At Work, Where Blabbing is a Good Thing – We Think

Screencap of Blab conversationYou know, one thing we like doing at Matrix Group is trying out new tools. Our front-end developers and programmers are always finding new ways to make writing code more efficient, version control more effective, and implementations smoother. In short, they keep finding things to make your projects go live quickly and correctly.

Let’s be honest: sometimes we like playing with stuff for the sheer joy of it.

We also like finding ways to make our internal processes and meetings better. For a lot of reasons, this all boils down to teleconferencing software and applications. (C’mon, how many meetings are – at the same time – brief, effective, and fun?)

So, have you heard of Blab?

It’s a conversation and broadcasting platform that’s been likened to Periscope, but for more people at once. Unless you want to be nothing but an observer, you’ll have to log in with your Twitter account. Then you really get to interact, either as a host with a chance to speak onscreen or through the chat and Q&A functions. It’s in beta right now, so there may be some quirks, but we had fun playing with it.

There are some who have played around with the tool longer, and we look forward to finding out what they’ve learned and how many things we can do with it.

Meanwhile, here we are, being cute as buttons, amirite?

Have you tried out Blab? What about other, competing tools have you discovered recently?

Alex Pineda

Creative Director

&Andi Simons

Design Trends for 2016

It’s that time – time for me to pull out the crystal ball and predict what will be the big trends that are going to hit the design world next year. 2015 was quite a year, and as we all know, the pace of change only accelerates. So here is my forecast for what we will see, design-wise, in 2016:

Mobile First

2016_trendsTraditionally, given that we are predominantly a web design agency, the very first thing we design is the homepage desktop view. The responsive and mobile user interface (UI) was something that usually came towards the end, after we had addressed the desktop experience. This has been how the industry as a whole has always done business, even though all of us have been talking “mobile first” for some time now.

But lately, we’ve been receiving projects where our clients are getting in on the trend and want us to consider the mobile experience first. Based on analytics analysis, we are seeing an exponential growth in mobile traffic, even from what we could consider a more conservative, office-bound audience. So now we have the data and the mandate, we need to switch gears as an agency and carefully consider the needs of our customers in a mobile context and design accordingly.

More Video Content

After the redesign of our company website, we again took a look at our analytics to see what people were clicking on. What we learned is that people love our Matrix Minute videos more than our static content by a pretty big margin.  We also learned that video content does not have to mean slick, well-produced motion reels, but rather, small, intimate, focused clips. The rise of video usage on Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, etc., certainly points to an audience that would rather watch a video than read five paragraphs of text.

So for our clients, rather than thinking of all the copy you will need to write for your next website or blog post, think instead of what video you will shoot.

Wearables Are Here

The wearables market has been around a few years, with early adopters being Pebble, Fitbit, Nike and others. But now that Apple jumped into the wearables market with their Apple Watch, a lot more attention has been paid to what is still a fairly untapped, undeveloped space. What does this mean for our clients?

In the same way that smartphones have changed the way in which customers interact with brands and services, wearables will soon have a similar impact. The way in which your content is constructed will have to change and adapt to this new, and very intimate, platform.

Micro-Interactions

Somewhat related to the wearables trend, there will be an even greater focus on micro-transactions. We do micro-interactions all the time, when we “like” something on Facebook or even turn off the alarm on our phone. Apps, and now wearables, are designed for multiple “touches”, where we:

  • Communicate a status
  • Give feedback
  • Manipulate anything to trigger an action

While we tend to do these actions somewhat automatically or even unconsciously, they are important interactions with your services and brand.

So, rather than thinking of a user engagement as a long, involved session that lasts for hours, think of these micro-interactions as “touching base” with a user on a constant, consistent basis.  We need to plan for, and design, these “touches” with care, and integrate them into an overall engagement strategy.

Natural Motion Interactions

We have lived with the keyboard and mouse for decades now, and we have suffered the consequences: carpal-tunnel syndrome, repetitive stress injuries, and the like. Hopefully for not much longer! With VR headsets like Oculus Rift, hologram-based systems like Hololens, and gesture-based controllers like Leapmotion finally getting ready to go mainstream, we hope we can finally toss our keyboards into the recycling bin.

What this means is that now we have to take into account and design for new ways that customers will interact with content. From full, 3D, immersive environments to speech and natural gesture based systems (think Iron Man and Jarvis!), our user interfaces will be even richer, more complex, and engaging.

Animation to Strengthen Brands

Animation is going to become ingrained in more and more brands and their respective style guides. Many major brands like Google, Microsoft, and IBM already have strong animation rules in place – IBM’s animation library is a great example. We’re going to start seeing these practices trickle down to a wider range of companies now that they’re more accessible and easier to develop.

Adding simple animation transitions is a great way to add more personality to an already established brand, strengthening the message you’re trying to convey. Say you want your site to feel friendly and welcoming; you might want to add a subtle bounce effect onto page elements as they load. Or, if you want a calming, tranquil vibe, perhaps you’ll have images slowly fade in and drop down. At Matrix Group, we’ve been making heavy use of animate.css on our client sites and can’t wait to take things even further in 2016.

What design trends do you think will take center stage in 2016?

2015 is the Ten-Year Anniversary for World Usability Day

“No-one should have to suffer through products and services that get in their way. People should not be made to feel stupid by technology.”

testingviewsThat’s the key thesis for 2015’s World Usability Day on its ten year anniversary.

Your job as a tech professional is to make things that work for the intended audience. The hardest thing to keep in mind as well-educated, savvy, creative tech pros is that we are not our own audience.

