Authenticity: Overused but not Irrelevant

AUTHENTICblueSquareStickerAuthenticity has become one of those words people love to hate. Whether it is authentic marketing, authentic leadership, or just being your authentic self, the word has been used so much the meaning has become diluted.

Authenticity may have be a buzzword, but the meaning behind it is still very relevant in business, and it may be the most important aspect of your online presence.

People have been arguing about the overuse of Authenticity for at least a decade. Penelope Trunk wrote this article in 2005 – “Buzzword of the Year: Authenticity“. If the argument is still going on, I have to believe the topic is significant.

In the social media era, if you mislead customers, or lose the trust of your online community, retribution can be swift, harsh and immediate and you could find yourself on a list of Social Media fails,  which can devastating in itself.

Brand communicator, Alice Hansen, shared 7 things anyone can do to  Build Trust Online:

  • Be Real
  • Be Responsive
  • Respect Privacy
  • Spotlight Kudos and Comment on Critics
  • Socialize Your Presence
  • Cultivate a Following
  • Reveal Interesting Details

I agree with Mary Jane Zemer;  Authenticity may be an overused word and underutilized value, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid using it entirely, use it wisely.

2016 Design Trends: New Tools, More Automation, Full Stack Design

I must admit, I dislike articles dealing with design trends. Most of the time, design trend roundups cover similar topics and lack originality. But you know what? I will try to give this old idea another spin, and I will try to keep it original.

This is why you might learn some things that you wouldn’t expect from such an article, so let’s get started.

Illustrators Will Be In Big Demand

Small and big businesses alike are finally starting to understand that the best way to tell stories and get their message across is via images and good stories.

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Thanks to the latest design trends, illustrators can look forward to a busy year as demand for visual content reaches new heights.

That’s why illustration is going to reach new heights this year, and it might even peak in terms of demand and popularity.

In other words, illustrators can look forward to a lot of job offers. This isn’t solely a design trend, it’s a business trend.

Full Stack Designer? What The Hell Is That?

I am hearing this expression way too often, so it’s probably going to become a design trend too.

But what on earth does it mean? What is a “full stack designer,” and why should we care? It is a designer capable of tackling all your design needs, from branding, mobile applications, websites, to making coffee.

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What the hell is a full stack designer? It’s a designer capable of handling all design needs.

The potential benefits of using a single designer for various tasks are obvious. In theory, it could eliminate a lot of communication and back-and-forths in your team. On the other hand, you need to make sure that you don’t end up with a designer who appears to be a jack of all trades, but is master of none.

Automatization At Its Finest

In the past year we witnessed rapid growth of services like Readymag and Semplice, but that is just the start.

We are going to see a lot more tools for codeless development. Designers are going to be allowed to produce fully working designs.

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We are starting to see more tools for codeless development and design automation. How will this affect your work?

The approach has a lot of potential advantages and could streamline execution, but please don’t get carried away. Automated services can do a lot, but they can’t do everything.

Designer Tools: Final Battle

We saw a huge amount of new design tools gain popularity last year, but new tools appear all the time; and they come and go.

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Designers should definitely keep a close eye on Sketch and Adobe Comet development. These are obviously the tools of the future.

However, this time it should be more interesting. I would single out the struggle between Adobe Comet and Sketch, because these seem to be the tools of the future.

We will see how a little software studio can take on a big corporation that’s been setting industry trends and standards for years.

Prototyping And Specs Tools

In the past year we witnessed the appearance or popularization of several prototyping/specs tools. This year won’t be different, with one exception: Some will shine and some will die.

Here are some of these exciting tools fighting for users and market share:

I am especially curious about the outcome on the design and prototyping tool front. Having design and prototyping functionality in two separate apps might become a thing of the past. Their functionality can be covered by a single tool, keeping everything in one place.

Being A Designer Is Going To Become More Complex

Over the past few years, a designer’s job has been progressively more complicated and demanding. To be a top notch designer, it is no longer enough to have good visual skills.

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In spite of new tools and a higher degree of automation, designers can expect their daily workload to become more diverse and complex.

Designers are expected to be proficient in several new fields, such as animation, prototyping, user testing, speccing, and more.

Designers must master new skills and broaden their knowledge. Future design positions will require an expanded skillset and more experience.

The Dark Rise Of Diffuse Shadows

In recent years, designers relied on clean, long shadows, but it seems someone decided that these minimal shadows are way too decadent.

So, let’s hear a warm welcome for diffuse shadows, which are a combination of shadow with a bit of color inside it. You can visualise it as a unicorn painting, and you should get ready to see more of these. So long, long shadows!

