Reasons Your Mobile App Retention Rate Might Be So Low

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Reasons Your Mobile App Retention Rate Might Be So Low

Reasons Your Mobile App Retention Rate Might Be So Low

Suzanne Scacca



In business, there’s a lot of talk about generating customer loyalty and retaining the business of good customers. Mobile apps aren’t all that different when you think about it.

While the number of installs may signal that an app is popular with users initially, it doesn’t tell the whole story. In order for an app to be successful, it must have loyal subscribers that make use of the app as it was intended. Which is where the retention rate enters the picture.

In this article, I want to explore what a good retention rate looks like for mobile apps. I’ll dig into the more common reasons why mobile apps have low retention rates and how those issues can be fixed.

Let’s start with the basics.

Checking The Facts: What Is A Good Mobile App Retention Rate?

A retention rate is the percentage of users that remain active on your mobile app after a certain period of time. It doesn’t necessarily pertain to how many people have uninstalled the app either. A sustained lack of activity is generally accepted as a sign that a user has lost interest in an app.

To calculate a good retention rate for your mobile app, be sure to take into account the frequency of logins you expect users to make. Some apps realistically should see daily logins, especially for gaming, dating, and social networking. Others, though, may only need weekly logins, like for ride-sharing apps, Google Authenticator or local business apps.

When calculating the retention rate for anticipated daily usage, you should run the calculation for at least a week, if not more. For weekly or monthly usage, adjust your calculation accordingly.

Recommended reading: Driving App Engagement With Personalization Techniques

For daily usage, divide the following like so:

Users Logged into the App on Day 0
Users Logged into the App on Day 1
Users Logged into the App on Day 2
Users Logged into the App on Day 3
Users Logged into the App on Day 4
Users Logged into the App on Day 5
Users Logged into the App on Day 6
Users Logged into the App on Day 7

This will give you a curve that demonstrates how well your mobile app is able to sustain users. Here is an example of how you would calculate this:

Number of New Users Acquired
Day 0 100
Day 1 91 (91% )
Day 2 85 (85%)
Day 3 70 (70%)
Day 4 60 (60%)
Day 5 49 (49%)
Day 6 32 (32%)
Day 7 31 (31%)

If you can, add the data into a line graph format. It’ll be much easier to spot trends in downward momentum or plateauing:


example retention rate
An example of how to calculate and chart your app’s retention rate (Image source: Google Docs) (Large preview)

This is just a basic example of how a retention rate calculation works. Curious to see what the average (Android) mobile app’s retention curve looks like?

A Quettra study (with Andrew Chen) charted the following:


average Android app retention rate
Average retention rates for Android apps (Image source: Andrew Chen) (Large preview)

According to this data, the average app loses 77% of users within just three days. By the time the first-month wraps, 90% of those original new users are gone.

Recent data shows that the average cost per installation of a mobile app (globally) breaks down to the following:


average cost per app install
Average cost of each mobile app installation (Image source: Statista) (Large preview)

Basically, this is the average cost to build and market an app — a number you should aim to recuperate per user once the app has been installed. However, if your app loses about 90% of its users within a month’s time, think about what the loss actually translates to for your business.

Ankit Jain of Gradient Ventures summarized the key lesson to take away from these findings:

“Users try out a lot of apps but decide which ones they want to ‘stop using’ within the first 3-7 days. For ‘decent’ apps, the majority of users retained for 7 days stick around much longer. The key to success is to get the users hooked during that critical first 3-7 day period.”

As you can see from the charting of the top Android apps, Jain’s argument holds water:


average retention rate for top Android apps
Average retention rates for top Android apps (Image source: Andrew Chen) (Large preview)

Top Android apps still see a sharp decline in active users after about three days, but then the numbers plateau. They also don’t bleed as many new users upfront, which allows them to sustain a larger percentage of users.

This is exactly what you should be aiming for.

A Retention Recovery Guide For Mobile Apps

So, we know what makes for a good and bad retention rate. We also understand that it’s not about how many people have uninstalled or deleted the app from their devices. Letting an app sit in isolation, untouched on a mobile device, is just as bad.

As you can imagine, increasing your retention rate will lead to other big wins for your mobile app:

  • More engagement
  • More meaningful engagement
  • Greater loyalty
  • Increased conversions (if your app is monetized, that is)

Now you need to ask yourself:

“When are users dropping off? And why?”

You can draw your own hypotheses about this based on the retention rate alone, though it might be helpful to make use of tools like heat maps to spot problem areas in the mobile app. Once you know what’s going on, you can take action to remove the friction from the user experience.

To get you started, I’ve included a number of issues that commonly plague mobile apps with low retention rates. If your app is guilty of any of these, get to work on fixing the design or functionality ASAP!

1. Difficult Onboarding

Aside from the app store description and screenshots users encounter, onboarding is the first real experience they have with a mobile app. As you can imagine, a frustrating sign-in or onboarding procedure could easily turn off those who take that as a signal the rest of the app will be as difficult to use.

Let’s use the OkCupid dating app as an example. The initial splash screen looks great and is well-designed. It has a clear value proposition, and an easy-to-find call-to-action:


Splash screen for OkCupid app
The first screen new OkCupid users encounter (Image source: OkCupid) (Large preview)

On the next page, users are given two options for joining the app. It’s free to use, but still requires users to create an account:


OkCupid account creation
Account creation for OkCupid gives two options (Image source: OkCupid) (Large preview)

The first option is a Facebook sign-in. The other is to use a personal email address. Since Facebook logins can streamline not just signup, but the setup of dating mobile apps (since users can automatically import details, photos, and connections), this option is probably one many users’ choose.

But there’s a problem with it: After seven clicks to connect to Facebook and confirm one’s identity, here is what the user sees (or, at least, this is what I encountered the last couple of times I tried):


Signup error with OkCupid
After connecting to Facebook, users still encounter an error signing in. (Image source: OkCupid) (Large preview)

One of the main reasons why users choose a Facebook sign-in is because of how quick and easy it’s supposed to be. In these attempts of mine, however, my OkCupid app wouldn’t connect to Facebook. So, after 14 total clicks (7 for each time I tried to sign up), I ended up having to provide an email anyway.

This is obviously not a great first impression OkCupid has left on me (or any of its users). What makes it worse is that we know there’s a lot more work to get onboarded with the app. Unlike competitors like Bumble that have greatly simplified signup, OkCupid forces users into a buggy onboarding experience as well as a more lengthy profile configuration.

Needless to say, this is probably a bit too much for some users.

2. Slow or Sloppy Navigation

Here’s another example of a time-waster for mobile app users.

Let’s say getting inside the new app is easy. There’s no real onboarding required. Maybe you just ask if it’s okay to use their location for personalization purposes or if you can send push notifications. Otherwise, users are able to start using the app right away.

That’s great — until they realize how clunky the experience is.

To start, navigation of a mobile app should be easy and ever-present. It’s not like a browser window where users can hit that “Back” button in order to get out of an unwanted page. On a mobile app, they need a clear and intuitive exit strategy. Also, navigation of an app should never take more than two or three steps to get to a desired outcome.

One example of this comes from Wendy’s. Specifically, I want to look at the “Offers” user journey:


Offers from Wendy’s app
The home page of the Wendy’s app promises “Offers” (Image source: Wendy’s) (Large preview)

As you can see, the navigation at the bottom of the app is as clear as day. Users have three areas of the app they can explore — each of which makes sense for a business like Wendy’s. There are three additional navigation options in the top-right corner of the app, too.

When “Offers” is clicked, users are taken to a sort of full-screen pop-up containing all current special deals:


Wendy’s Offers pop-up
The Wendy’s Offers pop-up screen (Image source: Wendy’s) (Large preview)

As you can see, the navigation is no longer there. The “X” for the Offers pop-up also sits in the top-left corner (instead of the right, which is the more intuitive choice). This is already a problem. It also persists throughout the entire Offers redemption experience.

Let’s say that users aren’t turned off by the poor navigational choices and still want to redeem one of these offers. This is what they encounter next:


Wendy’s in-restaurant offers
Wendy’s Offers can be used at the restaurant. (Image source: Wendy’s) (Large preview)

Now, this is pretty cool. Users can redeem the offer at that very moment while they’re in a Wendy’s or they can place the order through the app and pick it up. Either way, this is a great way to integrate the mobile app and in-store experiences.

Except…


Wendy’s offer code
The Wendy’s offer code takes a while to populate. (Image source: Wendy’s) (Large preview)

Imagine standing in line at a Wendy’s or going through a drive-thru that isn’t particularly busy. That image above is not one you’d want to see.

They call it “fast food” for a reason and if your app isn’t working or it takes just a few seconds too long to load the offer code, imagine what that will do for everyone else’s experience at Wendy’s. The cashiers will be annoyed that they’ve held up the flow of traffic and everyone waiting in line will be frustrated in having to wait longer.

While mobile apps generally are designed to cater to the single user experience, you do have to consider how something like this could affect the experience of others.

Recommended reading: How To Improve Your Billing Form’s UX In One Day

3. Overwhelming Navigation

A poorly constructed or non-visible navigation is one thing. But a navigation that gives way too many options can be just as problematic. While a mega menu on something like an e-commerce website certainly makes sense, an oversized menu in mobile apps doesn’t.

It pains me to do this since I love the BBC, but its news app is guilty of this crime:


BBC News navigation
The top of the BBC News navigation (Image source: BBC News) (Large preview)

This looks like a standard news navigation at first glance. Top (popular) stories sit at the top; my News (customized) stories below it. But then it appears there’s more, so users are apt to scroll downwards and see what others options there are:


More BBC News pages
More of the BBC News navigation bar (Image source: BBC News) (Large preview)

The next scroll down gives users a choice of stories by geography, by subject:


Even more BBC News pages
Even more BBC News pages to choose from. (Image source: BBC News) (Large preview)

And then there are even more options for sports as well as specific BBC News channels. It’s a lot to take in.

If that weren’t bad enough, the personalization choices mirror the depth of the navigation:


BBC News personalization
BBC News personalization choices (Image source: BBC News) (Large preview)

Now, there’s nothing wrong with personalizing the mobile app experience. I think it’s something every app — especially those that deliver global news — should allow for. However, BBC News gives an overwhelming amount of options.

What’s worse is that many of the stories overlap categories, which means users could realistically see the same headlines over and over again as they scroll through the personalized categories they’ve chosen.

If BBC News (or any other app that does this) wants to allow for such deep personalization, the app should be programmed to hide stories that have already been seen or scrolled past — much like how Feedly handles its stream of news. That way, all that personalization really is valuable.

Recommended reading: How BBC Interactive Content Works Across AMP, Apps, And The Web

4. Outdated or Incomplete Experience

Anything a mobile app does that makes users unwillingly stop or slow down is bad. And this could be caused by a number of flaws in the experience:

  • Slow-loading pages,
  • Intrusive pop-ups,
  • Dated design choices,
  • Broken links or images,
  • Incomplete information,
  • And so on.

If you expect users to take time to download and at least give your app a try, make sure it’s worth their while.

One such example of this is the USHUD mobile app. It’s supposed to provide the same exact experience to users as the website counterpart. However, the app doesn’t work all that well:


Slow USHD app
A slow-loading page on the USHUD app (Image source: USHUD) (Large preview)

In the example above, you can see that search results are slow to load. Now, if they were chock full of images and videos, I could see why that might occur (though it’s still not really acceptable).

That said, many of the properties listed on the app don’t have corresponding visual content:


USHUD missing images
USHUD is missing images in search. (Image source: USHUD) (Large preview)

Real estate apps or, really, any apps that deal in the transaction of purchasing or renting of property or products should include images with each listing. It’s the whole reason why consumers are able to rent and buy online (or at least use it in the decisionmaking process).

But this app seems to be missing many images, which can lead to an unhelpful and unpleasant experience for users who hope to get information from the more convenient mobile app option.

If you’re going to build a mobile app that’s supposed to inform and compel users to engage, make sure it’s running in tip-top shape. All information is available. All tabs are accessible. And pages load in a reasonable timeframe.

5. Complicated or Impossible Gestures

We’ve already seen what a poorly made navigation can do to the user experience as well as the problem with pages that just don’t load. But sometimes friction can come from intentionally complicated gestures and engagements.

This is something I personally encountered with Sinemia recently. Sinemia is a competitor of the revolutionary yet failing MoviePass mobile app. Sinemia seems like a reasonable deal and one that could possibly sustain a lot longer than the unrealistic MoviePass model that promises entry to one movie every single day. However, Sinemia has had many issues with meeting the demand of its users.

To start, it delayed the sending of cards by a week. When I signed up in May, I was told I would have to wait at least 60 days to receive my card in the mail, even though my subscription had already kicked in. So, there was already a disparity there.

Sinemia’s response to that was to create a “Cardless” feature. This would enable those users who hadn’t yet received their cards to begin using their accounts. As you can see here, the FAQ included a dedicated section to Sinemia Cardless:


Sinemia FAQ
Questions about Sinemia Cardless (Image source: Sinemia) (Large preview)

See that point that says “I can confirm I have the latest Sinemia release installed…”? The reason why that point is there is because many Sinemia Cardless users (myself included) couldn’t actually activate the Cardless feature. When attempting to do so, the app would display an error.

The Sinemia FAQ then goes on to provide this answer to the complaint/question:


Sinemia Cardless issues
Sinemia Cardless issues with app version (Image source: Sinemia) (Large preview)

Here’s the problem: there were never any updates available for the mobile app. So, I and many others reached out to Sinemia for support. The answer repeatedly given was that Cardless could not work if your app ran on an old version. Support asked users to delete the app from their devices and reinstall from the app store to ensure they had the correct version — to no avail.

For me, this was a big problem. I was paying for a service that I had no way of using, and I was spending way too much time uninstalling and installing an app that should work straight out the gate.

I gave up after 48 hours of futile attempts. I went to my Profile to delete my account and get a refund on the subscription I had yet to use. But the app told me it was impossible to cancel my account through it. I tried to ask support for help, but no one responded. So, after Googling similar issues with account cancellations, I found that the only channel through which Sinemia would handle these requests was Facebook Messenger.

Needless to say, the whole experience left me quite jaded about apps that can’t do something as simple as activating or deactivating an account. While I recognize an urge to get a better solution on the mobile app market, rushing out an app and functionality that’s not ready to reach the public isn’t the solution.

Recommended reading: What You Need To Know About OAuth2 And Logging In With Facebook

6. Gated Content Keeps App from Being Valuable

For those of you who notice your retention rate remaining high for the first week or so from installation, the problem may more have to do with the mobile app’s limitations.

Recolor is a coloring book app I discovered in the app store. There’s nothing in the description that would lead me to believe that the app requires payment in order to enjoy the calming benefits of coloring pictures, but that’s indeed what I encountered:


Free coloring book images
Free drawings users can color with the Recolor app. (Image source: Recolor) (Large preview)

Above, you can see there are a number of free drawings available. Some of the more complex drawings will take some time to fill in, but not as much as a physical coloring book would by hand, which means users are apt to get through this quickly.

Inevitably, mobile app users will go searching for more options and this is what they will encounter:


Recolor is pay to play
Recolor’s more popular options are for Premium users. (Image source: Recolor) (Large preview)

When users look into some of the more popular drawings from Recolor, you’d hope they would encounter at least a few free drawings, right? After all, how many users could possibly be paying for a subscription to this app that’s not outrightly advertised as premium?

But it’s not just the Popular choices that require a fee to access (that’s what the yellow symbol in the bottom-right means). So, too, do most of the other categories:


Recolor’s premium offerings
Premium account needed to access more drawings on Recolor. (Image source: Recolor) (Large preview)

It’s a shame that so much of the content is gated off. Coloring books have proven to be good for managing anxiety and stress, so leaving users with only a few dozen options doesn’t seem right. Plus, the weekly membership to the app is pretty expensive, even if users try to earn coins by watching videos.

A mobile app such as this one should make its intentions clear from the start: “Consider this a free trial. If you want more, you’ll have to pay.”

While I’m sure the developer didn’t intend to deceive with this app model, I can see how the retention rate might suffer and prevent this app from becoming a long-term staple on many users’ devices.

When making a promise to users (even if it’s implied), design and manage your app in a way that lives up to those expectations.

As I noted earlier, those initial signups might make you hopeful of the app’s long-term potential, but a forced pay-to-play scenario could easily disrupt that after just a few weeks.

7. Impossible to Convert in-App

Why do we create mobile apps? For many developers, it’s because the mobile web experience is insufficient. And because many users want a more convenient way to connect with your brand. A mobile app sits on the home screen of devices and requires just a single click to get inside.

