As I continue to discuss topics relating to the book here on the blog, I thought it would be useful to outline the core concepts of that chapter in an even shorter format so that even if you haven’t read the book (and you should really read the book- it’s great) or haven’t had the good fortune to see me speak you have some sense of what I’m talking about as an approach to tame the web’s uncertainty.
Here are the basic ideas.
- Don’t Blame the Web for Being the Web
- The web is a diverse place that’s getting more diverse every single day.
If you accept the web’s diversity (and maybe even celebrate it) and you find yourself getting angry about one thing (maybe Internet Explorer 8) or another (the stock Android Browser) just take a minute to remind yourself that this is just the way the web is.
Repeat after me: This is just the way the web is.
Since there’s competition in the browser space, there’s always going to be a bad browser. When the current bad browser goes away a new one takes it’s place at the bottom of the pile. You just have to accept that and move on with your life.
- Identify and Embrace Your Audience
- You would think this second general concept would go without saying, but…. You really need to identify and embrace your audience
Do you know who your audience is? You’d be surprised how many clients I’ve had who couldn’t answer this very well at all.
While you can look at web-scale statistics for browser and operating system market share to get some idea of where things are, the only metrics that truly matter are those for your specific audience.
- Test and Pray for the Best
- This third general concept used to be much easier. Nowadays we’ve got to test in as many devices as we can and then pray for the best in the ones we don’t have direct experience with.
Once you’ve identified your audience, where they are and what they’re using it’s time to define the technical demographics you’re going to target with testing and active support.
You’re never going to test everything. The days of testing 95% of the web with one PC running IE6 and toggling between two screen resolutions are long gone. Test with as many real devices as you can and have a plan for what broad range of devices and operating systems you’re going to support. “Android” isn’t good enough. “Android 2.3 and up” is better and saying you’re going to dig up a Moto X means you’ve got your full game face on.
- Focus on Optimal, Not Absolute Solutions
- This concept has been with me for many years. My prime example is the many arguments I’ve had against putting in the extra effort to add rounded corners in older IE.
These days you need to focus on optimal, not absolute solutions.
Your site is not an absolute thing. The best possible site you can have will be the best possible site for everyone that visits it. If that means it’s a high DPI, 25MB monstrosity for a guy on a MacBook air in a coffee shop in Palo Alto or just a logo and an unordered list for someone on a-rented-by-the-minute phone in Lagos, then that’s the way it is.
People are used to sites looking different on different devices so take advantage of it and provide them with the best possible experience for their particular setup.
- Embrace Accessibility
- This concept is unfortunately something I have to call out, but people don’t focus enough on accessibility for the pure sake of it, so here we are.
On the modern web we need to embrace accessibility.
If your site is accessible you’re guaranteeing that you’ll be able to reach the largest possible audience.
You’re also doing the right thing.
I can’t stress that enough. You should be doing this anyway.
- Lose Your Technology Biases
- This general concept is one that drives me particularly nuts.
You’ve got to lose your technology biases.
Tech folks generally have great hardware and new, high powered smart phones and tablets. Most other people in the world don’t. Tech folks tend to forget that.
Not everyone has a fast machine. Test on crummy hardware and crummy phones.
Not everyone is on a Mac. In fact, the vast majority of people on the desktop are still running Windows, no matter what it looks like at conferences. Test on Windows and test in IE.
Not everyone is on an iPhone. Don’t design your experiences around iOS.
- Embrace Empathy
- This concept runs through much of what we’ve already discussed, but I still like to call it out. We need to embrace empathy.
Don’t blind yourself to what your audience actually is by assuming that they are just like you.
They’re not. Your average experience at work, at home or on your phone is almost certainly an optimal view of your site. You’re an expert at using the web. Make sure you look at it, really look at it, in every scenario you can muster. Sure, we’re all guilty of demoing code under the best possible circumstances. That’s natural. The thing is, that demo is the ideal vision of your site run by an expert. The thing you’re actually building, the down and dirty version, is for people with a completely different relationship with technology than yours.
Try to get in their shoes instead of assuming everyone else is in yours.
- Lose Your Stack Biases
- This is a new pet peeve that has cropped up over the past couple of years.
Lose your stack biases.
Your users don’t care if your stack is clever. What they care about is the speed, usability, look and feel, interactivity and features of your site. If your stack isn’t adding to one of those then you might be going down the road to stack obsession.
This is the foundation of what I’m talking about these days. This is all covered in much greater detail in the book and in my talks, but the overall gist is here. Now that I’ve gotten this out of the way I’ll get back to diving into the continuing evolution of the web and what we can do about it to make it the best web it can be.