Diffuse shadows help illustrate depth more realistically and naturally than long shadows. Their soft edges, coupled with a splash of colour to mimic diffused lighting, help designers create good looking environments and smoother, interactive transitions between various design elements.

Natural Language Gaining Traction

After Typeform introduced a new and innovative way to communicate with customers, people started caring more about their form/login/registration pages. They wanted these pages to talk to customers, and so far, the approach has been a huge success.

Forms with natural languages have a tendency to offer superior conversion than regular input forms. Therefore, we expect to see significantly higher adoption of natural design language.

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Forms with natural languages have a tendency to offer superior conversion than regular input forms.

It is important to note that these forms usually aren’t skeuomorphic, because a lot of casual observers mistake skeuomorphism for natural language. Although both try to humanize design, skeuomorphism is more elaborate and unsuitable for these designs.

As far as skeuomorphism as a design trend is concerned, it’s been passe for years and it won’t make a comeback anytime soon.

Material Design To Rule Them All

Shortly after Google introduced its material design language, every designer I know started taking Google seriously again, and they were right to do so. Google invested a lot of effort into its new design language, which was acclaimed by users and design professionals alike.

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Material Design is here to stay. It’s not limited to mobile, and it’s making an even bigger mark on web design.

The popularity of material design had an unexpected side effect; although it was originally conceived as a mobile design language, material design ended up affecting web design way more than design on mobile platforms. The clean and sleek look were welcomed by users, and I expect us to see more web pages and web application designs based on material design moving forward.

Google is not changing its direction, and material design is an integral part of Android 6.0. This means this particular design trend is bound to stick around for years.

More Animated Interfaces

We all love those richly animated Walt Disney classics, right?

However, when making design interactions and animations, we should not watch those movies. Otherwise we will see even more animated interfaces this year, and the average web designer is not a Walt Disney animator.

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Animated interfaces are another design trend worth looking into. However, don’t get too carried away.

On a more serious note, if designers decide to adopt animated interfaces, they need to strike the right balance by not making the animations distracting, and not compromising the user experience with unnatural and unnecessary pauses.

Bold Colors For Everyone

We are slowly getting to a stage where we simply have too many websites and apps. In order to differentiate their products, designers are pushing the envelope and experimenting with new colours.

One way to make a design stand out is to employ bold and rich colours. People are more likely to remember and associate them with that brand.

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Rich, bold colours are in this season. Crank up the saturation and experiment with striking, colourful designs.

A radical colour choice resonates with users; the Asana or Spotify rebrands illustrate how it’s done. Both companies transitioned to memorable, (over)saturated colours, and the redesign worked for them.

In 2016, we expect to see more designs, redesigns, and rebrands using the same approach.

2016 Design Trends Are New, But Not Original

In any event, designers need to decide if they just wanna follow industry design trends, or want to experiment with their own trendsetting designs. A confident designer can make a difference and here is why:

2016 design trends are merely an evolution and extension of existing design languages and patterns. We are not reinventing the wheel this year, so this leaves room for innovative designs based on familiar building blocks.

The underlying basics remain unchanged; we will continue to see clean, minimal design in every field. The biggest change in terms of style comes courtesy of diffuse shadows, so this is definitely something to be taken into account. Remember folks, we’re not just changing the shadows; we need to take into account lighting in general, so we must consider mimicking soft, diffused lighting in our designs, which usually translates into lower contrast and softer edges.

Natural design and animations are worth looking into as well, especially for designers who specialise in UI, UX, and IxD. We suggest a subtle, conservative approach, something that will complement the soft shadow look discussed earlier.

Designers concerned that using softer shadows and more subtle animations will rob a design of its flare needn’t worry; rich colours are in this season, so they should be used them to make a design pop.

I started my list with a couple of points that have more to do with business than design. While 2016 design trends might not look too exciting or challenging, I think it’s important to stress that designers will be expected to do more moving forward. This means they will have to master new tools and techniques, and take on roles they may not be entirely comfortable with. Designers should consider setting aside some time to experiment, brush up old skills and learn new ones.

Besides, setting aside a bit of time to catch up and train is never a bad idea.

This article was originally published on Toptal

 

The World Is Our #Interface: #Design Beyond The Screen

We are in an exciting age of design: Welcome to a new era in history where our bodies, cars, bedrooms, heaters, streets and  just about everything is beginning to become an interface.

This article will present a number of exciting technologies and various interfaces to interact with them, ranging from touch to VR, as well as take a historical perspective on interactions with man-made objects that have evolved with us to where we are.

