Tag: User

Recipe websites, data modeling, and user experience

Simeon Griggs with some nice UX ideas for a recipe website:

  • No math. Swap between units and adjust servings on-the-fly.
  • Offer alternative ingredients.
  • Re-list the ingredient amounts when they’re referenced in the instructions.

I totally agree, especially on that last one:

Of all our improvements I think this is my favourite.

A typical recipe layout contains ingredients with amounts at the start. Then, a bullet point list of instructions to perform the method.

The method though typically does not reference those amounts again, so if you don’t prepare all your amounts ahead of time (which is what you’re probably supposed to do but come on who does that) you’ll have to keep scanning back and forward.

Part of what makes this stuff possible is how you set up the data model. For example, an ingredient might be an Array instead of a String so that you’re set up for offering alternatives right out of the gate.

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How Film School Helped Me Make Better User Experiences

Recently, I finished a sixty-day sprint where I posted hand-coded zombie themed CSS animation every day. I learned a lot, but it also took me back to film school and reminded me of so many things I learned about storytelling, cinematography, and art.

Turns out that much of what I learned back then is relevant to websites, particularly web animations. Sarah Drasner made the connection between theater and development and I thought I’d extend some of those ideas as they relate to film.

A story makes everything more engaging

Humans love stories. I don’t need to quote you statistics on the billions of dollars spent on shows and books and games each year. If you can inject story into a website — especially when it comes to animation — it’ll be that much more interesting and appealing to your audience.

There are many ways to define what a “story” is, but as far as things go for the web where animations can be quick or subtle, I think a story only requires two things: a character and an inciting incident (which is simply a plot point that brings the protagonist — or main character — into the story).

Take the “Magical Oops” demo I made over at CodePen:

There’s not much going on, but there is a story. We have a character, the scientist, who invokes an inciting incident when he fires the shrink ray at the zombie. Instead of shrinking the zombie, the ray shrinks the zombie’s hat to reveal (and ultimately be worn by) a rabbit. Will you necessarily relate to those characters? Probably not, at least personally. But the fact that something happens to them is enough of an engaging hook to draw you in.

Sure, I lean toward funny and silly storylines, but a story’s tone can be serious or any other number of things.

I’m confident you can find a story that fits your site.

A story makes everything more personable

Humans anthropomorphize anything and everything. You know exactly what that feels like if you’ve ever identified with characters in a Pixar movie, like “Toy Story” or “Inside Out.” The character you add doesn’t have to be a literal living thing or representative of a living thing. Heck, my stories are about the undead.

How does that relate to the web? Let’s say your app congratulates users when completing a task, like Slack does when all unread threads have been cleared out.

The point is to add some personality and intentionality to whatever movement you’re creating. It’s also about bringing the story — which is the user task of reviewing unread messages — to a natural (and, in this case, a happy) conclusion. That sort of feedback is not only informative, but something that makes the user part of the story in a personable way.

If a viewer can understand the subject of the story, they’ll get why something moves or changes. They’ll see it as a character — even if the subject is the user. That’s what makes something personable. (You got it! Here’s a pony. 🐴)

Watch for the human’s smirk in my “Undead Seat Driver” pen:

The smirk introduces an emotional element that further adds to the story by making the main character more relatable.

Direct attention with visual depth

One of the greatest zombie movies of all time, Citizen Kane, reached popularity for a variety of reasons. It’s a wonderful story with great acting, for one, but there’s something else you might not catch when viewing the movie today that was revolutionary at the time: deep focus photography. Deep focus allowed things in the foreground and the background and the middle ground to be in focus all at the same time. Before this, it was only possible to use one focal point at a time. Deep focus made the film almost feel like it was in 3D.

We’re not constrained by camera lenses on the web (well, aside from embedded media I suppose), but one thing that makes the deep focus photography of Citizen Kane work so well is that director Orson Welles was able to point a viewer’s attention at different planes at different times. He sometimes even had multiple things happening in multiple planes, but this was always a choice. 

