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Help Voters Get to the Polls with the Mobile Commons Polling Place Locator

Mobile learning from MLearnopedia - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 22:33
'Did you make a plan to vote this year? The theme of voter mobilization efforts this season is making a plan to vote. Organizations all across the country are working hard to make sure citizens know where to vote come Election Day. To help make that task easier, Mobile Commons is excited to offer our text message polling place locator.

Brought to you by: Mobile Learning
Categories: Mobile learning

Ask Dr. Web with Jeffrey Zeldman: Help! My Portfolio Sucks

A List Apart - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 14:00

What if a lot of your past work reflects times when you satisfied the client, but couldn’t sell them on your best ideas? How do you build a portfolio out of choices you wouldn’t have made? Our very own Jeffrey Zeldman answers your toughest career questions.

Dear Dr. Web: What do you do when you’re not proud of the work you’ve done for your clients, and don’t want it featured in your portfolio? My Shame

Dear My,

Everybody does some work they’re not proud of. Paula Scher and Jony Ive have had the occasional project that didn’t work out as hoped. Dieter Rams may have a thing he worked on that he cringes to think about today. Even Ethan Marcotte has some fixed-width, bandwidth-intensive sites on his resume. When I worked in advertising, creatives at lousy shops took shoddy delight in finding out about dull, bread-and-butter accounts the award-winners occasionally had to work on. We all do it. It’s part of making a living. Sometimes you just need a gig, so you take on a project for which you can deliver competence, but nothing more. Other times, you take on a job with high hopes—only to have those hopes dashed because you couldn’t sell your best idea to the client, or because the business was better served by a dull solution than by the groundbreaking one you hoped to put in your portfolio.

I learned a thing or two about how to gracefully handle less-than-stellar projects from a friend who co-founded one of the leading boutique design consultancies of our age. At one time, this consultancy scooped up every challenging, high-profile strategic gig out there. After they delivered a handful of brilliant strategic bullet points for three-quarters of the client’s budget, my studio would come in—like the guys with brushes who follow the circus elephants—and do all the design, user experience, and front- and back-end coding work for what remained of the budget. Needless to say, I paid attention to how my highly paid strategist friends handled their business. (Rule Number One: don’t hate successful competitors; learn from them.)

At one point my illustrious friends took on a design project helmed by another pal of mine, who was working at the client company. Let’s just say this one didn’t go as well as hoped. For one thing, my friend who was working on the client side redid their code and design work, which is something a client should never, ever, ever, ever do—and should never feel she has to do. The results were not pretty, and did not in any way reflect the client’s fond hopes or the consulting studio’s work or philosophy.

So what did the consultants do when the project went live? Instead of featuring the gig in their portfolio, they had their team leader write about the project in their blog. Rather than the work they had done, he discussed the business challenges the client had faced, and explained their strategic approach to solving those problems. The team leader was extremely complimentary (and rightfully so) about the client’s place in its sphere of business. He spoke warmly of the client’s openness to bold ideas. There was no hint of disappointment, and there was also no dishonesty. My friend wrote about the things that had attracted his team to the gig, and left everyone with a nice, warm, vague feeling. And that’s how you handle a job that doesn’t work out to your satisfaction.

We’ve done the same thing at Happy Cog once or twice, when the work we delivered—although it satisfied the client and did everything it was supposed to do—just wasn’t exciting enough to merit a portfolio showcase. So you write about the business challenges you solved. Or about some innovative coding you did. Or you just share how honored you were to work on behalf of a client who does such wonderful things in the world. (I’m assuming you’re not ashamed of your client, even if you weren’t able to reach new design heights on their project.)

But there’s another part to your question—or, at least, I have a question about your question. It sounds like you’re not just unhappy with one or two projects you’ve worked on. It sounds like you’re unhappy with most of them.

Now, that would be another problem entirely. As a designer, it’s not just your job to create something great. It’s also your job to sell that solution to the client. If you can’t do that, then you need to workshop your persuasion skills, just as you would workshop your CSS skills if they had gotten rusty. A designer must sell. That’s part of the work. A decent designer who can sell will have a better career—and do better work—than a brilliant designer who cannot. There are books out there that can help. Design Is a Job is a great one. A List Apart’s Rachel Andrew writes about the business of web development, and Mike Monteiro’s 13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations may help you stop doing things in presentations that unconsciously undercut your work and convince the client not to buy your best ideas.

If deep-seated personality issues prevent you from selling—and you should only come to that conclusion after working at least a year to improve your selling ability—then find a partner who is good at it. They’re probably good at business development, too, and will almost certainly justify the percentage you pay them by improving your professional profile, finding you better clients, and helping you raise your pitifully low rates. (Designers who can’t sell always undercharge for their services. I know. I used to be one.)

Countries and cultures factor in here, as well. There are some places in the world where the designer is always wrong, and the client is a dictator. That is changing everywhere, but change comes slowly in some places, and you may not want to be the evangelist who single-handedly fights to improve the position of all designers in your part of the world. If you live in such a place, consider moving, or find a way to raise your profile so that you can work remotely for a more enlightened class of client.

Regardless of where you live, one important way to build a great portfolio is to work on open source or community-based projects. Side projects like Fonts In Use can build a designer’s reputation when the work she does for clients is less than satisfactory. I have never hired a designer who doesn’t have at least one interesting non-client project to show for herself, and I never will. When all else fails, create a killer blog. I started A List Apart because there was no magazine that approached web design the way I felt it should be approached, and to show what I could do when my first clients weren’t letting me do my best work.

I’ll have more to say about side projects in a future installment of “Ask Dr. Web.”

Have a question about professional development, industry culture, or the state of the web? This is your chance to pick Jeffrey Zeldman’s brain. Send your question to Dr. Web via Twitter (#askdrweb), Facebook, or email.

Categories: Mobile learning

SMS to the Rescue for Customer Support

Mobile learning from MLearnopedia - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 13:30
'People are all too familiar with the woes that come with customer support. It’s easy to see why 79% of Americans report feeling frustrated with the current options available for receiving assistance. Fortunately, text messaging provides a faster, more efficient solution that solves common customer support problems. 1) Immediacy. 2) Clarity.