For simplicity’s sake, I like to group human interaction with the environment and technology into 4 ages:

  • The age of tools
  • The age of the machine
  • The age of software
  • The age of the self

The Age Of Tools

We used primitive objects and symbols to communicate.

Humans began communicating with symbolic representations carved into any surface. Hieroglyphics were one of the initial ways that humans started communicating, and it was highly symbolic. This symbolism would later develop into art, writing, documentation and story-telling. We can even argue that we have come full circle and are using the symbols on our keyboards to communicate subtleties in communication beyond words, even if they are silly.

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From cave art to emojis: The whole world is a UI canvas, so make good use of it!

The tools that we used to communicate became more and more sophisticated, resulting in things still widely used such as pens.

The Age Of Machines

When hardware was the interface.

The industrial revolution placed emphasis on productivity. Welcome to the age of the machine, where we built objects at scale to help our lives become simpler.

One example of this is the invention of the typewriter in 1868 by Christopher Latham Sholes. We begun tapping physical keys to make words, still using our hands, but with help from the typewriter as a replacement of the pen. It helped create a consistent and effective format that could be easily adopted as well as save us time.

The drawback, however, was that we needed to learn how to type. We were mass producing machines and the power shifted to them. Despite designing the hardware as the interface, we still had to learn how to use the machines. This is symbolic of many machines created at the time.

The Age Of Software

Learned skills from using hardware become metaphors to teach us how to use software.

When software needed an interface, UI designers looked to existing hardware and behaviour to make it easy for us to learn how to use it. For example we looked back to the typewriter to learn how to type on a screen. The typewriter was used to inspire the keyboard to make it easier for us to know what to do. We had already learned to type, so the natural progression was to begin interacting with screens.

We see this same transition with our smartphone keypads looking like mini versions of the very same keyboards and typewriters. Adorable and useful. As we began to touch, we began to define a completely new way of interacting with our environment.

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UI design evolution is influenced by hardware and intuitiveness. A good UI design sticks to familiarity and irons out the learning curve.

Skeuomorphism is another example of making the two dimensional screen look like the three dimensional world to help users understand how they should interact with the interface. Designers created interfaces that were already familiar by depicting things like controls of a radio or mixer in audio interfaces. Apple famously led this trend under the direction of Steve Jobs. It wasn’t until Jonathan Ive became more powerful at Apple that skeuomorphic design slowly evolved into flat design, punctuated by the release of iOS7 in 2013. We were ready to make the leap to less literal cues and could now appreciate the simplicity of a reduced interface. The current iOS Human Interface Guidelines actively encourage the shift from “Bezels, gradients, and drop shadows sometimes lead to heavier UI elements” with a “focus on the content to let the UI play a supporting role.”

Material design also shifts towards different representation of the third dimension by giving the entire canvas depth, as opposed the the individual UI elements as represented in skeuomorphism. Material design depicts the “surfaces and edges of the material provide visual cues that are grounded in reality. The use of familiar tactile attributes helps users quickly understand affordances. The fundamentals of light, surface, and movement are key to conveying how objects move, interact, and exist in space and in relation to each other.”

Touch Is Human-centric

On why touch worked.

With the rise of the smartphone, we taught ourselves all kinds of funny gestures for the novelty  and , of course because it was cool to use and to discover even secret stuff on our devices. We learned the difference between a pinch and a tap and a long tap, and invented more gestures than we can keep up with.

We started expanding and contracting as a way of zooming in and out. This behaviour became so natural that I have witnessed grown men try and zoom in on physical maps.

Touch works because it is intuitive. You see babies working tablet devices faster than their grandparents these days, simply because we are born to explore things with our fingers. It’s innate and reminds us of where we started at the beginning of communication.

Touch Came At A Price

And the user experience often suffered.

We have become like children in a candy shop, wanting to touch everything in sight, and along the way, we made up some pretty obscure gestures that made it nearly impossible to find stuff.

That’s because we hid stuff.

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Touch interfaces came at a price. UI designers were forced to hide a lot of important stuff behind the sleek app façade.

We hid a lot of the main user interface features. A major part of the problem was competition between Android and iOS, where iOS initially led the way and significantly reduced its Human Interaction Guidelines. The simplicity looked beautiful, but we were just hiding the ugly or complicated stuff for later, often making interfaces more difficult to use. Android emulated a lot of the worst things Apple implemented and it wasn’t until Material Design was introduced that there were even consistencies in Android design at all. The myriad of device sizes and display aspect ratios didn’t help, either.