The audience may be fifth graders using an app with lots of help text that’s above their reading level. The audience may be 20-year-old entrepreneurs who need no-interference, private, instant communication who’re faced only with insecure tools from five years ago. The audience might be Baby Boomers more accustomed to reading the newspaper who suddenly have to traverse a website that communicates only using symbols. Regardless of whom we’re trying to reach, if we don’t find ways to keep them from feeling stupid, we will fail them.

How do we accomplish better usability?

Innovation! Not only this year’s theme, but a tenet to live by. Don’t just keep to traditional ways of disseminating information, study your audience, your users. How do they look for information? What’s their environment like? What do they need?

By answering these and other key questions, you and other tech pros can help imagine and create better, more efficient methods of getting that information to your audiences.

The World Usability Day website has a fantastic map marking where WUD events are taking place worldwide. Our own local chapter of the User Experience Professionals Association is hosting an event on World Usability day, featuring a number of User Experience (UX) professionals. The speakers will cover everything from tools to testing to cross-cultural challenges in UX development and design.

Are you hosting or attending a World Usability Day event? How do you help make your clients’ experience with tech easier?

Maria Lima

Manager of Special Projects

Doing the Two-Step…Verification, that is

Have you seen those commercials about identity theft – you know, the ones where a petite woman is shopping, but in reality, it’s some bruiser of a guy who’s stolen her identity. Funny, right? Only, not really.

In today’s online world, keeping yourself safe isn’t as easy as having passwords to your accounts. Sure, you can use a password management software (LastPass, 1Password, etc) and have unique, complicated password for each website, but is that enough?

Not anymore.

Passwords are only the first step in keeping that gate closed. They are a single point of failure. If someone can guess (or get access to) your password, then Burly Guy is now pretending to be you and going on a shopping spree at Best Buy.

What do you do? hand holding smartphone

As with guarding your car against thieves, you want to have double protection. You lock your car and have an anti-theft system, right? To achieve this online, you should adopt two-step verification (sometimes called two-factor authentication or 2FA.) It’s a much more secure solution than just passwords.

A good example of this is your ATM card – you have the card (1 step) and you have a PIN (2nd step). If you lose your card, unless you wrote the PIN on the card itself, it’s highly unlikely that someone can use the card to withdraw cash.

That’s the point of 2FA – make it harder for potential online thieves to access your accounts.

Using Two-Step Verification

Setting up 2FA is done individually for each account and many online services offer it as a matter of course. Google, Twitter, Facebook and more are prime examples. These are all high-level targets of cyber thieves.

To set up the two-step verification, simply follow the directions provided by your online service. Usually, it’s as simple as providing a mobile phone number. The service then uses your phone to text you when you log in. They’ll send a text message with a unique code (usually a string of numbers), which you then enter after log in. Simple, right?

So, what are you waiting for? Go on, log in to your accounts and set it up. It’s an easy way to throw up another barrier to cyber criminals.

For more information:

Two-factor authentication: What you need to know (FAQ)
Here’s Everywhere You Should Enable Two-Factor Authentication Right Now

Leah Monica

Marketing & New Business Coordinator

Tips for Working From Home Effectively

WFH_horizontalWorking from home definitely has its perks: time, money, and frustration saved with no commute, fewer distractions (well, hopefully!), and more flexibility, just to name a few. However, working remotely definitely has its challenges, too.

Whether you work from home daily, once a week, once a month, or only once in a blue moon, here are a few tips to make your telecommuting days as productive as possible:

Get up and get ready for your day

Many people say one of the perks of working from home is just being able to roll out of bed 30 seconds before you need to start working. Sure, in theory that’s true, but I’ve found that if I don’t get up, take a shower, make my bed, and have my morning cup of coffee before I sign on for the day, I am much less productive. In most cases your employer is doing you a favor by allowing you to work from home, so out of respect for that, be sure to show up at your best – fresh-faced and alert.

Don’t work in your pajamas

While staying in your pajamas all day and getting paid to do it may sound like a dream – they’re so darn comfortable – many studies have shown that how you are dressed impacts your productivity. You don’t need to put on a suit, but try to wear something that you would be willing to wear out in public. It will shock you how much more alert you will feel throughout the day!

Sit at a desk

…and not on your couch, in your recliner, or on your bed. Just like the clothes you are wearing, your environment can have a strong impact on your productivity. It’s tempting to let yourself get a little more comfortable when you’re working from home, but getting comfortable can be very dangerous. I had a friend who once fell asleep for a couple of hours on the job because they decided to settle in to their big, comfortable recliner for the day. Yikes!

Get out of the house

This is especially important if you are working at home for multiple days in a row. Make sure you get the change of scenery that you need, whether that means working from a coffee shop for a few hours or spending part of your lunch break running a quick errand or walking around the block.

Set clear boundaries with others in your home

If you have a significant other, roommate, kids, or other family members that will be home during your workday, make sure you set firm boundaries and stick to them. Be clear about the hours you will be working, where you will be located, and under what circumstances (if any) it’s okay to interrupt.

Leave the chores for later

While it may be tempting to sneak in a load of laundry or two, unload the dishwasher, or get dinner started, try to save your chores for outside of working hours. Take advantage of the time that you would otherwise be commuting to get the housework done so that you can focus 100% on your job during business hours.

Stay connected

Don’t let the fact that you’re physically removed from the office impact your work or work relationships in any way. Call into the office regularly, get on video chat for important meetings, and make sure to stay active on your company instant messenger. It will make all the difference!

Do you work from home often? Have any other tips to share about effectively working from home? Please share!