So, why would someone build an app that forces users to leave it in order to convert? It seems pointless to even go through the trouble of creating the app in the first place (which is usually no easy task).

Here’s the Megabus app:


Megabus ticket search
The Megabus mobile app for searching and buying tickets (Image source: Megabus) (Large preview)

Megabus is a low-cost transportation service that operates in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. There are a number of reasons why users would gravitate to the mobile app counterpart for the website; namely, the convenience of logging in and purchasing tickets while they’re traveling.

The image above shows the search I did for Megabus tickets through the mobile app. I entered all pertinent details, found tickets available for my destination and got ready to “Buy Tickets” right then and there.

However, you can’t actually buy tickets from the mobile app:


Megabus tickets
Megabus tickets are only available online. (Image source: Megabus) (Large preview)

Upon clicking “Buy Tickets”, the app pushes users out and into their browser. They then are asked to reinput all those details from the mobile app to search for open trips and make a purchase.

For a service that’s supposed to make travel over long distances convenient, its mobile app has done anything but reinforce that experience.

For those of you considering building an app (whether on your own accord or because a client asked) solely so you can land a spot in app store search results, don’t waste users’ time. If they can’t have a complete experience within the app, you’re likely to see your retention rate tank fairly quickly.

Wrapping Up

Clearly, there are a number of ways in which a mobile app may suffer a misstep in terms of the user experience. And I’m sure that there are times when mobile app developers don’t even realize there’s something off in the experience.

This is why your mobile app retention rate is such a critical data point to pay attention to. It’s not enough to just know what that rate is. You should watch for when those major dropoffs occur; not just in terms of the timeline, but also in terms of which pages lead to a stoppage in activity or an uninstall altogether.

With this data in hand, you can refine the in-app experience and make it one that users want to stay inside of for the long run.

Smashing Editorial
(ra, yk, il)

Source: Smashing Magazine, Reasons Your Mobile App Retention Rate Might Be So Low

Live Accessibility And Performance Audits At SmashingConf Toronto

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Live Accessibility And Performance Audits At SmashingConf Toronto

Live Accessibility And Performance Audits At SmashingConf Toronto

Markus Seyfferth



Earlier this year, many of your favorite speakers were featured at SmashingConf Toronto, however, things were quite different this time. The speakers had been asked to present without slides. It was interesting to see the different ways our speakers approached the challenge.

Two of our speakers chose to demonstrate how they audit a site or application live on stage: Marcy Sutton on accessibility, and Tim Kadlec on performance. Watch the videos to see an expert perform these audits, and see if there is anything you can take back to your own testing processes.

To watch all of the videos recorded in Toronto, head on over to our SmashingConf Vimeo channel.

Accessibility: Marcy Sutton

Marcy took two example components, built using React, and walked us through how these components could be made more accessible with some straightforward changes.

Performance: Tim Kadlec

Tim demonstrates how to test the performance of a site, and find bottlenecks leading to poor experiences for visitors. If you have ever wondered how to get started testing for performance, this is a talk you will find incredibly useful.

Enjoyed watching these talks? There are many more videos from SmashingConf Toronto on Vimeo. We’re also getting ready for SmashingConf New York next week — see you there? 😉

Smashing Editorial
(ra, il)

Source: Smashing Magazine, Live Accessibility And Performance Audits At SmashingConf Toronto

Photoshop Workflows And Shortcuts For Digital Artists

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Photoshop Workflows And Shortcuts For Digital Artists

Photoshop Workflows And Shortcuts For Digital Artists

Yoanna Victorova



Adobe Photoshop plays a role in almost every digital creator’s life. Photoshop is what many digital artists, photographers, graphic designers, and even some web developers have in common. The tool is so flexible that often you can achieve the same results in several different ways. What sets us all apart is our personal workflows and our preferences on how we use it to achieve the desired outcome.

I use Photoshop every day and shortcuts are a vital part of my workflow. They allow me to save time and to focus better on what I am doing: digital illustration. In this article, I am going to share the Photoshop shortcuts I use frequently — some of its features that help me be more productive, and a few key parts of my creative process.

To profit the most from this tutorial, some familiarity with Photoshop would be required but no matter if you are a complete beginner or an advanced user, you should be able to follow along because every technique will be explained in detail.

For this article, I’ve decided to use one of my most famous Photoshop artworks named “Regret”:


Picture of the artist writing the article
Author’s illustration (Large preview)

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction To Shortcuts: The Path To Boosting Your Productivity
  2. The Keyboard Shortcuts Window
  3. How To Increase And Decrease The Brush Size
  4. How To Increase And Decrease The Brush Softness
  5. Quick Color Picker (HUD Color Picker)
  6. Working With Layers
  7. Working With Curves
  8. Actions: Recording Everything You Need For Your Project
  9. Conclusion
  10. Further Reading

1. Introduction To Shortcuts: The Path To Boosting Your Productivity

Every single designer, artist, photographer or web developer has probably once opened Photoshop and has pointed and clicked on an icon to select the Brush tool, the Move tool, and so on. We’ve all been there, but those days are long gone for most of us who use Photoshop every day. Some might still do it today, however, what I would like to talk about before getting into the details, is the importance of shortcuts.

When you think about it, you’re saving perhaps half a second by using a keyboard shortcut instead of moving your mouse (or stylus) over to the Tools bar and selecting the tool you need by clicking on the tool’s little icon. To some that may seem petty, however, do consider that every digital creator does thousands of selections per project and these half-seconds add up to become hours in the end!

Now, before we continue, please note the following:

  1. Shortcuts Notation
    I use Photoshop on Windows but all of the shortcuts should work the same on Mac OS; the only thing worth mentioning is that the Ctrl (Control) key on Windows corresponds to the Cmd (Command) key on the Mac, so I’ll be using Ctrl/Cmd throughout this tutorial.
  2. Photoshop CS6+
    All the features and shortcuts mentioned here should work in Photoshop CS6 and later — including the latest Photoshop CC 2018.

2. The Keyboard Shortcuts Window

To start off, I would like to show you where you can find the Keyboard Shortcuts window where you could modify the already existing shortcuts, and learn which key is bound to which feature or tool:

Open Photoshop, go to Edit and select Keyboard Shortcuts. Alternatively, you can access the same from here: Window → Workspace → Keyboard Shortcuts & Menus.


the Edit tab with Keyboard Shortcuts option highlighted
Photoshop’s edit (Large preview)

Now you will be greeted by the Keyboard Shortcuts and Menus window (dialog box), where you can pick a category you would like to check out. There are a ton of options in there, so it could get a bit intimidating at first, but that feeling will pass soon. The main three options (accessible through the Shortcuts for:… dropdown list) are:

  • Application Menus
  • Panel Menus
  • Tools

Typically the Application Menus will be the first thing you’ll see. These are the shortcuts for the menu options you see on the top of Photoshop’s window (File, Edit, Image, Layer, Type, and so on).


 Keyboard Shortcuts and Menus option open, displaying the shortcuts for the Applications menu
Applications menu (Large preview)

So for example if you’re using the Brightness/Contrast option often, instead of having to click on Image (in the menu), then Adjustments and finally find and click on Brightness/Contrast item, you can simply assign a key combination and Brightness/Contrast will show right up after you press the keys assigned.

The second section, Panel Menus, is an interesting one as well, especially in its Layers portion. You get to see several options that could be of use to you depending on the type of work you need to do. That’s where the standard New Layer shortcut lies (Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + N) but also you can set up a shortcut for Delete Hidden Layers. Deleting unnecessary layers helps in lowering the size of the Photoshop file and helps improving performance because your computer will not have to cache in on those extra layers that you’re actually not using.


Keyboard Shortcuts and Menus option open, displaying the shortcuts for the Panel Menus
Panel menu (Large preview)

The third section is Tools where you can see the shortcuts assigned to all the tools found in the left panel of Photoshop.

Pro Tip: To cycle between any of the tools that have sub-tools (example: the Eraser tool has a Background Eraser and a Magic Eraser) you just need to hold your Shift key and the appropriate shortcut button. In case of the Eraser example, press Shift + E a few times until you reach the desired sub-tool.

One last thing I would like to mention before wrapping up this section is that the Keyboard Shortcuts and Menus allows you to set up different Profiles (Photoshop calls them “sets” but I think that “profiles” better suits the purpose), so that if you don’t really want to mess with the Photoshop Defaults one, you can simply create a new personalized profile. It’s worth mentioning that when you create a new Profile, you get the Default set of Photoshop Shortcuts in it until you start modifying them.


Keyboard Shortcuts and Menus option showing the Profiles section
Keyboard shortcuts and menus profile section (Large preview)

The Keyboard Shortcuts menu can take a bit of time to get around to, however, if you invest the time in the beginning (best if you do it in your own time rather than during a project), you will benefit later.

Focusing On The Shortcuts On The Left Side Of Your Keyboard

After people acknowledged the usefulness of using shortcuts, eventually they agreed that time is being wasted moving your hand from one side of the keyboard to the opposite one. Sounds a bit petty again, however, remember those half-seconds? They still add up, but this time it can even fatigue your arm if you’re constantly switching tools and have to move your arm around. So this probably led to Adobe adding a few more shortcut features focused on the left side of the keyboard.

Now let me show you the shortcuts that I most often use (and why).

3. How To Increase And Decrease The Brush Size

In order to increase or decrease the size of your brush, you need to:

  1. Click and hold the Alt key. (On the Mac this would be the Ctrl and Alt keys),
  2. Click and hold the right mouse button,
  3. Then drag horizontally from left to right to increase, and from right to left to decrease the size.

Red circle displaying the brush size increase via mouse drag
Brush size increase preview (Large preview)

The moment I learned about this shortcut, I literally couldn’t stop using it!

If you’re a digital artist, I believe you will particularly love it as well. Sketching, painting, erasing, just about everything you need to do with a brush becomes a whole lot easier and fluent because you wouldn’t need to reach for the all too familiar [ and ] keys which are the default ones for increasing and decreasing the brush size. Going for those keys can disrupt your workflow, especially if you need to take your eyes off your project or put the stylus aside.

4. How To Increase And Decrease The Brush Softness

It’s actually the same key combination but with a slight twist: increasing and decreasing the softness of your Brush will work only for Photoshop’s default Round brushes. Unfortunately, if you have any custom made brushes that have a custom form, this wouldn’t work for those.

  1. Click and hold the Alt key. (On the Mac this would be Ctrl and Alt keys),
  2. Click and hold the right mouse button,
  3. Then drag upwards to harden the edge of your brush and drag downwards to make it softer.

Red circle displaying the brush softness increase via mouse drag
Brush softness increase preview (Large preview)

Again, this shortcut doesn’t work for custom shaped brushes, although it would have been a really nice feature to have. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see that in a future update to Photoshop.

5. Quick Color Picker (HUD Color Picker)

You may or may not be aware that Photoshop offers a quick color picker (HUD Color Picker). And no, this is not the color picker that is located in the Tools section.


Photoshop’s Quick color picker
Quick color picker (Large preview)

I am referring to what Adobe calls “HUD Color Picker” that pops up right where your cursor is located on the canvas.

This so-called HUD Color Picker is a built-in version and I believe it’s been around since at least Photoshop CS6 (which was released back in 2012). If you’re learning about this now, probably you’re as surprised as I was when I first came across it a few months ago. Yes, it took me a while to get used to, too! Well, to be fair, I do also have some reservations about this color picker, but I’ll get to them in a second.


Photoshop’s HUD color picker
Photoshop’s HUD color picker (Large preview)

Here’s how to pull up the HUD Color Picker:

On Windows
  1. Click and hold Alt + Shift,
  2. Click and hold the right mouse button.
On Mac
  1. Click and hold Ctrl ⌃ + Alt ⌥ + Cmd ⌘,
  2. Click and hold the right mouse button.

If you’ve followed the key combinations above, you should see this colorful square. However, you’ve probably noticed that it’s a bit awkward to work with it. For example, you need to continue holding all of the keys, and while you do that, you need to hover over to the right rectangle to pick a color gamut and then hover back to the square to pick the shade. With all of the hovering that’s going on, it’s somewhat easy to miss the color that you’ve actually set your heart to pick, which could get a little annoying.

Nevertheless, I do believe that with a little practice you will be able to master the Quick Color Picker and get your desired results. If you’re not too keen on using that built-in version, there are always third-party extensions that you can strap to your Photoshop, for example, Coolorus 2 Color Wheel or Painters Wheel (works with PS CS4, CS5, CS6).

6. Working With Layers

One of the advantages of working digitally is undisputedly the ability to work with layers. They are quite versatile, and there’s a lot of things that you could do with them. You could say that one could write a book just on Layers alone. However, I’m going to do the next best thing, and that would be to share with you the options I most commonly use when working on my projects.

As you may have guessed, the Layer section is a pretty important one for any type of digital creative. In this section, I’m going to share the simpler but very useful shortcuts that could be some real lifesavers.

Clipping Mask Layer

A Clipping Mask Layer is what I most often use when I’m drawing. For those of you who do not know what that is, it’s basically a layer which you clip on to the layer below. The layer below defines what’s visible on the clipped on layer.

For example, let’s say that you have a circle on the base layer and then you add a Clipping Mask Layer to that circle. When you start drawing on your Clipping Mask Layer, you will be restricted only to the shapes in the Base Layer.


Red circle shape that’s going to be used for a clipping mask
Red circle shape on transparent background (Large preview)

Drawly’s artwork inserted into circle shape
Drawing inserted into circle shape (Large preview)

Take notice of the layers on the right side of the screen. Layer 0 is the Clipping Mask Layer of the Base Layer — Layer 1.

This option allows you to really easily create frames and the best part is that they’re non-destructive. The more shapes you add (in this case it’s Layer 1), the more visible parts of the image can be seen.


Drawly’s artwork added into various shapes as a clipping mask
Drawly’s artwork added into various shapes as a clipping mask (Large preview)

The most common use for Clipping Mask Layers in digital art/painting is to add shadows and highlights to a base color. For example, let’s say that you’ve completed your character’s line-art and you’ve added their base skin tone. You can use Clipping Mask Layers to add non-destructive shadows and highlights.

Note: I’m using the term “non-destructive” because you cannot erase away something from the base layers — they will be safe and sound.)

So, how do you create those Clipping Mask Layers? Well, each one starts off as a regular “Layer”.

To create a regular Layer, you can use this shortcut:

Action Keyboard Shortcut
Creates a new regular Layer Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + N
Makes the newly created Layer into a Clipping Mask to the Layer below it Ctrl/Cmd + Alt + G

An alternative way to make a regular layer into a Clipping Mask is to press and hold the Alt key, and click between the two Layers. The upper layer will then become the Clipping Mask of the layer below.

Selecting All Layers

Every once in a while, you may want to select all of the layers, and group them together so that you can continue building on top of them or a number of other reasons. Typically, what I used to do is simply hold the Ctrl/Cmd key and then start clicking away at all of the layers. Needless to say, that was a bit time-consuming, especially if I’m working on a big project. So here’s a better way:

What you would need to do is simply press: Ctrl/Cmd + Alt + A.

Now that should’ve selected all of your layers and you will be able to do anything you want with them.

Flattening Visible Layers

Clipping Mask Layers may be totally awesome, however, they don’t always work well if you want to modify something in the general image you’re doing. Sometimes you just need everything (e.g. base color, highlights and shadows) to stop being on different layers and just be combined into one. Sometimes you just need to merge all currently visible layers into one, in a non-destructive way.

Here’s how:

Press and hold Ctrl/Cmd + Alt + Shift + E.

Et voilà! Now you should be seeing an extra layer on the top that has all other visible layers in it. The beauty of this shortcut is that you still have your other layers below — untouched and safe. If you mess up something with the newly created layer, you can still bring things back to the way they were before and start afresh.

Copying Multiple Layers

Every now and then we’re faced with the need to copy stuff from multiple layers. Typically what most people do is duplicate the two given layers they need, merge them and then start erasing away the unnecessary parts of the image.

What you need to do instead is to make a selection and then press:

Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + C

Here’s an example:


Three different colored circles on a transparent background
Three different colored circles (Large preview)

As you can see, each color dot is on a separate layer. Let’s say that we need to copy a straight rectangle through the center of the dots and copy it on a layer at the top.


Three different colored circles with a selection box inside them
Three different colored circles with a selection box inside them (Large preview)

We’ve made a selection and once you press Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + C, Photoshop will copy everything you have in your selection to the clipboard. Then all you have to do is simply paste (Ctrl/Cmd + V) anywhere, and a new layer will appear on the top of the page.