We also forgot about consistency.

A swipe on iOS is used to read an email, delete an email, archive an email, or playfully connecting with my next Tinder match, depending on the app and the context. As designers, we cling to extensive onboarding sequences simply to show users what to do.

Touch Only Works On Sufficiently Big Screens

Now, we have new, wearable devices with such small screens that touch becomes difficult. Designers of these devices are re-introducing hardware centric features for humans to struggle with.

Even if your fingers are finer and more dextrous than mine, I still smile at the thought of poking around 1.5-inch displays on our wrists.

You cannot navigate a complex thing like the internet from a hardware centric feature such as Apple’s Digital Crown. It is a real-world spin-off from known watch-adjusting behaviour, and it is time consuming and fiddly. However there are smart devices that do go in the right direction. The Internet of Things (IoT) expands the use of our everyday devices into interactive canvases and are great examples of real-work hardware mimicry done right, putting functionality in the forefront. Unlike the Digital Crown, larger dials are functional and sensible. The Nest Learning Thermostat is an example of not only taking visual cues from real thermostat design, but also the way we usually interact with dials, making the product both fit seamlessly into the home, as well as being simple to use (and of course, it benefits the environment and wallet).

Force Touch is famously deployed on Apple Watch and 6th generation iPhones, but is rapidly expanding to all kinds of devices. Apple’s Hollywood Keynote tends to overshadow the fact that BlackBerry had already began experimenting with a similar concept back in 2008, and that Force Touch support has been a part of Android for years; it was introduced in Android 1.0 (API Level 1), in the form of the getPressure() API.

Despite Force Touch’s surprisingly long history, Samsung is reportedly equipping their upcoming Galaxy phones with their variation of Force Touch (supplied by custom-designed human interface software company Synaptics), which it has named ClearForce Technology.

The Age Of The Self

The old metaphor comes full circle — the next iteration.

Now that the time has come, how do we design experiences and products in a world where any environment is interactive?

The next iteration illustrates our coming full-circle; the Apple Pencil is a piece of both hard- and software technology that is helping us write again. We are back to where we started, with a simple tool and a surface. While Apple Pencil has now made this idea mainstream, it was only as recently as 2010 that Jobs famously said Who wants a Stylus?! before bragging about multi-touch. While Microsoft was unfortunate not to execute of its vision of the future, Jobs had a point about usability and the difficulty of such a narrow pen on a small tablet ended up not working for Windows. The tools were not right for the time, forcing us to feel less human, and only recently do we see the circle completed.

It just so happens that these simple devices grew larger, becoming not-so-simple in the process. That is why the Apple Pencil is debuting on the advanced and oversized iPad Pro instead of the smaller 9.7- and 7.85-inch models. Specifications aside, what is exciting here is that we are now getting to a point that technology is so advanced that we can “unlearn” how to use it.

The Apple Pencil is human centric because it uses two things we are already familiar with: a pencil and an iPad. We don’t need to learn anything new in order to use it (unless we need a reminder of how to write with a pencil again).

How can we design products that facilitate innate behaviours, rather than design products that force us to learn new skills? How can we become more human centric in our design philosophy?

Moving Beyond Touch

Not only did small screens prompt designers and technologists to explore others ways of interacting with technology, new use-cases and contexts inspired us to think of different ways we could use technology.

Voice commands, for example, work great while driving or cooking, but may cause a couple of stares while asking Siri where the nearest erotic massage parlour is on the train commute home.

Voice is one way that we can interact with technology around us. It can be passive or interactive. The great benefit of voice is that we don’t need hands. However, there are limitations, such as context, that mean voice will not necessarily be the most intuitive. Further, until very recently, voice recognition has not been good enough to be relied upon. Now, it can be eerily good.

Virtual reality (VR) was thrust into the mainstream with a lot of hype, supported by the purchase of Oculus Rift by Facebook in 2014. Shortly after, Google presented Google Cardboard at I/O in 2014, a low cost VR solution, a little lighter on the wallet than the $2 billion tag of Oculus, and there are more low-cost alternatives coming.

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Force Touch, VR, motion tracking, and more. UI designers will have to master a lot of new skills over the next couple of years.

Virtual reality places the user in a computer simulated three dimensional world, allowing us feel immersed in the experience and move way beyond our fingers, hands and voice. Despite allowing us to use our entire body, virtual reality is constrained by the elaborate head gear. Some not-safe-for-work use cases also come to mind. Influential tech figures, such as Kevin Rose, boldly announced that “Virtual Reality will turn out to be a dud,” elaborating that “consumers will always take the path of least resistance,” a similar argument can be made in terms of usability.