Working with deep focus on the web has actually been happening for some time, even if it isn’t called that. Think of parallax scrolling and how it adds depth between backgrounds. There’s also the popular modal pattern where an element dominates the foreground while the background is either dimmed or blurred out.

That was the idea behind my “Hey, Hey, Hey!” pen that starts with a character in focus on a faraway plane who gives way to a zombie that appears in the foreground:

The opposite sort of thing occurs here in my “Nobody Here But Us Humans… 2” pen:

Try to think of a website as a 3D space and you’ll open up possibilities you may have never considered before. And while there are 3D transforms that work right now in your browser, that isn’t the only thing I’m talking about. There are tons of ways to “fake” a 3D effect using shading, shadows, relative size, blurs or other types of distortion.

For example, I used a stacking order to mimic a multi-dimensional space in my “Finally, alone with my sandwich…” pen. Notice how the human’s head rotation lends a little more credibility to the effect:

Take animation to the next level with scenes

Some of the work I’m proudest of are those where I went beyond silly characters doing silly things (although I am proud of that as well). There are two animations in particular that come to mind.

The first is what I call “Zombie Noon 2”:

The reason this one stands out to me is how the camera suddenly (and possibly as an unexpected plot twist) turns the viewer into a character in the story. Once the Zombie’s shots are fired, the camera rolls over, essentially revealing that it’s you who has been shot.

The second piece that comes to mind is called “Lunch (at) Noon” :

(I apparently got some middle school glee out of shooting hats off zombies’s heads. *shrugs* Being easily amused is cheap entertainment.)

Again, the camera puts things in a sort of first-person perspective where we’re facing a zombie chef who gets his hat shot off. The twist comes when a Ratatouille-like character is revealed under the hat, triggering a new scene by zooming in on him. Watch his eyes narrow when the focus turns to him.

Using the “camera” is an awesome way to bring an animation to the next level; it forces viewer participation. That doesn’t mean the camera should swoop and fly and zoom at every turn and with every animation, but switching from a 2D to a 3D perspective — when done well and done to deepen the experience — can enhance  a user’s experience with it.


So, as it turns out, my film school education really has paid off! There’s so much of it that directly applies to the web, and hopefully you see the same correlations that I’ve discovered.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out something important in this article. While I think borrowing concepts from stories and storytelling is really awesome and can be the difference between good and great experiences, they aren’t the right call in every situation. Like, what’s the point of putting a user through a story-like experience on a terms and conditions page? Legal content is typically already a somewhat tense read, so adding more tension may not be the best bet. But, hey, if you’re able to introduce a story that relieves the tension of that context, then by all means! and, let’s not forget about users who prefer reduced motion.

Bottom line: These ideas aren’t silver bullets for all cases. They’re tools to help you think about how you can take your site and your animations the extra mile and enhance a user’s experience in a pleasant way.


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User agents

Jeremy beating the classic drum:

For web development, start with HTML, then CSS, then JavaScript (and don’t move on to JavaScript too quickly—really get to grips with HTML and CSS first).

And then…

That’s assuming you want to be a good well-rounded web developer. But it might be that you need to get a job as quickly as possible. In that case, my advice would be very different. I would advise you to learn React.

JEREMY! HAS YOUR WEBSITE BEEN STOLEN‽ BLINK TWICE IF YOU NEED HELP.

Just kidding, just kidding. I don’t disagree at all. I’m a fan of React, if you couldn’t tell. But I’ve also been around the block a few times and like to think I have a decent sense of what the right tools for the job are most of the time.

Make sure to read Jeremy’s post to see why it’s called “User agents.” He means it quite literally.

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Better Form Inputs for Better Mobile User Experiences

Here’s one simple, practical way to make apps perform better on mobile devices: always configure HTML input fields with the correct type, inputmode, and autocomplete attributes. While these three attributes are often discussed in isolation, they make the most sense in the context of mobile user experience when you think of them as a team. 

There’s no question that forms on mobile devices can be time-consuming and tedious to fill in, but by properly configuring inputs, we can ensure that the data entry process is as seamless as possible for our users. Let’s take a look at some examples and best practices we can use to create better user experiences on mobile devices.

