A Short Word on ALL CAPS

The use of ALL CAPS in electronic documents and missives is generally considered to slow reading speed[1][2] [3](impacting the usability and readability of text) and to be interpreted as “shouting” at the reader[4]. However, ALL CAPS seems to continue to be in common usage in legal documents throughout the internet. It is worth taking a brief look at the history of this practice to understand it better.

The use of ALL CAPS in legal documents stems from the requirement that lawyers make particular passages “conspicuous” to ensure that a reasonable person would notice them[5].  Historically, the only way to make text conspicuous on a typewriter was the use of ALL CAPS. However, this approach is not actually required.  Conspicuous, as defined in the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC 1-201b) (https://www.law.cornell.edu/ucc/1/1-201)is:

(A) a heading in capitals equal to or greater in size than the surrounding text, or in contrasting type, font, or color to the surrounding text of the same or lesser size; and

(B) language in the body of a record or display in larger type than the surrounding text, or in contrasting type, font, or color to the surrounding text of the same size, or set off from surrounding text of the same size by symbols or other marks that call attention to the language.”

Clearly there are other options that are less “offensive” and will support the user in reading and comprehending legal materials more quickly. And it’s never too late to change. The US Navy switched from ALL CAPS to mixed case in their messaging system in 2013 after using ALL CAPS since the 1850’s.[6]

[1] How We Read (August 2014) Jason Santa Maria http://alistapart.com/article/how-we-read

[2] Writing Readable Content (And Why ALL CAPS Is So Hard To Read) (November 2011) Marty Friedel https://www.digitalcookie.com.au/blog/writing-readable-content-and-why-all-caps-is-so-hard-to-read.html

[3] The Science of Word Recognition Kevin Larson (July 2004) http://www.microsoft.com/typography/ctfonts/wordrecognition.aspx

[4] How capital letters became internet code for shouting (April 2014) Alice Robb, NewStatesman http://www.newstatesman.com/sci-tech/2014/04/how-capital-letters-became-internet-code-shouting

[5] A Quick Note on Conspicuous Text, also known as ALL CAPS (August 2012)Luis Villa http://lu.is/blog/2012/08/19/a-quick-note-on-conspicuous-text-also-known-as-all-caps/

[6] US Navy Adjusts to the times;ditches its ALL CAPS message format (June 2013) Ed Payne http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/13/us/navy-all-caps/index.html

Roles in UX

UX Roles
How UX Roles: Information Architect, Interaction Design, Visual Design, User Research, and Front End Engineering

I’m not a fan a labels on people.  On food, form fields, and bathrooms, sure – but not people.  People are mutable, rarely fitting into one nicely defined category.  And in UX, this is definitely the case. However, since UX spans such a wide-range of skills, it’s occasionally helpful to provide role definitely so that people know that there’s a lot more out there than just wireframes and visual comps. So here’s a very crude way of understanding the different roles (often held by the same person!) in UX.

Imagine you need to build a road.  You go to your UX team:

Information Architect: “We must make signs so people know where to go. And those signs should be in a consistent order so they can navigate to where they need to be.”

Interaction Designer: “We must build on and off ramps and a divider to make traffic flow intuitive. They should be able to mark their favorite places in their GPS to make sure they can get back to them over and over.”

Visual Designer: “We must ensure the center line, signs, and ramps are easy to see and call attention to themselves. It should be fresh and modern and appealing.”

User Researcher: ” We must understand how many people will drive on this road and when. That will tell us how many on and off ramps to create, where to create them, which signs are needed and in what language, and what our tolerances are.”

Front End Engineer: “Guys…there’s a big mountain in the way…”

(Need I say it? Always involve development…)

It’s All About The Context

The first step in creating great designs – and often the most overlooked one – is recognizing that what you create will not be used in a vacuum.

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It’s not pretty to think about your mobile app audience using your latest brainchild while on the toilet, but it is often the reality. If you don’t keep that in mind (can you say “easy to mute”?) , your users will dump you faster than… well, let’s just say they won’t be back.

Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to get a mindset that will let you think “context”.

Watch your target audience
Channel your inner Jane Goodall and get out there and observe your users in their natural environment. Pay attention to their surroundings – are they huddled in a cubicle all day, making only occasional forays into the break room for sustenance, surrounded by a dust covered collection of old Mario Brothers memorabilia? Are they constantly on the move from one end of city to the other, Bluetooth headset shoved so deeply in their ear it might qualify as a cyber extension? Are they perched on the edge of a second hand armchair in a hipster coffee shop typing feverishly on their MacBook Air while balancing their eighth double espresso on their knee? Understand how, where, and why the might use your creation – and that will give you insight into what you should and shouldn’t build.

Say it with me – You are not your user
It doesn’t matter if your built your creation for people just like you. The minute you started to make it, you became a builder not a user and as such are now disqualified from being a stakeholder in the requirements definition. That is, once you cross the line from user to maker, you lose your objectivity. Fortunately, if you can accept that you are not a good representative of your target audience, you will be able to keep an open mind and observe what that audience actually needs. And don’t worry – your target audience doesn’t know what they need either. Which brings us to our next tip.

Users know what they want, not what they need
Ask any 4 year old what they want for dinner and you’ll get some variation on “chocolate soup with a side of ice cream” What they need is closer to a kale, blueberry, bean, and carrot salad with a tall glass of water. Users know what they want, but are usually poor observers of their own habits and behaviors. As a result, they will lead you astray as to what they really want if you fail to couple their feedback with observational data.

So, get out there and see how the people you want to create for work and live and play. Then make something that fits into that rhythm of life and makes some part of it easier, faster, or fun.

Have fun – go play!