I must agree that the novelty factor is great, but anything so interactive needs to feel intuitive. Wearing a huge mask, sometimes tethered to your desktop computer, may well not be that intuitive. We are already one step closer to removing the computer tethering on some platforms, thanks to Gameface Labs, yet still hiding behind the VR mask. So have you placed your Oculus pre-order?

Like Touching, But Without Touching

Project Soli is a tiny radar that can turn basically any piece of hardware into an interactive device, controlled by delicate gestures. It’s from the Advanced Technologies and Projects (ATAP Lab) at Google and helps make the world our interface.

Now that Project Soli is open for a select group of developers to work on, the future of interaction design is limited only by our range of gestures. Project Tango is creating devices that we already use to help navigate the physical world. It combines motion tracking, depth perception and area learning to help spatially process information. Because Project Tango is completely open source, the opportunity to innovate is pretty real. There are already some unique consumer products built, including Left Field Labs’ Soundfield and Space Sketchr.

Lenovo will be releasing a Lenovo Tango device, the new beginning of using our smartphones to map our worlds in three dimensional space. With a whole lot of new technology and use cases, our job as designers is to make the experiences feel truly human. My ask is that we leverage existing human behaviours and use technology as a facilitator.

This article was originally published on Toptal

What Exactly is Behavioral Advertising?

Good Question! Behavioral Advertising is a set of activities companies engage in to collect information about your online activity (like webpages you visit) and use it to show you ads or content they believe to be more relevant to you.

How Does it Work?

As this article points out, many advertisers and marketers rely on third parties to do their behavioral targeting for them. Ad networks are essentially middlemen technology companies that partner with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of websites for access to information about visitor traffic.

With technology that’s been around since the inception of Netscape in 1995, websites drop “cookies,” or small pieces of data, onto consumers’ hard drives to keep track of
user preferences, the contents of their electronic shopping carts, their searches, and details on where and when users click on a site. Websites also collect visitors’ IP addresses — the numerical code that identifies each computer connected to the Web and its geographic location. With this raw data, an advertising network can use software and analytics to identify consumers with like interests and Web surfing habits. The networks then sell advertisers access to these niche audiences.

Why Does It Matter?

Behavioral Targeting is one way to personalize each users experience. Targeting content is effective because it encourages users to remain on your website for a longer period of time, engage in more offers and, ideally, purchase more products.

Hubspot spoke with experts in the field of behavioral targeting to discuss the biggest effects that targeting has on the web and came up with these top 4 reasons.

1. Your Internet Experience Will Be More About You
2. The Web Could Change Its Appearance For You
3. It Will View You as a Multi-Dimensional Person With Many Interests
4. It’s Tapping Into Social and Mobile

Are you using Behavioral Marketing? If so, share some insights into how and whether it is working for you.

Will Shoppers And Developers Adapt to Proximity Marketing In-Store?

Today’s constantly connected consumers are using smartphones in-store more than ever.

A recent Google survey states that a staggering 80 percent of shoppers are using smartphones to make purchasing decisions. Retailers and start-ups have taken notice, and the concepts of mobile location analytics and proximity marketing are emerging out of that.

Publications like Techcrunch and Adweek have articles of retailers launching Bluetooth beacon pilot programs almost on a daily basis. Some recent examples include Target, Country Market and Urban Outfitters.

But when you clear away all the buzzwords, what exactly is this shift we’re seeing? It’s the world customizing itself to you. The world is reacting to your presence, specific to you as an individual.

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Proximity marketing is an exciting concept, but a lot of people are worried they’ll be inundated with spam if they opt in.

That is an exciting concept. Talking about this out in the world will get you varying reactions, from concerns about privacy issues to the idea that your phone is going to spam you with Viagra ads non-stop, but if you boil down the idea, there are some really compelling concepts here.

Personalization Is A Key Benefit

Let’s take a look at a form of personalization we all know about today. A husband and his wife have individual key FOBs for their car. When the husband gets in the car, the mirrors adjust, the seat slides back, and the radio station changes to his favorite morning radio station. When his wife uses the car that evening, the car returns to her preferences. That’s an example of very useful personalization. Now, imagine if a retail store could do that for you.

We’ve seen online personalization become more and more sophisticated over the past decade with platforms such as Google AdWords and the Facebook Audience Network, and the addition of proximity marketing technologies is making it possible to expand that personalization in-store, effectively bridging the gap between digital and physical environments. There are both exciting and scary possibilities to this.