Brought to you by: Mobile Learning
Categories: Mobile learning

An Excellent Week

A List Apart - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 12:30

A couple of big announcements are making the rounds this week, both of them exciting for those of us who make web sites:

Google advises progressive enhancement

In a blog post explaining updates to its indexing system, Google makes it clear that they’re now parsing web pages in their entirety — not just HTML, but also CSS and JavaScript. Their indexer used to ignore layout and behave as if it were a text-only browser, but now it’s scanning fully rendered pages.

This means a few things. First, make sure you’re not denying Googlebot access to directories that hold your CSS and JavaScript. Check your `robots.txt` file to make sure.

Second, from Google’s post:

Just like modern browsers, our rendering engine might not support all of the technologies a page uses. Make sure your web design adheres to the principles of progressive enhancement as this helps our systems (and a wider range of browsers) see usable content and basic functionality when certain web design features are not yet supported. Pierre Far, Webmaster Trends Analyst

(Emphasis mine. By the way, this support for progressive enhancement plays very nicely with their strong recommendation for responsive web design.)

And third: Speed matters. We’ve known for a while that a fast-loading site makes for a better user experience, but with this update it also means Google’s indexing system now explicitly favors faster-loading sites over slower ones.

How do your sites stack up?

HTML5 is now an official standard

After initially taunting us with a release date well into the next decade, W3C has published their official recommendation for HTML5, ending years of of often-frustrating, but productive development.

Most of us have been using HTML5 for years already (Jeremy Keith published HTML5 For Web Designers in 2010), so this may seem like a small thing to celebrate. But now we can use elements with full confidence they won’t change, we may see quicker adoption by browser makers of all the exciting things HTML5 brings to the table, and any XHTML holdouts may finally be convinced that HTML5 is good to go.

Let’s get out there.

Categories: Mobile learning

New Mobile Learning Book Provides Practical Roadmap

Mobile learning from MLearnopedia - Wed, 10/29/2014 - 14:11
'“Mastering Mobile Learning” offers tips and techniques for you that we use in our day-to-day projects with industry-leading clients. Conferences Industry News books content strategy DevLearn security social media

Brought to you by: Mobile Learning
Categories: Mobile learning

FAQ: Flashcard Quiz Mobile App Boosts Performance Support

Mobile learning from MLearnopedia - Wed, 10/29/2014 - 14:05
'Get more answers to your questions about our new beta launch from DevLearn. Mobile Apps assessments DevLearn flashcard apps games gamification performance support

Brought to you by: Mobile Learning
Categories: Mobile learning

This week's sponsor: Hack Reactor

A List Apart - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 13:57

Thanks to Hack Reactor for sponsoring A List Apart this week. Hack Reactor is currently accepting applications for its 12-week, immersive online coding school, Remote Beta. Apply today.

Categories: Mobile learning

Rachel Andrew on the Business of Web Dev: Seeing Past the Highlight Reel

A List Apart - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 12:30

I am not the sort of person who “airs her dirty laundry in public.” I wouldn’t walk into a mixed group of friends, colleagues, and complete strangers at a party and announce something deeply personal, and so it is with Twitter. For me, Twitter is a place to chat, a replacement for the Telnet Talkers I was so fond of in the 1990s. I share things I think are interesting, I keep up with what people I know are doing, but I see it as a public place.

Recently, I had a Twitter conversation with someone who felt that people who don’t post about their bad days are being disingenuous. As if trying to keep things positive meant living a lie. However, I’m not pretending to be something I am not. It’s just that there is a filter through which I assess what is appropriate to share.

Unlike those Telnet Talkers, Twitter has essentially become a place where I do business. My “personal brand” enables me to sell books and to gain writing and speaking gigs. It’s not all work: I post photos of my cat, participate in events such as the annual mocking of the Eurovision Song Contest, and relate what I saw while out running. All of it is content I would be happy for my clients, my mother, or my daughter to see.

I know many other people have the same filter. Our filters may allow a little more or a little less through, but any of us operating professionally online have to leave things unsaid. If we show ourselves as being vulnerable via Twitter or Facebook, tell other people about the battles we face with our own minds, what might that do to our businesses? What if a potential client or employer finds those tweets? Discrimination due to mental health issues is unlawful, in the UK at least, but you can’t legislate against a potential client deciding not to get in touch with a freelancer who once tweeted about their depression.

Despite living our lives in public, developing our filters without really thinking about them, we are still creating real relationships with each other. Via social media we know a lot of the detail of each others’ day-to-day lives—far more detail than we would know of many of the colleagues we work alongside in an office. I count as true friends some people who I rarely get the chance to interact with outside of what is essentially a public place. If we met in person, maybe they would look into my eyes and see the things I don’t speak of. Perhaps I would see the same in theirs.

There is a saying, often used when people are talking about imposter syndrome:

The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.

While this quote is aimed at reassuring the person struggling with insecurity, there is also a person behind the highlight reel. Know that just as we are sharing our own highlights, so are our friends and colleagues.

When we spend time with people, we learn their usual demeanor and we have visual clues to help us know that something is up. We can take that friend to one side and offer a safe place where they can share their struggles without worrying it will cross over into professional life.

The relationships we form online are no less “real” than those we’ve formed face to face. Perhaps we are still learning how to help one another and how to ask for help in this space. Are those tweets sounding slightly less positive because someone having a bad day, or is there more to it? Are those uncharacteristically snarky responses coming from someone who is finding life really tough right now? Can we learn to look out for each other, as the lines between the real world and online blur? We can take our friends to one side virtually—drop them an email, offer a phone or Skype call to “catch up,” then offer a listening ear.

For Geek Mental Help Week I want us to remember that where professional lives are entwined with personal on Twitter, we probably are seeing only the public side of a person. We’re all still learning how to care for each other in these new communities we are creating. For every one of our friends bravely sharing their story this week, there will be many more who are not in a place where they can do so right now. Let’s be aware that those battles may be deeply hidden, be kind to each other, and look out for subtle signs that someone might need somewhere less public to ask for support.

