centric companies. We wanted to be the refreshing exception. 

iOS 8 app extension design is new territory for us, and we'd like to share what we learned along the way:

Figure 2: The MailChimp widget first asks users to connect to a MailChimp account.
Figure 3: Once connected to their accounts, users can view recent campaign stats. 

Extension onboarding

We should think of extensions as tiny apps with their own onboarding process, "no data" states, and errors. Our first objective is just getting users to move from activating the extensions to actually using them.

For the MailChimp extensions, we immediately ask the user to connect a MailChimp account and we provide a button to do just that (Figure 2). Once connected, users will either be shown their recently sent campaign or a "no data" state explaining why they don’t see anything (Figure 3).

Give it to ‘em straight and never leave a user guessing.

Figure 4: For the MailChimp extensions, we tried to remain consistent with
Apple's default typography.

Blending in

We wanted to stay as true to the default typography in Apple's extensions as possible. Unfortunately those defaults aren't listed anywhere. This is probably why font styles used in many Today extensions are all over the map.

We found that Helvetica Regular at 17pt was the best match for Apple’s default Weather information in the header. For MailChimp's campaign title, click/open rates, and subscriber count, I opted for a primary text size of Helvetica Regular at 22pt. This highlights the more interesting data without competing with the large 36pt date text at the top of the Today extension. For the tertiary level of information, I opted for 15pt. (See Figure 4)

Figure 5: MailChimp Today widgets on an iPad

 Device-specific conventions

The "View Report" and "Add Subscribers" buttons are 320px wide on both the iPhone 5 and 6, but the buttons in the iPad version (Figure 5) mimic the width of the "Edit" button seen at the bottom of the Today extension. Across all devices, there’s a 94px margin on the left and right side of the "View Report" and "Add Subscribers" buttons. This small detail ensures that our extensions appears consistently centered across all devices, and resembles the design defaults set by Apple.

Paving the trail

While these extension design details may seem insignificant, it's important to get them right. If your user trusts that you’ll present them with a valuable tool now, they’ll have confidence that you’ll provide the best possible results for the bigger things to come.

I hope that by giving a few users an extension actually worth their time, that they’ll trust us to provide them with invaluable features in the future. I mean, the Apple Watch is just around the corner, and we’re already thinking about that race too. If you'd be interested in reading about our design process for the Apple Watch in a future issue, reply and let us know!

What Writing Taught Me About Learning How To Learn

by Jessica Ivins
Facilitator at Center Centre

A learning-centered culture

At Center Centre, it’s okay to admit that you don’t know how to do something. It’s not just okay—it’s encouraged. No one holds it against you if you don’t have a solution to a problem or an answer to a question. Instead, we rally to support each other in our learning.

Center Centre is the user experience design school creating the next generation of industry-ready UX designers. Learning is at the center of everything we do. We’re not only a place of learning; we have a learning-centered culture.

When I first started working at Center Centre as a facilitator (full-time faculty), I told Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman, Center Centre's co-founder and institutional director, that I wanted to improve my writing. She was completely supportive of this goal. She asked me how I learn best.

I learn best by reading books. Together, Leslie and I made a plan and we figured out what books were best for me to read. I started with On Writing Well, as well as Everybody Writes, Nicely Said, and The Elements of Style.

While reading these books, Leslie worked with me as a writing coach. She reviewed my writing and made edits when necessary. Her feedback was honest and consistent. She pointed out what worked well and what didn’t. When I was stuck, she encouraged me to persevere, and she shared more writing resources.

By reading books about writing, by writing, and by working with a coach, I learned things about writing that I never learned in grade school or college. For example, I learned when to write with active voice, not passive voice. I learned techniques to get past hurdles like writer’s block.

Leslie and I worked together on writing for about five months. At the end of five months, my writing was significantly better. I even developed my editing skills to the point where I’m able to help Leslie write stronger content. We continue working together on writing. Learning is an ongoing process.

