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I’ve been keeping a close eye on innovation in the ecommerce sector for more than a decade now, and it seems to me that we're living in exciting times. We have hit some kind of purple patch.
Why is this? Well, ecommerce has massively matured. It's big business. Digital teams are smarter, and more agile. Sexy new tech such as HTML5, CSS3 and jQuery allows for sublime user experiences.
As such I wanted to raise a toast to innovation by highlighting a bunch of - hopefully inspiring - examples to you.
But first, a massive caveat: I would severely and mercilessly beat a few of these sites with a big best practice stick. There are product pages with missing information. There are search boxes with tiny fonts. There are usability issues galore.
Secondly, for ecommerce sites, it is all about the data. If you’re not constantly testing, measuring and refining, then you aren’t doing it right. What works for one brand might not work so well for another.
All of that aside, the ecommerce teams that take chances and push the boundaries of are to be applauded. Guidelines are precisely that: guidelines. Rules are there to be broken. And innovation is always to be encouraged, even when it doesn’t work out.
So let's take a look at some ecommerce websites (and one mobile app) that are trying new things, and that are noteworthy for their approach to the user experience. Click on the screenshots to check them out for yourself, and do let me know what you think.
Last year I watched a panel debate on the following question: “Is it content, or is it an advertisement?” The panelists went round and round in circles for an hour, and there was no conclusion. My own thinking is along the lines of “it doesn’t really matter, and it’s probably both.”
I happen to think that we have entered a new golden age for advertising. The very best ads are conceived as shareable content experiences, and we’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s possible.
Unfortunately most TV and radio ads are still utterly intolerable, but I feel that the bar has been raised in recent years, driven by YouTube, social media, audience participation, and aspirations to be more creative. The best ads are anchored around compelling content. Execution, as with most things, is paramount. Combine the two and you might have a big hit on your hands.
There is a flipside: a lousy idea executed brilliantly is still a lousy idea. If the content is underwhelming then you will have to pay to gain reach. So much for earned media. If you are paying a small fortune to seed your content then you’re very much in the realms of paid media. I call this ‘the shareability gap’, and I believe that brands should invest in creativity, not media.
If a brand has paid for the content, then it pretty much wants you to buy something, or at the very least like it a little bit more, but that doesn’t mean that the content has to suck.
Here are some non-sucky content marketing campaigns that I’ve seen recently. I’ve taken quite a broad brush approach here with regards to formats: there are ads, pop-up installations, photographic collections, blogs, and helpful guides. I like the ideas and the execution. Have a look and do let me know what you think...
Occasionally you see an incredulous question posted to reddit, along these lines: “What job do you have that allows you to browse reddit?”
I happen to think that all kinds of professionals should keep a close eye on reddit, as it is an ever-changing repository of the best content and discussion on the internet. Yes, there are too many cat gifs, but scratch below the surface and it is a fantastic place to find inspiration, examples, insight and expertise.
I thought I’d provide an overview of some of the categories (aka ‘subreddits’) that are worth subscribing to. Each of these subreddits has plenty to offer, especially for those of you - like me - who work in the digital industry. Creative and marketing folk would do well to tune in.
For the uninitiated, The Observer's Tom Lamont recently published an insightful feature on reddit, which covers a lot of ground. Be sure to install the Reddit Enhancement Suite and download Alien Blue for your smartphone. Both are world class examples of apps that help extend and improve on the overall experience of a website (in terms of usability, and content access / discovery / bookmarking).
Right then, where shall we start?
What is Twitter’s favourite button for, exactly? What does it mean when somebody ‘favourites’ one of your tweets? When and why do you press the button?
There are a variety of reasons why people choose to ‘favourite’ tweets. In fact, I’ve identified 20 different reasons for doing so. If you’re anything like me you’ll use the button in a bunch of ways.
You can be sure that I’ve missed a few things out, so be sure to leave a comment if you use the button in yet another way.
So then, why do people press the favourite button?
Some of the best web and mobile app designs have a very limited colour range. Two or three colours can be more than enough, and I find that a restrained approach to colour works especially well on de-cluttered interfaces.
The use of colour in design is a bit like great music, where balance, contrast, restraint and dissonance all come into play. I picked out monochrome and hypercolour as two of my 18 web design trends for 2014, but perhaps trichromatic design is where it's really at?