Categories: Mobile learning

5 Key Considerations for Multi-Device Testing

Mobile learning from MLearnopedia - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 09:30
'Ensuring that your multi-device eLearning runs consistently and smoothly across the identified range of devices, screen sizes, browsers, and platforms is crucial to deliver an engaging and consistent learning experience for your users. Mobile Learning Responsive Learning Design Multi-device Testing

Brought to you by: Mobile Learning
Categories: Mobile learning

Using SMS to Increase Influenza Vaccinations Rates Among Pregnant Women

Mobile learning from MLearnopedia - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 20:31
'In 2012, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health ran a trial to see whether text message reminders increased the rate of vaccinations among pregnant women in New York City. Influenza kills around 226,000 Americans annually, and poses the highest risk to pregnant women and their unborn children.

Brought to you by: Mobile Learning
Categories: Mobile learning

The Couch Cone of Silence

A List Apart - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 15:00

This is Geek Mental Help Week. We’re participating because we want to make it safer for people in our industry to talk about mental health. Join in or follow along at @geekmentalhelp and #geekmentalhelp.

About five years ago, I bought a cushy couch for my office. (Okay, yes, I did get the model that could flatten into an emergency nap station, but let’s just say that I plan for contingencies—it sounds more professional that way.) Our projects required a lot of office-to-office visiting to discuss situations in person, and eventually, said couch (and therefore, my office) became a veritable beacon, attracting anyone looking for an excuse to decompress. Such is the life of a one-couch, 50-chair business.

Project chats could turn quickly into personal deep dives. I learned which to expect by the way people knocked on my door and asked if I was busy. The biggest tip-off was closing of the door as they came in.

Most people just wanted someone to listen. I’d hear grumblings about managers and stress, and sometimes they’d ask for advice. But gradually, I sometimes also heard about anxiety, depression, emotional baggage, counseling, complicated diagnoses, and the merits of medications. Finding out what people were dealing with often left me with absolutely no idea what to say. I’m no therapist.

How was I supposed to respond? Labeling something a “mental health issue” makes it feel amorphous and scary—unknown, subjective territory that’s best left to professionals. But mental health is not a Boolean value; it’s a spectrum we’re all on, and one that’s always fluctuating, though we may define those fluctuations with other names. Some conditions are temporary, some are precipitated by events, some are genetic, and some can be caused by medications taken for innocuous, unrelated reasons. We are complex adaptive systems affected by situations, and no one is on the forever side of “not mentally ill.” In light of that, there is nothing to hide or be ashamed of. No one should feel alone. When our friends and colleagues are struggling, we don’t have to be a professional to help them fight that fight.

It’s very natural to just jump in, but it’s very, very important to first learn about what is going on under the surface and behind the scenes. Internal struggles aren’t easy to see, mental health-related or not. I have a couple of extroverted, life-of-the-party friends who battle major depression, and even overcompensate for it because they are expected to be “the fun ones.” It must be exhausting. Like many, many conditions, depression doesn’t affect everyone in the same way—it isn’t defined so simply as “noticeably sad and constantly crying.” The signs and symptoms vary because the condition (whether temporary or congenital) is just an overlay, a layer, a facet. It doesn’t define the person. In other words, “you’re still you.”

Like my friends, people can do a great job at hiding the dark sides of their struggles. Maybe a coworker is 15-20 minutes late to work every day, but it’s a win for them to be there at all. It took three hours for them to gear up the physical energy to simply get dressed, and everything else they’ve got in the tank to make it home later. Or how about the calmest, most mellow person at the office? Perhaps they’re riding a roller coaster without a seatbelt, experiencing states that take them from happy, energized, and on top of the world to despair and crushing loss in a moment. They’re very aware that they aren’t really feeling those things, yet that’s what they’re feeling. And all because their head is trying to keep standard chemicals in the brain perfectly balanced, only theirs slightly over- and under-calibrates.

Little do you know, they’re making impossible choices—like deciding whether to handle their condition through sheer grit or to take a medication that dulls their symptoms, yet affects acuity as the dosage increases. It might even make them seem glazed over and stoned to someone who didn’t know any better. How do you choose between your health and your job?

It’s also important to mention that many mental health conditions affect quality of life so significantly that they are classified as disabilities—legally afforded accommodations and protections against discrimination. In reality, disclosing disabilities can be devastating to a career. Even advocates at disability services groups cautiously discuss the potential ramifications of sharing with HR, managers, and coworkers. An employee might just as soon be told to “suck it up,” passed over for promotion, not hired in the first place, or shifted slowly to the door, as have the chance of being granted accommodations that would greatly ease their ability to earn a living. But that’s daily life for some: hacking away at an impossible server issue while exploding inside from anxiety, or somehow channeling creative energy into design work when there’s a pull to just end things. It takes guts to go to work every day.

When someone bravely opens up about their lives, they aren’t in search of platitudes, yet we tend to lean on what we’ve seen modeled. That might mean grasping beyond the realm of real experiences. With rare exceptions, movies, TV, and books love to present the extremes—stereotypes for the sake of plot. They treat mental health issues like comic relief, reasons the “heros” of the story should be afraid or on guard, or treat others with pity bordering on condescension. This is disrespectful, ill-informed, and only serves to miseducate on a mass scale, leaving stereotypes and stigma to go hand-in-hand. We’re better than that.

So, how do we respond to and support others in the most respectful and honorable way possible?

Specifically ask how they would like for you to be there and support them. They might just want an open door or someone to have lunch with sometimes. Don’t assume they’re expecting a rescuer or someone to fix things. In this moment, they are just opening up and talking as a means of easing the weight that’s on their shoulders.

Do be a friend who “checks in.” Show that you’re around—you don’t have to talk long, just don’t “disappear” on them.

Do talk about other things, but don’t not talk about the condition, either. They probably don’t want to talk about it all the time, and would love to have a distraction, but it’s also good to ask them about what they’re going through, and for them to explain more about it and suggest good, accurate resources to read.