Use this demo to experiment on your own, if you’d like.

Using the correct input type

This is the easiest thing to get right. Input types, like email, tel, and url, are well-supported across browsers. While the benefit of using a type, like tel over the more generic text, might be hard to see on desktop browsers, it’s immediately apparent on mobile.

Choosing the appropriate type changes the keyboard that pops up on Android and iOS devices when a user focuses the field. For very little effort, just by using the right type, we will show custom keyboards for email, telephone numbers, URLs, and even search inputs

Text input type on iOS (left) and Android (right)
Email input type on iOS (left) and Android (right)
URL input type on iOS (left) and Android (right)
Search input type on iOS (left) and Android (right)

One thing to note is that both input type="email" and input type="url" come with validation functionality, and modern browsers will show an error tooltip if their values do not match the expected formats when the user submits the form. If you’d rather turn this functionality off, you can simply add the novalidate attribute to the containing form.

A quick detour into date types

HTML inputs comprise far more than specialized text inputs — you also have radio buttons, checkboxes, and so on. For the purposes of this discussion, though, I’m mostly talking about the more text-based inputs

There is a type of input that sits in the liminal space between the more free-form text inputs and input widgets like radio buttons: date. The date input type comes in a variety of flavors that are well-supported on mobile, including date, time, datetime-local, and month. These pop up custom widgets in iOS and Android when they are focused. Instead of triggering a specialized keyboard, they show a select-like interface in iOS, and various different types of widgets on Android (where the date and time selectors are particularly slick). 

I was excited to start using native defaults on mobile, until I looked around and realized that most major apps and mobile websites use custom date pickers rather than native date input types. There could be a couple reasons for this. First, I find the native iOS date selector to be less intuitive than a calendar-type widget. Second, even the beautifully-designed Android implementation is fairly limited compared to custom components — there’s no easy way to input a date range rather than a single date, for instance. 

Still, the date input types are worth checking out if the custom datepicker you’re using doesn’t perform well on mobile. If you’d like to try out the native input widgets on iOS and Android while making sure that desktop users see a custom widget instead of the default dropdown, this snippet of CSS will hide the calendar dropdown for desktop browsers that implement it:

::-webkit-calendar-picker-indicator {   display: none; }
Date input type on iOS (left) and Android (right)
Time input type on iOS (left) and Android (right)

One final thing to note is that date types cannot be overridden by the inputmode attribute, which we’ll discuss next.

Why should I care about inputmode?

The inputmode attribute allows you to override the mobile keyboard specified by the input’s type and directly declare the type of keyboard shown to the user. When I first learned about this attribute, I wasn’t impressed — why not just use the correct type in the first place? But while inputmode is often unnecessary, there are a few places where the attribute can be extremely helpful. The most notable use case that I’ve found for inputmode is building a better number input.

While some HTML5 input types, like url and email, are straightforward, input type="number" is a different matter. It has some accessibility concerns as well as a somewhat awkward UI. For example, desktop browsers, like Chrome, show tiny increment arrows that are easy to trigger accidentally by scrolling.

So here’s a pattern to memorize and use going forwards. For most numeric inputs, instead of using this: 

<input type="number" />

…you actually want to use this:

<input type="text" inputmode="decimal" />

Why not inputmode="numeric" instead of inputmode="decimal"

The numeric and decimal attribute values produce identical keyboards on Android. On iOS, however, numeric displays a keyboard that shows both numbers and punctuation, while decimal shows a focused grid of numbers that almost looks exactly like the tel input type, only without extraneous telephone-number focused options. That’s why it’s my preference for most types of number inputs.

iOS numeric input (left) and decimal input (right)
Android numeric input (left) and decimal input (right)

Christian Oliff has written an excellent article dedicated solely to the inputmode attribute.

Don’t forget autocomplete

Even more important than showing the correct mobile keyboard is showing helpful autocomplete suggestions. That can go a long way towards creating a faster and less frustrating user experience on mobile.

