Category Archives: Trends

Core Web Vitals

Google’s three essentials to user experience.

In 2022, UX (user experience) is being driven by one of the most powerful companies in the world. 

There are over 1.7 billion websites in the world. To find a site within this universe of possibilities we depend on search engines. Google is the most well-known, popular and powerful. To access and read/use a website, we depend on web browsers. One of the most widely used and influential browsers is Google Chrome.

In its role as a leader and organizer of the web, Google seeks to optimize their search function, their Chrome browser, and the way the web operates as a whole. They do a lot of research, which they share with developers. And they also set industry standards.

In 2020, Google revamped their algorithm to prioritize the UX over other technical criteria. Google grades websites in order to improve their own functionality and to inform their search rankings.  

The new grading priorities are: 

  • Loading performance: How quickly does a page load?
  • Responsiveness: How fast does a page respond to user input?
  • Visual stability: Do things stay in the same place on a screen?

Google calls these new “user experience criteria” Core Web Vitals. While subject to change in the future, these criteria are made up of the following three metrics.

First impressions

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures the time it takes for the largest piece of content to show up on a user’s screen. This could be an image banner or text. It’s the first thing a visitor sees when visiting a site. 

Scoring well means that a site loads its initial impression in under 2.5 seconds. This type of speed signals the user that the site is functioning well. If the first image loads slowly, users often leave before interacting with content. 

Don’t make me wait

First Input Delay (FID) is another speed measurement. It tests how long it takes for a site to respond to an interaction (Google tests the first reaction). This could be a button tap on a mobile devise, or a link click or scroll on a desktop.

Scoring well means that a site reacts within 100 milliseconds or less. Responsive, quick reactions are key to keeping users engaged with content. Slow reaction times create frustration, and then abandonment by users. 

Hold still

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) measures the visual stability of a website. It looks at whether or not things like placement on screen, navigation buttons, content, etc., move around on a website as it’s loading­.

Scoring well is not measured in terms of time, but as a compilation of various factors. Users get frustrated when they see the content they want to access but need to wait for an image to load before a button will work or when a button moves to a different location on the screen.

Making it happen

Major content management systems (CMSs) like WordPress are constantly refining functionality issues like those measured by Core Web Vitals. If you use a CMS, consult with your developer about the most current specifications for your platform. If you’re building a site from scratch, make sure the developer is aware of these evolving conventions. From a strategic point of view, use this information to make smart choices about what content goes where to maximize UX.

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UX 2022

Good website design begins with the user.

Website design is always evolving to keep pace with innovations, devices and applications. 

Knowing when and how to upgrade your website can be confusing. Just because a feature is new or popular doesn’t mean it’s beneficial or even necessary. Like many other design-driven fashions, website features often come and go within a year or two. 

Consider this article announcing the demise of the once “must have” feature. And then this article, a year later, defending and clarifying the use of parallax scrolling.

I remember finding parallax scrolling mesmerizing. But after using it a bit, I didn’t like  the annoying way it controlled my experience. The visual excitement wore off quickly. 

Instead of fashion, let UX (user experience) guide your redesign decisions. 

Human Focused

It’s easy to forget that computers and software are guided by coded machine languages––“1011000101.” They don’t speak human. 

In the 1990s, user-centered design pioneers, like Alan Cooper, opened web developers’ eyes to the human being on the other side of the interface. They created evaluation processes to understand and refine computer/human interfaces, giving us the digital world we live in today.   

UX is the evolution of user-centered design. It’s more comprehensive in its approach. Instead of merely making the machine and human fit together, UX begins with the user’s needs and designs the machine toward the user’s experience. 

UX design looks past the technology (both hardware and software), even past the content, to what is happening with/to the user. Designers interrogate the entire process with questions about:

  • Expectations––What does the user want from the experience?
  • Situation––When and where and on what devices do users access the website?
  • Ergonomics––How does the design maximize or accommodate the human body?
  • Culture––How does the user’s identity, community and experience influence their interactions?
  • Psychology––What does mind/brain science tell us about screen interactions?
  • Environment––How does your site, its processes and output effect the environment? 

Technology’s gravitational pull is toward the machine and away from the human. Good UX resists making people conform to machines. Good UX cares less about what is technically possible than it does about what’s best. Good UX creates a synthesis between users’ needs and the machine’s capabilities. 

