Sarah Jedrey

About Sarah Jedrey

Sarah wears lots of hats, touching everything from content marketing to front-end development. She is the main client trainer at Matrix Group. She also edits Matrix Group’s YouTube series, The Matrix Minute, as well as screencasts and videos for clients. When she’s not at work, she’s car-singing, cooking or creating comics and illustrations. She has one attention-seeking cat named Mouth.

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?

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?

The Inaugural Code(Her) Conference

DCWW Code(Her) Conference
September 13 was just amazing. The whole weekend was dense with events and what seems to be the Real Arrival of Fall, complete with a drizzly, cool, gray weather pattern outside the Microsoft office in Chevy Chase. Inside, it was alive with a sea of excited tech folks and DC Web Women’s chosen neon-green color scheme. It was like they knew how the weather would be and were combating it with design.

Here we were. A hugely, gloriously diverse crowd of people who make things and services for a connected world, all prepared to learn more – and to celebrate the people blazing trails and the people following the trails that they’d never before been able to access. Needless to say, Twitter was humming all day.

After DCWW President Sybil Edwards executed her duties regarding introduction and gratitude, we got to enjoy the first of our keynote speakers.

Great keynotes are more than speeches

Bonnie Bogle, COO of Mapbox, told us about Mapbox, her role in it, and the kind of culture they have there. And, yes, she did that – the stuff Mapbox does is simply amazing, including painting in a city’s streets with the not-entirely-wise habits of people who tweet and drive – but what she really did was give a masterclass in storytelling. It was not merely a talk about business philosophy or statistics. It was a demonstration of why letting collective and individual passion thrive can reach and influence millions and result in a business that is a success by all measures.

Immediately after lunch, we got to listen to Clarissa Peterson speak (slides). She’s co-founder of Peterson/Kandy, a UX expert, and the author of Learning Responsive Web Design. What she gave was the crashiest of courses on responsive web design – a compelling, bite-size reason to buy her book and find her wherever else she chooses to speak – but what she was was an example to those who are too aware of their status as students. The story of Clarissa’s growth from “just” a basic developer to an expert speaking on RWD was a roadmap for those of us new to anything. It yielded bumper sticker-worthy maxims like “You learn more by teaching others” and, when it comes to content (I’m mangling it, but the gist was), “Is it easier to move from a house to an apartment or from an apartment to a house?”

What a talk covers and what it’s about – what it is – can be drastically different in all the important ways. Hire these women to talk for you. They get it.

More information than you can fit in your head

So, if you’ve never been to a conference, let me tell you what’s difficult. Parking. Finding a seat in a crowded room. Finding an unoccupied power outlet.

The hardest part: Figuring out which of the amazing talks you’re going to attend.

After days of agonizing, I figured out which three to attend. My only regret is that there aren’t 12 of me.

Infographics Everywhere

We’re swimming in an ocean of data, and we’re increasingly capturing, analyzing, and taking advantage of that data. The problem is so few of us know how to effectively translate it all into the popular and super-useful infographic. As Laura Larrimore said, ‘The less you know about design, the less you should be designing.” This is especially true for business on a very tight budget. So few of us are designers; so few of us should try to be.

Some low-cost or free tools included Piktochart and Microsoft Office. She walked us through the one and gave us the pros and cons of the others, and I think we all left a little less scared of Big Data and Making It All Look Pretty.

Accessibility Testing

David Kennedy, Theme Wrangler for Automattic, talked to us about testing for web accessibility with free tools. Full disclosure: He’s a friend of mine. He’s knowledgeable and passionate as heck about keeping the web accessible to every person who can get onto the internet.

Accessibility is, unfortunately, foreign to too many of us. It’s not that scary, after all. Dave gave us a crash course on the main difference between Section 508 compliance and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 (short form: WCAG is a bit more thorough) and shared resources we can use immediately to make our work more accessible – a11y.me is a fantastic place to start.