While browsers have heuristics for showing autocomplete fields, you cannot rely on them, and should still be sure to add the correct autocomplete attribute. For instance, in iOS Safari, I found that an input type="tel" would only show autocomplete options if I explicitly added a autocomplete="tel" attribute.

You may think that you are familiar with the basic autocomplete options, such as those that help the user fill in credit card numbers or address form fields, but I’d urge you to review them to make sure that you are aware of all of the options. The spec lists over 50 values! Did you know that autocomplete="one-time-code" can make a phone verification user flow super smooth?

Speaking of autocomplete…

I’d like to mention one final element that allows you to create your own custom autocomplete functionality: datalist. While it creates a serviceable — if somewhat basic — autocomplete experience on desktop Chrome and Safari, it shines on iOS by surfacing suggestions in a convenient row right above the keyboard, where the system autocomplete functionality usually lives. Further, it allows the user to toggle between text and select-style inputs.

On Android, on the other hand, datalist creates a more typical autocomplete dropdown, with the area above the keyboard reserved for the system’s own typeahead functionality. One possible advantage to this style is that the dropdown list is easily scrollable, creating immediate access to all possible options as soon as the field is focused. (In iOS, in order to view more than the top three matches, the user would have to trigger the select picker by pressing the down arrow icon.)

You can use this demo to play around with datalist:

And you can explore all the autocomplete options, as well as input type and inputmode values, using this tool I made to help you quickly preview various input configurations on mobile.

In summary

When I’m building a form, I’m often tempted to focus on perfecting the desktop experience while treating the mobile web as an afterthought. But while it does take a little extra work to ensure forms work well on mobile, it doesn’t have to be too difficult. Hopefully, this article has shown that with a few easy steps, you can make forms much more convenient for your users on mobile devices.

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Graphical User Interfaces for Git

Git is command-line-driven software, but that doesn’t mean you have to use the command line to make it work. There are lots of options! Some of the deepest programmer nerds I know prefer to use GUIs for Git (Graphic
User Interface, or you know, software you can see things and click stuff), and some near pure-designers I know prefer working with the command line for Git. Swear to Git.

Lemme round up what look like the major players for Git GUIs these days.


Tower

I’ve used Tower for ages and it’s the one used the most. I’m not sure the exact release dates of all these, but I feel like Tower was an early player here. They’ve been around a long time and continuously improve, which I always respect.



Fork

It’s free and actively developed, incredibly.



GitHub Desktop

This is a 2.0 of the original GitHub Desktop. I had some gripes with the 1.0 version in that its terminology was weird (to me) and seemed to vastly deviate from Git, which was more confusing than it was worth (again, to me). This version cleans most of that up. It’s deeply integrated into GitHub so it makes GitHubb-y things (e.g. pull requests) feel like first-class citizens, but it will still happily work with any Git repo.



GitKraken

I’m pretty intrigued by this one. Upgrading (monthly cost) to get the in-app merge conflict tool seems worth it, but you also have to upgrade to access private repos. It seems highly feature rich, but I think my favorite part is the dark-with-rainbow-accent-colors theme.



Sourcetree

You might be compelled by Sourcetree if you’re a big Bitbucket user because they are both Atlassian products. I know it works for any Git repo though. I imagine there is some smooth Bitbucket integration stuff with this, similar to the GitHub/GitHub Desktop connection.



Coda

You don’t really think of Coda as a version control tool (it’s more of a direct-to-FTP thing), and even though I’d argue the support for it is fairly half-baked, it does work! Seems likely the next evolution of Coda will address this.



VS Code

Having version control right in your IDE like this, to me, feels like kind of a tweener between GUI and CLI. There are a lot of features here, but it’s not really a full-blown GUI to me, but you’ve got a terminal built in right there so it almost encourages that. A lot of Git usage is pretty basic pulling, committing, and pushing — so having this right within the app is kinda sweet.

(I imagine there are lots of other IDEs that offer version control features. PHPStorm, etc.)



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