Don’t assume they’ve forgotten the internet exists. They have likely already been online and investigated the symptoms or condition thoroughly. Think twice before sending them reading materials and links to websites, blogs, forums, or articles, especially those written by others with similar issues. This implies they haven’t thought to look themselves, and there’s a chance that content written by those in worse situations can bring them down and play on fears that things can’t get better. While you’re at it, don’t suggest (or base suggestions for treatment on) movies, TV shows, or books because a character seems to have similar issues.

Don’t say things like, “Can’t you take a pill for that?” It not only diminishes the issue by implying that medication is some sort of cure-all (which it isn’t), someone may not even need medication, may be sensitive to it, already be on some, or have tried many already without finding ones that help. They might even have personal reasons not to take it.

Don’t think they’ve never heard about counseling or treatment. It can be very helpful to talk to a professional, but it is ultimately a personal choice to decide when the time is right to do so, and whom to see.

If they’re an employee, ask what sort of accommodations would help them at work. A willingness to make accommodations and support them is huge, even if they choose not to ask for those accommodations in the end, or they suggest agreeable compromises. Ask what would be best for the particular person, such as if remote work might help or be too isolating, or if a flexible schedule would be best.

One of my personal tenets is this: make time for people. Rejection is subtly transmitted in enumerable ways, so be mindful and learn to listen. We don’t have to know what to do, just know how to be there and how to go about it, whether it’s an afternoon coffee run together, a ready couch, or just letting others know they’re worthwhile.

In our industry in particular, part of our very job is to consider people, their lives, their needs, and how to optimize everything around personal experiences so that no one is left feeling excluded or forgotten. Accessibility and inclusion stand for more than what we craft on a bright screen someplace.

Note: only a trained mental health professional is qualified to make a diagnosis. If you’re coping with personal struggles, know that you have lots of people out there to support you. Reach out to find them, and don’t give up.

Categories: Mobile learning

New to Mobile Learning Development: 3 Big Problems and 7 Solutions

Mobile learning from MLearnopedia - Sun, 10/26/2014 - 19:04
New to Mobile Learning Development: 3 Big Prob- lems and 7 Solutions Mobile Learning is Here to Stay With the introduction of the Apple iPhone and iPad, a mobile computing revolution. began. With competition from Google, Blackberry (RIM), Microsoft, and HP heating up. from all sides, smart phones and tablets are here to stay. devices? issues. Rapid.

Brought to you by: Mobile Learning
Categories: Mobile learning

Will The Real Innovators Please Stand Up?

Mobile learning from MLearnopedia - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 13:58
'Some startups are nice to have, but not truly necessary. In this post, we join Marc Andreessen and Neil deGrasse Tyson in slamming frivolous startups. Comic Industry News DevLearn Marc Andreessen Neil deGrasse Tyson social network startups Twitter Uber Yammer

Brought to you by: Mobile Learning
Categories: Mobile learning

Beyond You

A List Apart - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 12:30

In client work, it’s our responsibility to ensure that our work lives beyond ourselves. Sometimes that means making sure the CMS can handle clients’ ever-changing business needs, or making sure it continually teaches its users. For clients with an internal development team that will be taking over after you, it means making sure the design system you create is flexible enough to handle changes, yet rigid enough to maintain consistency.

Making your work live beyond you starts by changing your approach to design and development. Rather than defining and building a certain set of pages, focus on building an extensible design system of styles, modules, and page types.

Clients can use the system like LEGO bricks, by taking apart and rearranging modules in new and different ways. The key to a successful system is keeping that modularity in mind while going through design, front-end, and backend development. Every piece you build should be self-contained and reusable.

But a system like that only survives by educating your clients on how to use, maintain, and update it. Show how the components function, independently and together. Document and teach everything you can in whatever way works best—writing, screencasting, or in-person training sessions.

The most common mistake made in this process—and I’ve made it plenty of times before—is stopping at education. Building and teaching a modular system is a great start, but success hinges on your clients being able to use it entirely on their own.

In order for that to be the case, there is an important role reversal that must happen: the client team must become the doer, and you become the feedback-provider. That may sound weird, but think about how the design process normally goes. Say the client gives feedback on a checkout form—the functionality needs to be tweaked a bit to match their business operations. You take that feedback, design a solution, and present it back to them.

Instead, after this role reversal, the client team identifies the change that needs to be made, they use their knowledge of the system to make it, and you provide feedback on their implementation. That process gives their team a chance to work with your system while you’re still involved, and it lets you ensure that things are being used the way you intended.

So if you’re on the agency side like I am, remember that it’s your responsibility to make your work live on beyond your involvement. If you’re on the client side, hold your partner accountable for that. Ask all the necessary questions to really learn the system. Late in the project, ask how you can make changes, instead of letting the agency (or freelancer) make changes themselves. Force them to teach you how to care for what they’ve built, and everyone will be happier with, and more confident in, the result.

Categories: Mobile learning

Rian van der Merwe on A View from a Different Valley: How to Do What You Love, the Right Way

A List Apart - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 11:08

Every time I start a new job I take my dad to see my office. He loves seeing where I work, and I love showing him. It’s a thing. As much as I enjoy this unspoken ritual of ours, there’s always a predictable response from my dad that serves as a clear indicator of our large generation gap. At some point he’ll ask a question along the lines of, “So… no one has an office? You just sit out here in the open?” I’ve tried many times to explain the idea of colocation and collaborative work, but I don’t think it’s something that will ever compute for him.

This isn’t a criticism on how he’s used to doing things (especially if he’s reading this… Hi Dad!). But it shows how our generation’s career goals have changed from “I want the corner office!” to “I just want a space where I’m able to do good work.” We’ve mostly gotten over our obsession with the size and location of our physical workspaces. But we haven’t completely managed to let go of that corner office in our minds: the job title.

Even that’s starting to change, though. This tweet from Jack Dorsey has received over 1,700 retweets so far:

Titles, like "CEO", get in the way of doing the right thing. Respect to the people who ignore titles, and fight like hell for what is right.