Selection box with the three different colors from the circles
Selection box with three different colors (Large preview)

This shortcut can come really handy especially when you’re working with multiple layers, and you need just a portion of the image to be together in a single layer.

7. Working With Curves

In this section of the article, I would like to cover the importance of values as well as Curves which are generally a big topic to cover.

Starting off with the shortcut: Ctrl/Cmd + M.

Pretty simple, right? The best things in life are (almost) always simple! However, don’t let this talk about simplicity fool you, the Curves setting is one of the most powerful tools you have in Photoshop. Especially when it comes to tweaking brightness, contrast, colors, tones, and so on.

Now some of you may be feeling a bit of intimidated by the previous sentence: colors, tones, contrast,… say what now? Don’t worry, because the Curves tool is pretty simple to understand and it will do marvelous things for you. Let’s dig into the details.


 Curves histogram
Curves histogram highlighted in red square (Large preview)

This is what the Curves tool basically looks like. As you can see, there’s a moderate amount of options available. What we’re interested in, however, is the area I’ve captured inside the red square. It is actually a simple Histogram with a diagonal line across. The Histogram’s purpose is to show the values of the given image (or painting), left being the darkest points and right being the lightest ones.


Curves histogram with one anchor point added
Curves histogram with one anchor point added (Large preview)

Curves histogram with two anchor points added
Curves histogram with two anchor points added (Large preview)

Using the mouse, we can put points on the diagonal line and drag it up and down. We typically decide what we want to darken or lighten. If, for example, we want to have the light parts of our image be just a bit darker, we need to click somewhere on the right side and drag down (just like in the first image).

Here’s an example. First, take a look at the normal image:


Drawly’s artwork, original colors and values
Drawly’s artwork, original colors and values. (Large preview)

Now, using Curves with the light parts toned down:


Curves histogram with one anchor point
Curves histogram with one anchor point (Large preview)

AIn addition, just for demonstration purposes, here’s what would happen if we have the lighter parts darkened and the darker parts lightened:


Curves histogram with two anchor points making the ‘S’ shape
Curves histogram with two anchor points making the ‘S’ shape (Large preview)

You see, basically the linework is the darkest part, which stayed and the other darks have been lightened to a grayish type of value.

Now let me quickly elaborate on values and why they matter: by “values,” especially in the art world, we’re referring to the amount of lightness or darkness in a drawing (painting). With values, we create depth in our painting which on its part helps with creating the illusion which element is closer to the viewer and which one is in the distance (further back).

8. Actions: Recording Everything You Need For Your Project

Every so often we all need to deal with repetitive processes which could range from adding a filter over our image to creating certain types of layers with blending modes. Does this sound familiar? If so, keep reading.

Did you know that Photoshop supports programming languages such as JavaScript, AppleScript, and VBScript to automate certain processes? I didn’t, as programming has never been my cup of tea. The good thing is that instead, I came across the Actions panel, which offers a lot of functionality and options for automating some repetitive tasks and workflows. In my opinion, this is the best automation tool that Photoshop has to offer if you don’t know how to code.

The Actions panel basically can record every process you’re doing (e.g. adding a layer, cropping the image, changing its hue, and so on); then you can assign a function key to this process and easily re-use it later at any time.

By using the Actions panel, you can capture just about anything that you do in Photoshop and then save it as a process.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say that you want to automate the process of Create a new Layer, set it as a Clipping Mask, and then set its blending mode to Multiply (or anything else). You can record this whole process which would then be available to you for re-use by the press of a button.

Here’s how it works:

Pressing Alt + F9 will open this panel:


The actions panel displaying all the default options
The actions panel displaying all the default options (Large preview)

As you can probably see, there are some default (pre-recorded) processes on there. What we’re interested in, however, is creating our own action, which is done by clicking on the “Create new action” icon.


The actions panel with the “New Action” button highlighted in a red square
The actions panel with the “New Action” button highlighted (Large preview)

Now just like when you create a new layer in the Layers panel, once you click on the “Create new action” icon, a pop-up window opens with a few options in it.


New Action window displayed with text highlighted
New Action window (Large preview)

You can choose any given name for the Action you want to create and assign a Function key for it. So, for this demonstration purpose, I’ll create an action that will do the following:

  • Create a new transparent Layer;
  • Add it as a Clipping Mask to the Layer below;
  • Set its blending mode to Multiply.

I’ll set its Function key to Shift + F2.


Custom name added and function key assigned in New Action box
Custom name added and function key assigned in New Action box (Large preview)

Once you’re ready with these settings, what you need to do is press the Record button. Once you’ve done that, you’ll notice that the Actions panel now has a red button to show you it’s recording.


Recording the new Action, record button toggled
Recording the new Action (Large preview)

Now you just have to go about the regular process of creating a new layer, set it as a clipping mask and change its blending mode to Multiply.


Heart shape layer added in Layers panel
Heart shape layer added (Large preview)

Heart shape layer added in Layers panel
New layer added on top of the heart shape (Large preview)

New layer made in to a clipping mask
New layer made in to a clipping mask to the heart shape (Large preview)

Blending mode drop-down menu open, Multiply highlighted
Blending mode drop-down menu open, Multiply highlighted. (Large preview)

Once you’re done, you have to hit the Stop icon on the Actions panel.


Actions panel open with the red recording button
Actions panel open with the red recording button (Large preview)

Your automation process is now ready to go! When you press Shift + F2, you’ll get a new Layer set as a Clipping Mask to the layer below and its blending mode set to Multiply.

I would also like to mention that the Actions automation process is not limited to just creating layers and setting blending modes. Here are some examples of some pretty handy other uses and options for actions:

  • You can set up to save images as certain types of files to certain folders on your computer;
  • Using File → Automate → Batch for processing lots of images;
  • The Allow Tool Recording option in the flyout Actions panel menu allows actions to include painting, and so on;
  • The Insert Conditional option in the flyout Actions panel menu allows actions to change their behavior, based on the state of the document;
  • File → Scripts → Script Events Manager lets actions run based on events, like when a document is opened or a new document is created.

Let me give you another example, I’ll create another Action that will change the size of my image and save it as a PNG file in a certain folder on my desktop.

So after we hit the New Action button on the Actions panel, we’ll proceed with picking the shortcut that we want, set a name for it, and I’ll take it a step further and assign a color to the Action (I’ll explain why this is a helpful feature in a bit).


New Action box open
New Action box open (Large preview)

Selecting the Function key
Selecting the Function key (Large preview)

Checking the Shift checkbox
Checking the Shift checkbox (Large preview)

Picking a color for the Action
Picking a color for the Action (Large preview)

Displaying that a blue color was picked for the new action
Blue color picked for the new Action (Large preview)

Now about that color, you may notice that when you assign a color, it doesn’t really reflect in the Actions Panel. Instead, everything stays monochrome. The reason is because when you typically open that panel, you’re in the Edit view, where you’re able to modify the Actions, record new ones, and so on. In order to see all of the available actions in a simpler interface, do this:

  • On the upper-right hand corner of the panel you will see four horizontal lines. Click on those.
  • You’ll get a drop-down menu, where you have different Actions options. On the top, you’ll notice a Button Mode.

  • Actions’ drop-down menu open, highlighted Button Mode
    Actions’ drop-down menu open, highlighted ‘Button Mode’. (Large preview)
  • Clicking on that will change the Actions Panel interface, where you will see your available Actions as colorful buttons.

The Actions’ button mode
The Actions’ button mode (Large preview)

If you haven’t guessed it already, coloring your Actions will help you distinguish them more easily at a glance. In Button mode, when you take a glance at the panel, you will be able to navigate quickly to the Action that you want to apply to your image/drawing (if you don’t really remember the shortcut you’ve assigned for it).

Okay, so what we have so far is the following:

  1. We’ve created a new action;
  2. Set the shortcut for it;
  3. Changed its color;
  4. Named it.

Let’s proceed with recording the process that we need.

To open the Image Size menu, you can either go to Image → Image Size or simply hit Ctrl + Alt + I and you’ll get this window:


 Image size menu open
Image size menu open (Large preview)

What you would want to do is set the desired size for your image and once you’re happy with that hit “OK” to apply the changes.


Image size values changed
Image size values changed (Large preview)

Next, what we want to do is use the Save As option in order to get the option to choose the type of file, destination folder, and so on. You can either go to File → Save As… or you could simply press Ctrl + Shift + S and you will get the following window:


Saving dialogue box open
Saving dialogue box open (Large preview)

Navigate to the dedicated folder in which you want to save the current project in and actually save it there. An additional Action you can do is to close the image/project you’re working on (don’t worry, the Actions won’t stop recording unless you close down Photoshop).


Saving file as PNG, PNG options displayed
PNG options displayed (Large preview)

Once all of that is done, you can hit the Stop icon on the Actions Panel to stop recording your movement in Photoshop.

If you need to resize a bunch of files and save them in a dedicated folder, you just have to load them up in Photoshop and continue hitting the Action shortcut that you’ve created for Resizing and Saving.

If you take the time to get accustomed to the Actions tool in Photoshop and utilize it, you can say “Goodbye” to the bothersome repetitive work that usually eats up most of your time. You will be able to fly through these tasks with such speed that even the Flash could get jealous of.

9. Conclusion

In this article, I’ve shared some of the shortcuts I mostly use. I sincerely hope that they will help you boost up your productivity and make your workflow better as well.

Special Thanks

I would like to mention that this tutorial was made possible with the help of Angel (a.k.a. ArcanumEX). You can check out his artwork on his Facebook page, on Instagram, and on his YouTube channel.

Further Reading

In addition to everything I’ve talked about so far, I’ll include more resources that I believe you might find helpful. Be sure to check out:

What are your favorite shortcuts? Feel free to share them in the comments below!

Smashing Editorial
(mb, ra, yk, il)

Source: Smashing Magazine, Photoshop Workflows And Shortcuts For Digital Artists

Collective #459

dreamt up by webguru in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Collective #459






C459_content

Valid CSS Content

Chris Coyier explains some interesting valid and invalid values of the CSS content property.

Read it


C459_anaheim

Free Font: Anaheim

A free script font that comes with OpenType features like swashes, numbers, alternates and ligatures.

Get it






C459_Instacam

Instacam

Instacam, the library to perform instant canvas video through the WebRTC API, got a complete revamp.

Check it out






C459_Muze

Muze

With Muze you can compose data-driven layers to create interactive visualizations in JavaScript with relational algebra supported data models.

Check it out


C459_cruip

Cruip

Davide Pacilio and Pasquale Vitiello share their wonderful free landing page templates for startups.

Check it out



Collective #459 was written by Pedro Botelho and published on Codrops.


Source: Codrops, Collective #459

Smart Bundling: How To Serve Legacy Code Only To Legacy Browsers

dreamt up by webguru in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Smart Bundling: How To Serve Legacy Code Only To Legacy Browsers

Smart Bundling: How To Serve Legacy Code Only To Legacy Browsers

Smart Bundling: How To Serve Legacy Code Only To Legacy Browsers

Shubham Kanodia



A website today receives a large chunk of its traffic from evergreen browsers — most of which have good support for ES6+, new JavaScript standards, new web platform APIs and CSS attributes. However, legacy browsers still need to be supported for the near future — their usage share is large enough not to be ignored, depending on your user base.

A quick look at caniuse.com’s usage table reveals that evergreen browsers occupy a lion’s share of the browser market — more than 75%. In spite of this, the norm is to prefix CSS, transpile all of our JavaScript to ES5, and include polyfills to support every user we care about.

While this is understandable from a historical context — the web has always been about progressive enhancement — the question remains: Are we slowing down the web for the majority of our users in order to support a diminishing set of legacy browsers?


Transpilation to ES5, web platform polyfills, ES6+ polyfills, CSS prefixing
The different compatibility layers of a web app. (View large version)

The Cost Of Supporting Legacy Browsers

Let’s try to understand how different steps in a typical build pipeline can add weight to our front-end resources:

Transpiling To ES5

To estimate how much weight transpiling can add to a JavaScript bundle, I took a few popular JavaScript libraries originally written in ES6+ and compared their bundle sizes before and after transpilation:

Library Size
(minified ES6)
Size
(minified ES5)
Difference
TodoMVC 8.4 KB 11 KB 24.5%
Draggable 77.9 KB 11.5 KB 31.3%
Luxon 75.4 KB 100.3 KB 24.8%
Video.js 237.2 KB 335.8 KB 29.4%
PixiJS 370.8 KB 452 KB 18%

On average, untranspiled bundles are about 25% smaller than those that have been transpiled down to ES5. This isn’t surprising given that ES6+ provides a more compact and expressive way to represent the equivalent logic and that transpilation of some of these features to ES5 can require a lot of code.

ES6+ Polyfills

While Babel does a good job of applying syntactical transforms to our ES6+ code, built-in features introduced in ES6+ — such as Promise, Map and Set, and new array and string methods — still need to be polyfilled. Dropping in babel-polyfill as is can add close to 90 KB to your minified bundle.

Web Platform Polyfills

Modern web application development has been simplified due to the availability of a plethora of new browser APIs. Commonly used ones are fetch, for requesting for resources, IntersectionObserver, for efficiently observing the visibility of elements, and the URL specification, which makes reading and manipulation of URLs on the web easier.

Adding a spec-compliant polyfill for each of these features can have a noticeable impact on bundle size.

CSS Prefixing

Lastly, let’s look at the impact of CSS prefixing. While prefixes aren’t going to add as much dead weight to bundles as other build transforms do — especially because they compress well when Gzip’d — there are still some savings to be achieved here.

Library Size
(minified, prefixed for last 5 browser versions)
Size
(minified, prefixed for last browser version)
Difference
Bootstrap 159 KB 132 KB 17%
Bulma 184 KB 164 KB 10.9%
Foundation 139 KB 118 KB 15.1%
Semantic UI 622 KB 569 KB 8.5%

A Practical Guide To Shipping Efficient Code

It’s probably evident where I’m going with this. If we leverage existing build pipelines to ship these compatibility layers only to browsers that require it, we can deliver a lighter experience to the rest of our users — those who form a rising majority — while maintaining compatibility for older browsers.


The modern bundle is smaller than the legacy bundle because it forgoes some compatibility layers.
Forking our bundles. (View large version)

This idea isn’t entirely new. Services such as Polyfill.io are attempts to dynamically polyfill browser environments at runtime. But approaches such as this suffer from a few shortcomings:

  • The selection of polyfills is limited to those listed by the service — unless you host and maintain the service yourself.
  • Because the polyfilling happens at runtime and is a blocking operation, page-loading time can be significantly higher for users on old browsers.
  • Serving a custom-made polyfill file to every user introduces entropy to the system, which makes troubleshooting harder when things go wrong.

Also, this doesn’t solve the problem of weight added by transpilation of the application code, which at times can be larger than the polyfills themselves.

Let see how we can solve for all of the sources of bloat we’ve identified till now.

Tools We’ll Need

  • Webpack
    This will be our build tool, although the process will remain similar to that of other build tools, like Parcel and Rollup.
  • Browserslist
    With this, we’ll manage and define the browsers we’d like to support.
  • And we’ll use some Browserslist support plugins.

1. Defining Modern And Legacy Browsers

First, we’ll want to make clear what we mean by “modern” and “legacy” browsers. For ease of maintenance and testing, it helps to divide browsers into two discrete groups: adding browsers that require little to no polyfilling or transpilation to our modern list, and putting the rest on our legacy list.


Firefox >= 53; Edge >= 15; Chrome >= 58; iOS >= 10.1
Browsers that support ES6+, new CSS attributes, and browser APIs like Promises and Fetch. (View large version)

A Browserslist configuration at the root of your project can store this information. “Environment” subsections can be used to document the two browser groups, like so:

[modern]
Firefox >= 53
Edge >= 15
Chrome >= 58
iOS >= 10.1

[legacy]
> 1%

The list given here is only an example and can be customized and updated based on your website’s requirements and the time available. This configuration will act as the source of truth for the two sets of front-end bundles that we will create next: one for the modern browsers and one for all other users.

2. ES6+ Transpiling And Polyfilling

To transpile our JavaScript in an environment-aware manner, we’re going to use babel-preset-env.

Let’s initialize a .babelrc file at our project’s root with this:

{
  "presets": [
    ["env", { "useBuiltIns": "entry"}]
  ]
}

Enabling the useBuiltIns flag allows Babel to selectively polyfill built-in features that were introduced as part of ES6+. Because it filters polyfills to include only the ones required by the environment, we mitigate the cost of shipping with babel-polyfill in its entirety.

For this flag to work, we will also need to import babel-polyfill in our entry point.

// In
import "babel-polyfill";

Doing so will replace the large babel-polyfill import with granular imports, filtered by the browser environment that we’re targeting.