So, why can’t retailers live without it? The retailer will now be able to understand shopper behavior beyond POS data. Retailers currently have the ability to analyze traffic patterns, deliver personalized offers, measure dwell times, build on customer loyalty profiles and even A/B test physical displays. And what does the shopper get? By integrating this technology into a retailer’s app, the shopper gets an ultra-personalized experience through customer-specific offers, location-specific coupons and contextual information such as maps and menus.

But the question that keeps coming up is: Will shoppers adapt to this kind of experience? If users don’t adopt the technology, hockey stick graphs will never happen for retailers. I think of a Sheryl Sandburg story I’ve heard during her presentations several times. When Caller ID first came out, users were scared by it. They thought the concept of knowing who’s calling before you picked up was creepy. Now, 20+ years later, we don’t pick up our phones without knowing who’s calling.The user’s perception of the technology completely flipped over a couple of decades.

It seems a general consensus among investors and marketers that someone will figure out and win the proximity marketing race.

Proximity Marketing Use Cases

Let’s take a look at some use cases that highlight potential values of proximity marketing:

Kitchen Remodel

You’ve finally made the decision to remodel your kitchen after 30 years, but you don’t know where to begin. You enter the kitchen department of a national hardware store and you are notified by an employee about an app that helps guide you through the complicated and expensive process of remodeling your kitchen. Upon app download, you’re given a series of easy directions that show you how to use your new app. You start by picking out your cabinets and you find a style that you like but they are not in the color you like. By tapping a swatch smart tag (tags that you swipe to receive contextual information), you are able to view additional colors available by special order. You save your style and color to your profile. As you’re walking over to pick out countertops you are notified in app not to forget to pick out your cabinet hardware. Once that’s picked out you head over to the countertops.

The app has measured that you have now spent 20 minutes in the kitchen department. It gives you an offer for 5 percent off, incentivizing you to make the purchase today. Out of the 10 displays of countertops the retailer has on hand, most app users only spend time at four of them. The retailer knows that it may be time to change out the other six with more trendy options. Since styles may trend by region the retailer can analyze stats broken down by segments.

After finding a countertop you like, you save it to your profile and swipe a delivery tag to see how long that countertop takes to be installed. You have a question about how rugged the countertop is and you tap a button that alerts a store employee that you need assistance. The app has successfully guided you through this process in a way that makes the shopper feel comfortable that their dream kitchen will come together perfectly.

Retail Environment

In the retail environment, smart zones and tags can be used in an endless ways. Here are a few examples.

A family walks into a store with an app in hand to check the latest offers the retailer has published. After adding the coupons in which they’re interested to the app, they walk around the store. Shoppers save money and time because the app tells them the quickest route to pick up everything on their list. If a coupon is missed, the app can alert the shoppers.

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Retail giants have already recognized the potential of proximity marketing, along with scores of startups.

The family decides to get a new TV, and after dwelling in the electronics department for five minutes, they are asked if they need assistance. They respond yes, and an employee gets a television from the warehouse for them. Next, they swipe a tag that shows them accessories, store stock information, and related products from the same brand. They can easily see which mounts work for that TV, and find the appropriate cables in the next aisle.

The app services are integrated with e-commerce and m-commerce platforms, so users can use ‘Buy Now’ buttons that simply send the product to their door. The family chooses not to bother squeezing the TV into their car, and instead choose to have it delivered that afternoon.

On the way out, the app recognizes that the dwell times in the checkout areas are longer than managers would like for a good customer experience, so more cashiers are sent to the checkouts.

Outdoor Concert

A group of friends is going to an outdoor concert with several stages. The concert promoters built an app that helps concert attendees navigate the event. The app has many useful features like schedules, barcode access to VIP areas, and information on concession stands.

The event promoters also installed Bluetooth Low Energy beacons throughout the event so that the app could provide contextual information to attendees based on their locations. While standing in long beer lines, the group is notified that lines are half as long at the beer tents half a block away. When a band is about to begin playing, the friends are alerted that they better head over to that stage.

As they head over, they get pushed a coupon that gives them 20 percent off a T-shirt in the merchandise tent. Upon leaving, the app lets them know where the closest and fastest exit is, according to their location.

Brand Opportunities

Various brands might use proximity marketing to build loyalty and boost user engagement. So, if a shopping mall with 100,000 items on the shelves from a thousand different brands uses the technology, each brand can opt in or out of the program.

A brand could market special offers without having to invest a small fortune in on-site marketing activities or on their own app. Imagine a soft drink company doing a virtual promotion for a certain product: They could have the campaign up and running with a few lines of copy and code.