Ways to learn new skills

At previous jobs, I didn’t have many opportunities to learn new things as part of my work responsibilities. I had to work a certain number of billable hours, and I had to focus on client deliverables. At Center Centre, learning how to learn, and making the time to learn, are at the core of what we do. I’m grateful for the time I have to learn because professional development is critical to user experience.

As UX practitioners, we’re always learning new things. Technology constantly changes, as do user needs and behaviors. We must adapt to these changes by learning new techniques, tools, and methods for our work.

Lobby your boss

A former boss once told me, “It’s our job to keep up with the industry outside of work hours.” I understand why he would say that. From 9 to 5, we have a lot of work tasks to accomplish. As a manager, it’s his job to ensure these tasks get done.

I wish I could go back in time to continue that conversation. Investing time in learning a new skill now transforms you into a more effective team member in the future.

It took me about five months to improve my writing. Because I invested time up front, I’m now able to communicate clearly and quickly. I’m able to express my thoughts more effectively to my colleagues, my boss, and anyone who wants to learn more about the school.

If you work at an organization like Center Centre, where learning is considered a part of your job and where your boss realizes the long-term value of professional development, take your boss up on opportunities to improve your UX practice. Learning a new skill or improving an existing skill can often fall off to a to-do list. Do your best to make learning a priority.

If you work at an organization that doesn’t allow for professional development during business hours, you may have to lobby your boss for time to learn. Perhaps learning something new is as simple as dedicating three lunch hours to learning every week. Maybe you can also devote three hours of your weekend. That’s a solid six hours of learning per week. Imagine what you can accomplish after six hours per week over the course of a year.

Keeping your boss up to date with what you’re learning, and how you’re applying it to your job, may help make the case for continued education. If your boss sees how learning something new with just a few hours a week helps the organization, it will be easier to get the time you need for continued education.

Ask for help

Recently, I wanted to know the best way to learn about information architecture (IA). I was hesitant to ask for help. Impostor syndrome reared its ugly head. I felt vulnerable, and I didn’t want to look incompetent. I thought to myself, “I’ve been in the field for 10 years. I should know this already.”

Then, I remembered my experience of learning how to improve my writing: I had to ask for help to become a better writer. I told myself that it was okay to be vulnerable, and I had to be comfortable with asking for help. I reached out to accomplished UX practitioners like Christina Wodtke, Lou Rosenfeld, and Abby Covert. To my relief, these folks and others made lots of recommendations, and I’m now up to my ears on books about Information Architecture.

Asking for help is the first step toward learning something new. Without recommendations from the UX community, I may have wasted time on books or resources that weren’t what I needed.

Find someone who has experience doing what you want to learn. Ask that person to help you meet your learning goals.

You might think, “Everyone’s busy, and no one has time to help me learn.” Coaching, however, doesn’t have to take a lot of time—it can take five minutes a day or five minutes a week. The UX community has a lot of smart and kind people who are willing to help you achieve your goals.

Lifelong learning

Learning how to write taught me how to become a better learner. By learning how to learn—and by being open about my process—I’m modeling the behavior of a lifelong learner for Center Centre’s students.

When our students graduate, I don’t want them just to be proficient in UX. I want them to be confident in their ability to learn. By knowing how to learn, our students will be an asset to hiring managers from day one. In the meantime, I look forward to experiencing the process of lifelong learning with Center Centre students.

UX Around The Web

Ask Us Anything

We want this newsletter to be a dialogue. If you have questions about what we learned at An Event Apart Atlanta last week or the going rate for a Fernando Godina rookie card, send them in! Seriously: hit reply and ask us anything. We’ll try to answer every email and maybe even share our conversation in future newsletters.

© 2001-2015 All Rights Reserved.
MailChimp® is a registered trademark of The Rocket Science Group

view in browser   unsubscribe   update subscription preferences   

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp