Mediabarn

The purpose of our blog is to provide our readers with a variety of posts that they are interested in. From our studio, research, and staffing agency, all branches of Mediabarn contribute to creating insightful and fun reads. We hope to educate, inform, and entertain with topics ranging from what's going on in our office to current industry trends worldwide.

Time for a Redesign?

How many years should you wait before redesigning your website? I get asked this question a lot.

Truthfully, there’s no specific time period or magical formula that determine whether it’s a good time to freshen up your web presence, redesign from scratch or simply leave it as is. Certain factors play a big role in making that decision though, such as budget, time, and resources available.

While it’s not an exact science, you can consider a few questions to help determine what might be the logical next step for your site.

1)     Do you have a lot of new content that’s being thrown into a “more resources” bucket?

If the answer is yes, it may be time to rethink the core structure of the site and consider exploring a revised information architecture (site map structure) to accommodate your latest, updated information. Note that whatever you design, it should be built to be expanded upon, so it doesn’t leave you with that all too familiar “catch all” section.

2)     Have you rebranded yourself lately? New logo? New mission?

This would be a good time to modify the site to relay your new brand. A new palette and style could add a few more years to your site’s life. If you have all new content as well, see item 1.

3)     Is your site full of stock imagery?

If you’ve read my prior posts, you know how I feel about this. ;-) Lose the stock. Can’t afford custom images or graphics? Find newer stock and use less of it. At the very least, change your main “hero” images often. Your users are likely to get tired of looking at the same picture over and over again, and this small change can make a big difference.

4)     How does your content read?

Is the tone of your copy up to date? It may be time to rewrite copy and update your messaging if you’re still referring to the World Wide Web or mentioning people or services that are no longer part of your organization.

5)     Is your most recent news item from over a month ago?

If you have news or a “what’s new” section on your site and it’s over 2-3 weeks old – you need to make a change. This timely content lets users know you’re constantly online and up to speed on everything. Letting your site appear dated via old content tells your audience “we aren’t paying attention.”

6)     How old is your site?

Although I mentioned there was no specific expiration date to a website, chances are if it was built over 5 years ago, the technology and design are really outdated (and it shows). This reflects on your overall brand. Design styles and various functions have changed and you may want to take advantage of some of the newer looks and possible site features.

7)     Your site was built in 1999

Full redesign. STAT.

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Keep the Creativity Flowing

 

We have all seen beautifully designed websites, cool looking apps and slick ads. When I look at these, I often admire how creative they are and how talented the designer(s) were that did the work. It got me wondering – what do designers do now to constantly maintain a level of enthusiasm, creativity and just sustain an overall energy that allows them to come up with great ideas and fantastic art?

Waaaay back, and I do mean a really long time ago, when I was a graphic designer, I would occasionally feel “stuck” while working on a project – where nothing I concepted was hitting the mark. I found that going to the library (yes, a real library – not an online version) and looking through the beautiful photos in art history books, browsing graphic novels and just sitting in the quiet area would really help to re-energize me and get my creative spark back on track. Is a trip to the library still a popular remedy?

I asked some of my very *favorite designers who I work with almost daily. They had a variety of responses, all really interesting and helpful if you’re experiencing a mental block in any field of work.

Andy Parker, our very own Lead Experience Designer, had this to say: “The web is the most ultimate modern library resource we have the fortune to access. I have bookmarked sites and ‘best-of’ showcasing sites but the best method I find is to capture the most popular and relevant design-related work is news feeds. For this I use everything from Flipbook, Pinterest (iPad apps) to Feedly.com. This way the content is served to you and you are kept up-to-date on a daily basis.”

Some other tips and methods that could help:

- Explore: Sketching and doodling down everything that comes to mind. During this period there’s no right or wrong – only the goal of generating as many ideas as you can in the shortest possible amount of time.

- Read: Reading good design and UX books can often give you a new perspective or motivate you to try something new.

- Recharge: Just walk away. Take a walk, go do something completely different to gain some temporary distance.

- Listen: One of our designers is also a musician so sometimes he takes a break to play his guitar. If you don’t play an instrument, that’s ok. Just listening to good music (whatever that means to you) can really help get you going.

- Communicate: bounce ideas of a friend or fellow designer. We do this a lot at Mediabarn. It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting involving a white board, it could be a phone call or a quick meet up for coffee

- Educate: Although not all conferences are created equal, they can be a good way to motivate and inspire you. Networking is always a plus at events as well.

In general, constantly coming up with new and innovate ideas can be tiring. Trying some of these tactics might help you regain your creativity and avoid the all too common burn out.

 

*Special thanks to Andy, Sarah, Scott and Patrick for your thoughts.

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Work Hard, Play Hard

From understanding UX, to learning how to manage working in a fast-paced environment, I’ve gained tons of knowledge since beginning my journey at the ‘Barn (you can read how intimidated I was when I first started here). One thing I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with is getting caught up in the typical “daily grind” that a majority fall victim to here in the DC area.

Many people get lost in their 9-5 business infused life, and in turn are left with stress and frustration. In a recent study performed by APA, about 50% of DC-area residents report having been irritable or angry at least once in the past month due to stress, and 61% of workers reported that heavy workloads have a significant impact on work stress levels. Fortunately, Mediabarn’s mission statement doesn’t include the words “stress” or “frustration”. That’s not to say we don’t get stressed from time to time, but we try and do things to help offset it while here at work.

We all enjoy spending time at the ‘Barn, and it’s a given because we are passionate about what we do. And when you combine that with a little bit of fun, we avoid being part of such a large negative stress statistic. “There is good evidence that if you allow employees to engage in something they want to do, (which) is playful, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation” says Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play. Plus, according to Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO (a global design company), people are willing to take more creative risks in an office where they have the security and comfort to play and not be judged. We’ve found that whether it’s taking a mid-day break to check out the new ice cream shop around the block, or spending the day kayaking on the Potomac River, Mediabarn’s spirited environment keeps our Monday mornings sunny year-round.

MBTeamIf you’re looking to brighten
things up around your office, here are some of the ‘Barn’s favorite
team building activities that you may want to consider to keep employees happy, healthy and productive. Take it from this ‘Barn-ette, it makes a difference!

  • Museums
  • Golf Outing
  • Bowling
  • Baseball games
  • Amusement parks
  • Food cookoffs
  • Happy hours
  • Concerts
  • Monuments

 

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As more of our clients develop sites and apps for mobile devices, we have seen an increased need to conduct usability testing on tablets and smartphones. Finding the right recording solution has been challenging, especially when compared to recording desktop usability sessions.
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For desktop usability, there are many different applications that allow us to capture screen interactions along with a picture-in-picture view of a participant’s face. When trying to apply this to mobile device testing, it’s particularly difficult to capture an accurate and clear video recording of the session. Although clients typically want to see the participant’s face, often it’s more important to see what the user’s hands and fingers are tapping and swiping on the mobile device.

An added complication is that the mobile devices are… mobile; in other words, participants move them during the session, making video capture an even bigger challenge. Here at Mediabarn, we made the decision at the onset to develop a mobile testing solution that wouldn’t require any attachments (e.g., cameras, sleds, or wires) to the device. We felt that wrapping a device with mounts and wires would create an unusual user experience.

In order to mimic as lifelike an environment in the usability lab as possible, we offer a variety of flexible solutions and equipment, including wireless HD connections, wiring and power in our ceilings, and a large selection of cameras, mounts and arms. Our recording system allows us to try various approaches and enables us to cater to diverse groups of participants, dependent on the objectives of each unique study. For example, we discovered that testing mobile devices with kids requires a different setup than one we might use with adults. Specifically, kids have a tendency to pull devices into their laps, while adults seem content to use devices on the tabletop. During longer studies, however, we have found that adults tend to pull the device closer to their chest and lap as their arms become fatigued. The bottom line is that our technical approach considers the participants, the type of device, the type of site or app being tested, and the length of study.