It could be deployed nationwide, or worldwide, in seconds. Imagine a flash sale: 30 minutes in which people, worldwide, could get 30 percent off a specific product at the same time, just like an e-commerce platform. And like an e-commerce platform, the brands would have access to performance analytics about the campaign they just ran. They could immediately justify the spend, while the retailer could monetize its brick-and-mortar space through the program.

Moving Towards A More Frictionless Experience With Current Technology

The key to winning this space is building a more frictionless experience. Cautious clients always reference QR codes when considering new smart tags. QR codes were a good idea, but didn’t work because it took longer to snap the picture than it did to type in a URL. Users ended up rejecting it.

Latest technologies such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Near Field Communication (NFC) have less friction and are easier to use with integrated apps. NFC is not open on iOS yet, so it is not being widely used for smart tags, but may be in the future. If we look to the past, Touch ID wasn’t open to third-party devs, but Apple eventually opened it up in iOS 8. We’re on iOS 9 now, but if Apple chooses to do the same with NFC, web-like links in the real world will become more commonplace. NFC has been available on Android devices since about late 2011.

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Proximity marketing relies on Bluetooth and beacon technologies, but the hardware is not perfect, limiting potential in-store applications.

So, that leads to BLE emerging as the best current cross-platform technology. Beacons are great because they are cheap, small, and don’t need to be plugged in, so installation is relatively easy. Apple introduced the iBeacon protocol in 2013, and various vendors have produced iBeacon-compatible hardware that is being used to power mobile commerce pilot programs. Several companies in this space are trying to figure it out, Qualcomm Gimball , Swirl and Shelfbucks to name a few. Most of them produce their own beacons but they all follow the BLE protocol.

Is the experience frictionless yet? Absolutely not. Users need to download an app that takes up precious real estate on their phone. The app needs to be running while they’re in the brick-and-mortar, and most integrations I’ve seen are less than seamless.

Beacons are not perfect technology; you cannot create shapes other than cones or circles, and they overlap. You cannot define a perfect space as a zone. If you picture a store map, most departments are laid out in rectangles and a beacon broadcasts its unique identifier to nearby smartphones in a circle radiating out from the beacon. So the best we can do currently is make the circles take up most of the department or endcap. This makes for imperfect mapping of the store. Some zones will overlap and some won’t work well, but in general, marketers are getting data they didn’t have before and users are getting a new and unique experience. Augmented reality (AR) can add another twist to beacon mapping a store through functionality that helps the user with wayfinding or even gamification of a brick-and-mortar store.

The way I look at it is that we’re at the Atari phase of proximity marketing, and it will eventually evolve to Playstation 4. There are a lot of things to be excited about, even at this early stage. I firmly believe that the concept of interacting in our environments with our smartphones will not go away. It’s not a fad. Take a look around the next time you’re walking through a shopping mall or a retail store. People are using their phones to digest, share, and understand the world around them, and if we give them the right tools I believe they will use them.

“At this stage I don’t think the problem of adoption lies in technology, but rather the experience we’re creating for the user.”

At this stage I don’t think the problem of adoption lies in technology, but rather the experience we’re creating for the user. Real estate on user’s phones is more competitive than ever. For a user to not only download a retailer’s app, but keep it and use it, the app needs to have some powerful information. It must do more than pop a coupon. It’s got to make their lives easier, educate them on things they don’t know, introduce them to things they’re interested in and engage them when they’re about to lose interest.

The jury is still out on whether Amazon’s Dash buttons will be a success, but I can tell you I use mine.

4

Amazon Dash buttons did not impress the tech press, but here is why I use them on a regular basis.

Why? Because it’s so easy. I don’t even have to take my phone out of my pocket these days when I run out of garbage bags. I use the last one and I simply push the button to the right and they’re at my door the next day. Buying garbage bags was easy before when I did it in the store. It was a little easier via Amazon Prime, but now it’s reached a new level of frictionless that I can’t turn away from. I hope they quit making dash buttons before I turn into a Wall-E dystopian human that they predict so hilariously.

I used to believe that the value needed to be balanced for both the user and the marketer, but I now believe that the value for the user needs to be higher than the value for the marketer. Users don’t care if it’s an uneven playing field, they want useful tools and experiences, and if they don’t find what they’re looking for the app is going to be deleted.