// Transformed output
import "core-js/modules/es7.string.pad-start";
import "core-js/modules/es7.string.pad-end";
import "core-js/modules/web.timers";
…

3. Polyfilling Web Platform Features

To ship polyfills for web platform features to our users, we will need to create two entry points for both environments:

require('whatwg-fetch');
require('es6-promise').polyfill();
// … other polyfills

And this:

// polyfills for modern browsers (if any)
require('intersection-observer');

This is the only step in our flow that requires some degree of manual maintenance. We can make this process less error-prone by adding eslint-plugin-compat to the project. This plugin warns us when we use a browser feature that hasn’t been polyfilled yet.

4. CSS Prefixing

Finally, let’s see how we can cut down on CSS prefixes for browsers that don’t require it. Because autoprefixer was one of the first tools in the ecosystem to support reading from a browserslist configuration file, we don’t have much to do here.

Creating a simple PostCSS configuration file at the project’s root should suffice:

module.exports = {
  plugins: [ require('autoprefixer') ],
}

Putting It All Together

Now that we’ve defined all of the required plugin configurations, we can put together a webpack configuration that reads these and outputs two separate builds in dist/modern and dist/legacy folders.

const MiniCssExtractPlugin = require('mini-css-extract-plugin')
const isModern = process.env.BROWSERSLIST_ENV === 'modern'
const buildRoot = path.resolve(__dirname, "dist")

module.exports = {
  entry: [
    isModern ? './polyfills.modern.js' : './polyfills.legacy.js',
    "./main.js"
  ],
  output: {
    path: path.join(buildRoot, isModern ? 'modern' : 'legacy'),
    filename: 'bundle.[hash].js',
  },
  module: {
    rules: [
      { test: /.jsx?$/, use: "babel-loader" },
      {
        test: /.css$/,
        use: [MiniCssExtractPlugin.loader, 'css-loader', 'postcss-loader']
      }
    ]},
    plugins: {
      new MiniCssExtractPlugin(),
      new HtmlWebpackPlugin({
      template: 'index.hbs',
      filename: 'index.html',
    }),
  },
};

To finish up, we’ll create a few build commands in our package.json file:

"scripts": {
  "build": "yarn build:legacy && yarn build:modern",
  "build:legacy": "BROWSERSLIST_ENV=legacy webpack -p --config webpack.config.js",
  "build:modern": "BROWSERSLIST_ENV=modern webpack -p --config webpack.config.js"
}

That’s it. Running yarn build should now give us two builds, which are equivalent in functionality.

Serving The Right Bundle To Users

Creating separate builds helps us achieve only the first half of our goal. We still need to identify and serve the right bundle to users.

Remember the Browserslist configuration we defined earlier? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could use the same configuration to determine which category the user falls into?

Enter browserslist-useragent. As the name suggests, browserslist-useragent can read our browserslist configuration and then match a user agent to the relevant environment. The following example demonstrates this with a Koa server:

const Koa = require('koa')
const app = new Koa()
const send = require('koa-send')
const { matchesUA } = require('browserslist-useragent')
var router = new Router()

app.use(router.routes())

router.get('/', async (ctx, next) => {
  const useragent = ctx.get('User-Agent')  
  const isModernUser = matchesUA(useragent, {
      env: 'modern',
      allowHigherVersions: true,
   })
   const index = isModernUser ? 'dist/modern/index.html', 'dist/legacy/index.html'
   await send(ctx, index);
});

Here, setting the allowHigherVersions flag ensures that if newer versions of a browser are released — ones that are not yet a part of Can I Use’s database — they will still report as truthy for modern browsers.

One of browserslist-useragent’s functions is to ensure that platform quirks are taken into account while matching user agents. For example, all browsers on iOS (including Chrome) use WebKit as the underlying engine and will be matched to the respective Safari-specific Browserslist query.

It might not be prudent to rely solely on the correctness of user-agent parsing in production. By falling back to the legacy bundle for browsers that aren’t defined in the modern list or that have unknown or unparseable user-agent strings, we ensure that our website still works.

Conclusion: Is It Worth It?

We have managed to cover an end-to-end flow for shipping bloat-free bundles to our clients. But it’s only reasonable to wonder whether the maintenance overhead this adds to a project is worth its benefits. Let’s evaluate the pros and cons of this approach:

1. Maintenance And Testing

One is required to maintain only a single Browserslist configuration that powers all of the tools in this pipeline. Updating the definitions of modern and legacy browsers can be done anytime in the future without having to refactor supporting configurations or code. I’d argue that this makes the maintenance overhead almost negligible.

There is, however, a small theoretical risk associated with relying on Babel to produce two different code bundles, each of which needs to work fine in its respective environment.

While errors due to differences in bundles might be rare, monitoring these variants for errors should help to identify and effectively mitigate any issues.

2. Build Time vs. Runtime

Unlike other techniques prevalent today, all of these optimizations occur at build time and are invisible to the client.

3. Progressively Enhanced Speed

The experience of users on modern browsers becomes significantly faster, while users on legacy browsers continue to get served the same bundle as before, without any negative consequences.

4. Using Modern Browser Features With Ease

We often avoid using new browser features due to the size of polyfills required to use them. At times, we even choose smaller non-spec-compliant polyfills to save on size. This new approach allows us to use spec-compliant polyfills without worrying much about affecting all users.

Differential Bundle Serving In Production

Given the significant advantages, we adopted this build pipeline when creating a new mobile checkout experience for customers of Urban Ladder, one of India’s largest furniture and decor retailers.

In our already optimized bundle, we were able to squeeze savings of approximately 20% on the Gzip’d CSS and JavaScript resources sent down the wire to modern mobile users. Because more than 80% of our daily visitors were on these evergreen browsers, the effort put in was well worth the impact.

Further Resources

Smashing Editorial
(dm, ra, yk, il, al)

Source: Smashing Magazine, Smart Bundling: How To Serve Legacy Code Only To Legacy Browsers

Designing Experiences To Improve Mental Health

dreamt up by webguru in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Designing Experiences To Improve Mental Health

Designing Experiences To Improve Mental Health

Designing Experiences To Improve Mental Health

Marli Mesibov



Did you know that a simple search for “depression” on the iPhone App Store brings up 198 results? In the Android Play Store, it brings up 239. The categories range from “Medical” to “Health & Fitness” to “Lifestyle.” The apps themselves offer everything from “depressing wallpaper” to “mood tracker” to “life coach.” We are approaching a golden age of digital therapeutics and design for mental health — if we as UX practitioners do our jobs well.

Given the plethora of apps available, you might assume that there are already dozens of wonderful digital therapies available for people struggling with mental health disorders. But — according to initial studies by clinical psychologists — you would be wrong. Most apps are useless at best, and harmful at worst, due primarily to a disconnect between the designers building the apps and the patients and providers in the field of mental health.


As of July 2017, 28% of digital health apps on the App Store were focused on mental health and behavioral disorders.
As of July 2017, 28% of digital health apps on the App Store were focused on mental health and behavioral disorders. (Large preview)

Some apps (mostly within the Lifestyle category) are harmless but useless. Emo Wallpaper, for example, is appropriately named and makes no claims to treat mental illness. It is intended as entertainment for people who are having a tough day. But there are more dangerous examples. One of the worst (since removed from the App Store) was iBipolar, which recommended that people in the middle of a manic episode drink hard liquor to help them sleep. Not only is this bad advice — alcohol does not lead to healthy sleep — but alcoholism is a problem for many people with bipolar disorder. The app was actively harmful.

Prescription drugs are regulated by the FDA, while mobile apps are not. How can we as UX designers create better apps to improve mental health treatment?

Are Apps The Answer?

Approximately one in five American adults experience mental illness each year. For some people, this can refer to a temporary depressive episode brought on by grief, such as the death of a loved one, or severe anxiety caused by external factors like a stressful job. For nearly 1 in 25 Americans (about 10 million people) it’s a chronic condition, such as bipolar disorder, chronic depression, or schizophrenia. Yet only about 40% of people experiencing mental illness are receiving treatment.

Recommended reading: Mental Health: Let’s Talk About It

The reasons vary. For some, they are undiagnosed or may refuse treatment. They may struggle with the stigma attached to mental illness. But for many, there is a lack of access. The association Mental Health America has studied and reported on what “limited access” means, and identified four systemic barriers:

  1. Lack of insurance or inadequate insurance;
  2. Lack of available treatment providers:
  3. Lack of available treatment types (inpatient treatment, individual therapy, intensive community services);
  4. Insufficient finances to cover costs — including, copays, uncovered treatment types, or when providers do not take insurance.

Access to Care Map, from Mental Health America
Access to Care Map, from Mental Health America (Large preview)

With that in mind, it would appear that a mobile-based solution is the obvious answer. And yet there are plenty of inherent challenges. Key among them is the gap between the clinicians treating patients and the UX practitioners working on mental health design.

Bridge The Gap Between Clinicians And Designers

About two years ago, I began research in the mental health design space. As a UX practitioner who focuses in health care, I wanted to learn how people struggling with mental health issues differed from people struggling with other chronic illnesses. I thought the work would entail an audit of the App Store and Play Store, a few weeks of interviewing clinicians to learn about the space, and then perhaps building an app with my team.

Instead, the work has continued ever since. At the time I interviewed ten clinicians, four behavior change designers, and five UX designers who had designed apps in the mental health space. But from these interviews I learned that there are two reasons why the design for mental health is lagging behind design for other healthcare needs. Those two reasons have changed my entire perspective on what we need to do to improve design in the space. It resulted in the creation of a few guidelines which I now hope to popularize.

Here is an overview of the research I conducted, and the two themes that emerged.

The Research

I initially assumed there were no apps available. And yet my audit of the App Store and Play Store uncovered hundreds of existing apps. Obviously, building an app was not the problem. But I began to wonder: why aren’t these apps used? (Few were downloaded, and I had never heard of any of them — for all that I work in the healthcare space!) And why are those that are used unsuccessful? To find that out, I needed more research.

Over the course of a few months, I interviewed therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. On the design side, I interviewed behavior change analysts, UX designers, and anyone I could find who had been involved in designing an app to improve mental health.

Some questions I asked the designers included:

  • What do you feel is missing from the field of mental health, if anything?
  • What are some of the top challenges you face when designing for people with mental health challenges?
  • What examples exist of poorly designed interventions for mental health? What examples exist of well-designed interventions?
  • If they had designed an app: What was the goal of the intervention you designed?
    • How did you test it?
    • Who did you test it with?
    • Was it successful? Why/why not?

Meanwhile, some of the questions I asked clinicians were:

  • How do you diagnose a patient’s mental health?
  • What barriers exist to patients’ improving their mental health?
  • What technology currently helps patients improve or deal with their mental health/illness?
  • How can technology benefit your patients?
  • What are one or two important pieces of advice you wish more people knew when creating applications/tools to help improve mental health from afar?

After the interviews, I came away with two new understandings:

Problem #1: Designers Don’t Know What Clinicians Know

Many designers told me they were starting from scratch. They did research with patients and learned what patients thought they needed from an app. But very few spoke with healthcare providers. As a result, the designers were missing the clinical expertise.

For example, a clinician shared with me that:

“What people say they want is not often what they want.”

Broadly, patients want to feel better. In a user interview, they might say they want to take their medication, or follow a meal plan, or meet some other goal. So the designer builds an app that allows them to set goals and deadlines. But as the clinician explained it:

“Change is scary, so when [patients] find out that feeling better requires change, that is a barrier.”

The app was designed to meet what patients said they needed, not what clinical expertise shows they will respond to.

When I asked one psychiatrist what apps she might recommend to her patients, she said:

“I wish I knew what I could recommend. Nothing is clearly safe, evidence-based, and tested.”

She explained to me that she once recommended a suicide hotline, but that it made people wait on hold for 20 minutes. After that experience, she said, “never again.”

When it comes to mobile apps, the risk is even greater — she worries that an app may have good intentions, but it might not be right for a particular patient. Or it may have the right elements, but the language could be inadvertently guilt-inducing or triggering.

In short, the mental health world does not need more apps, or more technology. As psychiatrist and Digital Psychiatry Director John Torous said in a recent article:

“Digital tools like fitness trackers present great opportunity to improve care […but…] they need to be utilized in the right way.”

In other words, patients need apps their providers have helped to build, and validate as useful.

Recommended reading: Dealing With Loud And Silent Burnout

Problem #2: Design Moves Fast

I already knew that designers move fast. It’s part of the tech world’s MO — just think of Facebook’s motto, “move fast and break things.” The catch is that second part: when we move fast, we break things. This is great when we’re breaking through assumptions, or breaking features that would otherwise cause issues post-launch. But it’s very bad when the things we might break are people.

To quote Sara Holoubek, founder and CEO of Luminary Labs:

“[I]t’s one thing to move fast and break things with a consumer internet app. It’s another thing when tech is used to improve human life.”

Designers are often up against deadlines. Some work for large healthcare companies that want to launch in time for a specific trade show, or before a competitor gets to market. This is very different from the world of health care, which tends to move very slowly, waiting for compliance or FDA approval, clinical trials, and multiple rounds of validation.

The challenge is adding the clinical expertise and knowledge to the design process, without hampering designers’ ability to move quickly.

Mental Health Design Guidelines

To that end, my team determined that we did not need to build a new app. After all, the mental health field is broad, and there is no one app that will reach everyone. What we need is to popularize the guidelines and communication methodologies that health providers know and use. We need to share that knowledge with designers.

During our clinical interviews, I noticed patterns. For example, though not every therapist said it the same way, they all mentioned how important friends, family, or community are for someone struggling with mental health issues. From this, we created a guideline called “Human.”

Thus, we created a set of six guidelines. Clinicians, researchers, behavior change analysts, and health writers have weighed in on the guidelines, and continue to refine them. They draw attention to six steps that any designer needs to follow in order to create an app that will live up to any provider’s standards.


HEALTH
Are you building a mental health app? Focus on HEALTH. (Large preview)

1. Human

As I noted above, there are systemic barriers to mental health care. For the many people who can’t afford or can’t find a therapist, mobile apps seem like a magical solution. 95% of Americans now own a cell phone! That means mobile apps could ostensibly make mental health care accessible to 95% of the population.

But technology is not the same as a human therapist, family member, or friend. As one behavior change specialist I interviewed shared, “The human-to-human connection is very important. In mental health, it is important to have a person who you can talk to and understand the other person is there for you.” Social support increases motivation, and people are vital for crises — although algorithms are working to identify a risk of suicide, the device alone is not enough to overcome the urge.

With that in mind, our first guideline is to be human. Encourage connection to external supports in addition to providing value in the app. And provide the ability to connect to a therapist or 9-1-1, as MY3 does.


The MY3 app encourages human connections. Having a therapist, friend, family member, or other human support correlates to lower rates of suicide and depression.
The MY3 app encourages human connections. Having a therapist, friend, family member, or other human support correlates to lower rates of suicide and depression. (Large preview)

2. Evidence-Based

Mental health professionals spend years training to treat mental health illnesses. Many professionals specialize in one or two specific types of treatment, such as talk therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), or other treatment frameworks.

These therapies have specific activities associated with them; they encourage patients to develop certain skills, and they even make specific language choices. Any designer building a mental health app needs to begin by choosing one of these evidence-based therapy styles to follow. What’s more, other designers and users can help evaluate UI and short-term efficacy, but make sure to also bring in clinicians to ensure the app is properly representing the therapy.

Our second guideline is: to be evidence-based. Keep problem #1 in mind: the clinicians know how to treat their patients. We as designers can’t simply replace clinical knowledge with effective UI. The two need to work hand in hand, as Pear Therapeutics THRIVETM app does.


Pear Therapeutics app is undergoing extensive research, including clinical trials with mental health professionals, and applying for FDA clearance.
Pear Therapeutics app is undergoing extensive research, including clinical trials with mental health professionals, and applying for FDA clearance. (Large preview)

3. Accepting

I frequently hear people talk about a favorite coach or friend who gave them “tough love.” Many people seem to see tough love as a way of accusing someone of failure, and thus prompting them to do better. (Perhaps our fictional film coaches are to blame.)

In reality, fear of failure is exactly what stops many people from trying something new. This includes seeking mental health treatment. To make matters worse, low motivation is a core symptom of many mental health illnesses. Thus, angry or accusatory language can truly harm people. Instead, our third guideline is to be accepting. Reinforce how capable a person is, and show empathy in how you communicate.

Sanofi’s RA Digital Companion is designed for people with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). The app understands that many people with RA suffer from depression, and focuses on acceptance.