We essentially have two main setups:

(1) Camera. We have a number of different camera setups. Generally, we use an “over the shoulder” view or our telescoping arm document camera (our most recent equipment addition). This setup allows for a clear view of the screen as well as what the respondent is doing on the screen. We find that most of our clients are more interested in seeing how participants manipulate what they see on the screen, so this is what we record. Additionally, there are two cameras (one on each side of the participant) showing body language or facial expressions. When we’re testing kids, or for longer studies, we use ceiling cameras, placed to the right or left of the respondent so that their head will not block our view if they lean over the device.

(2) Apple mirroring and Airplay. When it’s more important for our clients to have a crystal clear view of what is on the device screen than to see participants’ hand or finger movements, we use this type of screen capture recording. As with the other technique, the dual cameras capture facial expressions and body movements.

While we would love to have a single solution for recording mobile device usability tests, we have found that maintaining a flexible approach is the best way to fulfill the needs of our clients and their individual projects.

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Staffing and Unemployment Trends

You may have noticed that many of your friends and family who are local to the DC area, are back in business and working again. That’s because the local job market is back on track! With unemployment rates continuing to drop across our region, companies are once again looking to staffing agencies for help. We’re currently seeing 2 year lows across the entire Washington metropolitan area – in fact, 21 of the 22 counties in the area/region have lower unemployment rates in March 2014 compared to March 2012.

The lowest area happens to be right in our neck of the woods – Arlington, followed by Falls Church City at 3.5% (and Alexandria not far behind).

With these numbers, companies are scrambling to find top talent and the demand for staffing agencies is on the rise.  In a recent report by the American Staffing Association (ASA), staffing employment is continuing on an upward trend. Temporary staffing has risen 8.5% and has grown by 224,000 over the past year. Agencies are primed for such conditions and are able to quickly help augment recruiting depts. They can assist in a number of ways, not only with recruiting and helping source great talent quickly (if internal depts are maxxed out and/or passively recruiting), but they are also actively uncovering those job seekers who are secretly searching for new and exciting opportunities.

If you’re experiencing a drought with talent and need to immediately fill some of your current openings, contact one of our staffing specialists to see how we can help. We may have already found who you’re looking for!

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Design with Kids in Mind

School’s almost out for the summer! For most kids, this means more free time. Hopefully much of that time will be spent outside, but it’s likely that a majority of it will be inside, and online, as well. They’ll be downloading new games, playing old favorites, and checking out new sites – whether it’s for fun or education. The best online experiences will be the ones that stick and the ones they tell their friends about.

Most kids seem to be on computers and tablets almost as soon as they can sit up and move a mouse or tap a screen – which is why successful user experience for children is so important.

With the many products we have designed for the younger generation, we have put together a few tips and guidelines along the way to help make your next kid friendly initiative successful.

Ages 3-5: This age group is so much fun to design for!

  • Use text redundantly with images for children just learning to read.
  • Use simple, short text for headers.
  • Use fonts that approximate how children learn to write. For example, many fonts use “a” and “q” in styles that do not match how some children are taught to write those letters.
  • Use large font sizes.
  • Children in this age group are attracted to bright and lively colors.
  • Incorporate numerous pictures and visual cues.
  • Provide large target areas for clicking.

Ages 5-7: This group can read and is more comfortable in front of the computer, so you have more flexibility. Keep in mind that children in this age group are typically slow typists.

  • Children want instant gratification with content and interactivity.
  • Children find multiple and redundant navigation confusing.
  • Use simple, short text for headers.
  • Allow children to personalize their screens – they love being creative!
  • Underline all hyperlinked text.

