Web Performance Improvement

page-speed[Note: there’s a new theme and other performance-related changes since this was written. A lot here is still relevant but you might also have a look here.]

A while back I noticed this site had cratered from a once-perfect Page Speed Insights score to an embarrassing 59. It took a few hours of work but I got it up to a score of 91 — more importantly, because that’s just a number, I’ve improved the actual page speed as much as I can. The things bogging me down now, and they’re not bogging very much, are out of my control unless I want to stop using Google Analytics or Jetpack for WordPress, both of which are worth a few additional milliseconds of load speed.

The only other issue is server response time. This site is hosted on GoDaddy, so what can I say — it is what it is.

Here’s more-or-less what I did and the plugins that helped:

WP Super Cache and EWWW Image Optimizer don’t require configuration and can just be installed and activated and your performance will improve. The other two can break a site — you should know what you’re doing and be prepared for some effort. Back up your site before trying them.

Online Reviews As Good As Personal Recommendations

online-reviews-chartSearch Engine Land published a study from BrightLocal about the effect of online business reviews. There’s lots of data, but the take-away is that those reviews matter, almost as much as personal recommendations, which matter a whole lot. I try to review products (books!) and services, especially when my experience has been positive, because I read and value reviews myself and I’m willing to take a few minutes to go beyond the “this sucks”, anger-driven Amazon one-star reviews.

Trends in Logo Designs

2014 logo trends. 2014 Logo Trends[/caption]Bill Gardner at The Logo Lounge has compiled his 2014 Logo Trends, a look at what’s popular in logo design. The narrative emphasizes the steadily increasing importance of Smart Phones to the design worlds, as logos lose some detail so they can be attractively rendered on small screens.

Note: If you’ve come to realize that your website IS your business and most people look at it on a smart phone, you might lose all interest in seeing your logo on a glossy print brochure.

Review: “Microinteractions” by Dan Saffer; O’Reilly Media

After defining the topic as “single use-case features [of a user interface] that do one thing only” with a light switch as the iconic example, then arguing for the importance of getting the features of user experience right, then setting the goal of “dissect[ing] microinteractions in order to help readers design their own”, followed by a mostly-irrelevant but well-told introductory story about a cell-phone ring-tone destroying a musical performance, the author quickly establishes an analysis framework, dividing interactions into Triggers, Rules, and Feedback, and devotes early chapters to explaining each of the components.

The book, unfortunately, doesn’t fulfill this promising (minus that story) start.

Rather than an intensive and systematic dissection of single-use-case interactions, we’re given example after example (after example) of Triggers, then of Rules, then of Feedback, almost all drawn from postings to a single Website (“Little Big Details”),accompanied by a narrative which, by rapidly changing point of view and underlying metaphor, makes the analytical context confusing and causes all of these examples (and there are a LOT of examples) to just pile together, conceptually.

There are good ideas — use smart defaults, don’t start from zero, recognize “signature moments” — but they are presented in mind-numbing breadth rather than depth, with many, many examples but little analysis of why these rules might apply exactly this way in this particular context. The barrage of examples, to me, grew tiresome. You might have figured that out already.

Mr. Saffer tells us how to judge a successful feature — “what you’re striving for is a feeling of naturalness, an inevitability, a flow…” — and it’s a shame he didn’t apply that simple measure to his book.

I appreciate and generally trust the “Who Should Read This Book?” feature in O’Reilly books, but in this case it failed me — rather than the “anyone who cares about making better products” of the Preface, the right audience is professional, full-time user experience designers wanting to, and able to, hone their skills through exposure to examples. If that sort of person could have a much higher opinion of the book, and I wouldn’t argue a bit.

This book is available from O’Reilly Media at http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920027676.do

A Fine Responsive Design Demo

Well on it’s way to becoming a trendy buzzword, “Responsive Design” means very different things to different people. An obvious statement, sure, but a designer/developer*, replete from months or years of reading, experimenting, and struggling with the difficulties of implementation has a very different understanding of the term than a busy, harried small-business owner wanting to upgrade their 5-year old brochure-type Website  so it looks good on a phone, and the different perspectives will require some effort to consolidate if the developer and the client hope to work to their mutual benefit. .

Brad Frost has come to help.

He has build a sweet, simple responsive demo-site, very useful for showing to a client (the busy, harries, small business owner of the first paragraph) what we developers mean when we say “responsive”, and by extension, to show that “responsive”, at least to a Web-developer, has a more restricted meaning than “works good on a phone.”

The demo is best used (of course in my opinion) with a full-sized browser which you can then gradually shrink to demonstrate the layout changes that occur at different breakpoints.

* I’m not certain there’ such a thing as a designer/developer in the Web domain anymore. Both are hard and require a lot of time to stay sharp, and it’s not easy to see how someone can do both well. I could be discussing my own limitations.