— Jack (@jack) September 29, 2012

In episode 60 of Back to Work, Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discuss what they call “work as platform.” The basic idea is that we need to stop looking at work as a thing you do for a company. If you view your career like that, your success will always be linked to the success of the company, as well as your ability to survive within that particular culture. You will be at the mercy of people who are concerned about their own careers, not yours.

Instead, if you think about your work as platform, your attention starts to shift to using whatever job you are doing to develop your skills further, so that you’re never at the mercy of one company. Here’s Merlin, from about 31 minutes into that episode of Back to Work (edited down slightly):

If you think just in terms of jobs, you become a little bit short-sighted, because you tend to think in terms of, “What’s my next job?”, or “If I want good jobs in my career, what do I put on my resume?” So in terms of what you can do to make the kinds of things you want, and have the kind of career you like, I think it’s very interesting to think about what you do in terms of having a platform for what you do.

There’s always this thing about “doing what you love.” Well, doing what you love might not ever make you a nickel. And if doing what you love sucks, no one is ever going to see it, like it, and buy it, which is problematic. That’s not a branding problem, that’s a “you suck” problem. So the platform part is thinking about what you do not simply in terms of what your next job is — it’s a way of thinking about how all of the things that you do can and should and do feed into each other.

I think it’s worth giving yourself permission to take a dip into the douche-pool, and think a little bit about what platform thinking might mean to you. Because if you are just thinking about how unhappy you are with your job your horizons are going to become pretty short, and your options are going to be very limited.

So here’s how I want to pull this all together. Just like we’ve moved on from the idea that the big office is a big deal, we have to let go of the idea that a big enough title is equal to a successful career. Much more important is that we figure out what it is that we want to spend our time and attention on — and then work at our craft to make that our platform. Take a realistic look at how much agency you have at work — it may be more than you realize — and try to get the responsibilities that interest you most, just to see where it takes you.

This is also why side projects are so important. They help you use the areas you’re truly interested in to hone your skills by making something real, just for you, because you want to. And as you get really good, you’ll be able to use those skills more in your current role, which will almost certainly make for a more enjoyable job. But it could even turn into a new role at your company — or who knows, maybe even your own startup.

If you go down this path, little by little you’ll discover that you suddenly start loving what you do more and more. Doing what you love doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your job and starting a coffee shop. Most often, it means building your own platform, and crafting your own work, one step at a time.

Categories: Mobile learning

Text Alerts in the K-12 Classroom

Mobile learning from MLearnopedia - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 17:38
'There are now a multitude of resources available for creating "text alerts". Text alerts are when a teacher sends a text message to an entire group of students, parents, or both. There are numerous ways that text alerts are useful in the classroom. Below are a few Logistical/Announcements Texting: This is the most common use of text alerts.

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Categories: Mobile learning

Learning to Be Flexible

A List Apart - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 12:30

As a freelancer, I work in a lot of different code repos. Almost every team I work with has different ideas of how code should be organized, maintained, and structured.

Now, I’m not here to start a battle about tabs versus spaces or alphabetical order of CSS properties versus organizing in terms of concerns (positioning styles, then element layout styles, then whatever else), because I’m honestly not attached to any one system anymore. I used to be a one-tab kind of person, along with not really even thinking about the ordering of my properties, but slowly, over time, I’ve realized that most of that doesn’t really matter. In all the projects I’ve worked on, the code got written and the product or site worked for the users—which is really the most important thing. What gets me excited about projects now is the code, making something work, seeing it work across different devices, seeing people use something I built, not getting upset about how it’s written.

Since I went down the freelance route again earlier this year, I’m working with many different teams and they all have different standards for how their code should be written. What I really want to know when I start a project is what the standards are, so I can adhere to them. For many teams that means a quick look through their documentation (when they have it, it’s a dream come true—there are no questions and I can just get to work). For other teams, it means I ask a lot of questions after I’ve taken a look at the code to verify how they prefer to do things.

Even more so than just thinking about how to write code, there’s the fact that I may be working in straight CSS, Sass, Stylus, Handlebars, plain old HTML, or Jade and I usually roll right along with that as well. Every team makes decisions that suit them and their way of working—I’m there to make life easier by coming in and helping them get a job done, not tell them their whole setup is wrong. The variety keeps me on my toes, but it also helps me remember that there isn’t just one way to do any of this.

What has this really done for me? I’ve started letting go of some things. I have opinions on how to structure and write CSS, but whether it’s written with a pre-processor or not, I don’t always care, and which pre-processor matters less to me as well. Any way you do it, you can get the job done. Choosing what works best for your team is what’s most important, not what anyone outside the team says is the “right” or “only” way to do something.

Categories: Mobile learning

The Specialized Web: Working with Subject-Matter Experts

A List Apart - Tue, 10/21/2014 - 14:00

The time had come for The Big Departmental Website Redesign, and my content strategist heart was all aflutter. Since I work at a research university, the scope wasn’t just the department’s site—there were also 20 microsites focusing on specific faculty projects. Each one got an audit, an inventory, and a new strategy proposal.

I met one-on-one with each faculty member to go over the plans, and they loved them. Specific strategy related to their users and their work! Streamlined and clarified content to help people do what needed doing! “Somebody pinch me,” I enthused after another successful and energizing meeting.

Don’t worry, the pinch came.

I waltzed into my next microsite meeting, proud of my work and capabilities. I outlined my grand plan to this professor, but instead of meeting with the enthusiasm I expected, I was promptly received a brick wall of “not interested.” She dismissed my big strategy with frowns and flat refusals without elaboration. Not to be deterred, I took a more specific tack, pointing out that the photos on the site felt disconnected from the research. No dice: she insisted that the photos not only needed to stay, but were critical to understanding the heart of the research itself.

She shot down idea after idea, all the while maintaining that the site should both be better but not change. My frustration mounted, and I finally pulled my papers together and asked, “Do you really even need a website?!” Of course, she scoffed. Meeting over.