Ages 8-12 – With this age group there are some overlap of guidelines with the 5-7 year olds as well as with the 13 and up age demographic, but they also have their own set of design criteria.

  • The more web experience a child has, the less they want to read instructions.
  • Keep writing succinct and in small chunks if possible, however, children 9 years or older are more likely to scroll.
  • If you use characters or photos, make sure they are around middle school level (which is slightly older) otherwise they can be interpreted as babyish.
  • Children this age are impatient so loading time is important.

We can save the teen experience for another post – that is requires a whole other set of rules!

There’s a lot of online competition in the children’s educational and game space, but hopefully the above tips will help your product stand out in the crowd and help keep kids busy and entertained (when they aren’t playing outside, that is…).

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Diving into Freelancing

fish

Are you diving head first into freelancing? From moving through various clients, working on a range of projects and meeting new groups of people, daily, weekly or monthly, the life of a freelancer can be a fun and exciting one. But if this is your first rodeo, there’s a lot to know about when you start and what to expect.

As with any job, you need to quickly understand the landscape, players and most importantly your role. Although you’re “only a freelancer,” you’re now part of a team and should act like it. And even if your role is temporary, you’re still expected to go above and beyond – which requires putting your heart into it.

Be sure to remain flexible and try and adapt quickly. One of the main reasons a company reaches out to a staffing agency is for flexibility. Since you’re acting as an extension of that agency, you should make sure that you understand the expectations going in. Things like projects, schedules and team dynamics can change quickly, but you can avoid many pitfalls by communicating clearly and discussing any possible conflicts with both your agency and the client.

Although you may be used to doing things a certain way, remember that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. If you’re not being paid to improve process, don’t. The quicker you learn how a company operates and executes certain tasks (such as using Photoshop and file conventions), the less of a burden you are on your new team and/or boss.

One aspect that will likely remain consistent is time-tracking. More often than not, you’ll be asked to record your time in a number of locations. If you’re working at an agency, studio or design firm, it’s fairly certain that tracking your time across multiple clients is required. You’ll also need to complete a timecard for your staffing agency and submit your hours in a timely manner to ensure that you’re paid. If you’re not diligent about tracking your time, it could lead to a ripple effect for not only the client, but perhaps even your pay.

While you’re bouncing from client to client, don’t forget to make friends; it’s a great way to get to know talented people within your industry. Use tools like LinkedIn to your advantage and ask for references or recommendations (if you think you deserve it, of course). These will last you a long time and will certainly prove to be invaluable to you down the road and throughout your freelance career! If you have any additional comments or questions, feel free to leave a comment below and our staffing specialists will be happy to get you going in the right direction!

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Think Before You Tweet

It was a combination of an editorial piece by Baratunde Thurston I read in Fast Company and a link a colleague and friend sent me in horror about the best 60 social media tools (how are there that many!) that got me thinking more about a company’s social media presence. I know there is not one “correct” answer, but Thurston makes a great point about how companies and organizations should be focusing more on making quality products and experiences and less on self-promotion and gimmicks on social media sites.

The conversation about social media is at almost every product kick-off we have. How should we integrate Facebook? Should we be Tweeting? Do we want to be on Pinterest? Just like design trends, a social media strategy is not one size fits all, and it does matter (among many other things) what you do, what you sell, and how you want others to see your brand. Now, I’m not talking about what to do with on your own personal Facebook page – that’s a whole other blog post. What I am referring to is the bigger picture for a company that wants to be noticed for the great work they are doing or great products they are creating.

Quality, not quantity, is what matters with social media. I’m not the expert on how much to tweet or post, but if you’re interested in that you may want to look at the studies Track Social did on both Twitter frequency and Facebook posting. What I’m focused on is the what. Does your post represent your brand appropriately or is it a complete 180 in tone and messaging? Is it relevant to what you do/sell/offer? Does it make your business seem knowledgeable or simply “trendy”? If your answers are fuzzy you may consider taking some time to develop more of a plan and make sure it aligns with the rest of your business and brand.