For trichromatic design it is often the case that there is a 'main' colour, an 'active' colour, and a 'highlight' colour. A limited palette goes further when you reverse out the colours in certain areas (menus, or buttons, for example).
I wanted to highlight some examples of mobile interfaces that primarily focus on two or three colours, along with plenty of white (or otherwise neutral) space, and a lack of unnecessary clutter. In other words: minimal design. Less is more.
So let's take a look at a few examples. I don't claim to have used all of these apps and sites, and one or two are concepts, so the focus here is on the look and feel, rather than the user experience. Click on the images to see more in-depth or full size screenshots.
There has been a lot of talk lately about responsive web design, and a number of questions have arisen about how Google perceives sites that go down this route.
Matt Cutts said responsive design “won’t harm rankings”. Given that Matt isn’t in the habit of telling everyone how to win at SEO, I think this is as close to an endorsement as we’re going to get.
‘Responsive’ is pretty much used as a byword for ‘mobile optimisation’, which is the science of crafting a better user experience for smartphone users. The key part of that sentence isn’t ‘responsive’, nor ‘mobile’, but ‘user experience’.
This is becoming a bigger deal, as far as SEO is concerned, and I suspect that we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what's going on.
I wanted to share this excellent presentation on the theme of user experience axioms, which has been compiled and - in the spirit of the subject - iterated by Erik Dahl.
There are currently 26 UX axioms, and I don't think there is any filler in here at all. It's rare to see such a concise, fat-free, meaningful list like this.
The UX Axioms website outlines these principles along with a brief explanation of the thinking behind each one.
What web design trends do you think we'll see in 2014? I'm betting on more simplicity, more cleanliness, and more focus on smaller screen sizes, among other things.
This collection is largely based on observation, vaguely educated guesswork, waving a finger in the air, and a bunch of other posts I've compiled in recent months. As such, some of these predictions may be more accurate than others!
No doubt I have missed all manner of trends, so do share your own thoughts and predictions in the comments section below.
When it comes to website navigation, I'm a traditionalist. I don't think it's something that should be messed around with, unless there's a very good reason for doing so.
The fundamentals of web navigation haven't changed at all. Obvious labels, clear scent trails, a lack of clutter, and good usability are all essential. Navigation should be obvious, prominent, persistent, and not obfuscated in any way. And as with most things, fancy design should be stomped on if the user experience is compromised.
However, I love innovation, experimentation and evolution, and it is perhaps an opportune time to rethink our ideas about web navigation, given the rise of smartphones and tablets, as well as better tools, such as HTML5, CSS3 and jQuery.
In the past year or so I've noticed that more and more websites that have unusual forms of navigation, and I thought I'd collect a bunch of examples to show you the art of the possible.
It's worth pointing out that I don't think all of these work brilliantly. I'm including examples that are different and distinct, or that are very much in keeping with the rest of the web experience, whether good or bad. You can decide for yourself.
Some of these might be filed under 'trying too hard'. As with everything, I think it's about finding the right fit for your site, your content, and your audience.
So then, let's prepare to navigate! Click on the screenshots to visit the websites, so you can see how they work.
Everybody loves to hate buzzwords, but those of us who work in digital need to tolerate the birth of new phrases to describe new things.
I’m not talking about horrific PR terminology like ‘leverage’ and ‘synergy’ and ‘blue sky’, which are not to be tolerated, and which I’ve previously discussed.
Instead, we shall focus on those buzzwords and phrases that have originated in recent years, and which have significantly grown in popularity over the past year.
Last week one of our enterprise subscribers asked about how best to estimate future traffic levels, and I thought I’d answer the question by way of a blog post.
There are eight areas that I think you can focus on, to try to figure out whether traffic levels are likely to rise, fall, or stay the same.
I am thinking out loud here, so if you have any better methodologies then please leave a comment below!
In the late 1990s the Philadelphia Inquirer published a series on “the dramatic raid of Mogadishu”. It evolved into a book and a movie called, as you may have already guessed, ‘Black Hawk Down’.
The initial extended feature first made its debut in print, and was then pushed onto the website, where video, audio, maps, photos and related links helped bring the story to life. The site, which is still available online, looks like this:
This was one of the first mainstream media attempts to use the web to enhance long form content, and while the page might not look terribly pretty, all of the right kind of functionality is there.
Since then things have moved on considerably, and in an age of HTML5 I have seen some stunning examples of what can be achieved with online storytelling. Here are a few that are well worth checking out.
Let's start with the obvious...