Struggles with subject-matter experts (SMEs) are as diverse as the subject-matter experts themselves. Whether they’re surgeons, C-level executives, engineers, policy makers, faculty—we as web workers need SMEs for their specialized content knowledge. Arming yourself with the right tools, skills, and mentalities will make your work and projects run smoother for everyone on your team—SME included.

The right frame of mind

Know that nobody comes to the table with a clean slate. While the particulars may be new—a web presence, a social media campaign, a new database-driven tool—projects aren’t.

When starting off a project, I’ll ask each person why they’re at the table. Even though it may be obvious why the SME is on the team, each person gets equal time (no more than a minute or two) to state how what they do relates to the project or outcome. You’re all qualified to be there, and stating those qualifications not only builds familiarity, but provides everyone with a picture of the team as a whole.

I see SMEs as colleagues and co-collaborators, no matter what they may think of me and my lack of similar specialized knowledge. I don’t come to them from a service mentality—that they give me their great ideas and I humbly craft them to be web-ready. We’re working together to create something that can serve and help the user.

Listening for context

After my disastrous initial meeting with the prickly professor, I gave myself some time to calm down, and scheduled another meeting with one thing on my agenda: listening. I knew I was missing part of the story, and when we sat down again, I told the SME that I only wanted her to talk to me about the site, the content, and the research.

I wasn’t satisfied with her initial surface-level responses, because they weren’t solvable problems. To find the deeper root causes of her reluctance, I busted out my friends the Five Ws (and that tagalong how). When she insisted something couldn’t be removed or changed, I breezed right past why, because it wasn’t getting me anywhere. Instead, I asked: when did you choose this image? Where did this image come from? If it’s so essential to the site, it must have a history. I kept asking questions until I understood the context that existed already around this site. Once I understood the context, I could identify the need that content served, and could make sure that need was addressed, rather than just cutting it out.

Through this deeper line of questioning, I learned that the SME had been through an earlier redesign process with a different web team. They started off much in the same way I had—with big plans for her content, and not a lot of time for her. The design elements and photos that she was determined to hang on to? That was all that she had been able to control in the process before.

By swooping in with my ideas, I was just another Web Person to her, with mistrust feeding off old—but still very real—feelings of being ignored and passed over. It was my responsibility to build the working relationship back up and make it productive.

In the end, the SME and I agreed to start off with only a few changes—moving to a 960-pixel width and removing dead links—and left the rest of the content and structure as-is in the migration. This helped build her trust that I would not only listen to her, but be a good steward of her content. When we revisited the content later on, she was much more receptive to all my big ideas.

If someone seems afraid, ornery, reluctant, distrustful, or any other work-hampering trait, they’re likely not doing it just to be a jerk—there are histories, insecurities, and fears at work beneath the less-than-ideal behavior, as Kerry-Anne Gilowey points out in her presentation “The People Puzzle: Making the Pieces Fit.”

Listening is a key skill here: let them be heard, and try to uncover what’s at the root of their resistance. Some people may have a natural affinity for these people skills, but anyone will benefit from spending time practicing and working on them.

Tools before strategy, heading for tragedy

Being a good listener, however, is not a simple Underpants Gnome scheme toward project success:

  1. Listen to your frustrating SME
  2. PROFIT

Sometimes you and your SME are on the same page, ready to hop right in to Shiny New Project World! And hey, they have a great idea of what that new project is, and it is totally a Facebook page. Or a Twitter feed. Or an Instagram account, even though there is nothing to take photographs of.

This doesn’t necessarily indicate a mentality of “Social media, how hard can it be!”–instead, exuberance signals your SME’s desire to be involved in the work.

In the case of social media like Facebook or Twitter, the SME knows there is a conversation, a connection, happening somewhere, and they want to be a part of it. They may latch onto the thing they’ve heard of—maybe they check out photos of their friend’s kids on Facebook, or saw the use of hashtags mentioned during a big event like the World Cup. They’re not picking a specific tool just to be stubborn—they often just don’t have a clue as to how many options they actually have.

Sometimes the web is a little freaky, so we might as well stare it in the face together:

The Conversation Prism, a visual map of social media. Click to view larger.


Each wedge of this photo is a different type of service, and inside the wedge are the sites or tools or apps that offer that service. This is a great way to show the SME the large toolbox at our disposal, and the need to be mindful and strategic in our selection.

After peering at the glorious toolbox of possible options, it becomes clear we’ll need a strategy to pick the right tool—an Allen wrench is great for building an IKEA bookshelf, but is lousy for tearing down drywall. I start my SME off with homework—a few simple, top-level questions:

  1. Who is this project/site/page for?
  2. Who is this project/site/page not for?

Oftentimes, this is the first time the SME has really thought about audience. If the answer to Question 1 is “everyone,” I start to ask about specific stakeholder groups: Customers? Instructors? Board Members? Legislators? Volunteers? As soon as we can get one group in the “not for” column, the conversation moves forward more easily.

An SME who says a website is “for everyone” is not coming from a place of laziness or obstinacy; the SMEs I work with simply want their website to be the most helpful to the most people.

  1. What other sites out there are like, or related to, the one we hope to make?

SMEs know who their peers, their competitors, and their colleagues are. While you may toil for hours, days, or weeks looking at material you think is comparable, your SME will be able to rattle off people or projects for you to check out in the blink of an eye. Their expertise saves you time.

There are obviously a lot more questions that get asked about a project, but these two are a great start to collaborative work, and function independently of specific tools. They facilitate an ongoing discussion about the Five Ws, and lay a good foundation to think about the practical side of the how.

Get yourself (and your project, and your team) right

It is possible to have a great working relationship with an SME. The place to start is with people—meet your SME, and introduce yourself! Meet as soon as the project starts, or even earlier.

Go to their stomping grounds

If you work with a large group of SMEs, find out where and when they gather (board meetings, staff retreats, weekly team check-ins) and get on the agenda. I managed to grab five minutes of a faculty meeting and told everyone who I was, a very basic overview of what I did, and that I was looking forward to working together—which sped up putting faces to names.