It doesn’t matter how many witty things you have to post on Twitter or how many Likes you get on your Facebook page, your product – whether it be an app, a website, or a service - needs to be the main voice of your brand, and social media should SUPPORT that, not carry it. That’s not to say you can’t post promotions or news elsewhere, it just means that social media should not be your first focus or strategy – the primary effort still needs to go toward your business and brand.

140 characters may get you retweets, but a solid product and service will get you customer loyalty.

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WANTED: Effective Job Postings

uxdesignerad

A few weeks ago, we discussed the importance of customizing a resume to fit each client. But what if you’re a client on the other end of the spectrum? There’s a lot more to putting up an excellent job posting than meets the eye.

The web certainly makes things easier since resumes can be easily uploaded and shared, but it also leads to millions of resumes floating around cyberspace. In order to increase the quality of responses you receive and decrease the noise, we have put together these simple tips for you to follow:

1. Make it search friendly
Think like a job seeker! You may consider going onto the site where you plan on listing the job and do a search as if you were a candidate. This will allow you to find common keywords that you want to use to get the best visibility from your posting. Use terms in the job posting that will be consistent with the terms that potential hires are using to search with. If you keep the job title, description, and skills relevant, the posting is more likely to show up high on the results page of a search. If the position is for a UX Designer, you may want to use both “UX” in the title and job description as well as other common synonyms for this (User Experience, UI, etc.).

2. Quality over quantity
While you may think it’s important to list everything about the job description, you’re better off sticking to what’s relevant so that you don’t have candidates drop off. Begin the posting with a short overview of the position and add a few details about what the job entails. Essentially, this should be a snapshot of the job. Add specific, preferred qualifications, including listing the ones that are non-negotiable, and wrap it up with a creative call to action.

3. Don’t forget, it’s an ad
You should consider the job posting similar to an advertisement. Your intentions are to market this position and your company – and the better the ad, the better the people. Think of the factors behind a successful ad: they’re aesthetically pleasing, interesting, and effective with the major selling points clearly presented.

In order to remain successful in your recruitment efforts, you should create job postings that are compelling, straightforward and easy to understand. In doing so, you can increase your chances of eliminating the cyberjunk and finding the right candidate quickly.

We’d love to hear if anyone has other tips or ideas on how to improve user engagement and uncover the best candidates. Please feel free to leave some insight!

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UXPA-2014_Logo

As many of you may already know from some of my prior posts and tweets, I am fortunate enough this year to serve as co-chair for the UXPA 2014 International Conference taking place in London. Aside from practicing my British accent, it has been a whirlwind of planning, meeting and working with some of the most talented people in the UX industry.

Have you ever been to a conference focused on your industry or field of work? Before I started volunteering with the UXPA conference committee years ago, I always assumed there were “people” who just made these events happen. I didn’t think of how many people, how much money or how much time and effort it took. All I knew is that I was attending, and if I didn’t like the session/food/location I would let “them” know. Talk about being naïve! I can’t speak to how every conference is created, but I absolutely underestimated the effort that goes into planning this conference and just how many volunteers are needed – and appreciated – during the process.

UXPA counts on volunteers to help review submissions, get students involved, coordinate events, find speakers, and develop marketing plans. The works! It truly takes a village. Collaboration and teamwork is key, as is patience. The first two are easy; the third is a work in progress for me.

So how is it going, you ask? It’s quite the ride! The program is almost done (it’s amazing), the keynotes are locked in (awesome and inspiring) and we are putting the final touches on all the extracurricular “fun” things you find so often at good conferences. Oh, and did I mention a new website is being built to support this year’s event? So there’s that, too.

I hope you’re planning to attend – London awaits you! Learn more about the conference here and stay tuned when I announce the NEW website and registration opening very soon. I look forward to seeing you across the pond.

Now, back to the planning…

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