Sanofi’s RA Digital Companion app focuses on helpful resources and uses encouraging language.
Sanofi’s RA Digital Companion app focuses on helpful resources and uses encouraging language. (Large preview)

4. Lasting

When Pokémon Go launched, it became a nationwide craze just seven days later with an estimate of more than 65 million users. Yet the craze passed in only two months. The problem? Pokémon Go focused on short-term motivators, such as badges and gamification (as many apps do). To create a successful app that people use consistently, the motivation needs to become internal.

What does that mean? External motivators come from outside sources. Internal motivators connect to core values, such as “I want to succeed in my career” or “I care about my children.” These motivators can’t be taken away by another person, but they are not always clear. Our fourth guideline is to be lasting. This means that you should connect to an individual’s internal motivations, and help them feel responsible and in control, as Truth Initiative’s BecomeAnEX program does.


The BecomeAnEX app helps people quitting smoking to focus on their goals and internal motivators. It looks at the lasting benefits as well as how someone is feeling today, so that quitting becomes more than an impulse.
The BecomeAnEX app helps people quitting smoking to focus on their goals and internal motivators. It looks at the lasting benefits as well as how someone is feeling today, so that quitting becomes more than an impulse. (Large preview)

5. Tested

This should come as no surprise to any UX practitioner: testing is key! Clinicians and patients can and should be a part of the design process. Usability testing will help identify things you may not have considered, for example, someone having an anxiety attack may have trouble pressing small buttons. Or someone with schizophrenia having an auditory hallucination may struggle to focus on a busy page of text.

Obviously, our fifth guideline is: Be Tested. Ideally, clinical testing can become a part of more mental health apps, but even if it’s not an option usability testing should be. As noted above, design moves fast. Don’t let design move so fast that you make poor assumptions.

Recommended reading: How To Deliver A Successful UX Project In The Healthcare Sector

6. Holistic

Lastly, we found that many apps are isolated to accomplishing a single task. And that’s fine for something like Instagram — you post photos, or you look at photos. But mental health is intrinsically linked to how people see themselves. With that in mind, a successful intervention has to fit into a person’s daily life.

This is our sixth and final guideline: be holistic. One example of this is the app Happify. While it’s far from perfect, it does an excellent job of offering options. A gratitude journal may help for one time, and the community is helpful at other times.

For any designer working on an app, it’s important to note how an app becomes holistic: the key is to learn about the target audience. Be specific: gender, age, culture, and diagnoses all impact the way a person deals with a mental illness. That’s why researchers like Dr. Michael Addis focus on specific segments of the population, as he does in his book Invisible Men: Men’s Inner Lives and Consequences of Silence.


Happify learns a lot about you as an individual before recommending anything. They ask about things that may not seem important, because they understand the holistic nature of mental health.
Happify learns a lot about you as an individual before recommending anything. They ask about things that may not seem important, because they understand the holistic nature of mental health. (Large preview)

Moving Forward

There is an overarching theme to these guidelines: what works for you as a designer may not work for your end-user. Of course, that’s the tenant of UX! Yet somehow, when it comes to health care, we as UX professionals tend to forget this. We are not healthcare providers. And even those of us who have experience as patients have only our own experiences to draw on.

These guidelines are not perfect, but they are a start. Over time I hope to finesse them with additional insight from providers, as well as from the designers beginning to use them. We are on the cusp of a new world of digital health care, where designers and providers and patients must work hand-in-hand to create seamless experiences to promote health and well being.

For anyone interested in getting involved, I am continuing to work on new initiatives to continually improve design for mental health. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments, or learn more at Mad*Pow.

Smashing Editorial
(cc, ra, il)

Source: Smashing Magazine, Designing Experiences To Improve Mental Health

Collective #458

dreamt up by webguru in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Collective #458



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Collective #458 was written by Pedro Botelho and published on Codrops.


Source: Codrops, Collective #458

Saving Grandma’s Recipes With Xamarin.Forms

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Saving Grandma’s Recipes With Xamarin.Forms

Saving Grandma’s Recipes With Xamarin.Forms

Matthew Soucoup



My grandma makes the best, most fluffiest, go weak-in-your-knees buns that anybody has ever tasted. The problem is, there’s a ton of secret ingredients (and I’m not just talking love) that go into those buns, and those ingredients and directions are all stored in my grandma’s head.

We all have family recipes like that, and instead of possibly forgetting them, in this article we’re going to create a mobile app for iOS and Android using Xamarin.Forms that will save them for myself and future generations of my family!


Drawing of buns with steam rising
Delicious warm buns (Large preview)

So if you’re interested in writing mobile applications, but don’t have the time to write the same app over and over again for each platform, this article is for you! Don’t worry if you don’t know C# from a Strawberry Pretzel Salad; I’ve been writing Xamarin apps for over 8 years, and this article is a tour through Xamarin.Forms that intends to give you enough information to start learning on your own.

What Is This Xamarin Stuff?

More than just a fun word to say, Xamarin allows developers to create native iOS and Android applications using the exact same SDKs and UI controls available as in Swift and XCode for iOS or Java and Android Studio for Android.


Drawing of stick figure wondering if they should develop for iOS or Android
Which platform should I develop for? (Large preview)

The difference is that the apps are developed with C# using the .NET Framework and Visual Studio or Visual Studio for Mac. The apps that result, however, are exactly the same. They look, feel, and behave just like native apps written in Objective-C, Swift, or Java.

Xamarin shines when it comes to code sharing. A developer can create and tailor their UI for each platform using native controls and SDKs, but then write a library of shared app logic that’s shared across platforms.


Drawing of stick figure with the idea to develop for both platforms at once using Xamarin
Aha! I’ll pick Xamarin! (Large preview)

It’s this code sharing where tremendous time savings can be realized.

And like the delicious buns my grandma bakes, once given the taste of sharing code — it’s hard not to crave more — and that’s where Xamarin.Forms comes in.

Xamarin.Forms

Xamarin.Forms takes the concept of traditional Xamarin development and adds a layer of abstraction to it.

Instead of developing the user interface for iOS and Android separately, Xamarin.Forms introduces a UI toolkit that enables you to write native mobile apps from a single code base.

Think of it this way: You have an app that needs a button. Each platform has the concept of a button. Why should you have to write the user interface a bunch of different times when you know all the user of your app needs to do is tap a button?

That’s one of the problems Xamarin.Forms solves.

It provides a toolkit of the most commonly used controls and user interaction events for them, so we only have to write the user interfaces for our apps once. It’s worth noting though that you’re not limited to the controls Xamarin.Forms provides either — you still can use controls found in only a single platform within a Xamarin.Forms app. Also, we can share the application logic between platforms as before.

The code sharing stats for apps developed with Xamarin.Forms can be off the charts. A conference organizing app has 93% of its code shared on iOS and 91% on Android. The app is open sourced. Take a peek at the code.

Xamarin.Forms provides more than UI controls. It also contains a MVVM framework, a pub/sub messaging service, an animation API, and a dependency service, plus others.

But today, we’re going to focus on the UI capabilities for building our recipe manager app.

The App We’ll Build

The recipe manager app will have a straightforward user interface. We will be working in the kitchen, so it needs to be easy to use!

It will consist of 3 screens. The first will show a list of all the recipes currently loaded in the app.


Screenshot of the recipe list screen on iOS
(Large preview)

Then, by tapping on one of those recipes, you’ll be able to see its details on a second screen:


Screenshot of the recipe detail screen on iOS
The recipe detail screen on iOS (Large preview)

From there you can tap an edit button to make changes to the recipe on the third screen:


Screenshot of the recipe edit screen on iOS
The recipe edit screen on iOS (Large preview)

You can also get to this screen by tapping the add button from the recipe list screen.

The Development Environment

Xamarin apps are built with C# and .NET, using Visual Studio on Windows or Visual Studio for Mac on the Mac, but you need to have the iOS or Android SDKs and tooling installed, too. Getting everything installed, in the correct order could be a bit of an issue, however, the Visual Studio installers will take care of note only getting the IDE installed, but also the platform tooling.

Although a Mac is always required to build iOS apps, with Xamarin you can still develop and debug those apps from Visual Studio on Windows! So if Windows is your jam, there’s no need to change your environments altogether.

Now let’s see how Xamarin.Forms can help us save some family recipes from one code base!

Recipe List Page: Laying Out the UI

Let’s start with talking about how we’re going to layout the UI for our recipe saving app!

Overall each screen in Xamarin.Forms is comprised of 3 elements. A Page. At least one element called a Layout. And at least one Control.

The Page

The Page is the thing that hosts everything displayed on the screen at one time. The Page is also central in navigation within an app.


Drawing representing a Page in Xamarin.Forms
The page (Large preview)

We tell Xamarin.Forms which Page to display via a Navigation Service. That service then will take care of displaying whatever page in a way that’s appropriate and native for the operating system.

In other words, the code to navigate between screens has been abstracted too!

Finally, although not the only way to do it, I code the UI of my Page’s in XAML. (The other way would be to use C#.) XAML is a markup language that describes how a page looks. And for now, suffice it to say, it’s kinda sorta similar to HTML.

The Layout

All the controls on a page are arranged by something called a Layout.


Drawing representing some layouts in Xamarin.Forms
The layouts (Large preview)

One or more layouts can be added to a page.


Drawing of how the layouts interact with the page
Layouts on the page (Large preview)

There are several different types of Layouts in Forms. Some of the most common ones include Stack, Absolute, Relative, Grid, Scroll, and Flex layouts.


Drawing of several Xamarin.Forms layouts and how they arrange their child elements.
Common Xamarin.Forms layouts (Large preview)

The Controls

Then finally there are the controls. These are the widgets of your app that the user interacts with.


Drawing of a couple of Xamarin.Forms controls, each drawn as a box
Some of the controls (Large preview)

Forms come with many controls that will be used no matter what type of app you’re building. Things like labels, buttons, entry boxes, images, and of course, list views.

When adding a control to a screen, you add it to a layout. It’s the layout that takes care of figuring where exactly on the screen the control should appear.


Drawing of a page holding 2 layouts, and those layouts arranging the controls according to the layout type.
Everything fits together! (Large preview)

So to generate the following screens on iOS and Android respectively:


Screenshot of recipe list screen on iOS and Android
Recipe lists on iOS (left) and Android (right) (Large preview)

I used this XAML:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<ContentPage xmlns="http://xamarin.com/schemas/2014/forms" 
             xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2009/xaml" 
             x:Class="SmashingRecipe.RecipeListPage"
             Title="Recipes">
    <ContentPage.Content>
        <StackLayout>
            <ListView x:Name="recipesList">
                <ListView.ItemTemplate>
                    <DataTemplate>
                        <TextCell Text="{Binding Name}"/>
                    </DataTemplate>
                </ListView.ItemTemplate>
            </ListView>
        </StackLayout>
    </ContentPage.Content>
    <ContentPage.ToolbarItems>
        <ToolbarItem Text="Add" />
    </ContentPage.ToolbarItems>
</ContentPage>

There’s a couple of important things going on here.

The first is the <StackLayout>. This is telling Forms to arrange all the controls that follow in a stack.

There happens to only be a single control in the layout, and that’s a <ListView>, and we’re going to give it a name so we can reference it later.

Then there’s a little bit of boilerplate ceremony to the ListView before we get to what we’re after: the <TextCell>. This is telling Forms to display simple text in each cell of the list.

We tell the <TextCell> the text we want it to display through a technique called Data Binding. The syntax looks like Text="{Binding Name}". Where Name is a property of a Recipe class that models… well, Recipes.

So how do the recipes get added to the list?

Along with every XAML file, there is a “code-behind” file. This code-behind allows us to do things like handle user interaction events, or perform setup, or do other app logic.

There’s a function that can be overridden in every Page called OnAppearing — which as I’m sure you guessed — gets called when the Page appears.

protected override void OnAppearing()
{
    base.OnAppearing();

    recipesList.ItemsSource = null;
    recipesList.ItemsSource = App.AllRecipes;    
}

Notice the recipesList.ItemsSource = AllRecipes;

This is telling the ListView — “Hey! All of your data is found in the enumerable App.AllRecipes (an application-wide variable) and you can use any of its child object’s properties to bind off of!”.

A list of recipes is all well and fine — but you can’t bake anything without first seeing the recipe’s details — and we’re going to take care of that next.

Event Handling

Without responding to user touches our app is nothing more than a list of delicious sounding recipes. They sound good, but without knowing how to cook them, it’s not of much use!

Let’s make each cell in the ListView respond to taps so we can see how to make the recipe!

In the RecipeListPage code-behind file, we can add event handlers to controls to listen and react to user interaction events.

Handling tap events on the list view then:

recipesList.ItemSelected += async (sender, eventArgs) =>
{
    if (eventArgs.SelectedItem != null)
    {
        var detailPage = new RecipeDetailPage(eventArgs.SelectedItem as Recipe);

        await Navigation.PushAsync(detailPage);

        recipesList.SelectedItem = null;
    }
};

There’s some neat stuff going on there.

Whenever somebody selects a row, ItemSelected is fired on the ListView.

Of the arguments that get passed into the handler, the eventArgs object has a SelectedItem property that happens to be whatever is bound to the ListView from before.

In our case, that’s the Recipe class. (So we don’t have to search for the object in the master source – it gets passed to us.)

Recipe Detail Page

Of course, there’s a page that shows us the secret ingredients and directions of how to make each recipe, but how does that page get displayed?


Drawing of a stick figure dressed as a chef who is ready to start baking.
Let’s get cooking! (Large preview)

Notice the await Navigation.PushAsync(detailPage); line from above. The Navigation object is a platform-independent object that handles page transitions in a native fashion for each platform.

Now let’s take a peek at the recipe details page:


Screenshot of recipe detail screen on iOS and Android
Recipe detail screens on iOS (left) and Android (right) (Large preview)

This page is built with XAML as well. However, the Layout used (FlexLayout) is quite cool as it’s inspired by the CSS Flexbox.

<ContentPage.Content>
    <ScrollView>
        <FlexLayout
            AlignItems="Start"
            AlignContent="Start"
            Wrap="Wrap">

            <Image Source="buns.png" FlexLayout.Basis="100%" />

            <Label Text="{Binding Name}" HorizontalTextAlignment="Center" TextColor="#01487E"
                   FontAttributes="Bold" FontSize="Large" Margin="10, 10" />
                   
            <BoxView FlexLayout.Basis="100%" HeightRequest="0" />

            <Label Text="Ingredients" FontAttributes="Bold" FontSize="Medium" TextColor="#EE3F60"
                   Margin="10,10" HorizontalOptions="FillAndExpand" />
            <BoxView FlexLayout.Basis="100%" HeightRequest="0" />
            <Label Text="{Binding Ingredients}" Margin="10,10" FontSize="Small" />

            <BoxView FlexLayout.Basis="100%" HeightRequest="0" />
            
            <Label Text="Directions" FontAttributes="Bold" FontSize="Medium" TextColor="#EE3F60" 
                   Margin="10,10" HorizontalOptions="FillAndExpand" />
            <BoxView FlexLayout.Basis="100%" HeightRequest="0" />
            <Label Text="{Binding Directions}" Margin="10,10" FontSize="Small" />

        </FlexLayout>
    </ScrollView>
</ContentPage.Content>

The FlexLayout will arrange its controls in either rows or columns. The big benefit comes though with the fact that it can automatically detect how much room there is left on the screen to place a control, and if there’s not enough, then it can automatically create a new row or column to accommodate it!

This helps greatly when dealing with various screen sizes, which there are plenty of in mobile development.

Well, with the FlexLayout helping us keep the details screen looking good, we still need to edit those recipes, right?

You probably noticed this:

<ToolbarItem Text="Edit" Clicked="Edit_Clicked" />

That line is responsible for putting a button in the app’s toolbar. The Clicked="Edit_Clicked" tells the button that when it’s clicked, look in the code behind for a function of that name, and then execute its code.

Which in this case, would be instantiating the Recipe Edit Page, and pushing that onto our navigation stack using the Navigation object mentioned previously.

Recipe Edit Page

A page with a list of recipes: check! A page with all the details to make the recipes: check! All that’s now left is to create the page that we use to enter or change a recipe while we watch grandma work her magic!