Find other avenues

If you’re having trouble locating the SMEs—either because they’re phenomenally busy or reluctant to work together—try tracking down an assistant. These assistants might have access to some of the same specialized knowledge as your SME (in the case of a research assistant), or they could have more access to your SME themselves (in the case of an executive assistant or other calendar-wrangler). Assistants are phenomenal people to know and respect in either of these cases; build a good, trusting relationship with them, and projects will move forward without having to wait for one person’s calendar to clear.

Make yourself available

Similarly, making yourself easier to find can open doors. I told people it was fine to “drop by any time,” and, while true, actually left people with no sense of my availability. When I started establishing set “office hours” instead, I found that drop-in meetings happened more often and more predictably. People knew that from 9 to 11 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I was happy to talk about any random thing on their mind. I ended up having more impromptu meetings that led to better work.

For those of you about to collaborate, we salute you

SMEs, as stated in their very name, have specialized knowledge I don’t. However, the flip side is also true: my specialized knowledge is something they need so their content can be useful and usable on the web. Though you and your SMEs may be coming from different places, with different approaches to your work, and different skill sets and knowledge, you’ve got to work together to advance the project.

Do the hard work to understand each other, and move forward even if the steps seem tiny (don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good!). Find a seed of respect for each other’s knowledge, nurture it as it grows, and bask in the fruits of your labor—together.

Categories: Mobile learning

Axiomatic CSS and Lobotomized Owls

A List Apart - Tue, 10/21/2014 - 14:00

At CSS Day last June I introduced, with some trepidation, a peculiar three-character CSS selector. Called the “lobotomized owl selector” for its resemblance to an owl’s vacant stare, it proved to be the most popular section of my talk.

I couldn’t tell you whether the attendees were applauding the thinking behind the invention or were, instead, nervously laughing at my audacity for including such an odd and seemingly useless construct. Perhaps I was unwittingly speaking to a room full of paid-up owl sanctuary supporters. I don’t know.

The lobotomized owl selector looks like this:

* + *

Despite its irreverent name and precarious form, the lobotomized owl selector is no mere thought experiment for me. It is the result of ongoing experimentation into automating the layout of flow content. The owl selector is an “axiomatic” selector with a voracious purview. As such, many will be hesitant to use it, and it will terrify some that I include it in production code. I aim to demonstrate how the selector can reduce bloat, speed up development, and help automate the styling of arbitrary, dynamic content.

Styling by prescription

Almost universally, professional web interface designers (engineers, whatever) have accustomed themselves to styling HTML elements prescriptively. We conceive of an interface object, then author styles for the object that are inscribed manually in the markup as “hooks.”

Despite only pertaining to presentation, not semantic interoperability, the class selector is what we reach for most often. While elements and most attributes are predetermined and standardized, classes are the placeholders that gift us with the freedom of authorship. Classes give us control.

.my-module { /* ... */ }

CSS frameworks are essentially libraries of non-standard class-based ciphers, intended for forming explicit relationships between styles and their elements. They are vaunted for their ability to help designers produce attractive interfaces quickly, and criticized for the inevitable accessibility shortcomings that result from leading with style (form) rather than content (function).

< !-- An unfocusable, semantically inaccurate "button" --> <a class="ui-button">press me</a>

Whether you use a framework or your own methodology, the prescriptive styling mode also prohibits non-technical content editors. It requires not just knowledge of presentational markup, but also access to that markup to encode the prescribed styles. WYSIWYG editors and tools like Markdown necessarily lack this complexity so that styling does not impede the editorial process.

Bloat

Regardless of whether you can create and maintain presentational markup, the question of whether you should remains. Adding presentational ciphers to your previously terse markup necessarily engorges it, but what’s the tradeoff? Does this allow us to reduce bloat in the stylesheet?

By choosing to style entirely in terms of named elements, we make the mistake of asserting that HTML elements exist in a vacuum, not subject to inheritance or commonality. By treating the element as “this thing that needs to be styled,” we are liable to redundantly set some values for the element in hand that should have already been defined higher in the cascade. Adding new modules to a project invites bloat, which is a hard thing to keep in check.

.module-new { /* So… what’s actually new here? */ }

From pre-processors with their addition of variables to object-based CSS methodologies and their application of reusable class “objects,” we are grappling with sandbags to stem this tide of bloat. It is our industry’s obsession. However, few remedies actually eschew the prescriptive philosophy that invites bloat in the first place. Some interpretations of object-oriented CSS even insist on a flattened hierarchy of styles, citing specificity as a problem to be overcome—effectively reducing CSS to SS and denying one of its key features.

I am not writing to condemn these approaches and technologies outright, but there are other methods that just may be more effective for certain conditions. Hold onto your hats.

Selector performance

I’m happy to concede that when some of you saw the two asterisks in * + * at the beginning of this article, you started shaking your head with vigorous disapproval. There is a precedent for that. The universal selector is indeed a powerful tool. But it can be good powerful, not just bad powerful. Before we get into that, though, I want to address the perceived performance issue.

All the studies I’ve read, including Steve Souders’ and Ben Frain’s, have concluded that the comparative performance of different CSS selector types is negligible. In fact, Frain concludes that “sweating over the selectors used in modern browsers is futile.” I’ve yet to read any compelling evidence to counter these findings.

According to Frain, it is, instead, the quantity of CSS selectors—the bloat—that may cause issues; he mentions unused declarations specifically. In other words, embracing class selectors for their “speed” is of little use when their proliferation is causing the real performance issue. Well, that and the giant JPEGs and un-subsetted web fonts.

Contrariwise, the * selector’s simultaneous control of multiple elements increases brevity, helping to reduce file size and improve performance.

The real trouble with the universal sector is that it alone doesn’t represent a very compelling axiom—nothing more intelligent than “style whatever,” anyway. The trick is in harnessing this basic selector and forming more complex expressions that are context-aware.