The Future Is Now! (Sort of)

That’s where we as UX/UI designers and developers come in. Clients are excited about this space, but they’re looking for guidance. They have many questions about what is possible and what is a responsible way of using it without annoying their customers. They need help molding their ideas into solutions that increase ROI but don’t jeopardize the customer experience they’ve worked so hard to refine.

What do clients want and expect?

  • Clients and IT departments are very protective of their apps; a solid security plan will always need to be in place.
  • Clients will not commit to this technology in all their stores until it’s proven through a pilot period. Most published sources start small, one to 10 stores, and then roll out a larger footprint.
  • In-app privacy policies will need to be updated to launch a program full scale. Launching a controlled pilot program (employees only, for example) would provide a case study that highlights consumer value before deciding to update the policy.
  • Clients usually gravitate towards popping offers that help get things moving, but to create an effective campaign, the experience has to be much better.
  • Clients expect the technology to be more accurate than it currently is. They should be informed of its quirks. Great demos are powerful, but scaling the technology to multiple locations can’t be overlooked.
  • All clients want increased loyalty that results in larger basket sizes and trip frequency. Location-based functionality would add to loyalty programs by incentivizing brick-and-mortar trips over online shopping.

What sort of questions can designers and developers expect?

  • Since this is a new way of interacting with shoppers, testing is vital.
  • Every retailer is different. Create a one-store playground and have fun. Figure out what customers find valuable. Then, scale.
  • Even though popping offers always comes up, we should try guiding our prospective clients in the right direction by always attempting to answer the question, “Why would the shopper need this app?” If a loyal customer doesn’t need the app, it’s not worth creating it.
  • The key to selling a concept is to find a way of giving the shopper an experience they couldn’t have had without the technology. Understand the customer.
  • Test, test, test. Stores are made of different materials, and different types of merchandise can be a mess for creating zones.

I believe that if we create great experiences that users will adopt, marketing ROI will follow, but we need to focus on the user first. If we achieve that, there are many exciting opportunities ahead as our environments react to us and become more personalized.

I’m very excited to see how proximity marketing unfolds over the next five to 10 years. In the end, if we’re focusing on the customer experience and building them great tools, I think it becomes something more than advertising, and the benefit for marketers will follow.

This article was originally published on Toptal

Is It Time to Open a #Home #Business?

homeofficetRunning a business from home can be an extremely rewarding experience.

However, there are numerous challenges you might face while setting up and opening your home business.

With a 9-to-5 home life in mind, here are just a few hurdles you might need to overcome when opening a home business in 2016:

Set up a Suitable Workspace

One of the main challenges of starting a home business is setting up a suitable workspace. Not all home environments promote productivity, which is why it’s so important to take the proper time when arranging your workspace.

Choosing a space that’s separate from other living areas is ideal.

For example, an upstairs spare bedroom or basement space proves both suitable choices. If neither of these is available, make sure the space you choose can at least be closed off from the rest of the house.

In addition, you’ll want to choose a space that is relatively quiet.

A room that’s right next to or shares space with your family room or other communal areas is not ideal.

If you’re unable to find a quiet area for your workspace, consider soundproofing your space with sound deadening panels or use noise-cancelling headphones while you work.

Separate Work and Home Life

Separating your work from your home life is hard enough when you work a regular office job, so you can imagine how difficult it might be separating the two when you work from home.

In the article “Expert Interview Series: Susan Rakowski About Starting a Business from Your Home“, Rakowski describes the importance of separating work and family life.

Fortunately, it’s easier than you might think to accomplish this.

By simply having a discussion with your family members and setting boundaries, you can run a productive home business without affecting your home life and familial relationships.

This may take time, so make sure you’re vocal about your home business with others in your family to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Create a Routine

After you’ve chosen a workspace and discussed your home business goals with your family members, you then need to create a routine. Remember, just because you work from home doesn’t mean you won’t have business hours.

Choosing business hours that take place when your house is empty and quiet is the most effective way to go.

However, if your home is occupied around the clock, make sure you establish “quiet hours” with others in your family.

This should be a designated time where no one bothers you in your home workspace.

Avoid Distractions

No matter how isolated or quiet your workspace is, there will always be distractions in your home. Whether it’s your cable package and your flat screen television, household chores, or snack food in your kitchen, household distractions can ruin your productivity.

That’s why it’s crucial to remove all distractions from your workspace.

If that means removing the television from your home office and getting rid of that junk food in your pantry, then so be it. Fewer distractions will result in a successful home business.

If you’re considering starting a home business, then keep in mind some of the pointers mentioned above.

About the Author: Adam Groff is a freelance writer and creator of content. He writes on a variety of topics including home businesses and workplace productivity.