First, check out the screens:


Screenshot of recipe edit screen on iOS and Android
Recipe edit screens on iOS (left) and Android (right) (Large preview)

And now the code:

<ContentPage.Content>
    <Grid>
        <Grid.RowDefinitions>
            <RowDefinition Height="*" />
            <RowDefinition Height="Auto" />
        </Grid.RowDefinitions>
        <Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
            <ColumnDefinition Width="*" />
            <ColumnDefinition Width="*" />
        </Grid.ColumnDefinitions>

        <TableView Grid.Row="0" Grid.Column="0" Grid.ColumnSpan="2" 
                   Intent="Form" HasUnevenRows="true">
            <TableSection Title="General">
                <EntryCell x:Name="recipeNameCell" Label="Name" /> 
            </TableSection>
            
            <TableSection Title="Ingredients">
                <ViewCell>
                    <StackLayout Padding="15">
                        <Editor x:Name="ingredientsCell" />
                    </StackLayout>
                </ViewCell>
            </TableSection>
            
            <TableSection Title="Directions">
                <ViewCell>
                    <StackLayout Padding="15">
                        <Editor x:Name="directionsCell" />
                    </StackLayout>
                </ViewCell>
            </TableSection>
        </TableView>

        <Button Text="Save" Grid.Row="1" Grid.Column="0" BackgroundColor="#EE3F60" TextColor="White" x:Name="saveButton" />
        <Button Text="Cancel" Grid.Row="1" Grid.Column="1" BackgroundColor="#4CC7F2" TextColor="White" x:Name="cancelButton" />
    </Grid>
</ContentPage.Content>

There’s a little more code here, and that’s because I’m using the Grid layout to specify how everything should lay out in a 2-Dimensional pattern.

And also notice no data binding here. Because I wanted to give an example of how one would populate the controls purely from the code behind file:

void InitializePage()
{
    Title = TheRecipe.Name ?? "New Recipe";

    recipeNameCell.Text = TheRecipe.Name;
    ingredientsCell.Text = TheRecipe.Ingredients;
    directionsCell.Text = TheRecipe.Directions;

    saveButton.Clicked += async (sender, args) =>
    {
        SaveRecipe();
        await CloseWindow();
    };

    cancelButton.Clicked += async (sender, args) =>
    {
        await CloseWindow();
    };
}

See that TheRecipe property? It’s page level, holds all the data for a particular recipe, and gets set in the constructor of the page.

Secondly, the Clicked event handlers for the saveButton and cancelButton are totally .NET-ified (and yes, I do make my own words up quite often.)

I say they’re .NET-ified because the syntax to handle that event is not native to Java nor Objective-C. When the app runs on Android or iOS, the behavior will be exactly like an Android Click or an iOS TouchUpInside.

And as you can see, each of those click event handlers are invoking appropriate functions that either save the recipe and dismiss the page, or only dismiss the page.

There it is — we have the UI down to save the recipes from now until the end of time!

CSS Wha?!? Or Making The App Pretty

Saving the best for last: Xamarin.Forms 3.0 gives us — among other things — the ability to style controls using CSS!

The Xamarin.Forms CSS isn’t 100% what you may be used to from web development. But it’s close enough that anyone familiar with CSS will feel right at home. Just like me at grandma’s!

So let’s take the Recipe Details page and refactor it, so it uses Cascading Style Sheets to set the visual elements instead of setting everything directly inline in the XAML.

First step is to create the CSS doc! In this case it will look like the following:

.flexContent {
    align-items: flex-start;
    align-content: flex-start;
    flex-wrap: wrap;
}

image {
    flex-basis: 100%;
}

.spacer {
    flex-basis: 100%;
    height: 0;
}

.foodHeader {
    font-size: large;
    font-weight: bold;
    color: #01487E;
    margin: 10 10;
}

.dataLabel {
    font-size: medium;
    font-weight: bold;
    color: #EE3F60;
    margin: 10 10;
}

.data {
    font-size: small;
    margin: 10 10;
}

For the most part, it looks like CSS. There are classes in there. There is a single selector for a class type, Image. And then a bunch of property setters.

Some of those property setters, such as flex-wrap or flex-basis are specific to Xamarin.Forms. Going forward, the team will prefix those with xf- to follow standard practices.

Next up will be to apply it to XAML controls.

<ContentPage.Resources>
    <StyleSheet Source="../Styles/RecipeDetailStyle.css" />
</ContentPage.Resources>

<ContentPage.Content>
    <ScrollView>
        <FlexLayout StyleClass="flexContent">

            <Image Source="buns.png" />

            <Label Text="{Binding Name}" StyleClass="foodHeader" />
                   
            <BoxView StyleClass="spacer" />

            <Label Text="Ingredients" StyleClass="dataLabel" HorizontalOptions="FillAndExpand" />
            <BoxView StyleClass="spacer" />
            <Label Text="{Binding Ingredients}" StyleClass="data" />

            <BoxView StyleClass="spacer" />
            
            <Label Text="Directions" StyleClass="dataLabel" HorizontalOptions="FillAndExpand" />
            <BoxView StyleClass="spacer" />
            <Label Text="{Binding Directions}" StyleClass="data" />

        </FlexLayout>
    </ScrollView>
</ContentPage.Content>

Here’s what it looked like before.

In Xamarin.Forms, to reference the CSS document, add a <StyleSheet Source="YOUR DOC PATH" />. Then you can reference the classes in each control via the StyleClass property.

It definitely cleans up the XAML, and it makes the intention of the control clearer too. For example, now it’s pretty obvious what those <BoxView StyleClass="spacer" /> are up to!

And the Image gets itself styled all because it’s an Image and the way we defined the selector in the CSS.

To be sure, CSS in Xamarin.Forms isn’t as fully implemented as its web cousin, but it’s still pretty cool. You have selectors, classes, can set properties and, of course, that whole cascading thing going on!

Summary

Three screens, two platforms, one article, and endless recipes saved! And you know what else? You can build apps with Xamarin.Forms for more than Android and iOS. You can build UWP, macOS, and even Samsung Tizen platforms!


Drawing of buns with steam rising
Delicious! (Large preview)

Xamarin.Forms is a UI toolkit that allows you to create apps by writing the user interface once and having the UI rendered natively across the major platforms.

It does this by providing an SDK that’s an abstraction to the most commonly used controls across the platforms. In addition to the UI goodness, Xamarin.Forms also provides a full-featured MVVM framework, a pub/sub messaging service, an animation API, and a dependency service.

Xamarin.Forms also gives you all the same code benefits that traditional Xamarin development does. Any application logic is shared across all the platforms. And you get to develop all your apps with a single IDE using a single language — that’s pretty cool!

Where to next? Download the source code for this Xamarin.Forms app to give it a spin yourself. Then to learn more about Xamarin.Forms, including the ability to create an app all within your browser, check out this online tutorial!

Smashing Editorial
(dm, ra, yk, il)

Source: Smashing Magazine, Saving Grandma’s Recipes With Xamarin.Forms

Meet “Form Design Patterns,” Our New Book On Accessible Web Forms — Now Shipping!

dreamt up by webguru in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Meet “Form Design Patterns,” Our New Book On Accessible Web Forms — Now Shipping!

Meet “Form Design Patterns,” Our New Book On Accessible Web Forms — Now Shipping!

Meet “Form Design Patterns,” Our New Book On Accessible Web Forms — Now Shipping!

Markus Seyfferth



Forms. It’s no coincidence that the word rhymes with “yawns” — web forms are dull to code and even duller for your visitors to fill in. But without forms, the web would just be a library. They let us comment, collect, book, buy, share, and a host of other verbs. And mostly they enable us to do these things in an awkward, opaque, confusing, odd, frustrating, alarming, or alienating way. Forms are such an important part of the web, but we design them poorly all the time. When they’re not over-engineered they’re usually not engineered at all.

With the new Form Design Patterns book we want to tackle this problem. By going through common real-world problems step by step, you’ll learn how to design simple, robust, lightweight, responsive, accessible, progressively enhanced, interoperable and intuitive forms that let users get stuff done no matter what. And by the end of the book you’ll have a close-to exhaustive list of components delivered as a design system that you can use immediately in your own projects. (Jump to table of contents.)


Form Design Patterns, our new book on accessible and well-designed web forms.

eBook

$10 $19Get the eBook

PDF, ePUB, Kindle. Free for Smashing Members.

Hardcover

$29 $39Get the Print (incl. eBook)

Printed, quality hardcover. Free airmail shipping worldwide.

<!–

About The Book

*Form Design Patterns* contains ten chapters ([↓ Table of Contents](#toc)). Each one represents a common real-world problem that we’ll solve together step by step. Design is just as much about asking (and understanding) questions, as it is about creating solutions. So we’ll spend time doing just that: discussing the problem, weighing up the options, and **creating technical solutions that are simple and inclusive**.

Ultimately, the book is about understanding what users need. Users are people and people are different. So we’ll be considering multiple interaction modalities and how to help users work under situational (temporary or permanent) and environmental circumstances. We’ll be looking at every problem through an inclusive design lens. Because good design is inclusive.

–>

Table Of Contents

Each chapter revolves around a specific problem — after all, that’s how we solve problems in real life. But don’t be concerned, many of the styles, components and patterns born out of each chapter are reusable and applicable well beyond the specifics and you’ll see examples of this as we move through the book.

Download the PDF excerpt for free (0.7 MB) to get a feeling what the book is like inside.

  1. A Registration Form
    We’ll start looking at the foundational qualities of a well-designed form and how to think about them. By applying something called a question protocol, we’ll look at how to reduce friction without even touching the interface. Then we’ll look at some crucial patterns, including validation, that we’ll want to use for every form.
  2. A Checkout Form
    We’ll consider checkout flows and look at several input types and how they affect the user experience on mobile and desktop browsers, all the while looking at ways to help both first-time and returning customers order quickly and simply.
  3. A Flight Booking Form
    We’ll dive into the world of progressively enhanced, custom form components using ARIA. We’ll do this by exploring the best way to let users select destinations, pick dates, add passengers, and choose seats. We’ll analyze native form controls, and look at breaking away from convention when it becomes necessary.
  4. A Login Form
    We’ll look at the ubiquitous login form. Despite its simple appearance, there’s a bunch of usability failures that so many sites suffer from.
  5. An Inbox
    We’ll design ways to manage email in bulk, our first look at administrative interfaces. As such, this comes with its own set of challenges and patterns, including a responsive ARIA-described action menu, multiple selection, and same-page messaging.
  6. A Search Form
    We’ll create a responsive search form that is readily available to users on all pages, and we’ll also consider the importance of the search mechanism that powers it.
  7. A Filter Form
    Users often need to filter a large set of unwieldy search results. Without a well-designed filter, users are bound to give up. Filters pose a number of interesting and unique design problems that may force us to challenge best practice to give users a better experience.
  8. An Upload Form
    Many services, like photo sharing, messaging, and many back-office applications, let users upload images and documents. We’ll study the file input and how we can use it to upload multiple files at once. Then we’ll look at the intricacies of a drag-and-drop, Ajax-enhanced interface that is inclusive of keyboard and screen reader users.
  9. An Expense Form
    We’ll investigate the special problem of needing to create and add lots of expenses (or anything else) into a system. This is really an excuse to cover the add another pattern, which is often useful in administrative interfaces.
  10. A Really Long and Complicated Form
    Some forms are very long and take hours to complete. We’ll look at some of the patterns we can use to make long forms easier to manage.

About The Author

Adam SilverAdam Silver is an interaction designer with over 15 years experience working on the web for a range of companies including Tesco, BBC, Just Eat, Financial Times, the Department for Work and Pensions and others.

He’s particularly interested in inclusive design and design systems and writes about this on his blog and popular design publications such as A List Apart. This isn’t his first book either: he previously wrote Maintainable CSS, a book about crafting maintainable UIs with CSS.

Technical Details

  • 384 pages, 14 × 21 cm (5.5 × 8.25 inches),
  • ISBN: 978-3-945749-73-9 (print),
  • Quality hardcover with stitched binding and a ribbon page marker,
  • The eBook is available in PDF, EPUB, and Amazon Kindle.
  • Free worldwide airmail shipping from Germany. Delivery times.
  • Available as printed, quality hardcover and eBook.

Testimonials

It has been our goal to make the book as practical and useful as possible. We’ve been honored to receive very positive reviews from people making websites on small and large scale.

  • “I have been writing forms in HTML for over 20 years. This book captures the essence of what it is to embrace standards, progressively enhance and deliver simple, accessible forms. By formalising design patterns we can all use and implement, developers and designers can focus on their website and product. I wish this was available 20 years ago!”
    — Paul Duncan, Design Technologists and Accessibility Teacher
  • “Forms. It’s no coincidence that the word rhymes with “yawns” – forms are dull to code and even duller for your visitors to fill in. So make them work better for everyone, using the concrete tips, code and microcopy in this book. And take away your own yawns, as Adam Silver has done all the research and coding for you.”
    — Bruce Lawson, Web standards Advocate
  • “Form Design Patterns is setting out common sense and inclusive solutions for forms both simple and potentially complex. It’s your companion as you strive to create a simpler and easier interactive web.”
    — Heydon Pickering, UX and accessibility consultant

Why This Book Is For You

This book is a practical guide for anyone who needs to design, prototype and build all sorts of forms for digital services, products and websites. You’ll learn:

  1. Available native form elements and their powers, limitations and constraints.
  2. When and how to create accessible custom form components that can give users a better experience in comparison to their native equivalents.
  3. How to significantly reduce friction in forms with careful use of language, flow and order.
  4. Ways (and ways not) to help users fix form errors easily.
  5. How to deal with complex interfaces that let users upload files and add multiple items of any sort.
  6. Ways to let users search and filter a large set of results according to their own mental model.
  7. How to help customers fill out especially long and complex forms that may take weeks to fill out.
The inner pages of Form Design Patterns, wrapped inside a yellow hardcover book that lies on a light blue table. The pages shown are covering how to choose the right copy for Login buttons, and also cover the infamous Username and Password Doesn’t Match Problem
Form Design Patterns is a practical guide for anyone who needs to design, prototype and build all sorts of forms for digital services, products and websites. (View large image)

eBook

$10 $19Get the eBook

PDF, ePUB, Kindle. Free for Smashing Members.

Hardcover

$29 $39Get the Print (incl. eBook)

Printed, quality hardcover. Free airmail shipping worldwide.

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts about the book! Happy reading, and we hope that you’ll find the book as useful as we do. Just have a cup of coffee (or tea) ready before you start reading, of course. Stay smashing and… meow!

Smashing Editorial
(bl, hp)

Source: Smashing Magazine, Meet “Form Design Patterns,” Our New Book On Accessible Web Forms — Now Shipping!

Form Design Patterns Book Excerpt: A Registration Form

dreamt up by webguru in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Form Design Patterns Book Excerpt: A Registration Form

Form Design Patterns Book Excerpt: A Registration Form

Form Design Patterns Book Excerpt: A Registration Form

Adam Silver



Let’s start with a registration form. Most companies want long-term relationships with their users. To do that they need users to sign up. And to do that, they need to give users value in return. Nobody wants to sign up to your service — they just want to access whatever it is you offer, or the promise of a faster experience next time they visit.

Despite the registration form’s basic appearance, there are many things to consider: the primitive elements that make up a form (labels, buttons, and inputs), ways to reduce effort (even on small forms like this), all the way through to form validation.

In choosing such a simple form, we can zoom in on the foundational qualities found in well-designed forms.

How It Might Look

The form is made up of four fields and a submit button. Each field is made up of a control (the input) and its associated label.

Registration form with four fields: first name, last name, email address, and password.
Registration form with four fields: first name, last name, email address, and password.

Here’s the HTML:

<form>
  <label for="firstName">First name</label>
  <input type="text" id="firstName" name="firstName">
  <label for="lastName">Last name</label>
  <input type="text" id="lastName" name="lastName">
  <label for="email">Email address</label>
  <input type="email" id="email" name="email">
  <label for="password">Create password</label>
  <input type="password" id="password" name="password" placeholder="Must be at least 8 characters">
  <input type="submit" value="Register">
</form>

Labels are where our discussion begins.

Labels

In Accessibility For Everyone, Laura Kalbag sets out four broad parameters that improve the user experience for everyone:

  • Visual: make it easy to see.
  • Auditory: make it easy to hear.
  • Motor: make it easy to interact with.
  • Cognitive: make it easy to understand.

By looking at labels from each of these standpoints, we can see just how important labels are. Sighted users can read them, visually-impaired users can hear them by using a screen reader, and motor-impaired users can more easily set focus to the field thanks to the larger hit area. That’s because clicking a label sets focus to the associated form element.

The label increases the hit area of the field.
The label increases the hit area of the field.

For these reasons, every control that accepts input should have an auxiliary <label>. Submit buttons don’t accept input, so they don’t need an auxiliary label — the value attribute, which renders the text inside the button, acts as the accessible label.