Dispensing with margins

The trouble with confining styles to objects is that not everything should be considered a property of an object per se. Take margins: margins are something that exist between elements. Simply giving an element a top margin makes no sense, no matter how few or how many times you do it. It’s like applying glue to one side of an object before you’ve determined whether you actually want to stick it to something or what that something might be.

.module-new { margin-bottom: 3em; /* what, all the time? */ }

What we need is an expression (a selector) that matches elements only in need of margin. That is, only elements in a contextual relationship with other sibling elements. The adjacent sibling combinator does just this: using the form x + n, we can add a top margin to any n where x has come before it.

This would, as with standard prescriptive styling, become verbose very quickly if we were to create rules for each different element pairing within the interface. Hence, we adopt the aforementioned universal selector, creating our owl face. The axiom is as follows: “All elements in the flow of the document that proceed other elements must receive a top margin of one line.”

* + * { margin-top: 1.5em; } Completeness

Assuming that your paragraphs’ font-size is 1 em and its line-height is 1.5, we just set a default margin of one line between all successive flow elements of all varieties occurring in any order. Neither we developers nor the folks building content for the project have to worry about any elements being forgotten and not adopting at least a standard margin when rendered one after the other. To achieve this the prescriptive way, we’d have to anticipate specific elements and give them individual margin values. Boring, verbose, and liable to be incomplete.

Instead of writing styles, we’ve created a style axiom: an overarching principle for the layout of flow content. It’s highly maintainable, too; if you change the line-height, just change this singular margin-top value to match.

Contextual awareness

It’s better than that, though. By applying margin between elements only, we don’t generate any redundant margin (exposed glue) destined to combine with the padding of parent elements. Compare solution (a), which adds a top margin to all elements, with solution (b), which uses the owl selector.

The diagrams in the left column show margin in dark grey and padding in light gray.

Now consider how this behaves in regard to nesting. As illustrated, using the owl selector and just a margin-top value, no first or last element of a set will ever present redundant margin. Whenever you create a subset of these elements, by wrapping them in a nested parent, the same rules that apply to the superset will apply to the subset. No margin, regardless of nesting level, will ever meet padding. With a sort of algorithmic elegance, we protect against compound whitespace throughout our interface.

This is eminently less verbose and more robust than approaching the problem unaxiomatically and removing the leftover glue after the fact, as Chris Coyier reluctantly proposed in “Spacing The Bottom of Modules”. It was this article, I should point out, that helped give me the idea for the lobotomized owl.

.module > *:last-child, .module > *:last-child > *:last-child, .module > *:last-child > *:last-child > *:last-child { margin: 0; }

Note that this only works having defined a “module” context (a big ask of a content editor), and requires estimating possible nesting levels. Here, it supports up to three.

Exception-driven design

So far, we’ve not named a single element. We’ve simply written a rule. Now we can take advantage of the owl selector’s low specificity and start judiciously building in exceptions, taking advantage of the cascade rather than condemning it as other methods do.

Book-like, justified paragraphs p { text-align: justify; } p + p { margin-top: 0; text-indent: 2em; }

Note that only successive paragraphs are indented, which is conventional—another win for the adjacent sibling combinator.

Compact modules .compact * + * { margin-top: 0.75em; }

You can employ a little class-based object orientation if you like, to create a reusable style for more compact modules. In this example, all elements that need margin receive a margin of only half a line.

Widgets with positioning .margins-off > * { margin-top: 0; }

The owl selector is an expressive selector and will affect widgets like maps, where everything is positioned exactly. This is a simple off switch. Increasingly, widgets like these will occur as web components where our margin algorithm will not be inherited anyway. This is thanks to the style encapsulation feature of Shadow DOM.

The beauty of ems

Although a few exceptions are inevitable, by harnessing the em unit in our margin value, margins already adjust automatically according to another property: font-size. In any instances that we adjust font-size, the margin will adapt to it: one-line spaces remain one-line spaces. This is especially helpful when setting an increased or reduced body font-size via a @media query.

When it comes to headings, there’s still more good fortune. Having set heading font sizes in your stylesheet in ems, appropriate margin (leading whitespace) for each heading has been set without you writing a single line of additional code.

Phrasing elements

This style declaration is intended to be inherited. That is how it, and CSS in general, is designed to work. However, I appreciate that some will be uncomfortable with just how voracious this selector is, especially after they have become accustomed to avoiding inheritance wherever possible.

I have already covered the few exceptions you may wish to employ, but, if it helps further, remember that phrasing elements with a typical display value of inline will inherit the top margin but be unaffected in terms of layout. Inline elements only respect horizontal margin, which is as specified and standard behavior across all browsers.

If you find yourself overriding the owl selector frequently, there may be deeper systemic issues with the design. The owl selector deals with flow content, and flow content should make up the majority of your content. I don’t advise depending heavily on positioned content in most interfaces because they break implicit flow relationships. Even grid systems, with their floated columns, should require no more than a simple .row > * selector applying margin-top: 0 to reset them.

Conclusion

I am a very poor mathematician, but I have a great fondness for Euclid’s postulates: a set of irreducible rules, or axioms, that form the basis for complex and beautiful geometries. Thanks to Euclid, I understand that even the most complex systems must depend on foundational rules, and CSS is no different. Although modularization of a complex interface is a necessary step in its maturation, any interface that does not follow basic governing tenets is going to lack clarity.

The owl selector allows you to control flow content, but it is also a way of relinquishing control. By styling elements according to context and circumstance, we accept that the structure of content is—and should be—mutable. Instead of prescribing the appearance of individual items, we build systems to anticipate them. Instead of prescribing the appearance of the interface as a whole, we let the content determine it. We give control back to the people who would make it.

When turning off CSS for a webpage altogether, you should notice two things. First, the page is unfalteringly flexible: the content fits the viewport regardless of its dimensions. Second—provided you have written standard, accessible markup—you should see that the content is already styled in a way that is, if not highly attractive, then reasonably traversable. The browser’s user agent styles take care of that, too.

Our endeavors to reclaim and enhance the innate device independence offered by user agents are ongoing. It’s time we worked on reinstating content independence as well.

Categories: Mobile learning

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