Some key tools that are both cool and easy to use are this infographic on Accessibility for Designers, Wave, the Color Palette Accessibility Checker, and The Readability Test Tool.  Do yourself a favor and go try each of them.

The New Word-of-Mouth

The Social Media Trainer and Consultant at Admin Tech Consulting, Romona Foster is a woman of many talents. Due to the laptop and projector refusing to talk to each other for a half hour, we learned that one of her talents was to memorize the name of 30 people in a few minutes. What could’ve been a dull disaster became a high-energy exchange of ideas about the role of social media and how to convince clients reluctant to change.

The room, with those 30 attendees, represented a range of experience from novice to master. The conversation we had brought home the fact that “social media” is as big and complex a subject as you could imagine. We touched on strategy, platforms, engagement, content sourcing, ethics and laws, time-savers, and stereotypes, and we still hadn’t exhausted ourselves when it was time to depart. But before we did, Romona left us with a good, actionable list of tips and tools especially useful for the less-experienced.

So, same again next year?

DCWW Partner AwardThere was an afterparty where DCWW honored several people and businesses for being, I believe, excellent examples of what women in tech can do for women and for tech. The party was so hearty that it was a bit difficult to hear.

All I know is I went up to the stage to accept the DCWW Community Partner of the Year on behalf of Matrix Group!

The conference was fantastic. I left dazed by the density of information I’d absorbed during the day. I can’t wait for next time!

GoodUI: Great site, great ideas

Home page of goodui.orgPeople love lists. And listicles. A lot. Let’s just accept and appreciate it. Especially because this website presents its excellent, bimonthly brainstorm of user-interface ideas in list form.

I’m pretty darn impressed with GoodUI.org because:

  1. It makes it easy for visitors to navigate and to understand
  2. It lives its recommendations
  3. It can trigger inspiration and conversation.

Even if you don’t agree with all of the suggestions, this is a fantastic resource for user-experience teams. Even arguing over the relative merits of pushing a product rather than letting the customer make their own decisions is a productive exercise for your team. Check it out.

How awesome or useless are these ideas? More importantly, what are your ideas?

Prove you’re a human! With games!

One of my jobs is to track down interesting, pertinent articles and reduce them – and their URLs – to Twitter-friendly lengths. To get those links short, I use Ow.ly.

Full disclosure: I chose it because it was easy to remember and, at the time, had the fewest number of steps and sign-ins to go through. Lazy? Yes. I’m human.Screenshot of test

But I recently went through my URL-shortening routine and discovered that the normal CAPTCHA – those little boxes of text that look like someone scanned a photocopy of a water-damaged book printed in the 1630s – wasn’t there!  Instead, you just have to click “Shrink it!”

What pops up then is an interesting intersection of gamification, tech security, and a possible accessibility nightmare. A randomized, simple game shows up in which you drag the appropriate animated image to a predetermined spot. “Make lemonade”, the game requests, and if you drag the lemon and the ice – but not the basketball – to the pitcher, you have proven you’re a human. Your reward is the shortened URL.

Now, I’m not a big CAPTCHA hater. I’m quite good at deciphering the blurry letters and the s that looks like an f – again, text from the 1600s – and it never is unduly time-consuming for me to use the traditional CAPTCHA. However, if I remember correctly, computers are getting better at making the same distinctions I find so simple, and security folks have been scrambling for a good way for humans to prove their humanity without enraging every one of them. So I see why they upgraded their methods and made sure those upgrades were in a game form.

Matrix staffers tried it out, and most were conservatively positive about it. Oh, one person didn’t mind, and another loathed it, but most saw that this new method could be effective with a few tweaks. I’m mainly concerned about accessibility; there is an accessibility icon a user may click to get a different task, but since I’m able-bodied, I don’t think I’m in a position to judge.

You should go try it out.

Tell us what you think about Ow.ly’s replacing CAPTCHA with its new game.