To connect an input to a label, the input’s id and label’s for attribute should match and be unique to the page. In the case of the email field, the value is “email”:

html
<label for="email">Email address</label>
<input id="email">

Failing to include a label means ignoring the needs of many users, including those with physical and cognitive impairments. By focusing on the recognized barriers to people with disabilities, we can make our forms easier and more robust for everyone.

For example, a larger hit area is crucial for motor-impaired users, but is easier to hit for those without impairments too.

Placeholders

The placeholder attribute is intended to store a hint. It gives users extra guidance when filling out a field — particularly useful for fields that have complex rules such as a password field.

As placeholder text is not a real value, it’s grayed out so that it can be differentiated from user-entered values.

The placeholder’s low-contrast, gray text is hard to read.
The placeholder’s low-contrast, gray text is hard to read.

Unlike labels, hints are optional and shouldn’t be used as a matter of course. Just because the placeholder attribute exists doesn’t mean we have to use it. You don’t need a placeholder of “Enter your first name” when the label is “First name” — that’s needless duplication.

The label and placeholder text have similar content, making the placeholder unnecessary.
The label and placeholder text have similar content, making the placeholder unnecessary.

Placeholders are appealing because of their minimal, space-saving aesthetic. This is because placeholder text is placed inside the field. But this is a problematic way to give users a hint.

First, they disappear when the user types. Disappearing text is hard to remember, which can cause errors if, for example, the user forgets to satisfy one of the password rules. Users often mistake placeholder text for a value, causing the field to be skipped, which again would cause errors later on. Gray-on-white text lacks sufficient contrast, making it generally hard-to-read. And to top it off, some browsers don’t support placeholders, some screen readers don’t announce them, and long hint text may get cut off.

The placeholder text is cut off as it’s wider than the text box.
The placeholder text is cut off as it’s wider than the text box.

That’s a lot of problems for what is essentially just text. All content, especially a form hint, shouldn’t be considered as nice to have. So instead of using placeholders, it’s better to position hint text above the control like this:

Hint text placed above the text box instead of placeholder text inside it.
Hint text placed above the text box instead of placeholder text inside it.

The hint is placed within the label and inside a <span> so it can be styled differently. By placing it inside the label it will be read out by screen readers, and further enlarges the hit area.

As with most things in design, this isn’t the only way to achieve this functionality. We could use ARIA attributes to associate the hint with the input:

Must contain 8+ characters with at least 1 number and 1 uppercase letter.

The aria-describedby attribute is used to connect the hint by its id — just like the for attribute for labels, but in reverse. It’s appended to the control’s label and read out after a short pause. In this example, “password [pause] must contain eight plus characters with at least one number and one uppercase letter.”

There are other differences too. First, clicking the hint (a <p> in this case) won’t focus the control, which reduces the hit area. Second, despite ARIA’s growing support, it’s never going to be as well supported as native elements. In this particular case, Internet Explorer 11 doesn’t support aria-describedby. This is why the first rule of ARIA is not to use ARIA:

“If you can use a native HTML element or attribute with the semantics and behaviour you require already built in, instead of re-purposing an element and adding an ARIA role, state or property to make it accessible, then do so.”

Float Labels

The float label pattern by Matt Smith is a technique that uses the label as a placeholder. The label starts inside the control, but floats above the control as the user types, hence the name. This technique is often lauded for its quirky, minimalist, and space-saving qualities.

The float label pattern. On the left, an unfocused text field shows the label inside; on the right, when the text field receives focus, the label moves above the field.
The float label pattern. On the left, an unfocused text field shows the label inside; on the right, when the text field receives focus, the label moves above the field.

Unfortunately, there are several problems with this approach. First, there is no space for a hint because the label and hint are one and the same. Second, they’re hard to read, due to their poor contrast and small text, as they’re typically designed. (Lower contrast is necessary so that users have a chance to differentiate between a real value and a placeholder.) Third, like placeholders, they may be mistaken for a value and could get cropped.

And float labels don’t actually save space. The label needs space to move into in the first place. Even if they did save space, that’s hardly a good reason to diminish the usability of forms.

“Seems like a lot of effort when you could simply put labels above inputs & get all the benefits/none of the issues.”
Luke Wroblewski on float labels

Quirky and minimalist interfaces don’t make users feel awesome — obvious, inclusive, and robust interfaces do. Artificially reducing the height of forms like this is both uncompelling and problematic.

Instead, you should prioritize making room for an ever-present, readily available label (and hint if necessary) at the start of the design process. This way you won’t have to squeeze content into a small space.

We’ll be discussing several, less artificial techniques to reduce the size of forms shortly.

The Question Protocol

One powerful and natural way to reduce the size of a form is to use a question protocol. It helps ensure you know why you are asking every question or including a form field.

Does the registration form need to collect first name, last name, email address and password? Are there better or alternative ways to ask for this information that simplify the experience?

In all likelihood, you don’t need to ask for the user’s first and last name for them to register. If you need that information later, for whatever reason, ask for it then. By removing these fields, we can halve the size of the form. All without resorting to novel and problematic patterns.

No Password Sign-In

One way to avoid asking users for a password is to use the no password sign-in pattern. It works by making use of the security of email (which already needs a password). Users enter only their email address, and the service sends a special link to their inbox. Following it logs the user into the service immediately.

Medium’s passwordless sign-in screen.
Medium’s passwordless sign-in screen.

Not only does this reduce the size of the form to just one field, but it also saves users having to remember another password. While this simplifies the form in isolation, in other ways it adds some extra complexity for the user.

First, users might be less familiar with this approach, and many people are worried about online security. Second, having to move away from the app to your email account is long-winded, especially for users who know their password, or use a password manager.

It’s not that one technique is always better than the other. It’s that a question protocol urges us to think about this as part of the design process. Otherwise, you’d mindlessly add a password field on the form and be done with it.

Passphrases

Passwords are generally short, hard to remember, and easy to crack. Users often have to create a password of more than eight characters, made up of at least one uppercase and one lowercase letter, and a number. This micro-interaction is hardly ideal.

“Sorry but your password must contain an uppercase letter, a number, a haiku, a gang sign, a hieroglyph, and the blood of a virgin.”
— Anonymous internet meme

Instead of a password, we could ask users for a passphrase. A passphrase is a series of words such as “monkeysinmygarden” (sorry, that’s the first thing that comes to mind). They are generally easier to remember than passwords, and they are more secure owing to their length — passphrases must be at least 16 characters long.

The downside is that passphrases are less commonly used and, therefore, unfamiliar. This may cause anxiety for users who are already worried about online security.

Whether it’s the no password sign-in pattern or passphrases, we should only move away from convention once we’ve conducted thorough and diverse user research. You don’t want to exchange one set of problems for another unknowingly.

Field Styling

The way you style your form components will, at least in part, be determined by your product or company’s brand. Still, label position and focus styles are important considerations.

Label Position

Matteo Penzo’s eye-tracking tests showed that positioning the label above (as opposed to beside) the form control works best.

“Placing a label right over its input field permitted users to capture both elements with a single eye movement.”

But there are other reasons to put the label above the field. On small viewports there’s no room beside the control. And on large viewports, zooming in increases the chance of the text disappearing off screen.

Also, some labels contain a lot of text, which causes it to wrap onto multiple lines, which would disrupt the visual rhythm if placed next to the control.

While you should aim to keep labels terse, it’s not always possible. Using a pattern that accommodates varying content — by positioning labels above the control — is a good strategy.

Look, Size, and Space

Form fields should look like form fields. But what does that mean exactly?

It means that a text box should look like a text box. Empty boxes signify “fill me in” by virtue of being empty, like a coloring-in book. This happens to be part of the reason placeholders are unhelpful. They remove the perceived affordance an empty text box would otherwise provide.

This also means that the empty space should be boxed in (bordered). Removing the border, or having only a bottom border, for example, removes the perceived affordances. A bottom border might at first appear to be a separator. Even if you know you have to fill something in, does the value go above the line or below it?

Spatially, the label should be closest to its form control, not the previous field’s control. Things that appear close together suggest they belong together. Having equal spacing might improve aesthetics, but it would be at the cost of usability.

Finally, the label and the text box itself should be large enough to read and tap. This probably means a font size of at least 16 pixels, and ideally an overall tap target of at least 44px.

Focus Styles

Focus styles are a simpler prospect. By default, browsers put an outline around the element in focus so users, especially those who use a keyboard, know where they are. The problem with the default styling is that it is often faint and hard to see, and somewhat ugly.

While this is the case, don’t be tempted to remove it, because doing so will diminish the user experience greatly for those traversing the screen by keyboard. We can override the default styling to make it clearer and more aesthetically pleasing.

input:focus {
  outline: 4px solid #ffbf47;
}

The Email Field

Despite its simple appearance there are some important details that have gone into the field’s construction which affect the experience.

The email field.
The email field.

As noted earlier, some fields have a hint in addition to the label, which is why the label is inside a child span. The field-label class lets us style it through CSS.

The label itself is “Email address” and uses sentence case. In “Making a case for letter case,” John Saito explains that sentence case (as opposed to title case) is generally easier to read, friendlier, and makes it easier to spot nouns. Whether you heed this advice is up to you, but whatever style you choose, be sure to use it consistently.

The input’s type attribute is set to email, which triggers an email-specific onscreen keyboard on mobile devices. This gives users easy access to the @ and . (dot) symbols which every email address must contain.

Android’s onscreen keyboard for the email field.
Android’s onscreen keyboard for the email field.

People using a non-supporting browser will see a standard text input (<input type="text">). This is a form of progressive enhancement, which is a cornerstone of designing inclusive experiences.

Progressive Enhancement

Progressive enhancement is about users. It just happens to make our lives as designers and developers easier too. Instead of keeping up with a set of browsers and devices (which is impossible!) we can just focus on features.

First and foremost, progressive enhancement is about always giving users a reasonable experience, no matter their browser, device, or quality of connection. When things go wrong — and they will — users won’t suffer in that they can still get things done.

There are a lot of ways an experience can go wrong. Perhaps the style sheet or script fails to load. Maybe everything loads, but the user’s browser doesn’t recognize some HTML, CSS, or JavaScript. Whatever happens, using progressive enhancement when designing experiences stops users having an especially bad time.

It starts with HTML for structure and content. If CSS or JavaScript don’t load, it’s fine because the content is there.

If everything loads OK, perhaps various HTML elements aren’t recognized. For example, some browsers don’t understand <input type="email">. That’s fine, though, because users will get a text box (<input type="text">) instead. Users can still enter an email address; they just don’t get an email-specific keyboard on mobile.

Maybe the browser doesn’t understand some fancy CSS, and it will just ignore it. In most cases, this isn’t a problem. Let’s say you have a button with border-radius: 10px. Browsers that don’t recognize this rule will show a button with angled corners. Arguably, the button’s perceived affordance is reduced, but users are left unharmed. In other cases it might be helpful to use feature queries.

Then there is JavaScript, which is more complicated. When the browser tries to parse methods it doesn’t recognize, it will throw a hissy fit. This can cause your other (valid and supported) scripts to fail. If your script doesn’t first check that the methods exist (feature detection) and work (feature testing) before using them, then users may get a broken interface. For example, if a button’s click handler calls a method that’s not recognized, the button won’t work. That’s bad.

That’s how you enhance. But what’s better is not needing an enhancement at all. HTML with a little CSS can give users an excellent experience. It’s the content that counts and you don’t need JavaScript for that. The more you can rely on content (HTML) and style (CSS), the better. I can’t emphasize this enough: so often, the basic experience is the best and most performant one. There’s no point in enhancing something if it doesn’t add value (see inclusive design principle 7).

Of course, there are times when the basic experience isn’t as good as it could be — that’s when it’s time to enhance. But if we follow the approach above, when a piece of CSS or JavaScript isn’t recognized or executed, things will still work.

Progressive enhancement makes us think about what happens when things fail. It allows us to build experiences with resilience baked in. But equally, it makes us think about whether an enhancement is needed at all; and if it is, how best to go about it.

The Password Field

We’re using the same markup as the email field discussed earlier. If you’re using a template language, you’ll be able to create a component that accommodates both types of field. This helps to enforce inclusive design principle 3, be consistent.

The password field using the hint text pattern.
The password field using the hint text pattern.

The password field contains a hint. Without one, users won’t understand the requirements, which is likely to cause an error once they try to proceed.

The type="password" attribute masks the input’s value by replacing what the user types with small black dots. This is a security measure that stops people seeing what you typed if they happen to be close by.

A Password Reveal

Obscuring the value as the user types makes it hard to fix typos. So when one is made, it’s often easier to delete the whole entry and start again. This is frustrating as most users aren’t using a computer with a person looking over their shoulder.

Owing to the increased risk of typos, some registration forms include an additional “Confirm password” field. This is a precautionary measure that requires the user to type the same password twice, doubling the effort and degrading the user experience. Instead, it’s better to let users reveal their password, which speaks to principles 4 and 5, give control and offer choice respectively. This way users can choose to reveal their password when they know nobody is looking, reducing the risk of typos.

Recent versions of Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge provide this behavior natively. As we’ll be creating our own solution, we should suppress this feature using CSS like this:

input[type=password]::-ms-reveal {
  display: none;
}
The password field with a “Show password” button beside it.
The password field with a “Show password” button beside it.

First, we need to inject a button next to the input. The <button> element should be your go-to element for changing anything with JavaScript — except, that is, for changing location, which is what links are for. When clicked, it should toggle the type attribute between password and text; and the button’s label between “Show” and “Hide.”

function PasswordReveal(input) {
  // store input as a property of the instance
  // so that it can be referenced in methods
  // on the prototype
  this.input = input;
  this.createButton();
};

PasswordReveal.prototype.createButton = function() {
  // create a button
  this.button = $('<button type="button">Show password</button>');
  // inject button
  $(this.input).parent().append(this.button);
  // listen to the button’s click event
  this.button.on('click', $.proxy(this, 'onButtonClick'));
};

PasswordReveal.prototype.onButtonClick = function(e) {
  // Toggle input type and button text
  if(this.input.type === 'password') {
    this.input.type = 'text';
    this.button.text('Hide password');
  } else {
    this.input.type = 'password';
    this.button.text('Show password');
  }
};
JavaScript Syntax and Architectural Notes

As there are many flavors of JavaScript, and different ways in which to architect components, we’re going to walk through the choices used to construct the password reveal component, and all the upcoming components in the book.

First, we’re using a constructor. A constructor is a function conventionally written in upper camel case — PasswordReveal, not passwordReveal. It’s initialized using the new keyword, which lets us use the same code to create several instances of the component:

var passwordReveal1 = new PasswordReveal(document.getElementById('input1'));

var passwordReveal2 = new PasswordReveal(document.getElementById('input2'));

Second, the component’s methods are defined on the prototype — for example, PasswordReveal.prototype.onButtonClick. The prototype is the most performant way to share methods across multiple instances of the same component.

Third, jQuery is being used to create and retrieve elements, and listen to events. While jQuery may not be necessary or preferred, using it means that this book can focus on forms and not on the complexities of cross-browser components.

If you’re a designer who codes a little bit, then jQuery’s ubiquity and low-barrier to entry should be helpful. By the same token, if you prefer not to use jQuery, you’ll have no trouble refactoring the components to suit your preference.

You may have also noticed the use of the $.proxy function. This is jQuery’s implementation of Function.prototype.bind. If we didn’t use this function to listen to events, then the event handler would be called in the element’s context (this). In the example above, this.button would be undefined. But we want this to be the password reveal object instead, so that we can access its properties and methods.

Alternative Interface Options

The password reveal interface we constructed above toggles the button’s label between “Show password” and “Hide password.” Some screen reader users can get confused when the button’s label is changed; once a user encounters a button, they expect that button to persist. Even though the button is persistent, changing the label makes it appear not to be.

If your research shows this to be a problem, you could try two alternative approaches.

First, use a checkbox with a persistent label of “Show password.” The state will be signaled by the checked attribute. Screen reader users will hear “Show password, checkbox, checked” (or similar). Sighted users will see the checkbox tick mark. The problem with this approach is that checkboxes are for inputting data, not controlling the interface. Some users might think their password will be revealed to the system.

Or, second, change the button’s state — not the label. To convey the state to screen reader users, you can switch the aria-pressed attribute between true (pressed) and false (unpressed).

<button type="button" aria-pressed="true">  
  Show password
</button>

When focusing the button, screen readers will announce, “Show password, toggle button, pressed” (or similar). For sighted users, you can style the button to look pressed or unpressed accordingly using the attribute selector like this:

[aria-pressed="true"] {
  box-shadow: inset 0 0 0 0.15rem #000, inset 0.25em 0.25em 0 #fff;
}

Just be sure that the unpressed and pressed styles are obvious and differentiated, otherwise sighted users may struggle to tell the difference between them.

Microcopy

The label is set to “Choose password” rather than “Password.” The latter is somewhat confusing and could prompt the user to type a password they already possess, which could be a security issue. More subtly, it might suggest the user is already registered, causing users with cognitive impairments to think they are logging in instead.

Where “Password” is ambiguous, “Choose password” provides clarity.

Button Styles

What’s a button? We refer to many different types of components on a web page as a button. In fact, I’ve already covered two different types of button without calling them out. Let’s do that now.

Buttons that submit forms are “submit buttons” and they are coded typically as either <input type="submit"> or <button type="submit">. The <button> element is more malleable in that you can nest other elements inside it. But there’s rarely a need for that. Most submit buttons contain just text.

Note: In older versions of Internet Explorer, if you have multiple <button type="submit">s, the form will submit the value of all the buttons to the server, regardless of which was clicked. You’ll need to know which button was clicked so you can determine the right course of action to take, which is why this element should be avoided.

Other buttons are injected into the interface to enhance the experience with JavaScript — much like we did with the password reveal component discussed earlier. That was also a <button> but its type was set to button (not submit).

In both cases, the first thing to know about buttons is that they aren’t links. Links are typically underlined (by user agent styles) or specially positioned (in a navigation bar) so they are distinguishable among regular text. When hovering over a link, the cursor will change to a pointer. This is because, unlike buttons, links have weak perceived affordance.

In Resilient Web Design, Jeremy Keith discusses the idea of material honesty. He says: “One material should not be used as a substitute for another. Otherwise the end result is deceptive.” Making a link look like a button is materially dishonest. It tells users that links and buttons are the same when they’re not.

Links can do things buttons can’t do. Links can be opened in a new tab or bookmarked for later, for example. Therefore, buttons shouldn’t look like links, nor should they have a pointer cursor. Instead, we should make buttons look like buttons, which have naturally strong perceived affordance. Whether they have rounded corners, drop shadows, and borders is up to you, but they should look like buttons regardless.

Buttons can still give feedback on hover (and on focus) by changing the background colour, for example.

Placement

Submit buttons are typically placed at the bottom of the form: with most forms, users fill out the fields from top to bottom, and then submit. But should the button be aligned left, right or center? To answer this question, we need to think about where users will naturally look for it.

Field labels and form controls are aligned left (in left-to-right reading languages) and run from top to bottom. Users are going to look for the next field below the last one. Naturally, then, the submit button should also be positioned in that location: to the left and directly below the last field. This also helps users who zoom in, as a right-aligned button could more easily disappear off-screen.

Text

The button’s text is just as important as its styling. The text should explicitly describe the action being taken. And because it’s an action, it should be a verb. We should aim to use as few words as possible because it’s quicker to read. But we shouldn’t remove words at the cost of clarity.

The exact words can match your brand’s tone of voice, but don’t exchange clarity for quirkiness.

Simple and plain language is easy for everyone to understand. The exact words will depend on the type of service. For our registration form “Register” is fine, but depending on your service “Join” or “Sign up” might be more appropriate.

Validation

Despite our efforts to create an inclusive, simple, and friction-free registration experience, we can’t eliminate human error. People make mistakes and when they do, we should make fixing them as easy as possible.

When it comes to form validation, there are a number of important details to consider. From choosing when to give feedback, through to how to display that feedback, down to the formulation of a good error message — all of these things need to be taken into account.

HTML5 Validation

HTML5 validation has been around for a while now. By adding just a few HTML attributes, supporting browsers will mark erroneous fields when the form is submitted. Non-supporting browsers fall back to server-side validation.

Normally I would recommend using functionality that the browser provides for free because it’s often more performant, robust, and accessible. Not to mention, it becomes more familiar to users as more sites start to use the standard functionality.

While HTML5 validation support is quite good, it’s not implemented uniformly. For example, the required attribute can mark fields as invalid from the outset, which isn’t desirable. Some browsers, such as Firefox 45.7, will show an error of “Please enter an email address” even if the user entered something in the box, whereas Chrome, for example, says “Please include an ‘@’ in the email address,” which is more helpful.

We also want to give users the same interface whether errors are caught on the server or the client. For these reasons we’ll design our own solution. The first thing to do is turn off HTML5 validation: <form novalidate>

Handling Submission

When the user submits the form, we need to check if there are errors. If there are, we need to prevent the form from submitting the details to the server.

function FormValidator(form) {
  form.on('submit', $.proxy(this, 'onSubmit'));
}

FormValidator.prototype.onSubmit = function(e) {
  if(!this.validate()) {
    e.preventDefault();
    // show errors
  }
};

Note that we are listening to the form’s submit event, not the button’s click event. The latter will stop users being able to submit the form by pressing Enter when focus is within one of the fields. This is also known as implicit form submission.

Displaying Feedback

It’s all very well detecting the presence of errors, but at this point users are none the wiser. There are three disparate parts of the interface that need to be updated. We’ll talk about each of those now.

Document Title

The document’s <title> is the first part of a web page to be read out by screen readers. As such, we can use it to quickly inform users that something has gone wrong with their submission. This is especially useful when the page reloads after a server request.

Even though we’re enhancing the user experience by catching errors on the client with JavaScript, not all errors can be caught this way. For example, checking that an email address hasn’t already been taken can only be checked on the server. And in any case, JavaScript is prone to failure so we can’t solely rely on its availability.

Where the original page title might read “Register for

Service name Service name

,” on error it should read “(2 errors) Register for

Service name Service name

” (or similar). The exact wording is somewhat down to opinion.

The following JavaScript updates the title:

document.title = "(" + this.errors.length + ")" + document.title;

As noted above, this is primarily for screen reader users, but as is often the case with inclusive design, what helps one set of users helps everyone else too. This time, the updated title acts as a notification in the tab.

The browser tab title prefixed with “(2 errors)” acting as a quasi notification.
The browser tab title prefixed with “(2 errors)” acting as a quasi notification.
Error Summary

In comparison with the title element, the error summary is more prominent, which tells sighted users that something has gone wrong. But it’s also responsible for letting users understand what’s gone wrong and how to fix it.

It’s positioned at the top of the page so users don’t have to scroll down to see it after a page refresh (should an error get caught on the server). Conventionally, errors are colored red. However, relying on color alone could exclude colorblind users. To draw attention to the summary, consider also using position, size, text, and iconography.

Error summary panel positioned toward the top of the screen.
Error summary panel positioned toward the top of the screen.

The panel includes a heading, “There’s a problem,” to indicate the issue. Notice it doesn’t say the word “Error,” which isn’t very friendly. Imagine you were filling out your details to purchase a car in a showroom and made a mistake. The salesperson wouldn’t say “Error” — in fact it would be odd if they did say that.

The container has a role of group, which is used to group a set of interface elements: in this case, the heading and the error links. The tabindex attribute is set to -1, so it can be focused programmatically with JavaScript (when the form is submitted with mistakes). This ensures the error summary panel is scrolled into view. Otherwise, the interface would appear unresponsive and broken when submitted.

Note: Using tabindex="0" means it will be permanently focusable by way of the Tab key, which is a 2.4.3 Focus Order WCAG fail. If users can tab to something, they expect it will actually do something.

FormValidator.prototype.showSummary = function () {
  // ...
  this.summary.focus();
};

Underneath, there’s a list of error links. Clicking a link will set focus to the erroneous field, which lets users jump into the form quickly. The link’s href attribute is set to the control’s id, which in some browsers is enough to set focus to it. However, in other browsers, clicking the link will just scroll the input into view, without focusing it. To fix this we can focus the input explicitly.

FormValidator.prototype.onErrorClick = function(e) {
  e.preventDefault();
  var href = e.target.href;
  var id = href.substring(href.indexOf("#"), href.length);
  $(id).focus();
};

When there aren’t any errors, the summary panel should be hidden. This ensures that there is only ever one summary panel on the page, and that it appears consistently in the same location whether errors are rendered by the client or the server. To hide the panel we need to add a class of hidden.

.hidden {
  display: none;
}

Note: You could use the hidden attribute/property to toggle an element’s visibility, but there’s less support for it. Inclusive design is about making decisions that you know are unlikely to exclude people. Using a class aligns with this philosophy.

Inline Errors

We need to put the relevant error message just above the field. This saves users scrolling up and down the page to check the error message, and keeps them moving down the form. If the message was placed below the field, we’d increase the chance of it being obscured by the browser autocomplete panel or by the onscreen keyboard.

Inline error pattern with red error text and warning icon just above the field.
Inline error pattern with red error text and warning icon just above the field.

Like the hint pattern mentioned earlier, the error message is injected inside the label. When the field is focused, screen reader users will hear the message in context, so they can freely move through the form without having to refer to the summary.

The error message is red and uses an SVG warning icon to draw users’ attention. If we’d used only a color change to denote an error, this would exclude color-blind users. So this works really well for sighted users — but what about screen reader users?

To give both sighted and non-sighted users an equivalent experience, we can use the well-supported aria-invalid attribute. When the user focuses the input, it will now announce “Invalid” (or similar) in screen readers.

<input aria-invalid="false">

Note: The registration form only consists of text inputs. In chapter 3, “A Flight Booking Form,” we’ll look at how to inject errors accessibly for groups of fields such as radio buttons.

Submitting the Form Again

When submitting the form for a second time, we need to clear the existing errors from view. Otherwise, users may see duplicate errors.

FormValidator.prototype.onSubmit = function(e) {
  this.resetPageTitle();
  this.resetSummaryPanel();
  this.removeInlineErrors();
  if(!this.validate()) {
    e.preventDefault();
    this.updatePageTitle();
    this.showSummaryPanel();
    this.showInlineErrors();
  }
};

Initialization

Having finished defining the FormValidator component, we’re now ready to initialize it. To create an instance of FormValidator, you need to pass the form element as the first parameter.

var validator = new FormValidator(document.getElementById('registration'));

To validate the email field, for example, call the addValidator() method:

validator.addValidator('email', [{
  method: function(field) {
    return field.value.trim().length > 0;
  },
  message: 'Enter your email address.'
},{
  method: function(field) {
    return (field.value.indexOf('@') > -1);
  },
  message: 'Enter the ‘at’ symbol in the email address.'
}]);

The first parameter is the control’s name, and the second is an array of rule objects. Each rule contains two properties: method and message. The method is a function that tests various conditions to return either true or false. False puts the field into an error state, which is used to populate the interface with errors as discussed earlier.

Forgiving Trivial Mistakes

In The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman talks about designing for error. He talks about the way people converse:

“If a person says something that we believe to be false, we question and debate. We don’t issue a warning signal. We don’t beep. We don’t give error messages. […] In normal conversations between two friends, misstatements are taken as normal, as approximations to what was really meant.”

Unlike humans, machines are not intelligent enough to determine the meaning of most actions, but they are often far less forgiving of mistakes than they need to be. Jared Spool makes a joke about this in “Is Design Metrically Opposed?” (about 42 minutes in):

“It takes one line of code to take a phone number and strip out all the dashes and parentheses and spaces, and it takes ten lines of code to write an error message that you left them in.”

The addValidator method (shown above) demonstrates how to design validation rules so they forgive trivial mistakes. The first rule, for example, trims the value before checking its length, reducing the burden on the user.

Live Inline Validation

Live inline validation gives users feedback as they type or when they leave the field (onblur). There’s some evidence to show that live inline validation improves accuracy and decreases completion times in long forms. This is partially to do with giving users feedback when the field’s requirements are fresh in users’ minds. But live inline validation (or live validation for short) poses several problems.

For entries that require a certain number of characters, the first keystroke will always constitute an invalid entry. This means users will be interrupted early, which can cause them to switch mental contexts, from entering information to fixing it.

Alternatively, we could wait until the user enters enough characters before showing an error. But this means users only get feedback after they have entered a correct value, which is somewhat pointless.

We could wait until the user leaves the field (onblur), but this is too late as the user has mentally prepared for (and often started to type in) the next field. Moreover, some users switch windows or use a password manager when using a form. Doing so will trigger the blur event, causing an error to show before the user is finished. All very frustrating.

Remember, there’s no problem with giving users feedback without a page refresh. Nor is there a problem with putting the error messages inline (next to fields) — we’ve done this already. The problem with live feedback is that it interrupts users either too early or too late, which often results in a jarring experience.

If users are seeing errors often, there’s probably something wrong elsewhere. Focus on shortening your form and providing better guidance (good labeling and hint text). This way users shouldn’t see more than the odd error. We’ll look at longer forms in the next chapter.

Checklist Affirmation Pattern

A variation of live validation involves ticking off rules (marking them as complete) as the user types. This is less invasive than live validation but isn’t suited to every type of field. Here’s an example of MailChimp’s sign-up form, which employs this technique for the password field.

MailChimp’s password field with instructions that get marked as the user meets the requirements.
MailChimp’s password field with instructions that get marked as the user meets the requirements.

You should put the rules above the field. Otherwise the onscreen keyboard could obscure the feedback. As a result, users may stop typing and hide the keyboard to then check the feedback.

A Note on Disabling Submit Buttons

Some forms are designed to disable the submit button until all the fields become valid. There are several problems with this.

First, users are left wondering what’s actually wrong with their entries. Second, disabled buttons are not focusable, which makes it hard for the button to be discovered by blind users navigating using the Tab key. Third, disabled buttons are hard to read as they are grayed out.

As we’re providing users with clear feedback, when the user expects it, there’s no good reason to take control away from the user by disabling the button anyway.

Crafting a Good Error Message

There’s nothing more important than content. Users don’t come to your website to enjoy the design. They come to enjoy the content or the outcome of using a service.

Even the most thought out, inclusive and beautifully designed experience counts for nothing if we ignore the words used to craft error messages. One study showed that showing custom error messages increased conversions by 0.5% which equated to more than £250,000 in yearly revenue.

“Content is the user experience.”
— Ginny Redish

Like labels, hints, and any other content, a good error message provides clarity in as few words as possible. Normally, we should drive the design of an interface based on the content — not the other way around. But in this case, understanding how and why you show error messages influences the design of the words. This is why Jared Spool says “content and design are inseparable work partners.”

We’re showing messages in the summary at the top of the screen and next to the fields. Maintaining two versions of the same message is a hard sell for an unconvincing gain. Instead, design an error message that works in both places. “Enter an ‘at’ symbol” needs context from the field label to make sense. “Your email address needs an ‘at’ symbol” works well in both places.

Avoid pleasantries, like starting each error message with “Please.” On the one hand, this seems polite; on the other, it gets in the way and implies a choice.

Whatever approach you take, there’s going to be some repetition due to the nature of the content. And testing usually involves submitting the form without entering any information at all. This makes the repetition glaringly obvious, which may cause us to flip out. But how often is this the case? Most users aren’t trying to break the interface.

An error summary containing a wall of error messages makes the beginning of the words seem too repetitive.
An error summary containing a wall of error messages makes the beginning of the words seem too repetitive.

Different errors require different formatting. Instructions like “Enter your first name” are natural. But “Enter a first name that is 35 characters or less” is longer, wordier, and less natural than a description like “First name must be 35 characters or less.”

Here’s a checklist:

  • Be concise. Don’t use more words than are necessary, but don’t omit words at the cost of clarity.
  • Be consistent. Use the same tone, the same words, and the same punctuation throughout.
  • Be specific. If you know why something has gone wrong, say so. “The email is invalid.” is ambiguous and puts the burden on the user. “The email needs an ‘at’ symbol” is clear.
  • Be human, avoid jargon. Don’t use words like invalid, forbidden, and mandatory.
  • Use plain language. Error messages are not an opportunity to promote your brand’s humorous tone of voice.
  • Use the active voice. When an error is an instruction and you tell the user what to do. For example, “Enter your name,” not “First name must be entered.”
  • Don’t blame the user. Let them know what’s gone wrong and how to fix it.

Summary

In this chapter we solved several fundamental form design challenges that are applicable well beyond a simple registration form. In many respects, this chapter has been as much about what not to do, as it has about what we should. By avoiding novel and artificial space-saving patterns to focus on reducing the number of fields we include, we avoid several usability failures while simultaneously making forms more pleasant.

Things to Avoid

  • Using the placeholder attribute as a mechanism for storing label and hint text.
  • Using incorrect input types.
  • Styling buttons and links the same.
  • Validating fields as users type.
  • Disabling submit buttons.
  • Using complex jargon and brand-influenced microcopy.

And that’s it. If you liked this first chapter of the Form Design Patterns, you can get the book right away. Happy reading!


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Source: Smashing Magazine, Form Design Patterns Book Excerpt: A Registration Form

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