UX 2022

In 2022, good UX has become the standard for good website design. It’s front and center in many design publications and design presentations. This is good news.

Conducting an exhaustive UX study, based on highly-researched user data and involve many tiers of modeling, testing and redesign, is very cumbersome and very expensive.

It’s more feasible and realistic to begin with a solid understanding of an organization’s goals and audience. With that understanding as a foundation, we can recommend design features that are proven, tested and will add value to both the user and the organization. Many of the features in use today have been developed using UX principles and they are being constantly refined. 

Over the next few months, we will look more closely at important UX features, learn how they work and how they can improve a website.

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Take a Bigger Bite

When snackable content won't satisfy, consider long-format podcasts.

We’ve all heard about snackable content⏤six-second videos, memes, SMS surveys, etc.⏤short, dynamic, often interactive, content packets meant to entertain or entice audiences toward further engagement. All good. 

Snackable is a huge part of social media content marketing. It’s especially effective for mobile, consumer audiences. We create snackable content for our clients to help drive employee engagement and to push specific campaigns, like annual enrollment or wellness initiatives. For internal audiences, the goal of snackable content is not entertainment. It is to promote long-form content designed to forward important organizational goals. 

Think of it more as an appetizer. Because sometimes you need a little more to chew on.  

Slow down, take time, dive deep. 

Only small bits of information are presented in snackable content. However, many topics worth communicating to employee audiences are significant⏤situated in organizational history, strategic thought and planning. Consider the communicative value that is lost when much of the exposition and reason underlying decisions is left blank. We are living in an age when audiences want more information, not less. The same is true for employees. Better information, better engagement.  

Sure, long-form content takes a little longer to consume, but the payoff is worth it. There’s time to dig a little deeper. There’s time for managers and employees to broaden their perspectives on the inner workings, challenges and strengths of your organization. 

There’s time for long-format podcasting.

A long-format podcast engages the listener with conversations that either thoroughly cover a topic or continue as ongoing discussions. There are many ways these conversations can be formatted. They can be 10–15-minute episodes serialized for as many as necessary to cover the topic; regularly scheduled ongoing conversations lasting 20 to 30 minutes; or 60-90 minute panel discussions about very technical subjects. Time is not the issue. Depth is. 

Side-by-Side (a demo)

Below I found two pieces of content that promote long-term savings for and financial independence for younger people. The first is from financial trainers and authors, MyFi, Inc. They created a “snackable” video illustrating a familiar truism of saving and compounding interest to promote their book and services. The second is a podcast episode from the “About to Launch” podcast, a very successful financial podcast created and hosted by Jamila Souffrant. 

Check them both out and consider which one would best drive employee participation in a 401(k) or other ESP. 

Push here to play short video.

Podcasting is now.

When they first started, podcasts were an obscure way to listen to audio files on devices, like Apple iPods. Early content was generally repurposed from public radio, sports radio and other talk radio programs. Universities also made educational resources available in the form of lectures and seminar discussions.  

Two things happened over the past fifteen years to help push podcasts to the upper tier of popular digital content. First, there was the explosion of smart phones. Remember it wasn’t that long ago when most people only had cell phones. Then came the DIY movement popularized on YouTube, whereby everyday folk demonstrate their talents, discuss their interests and chime in on subjects they care about. Podcasting, both video and audio, emerged within these trends. 

Only five years ago, creating a great-sounding corporate podcast meant renting, or creating, a designated recording studio space. This made podcasting expensive, unwieldy and difficult to coordinate.

Today, podcasting is very accessible. Technology has evolved on similar tracks to other cloud-based collaborative tools like Zoom. Smith uses technology that allows our clients to create great-sounding podcasts from the comfort of their office or their home. The recording is done remotely, with Smith production staff and consultants. Prep time is minimal and editing tools allow us to turn around complete episodes quickly. We also host client podcasts on secure, private platforms so client content is only viewed by intended audiences.    

Where podcasts can help.

Areas within your organization that require deep knowledge, cross-departmental understanding or increased transparency are excellent candidates for podcast conversations. 

Setting Direction: Top-level decisions are often disseminated through various indirect channels resulting in incomplete information and decisions that appear devoid of supporting facts and logic. A regular C-suite podcast can put everyone on the same page, understanding not only the direction of the company but how and why a decision was reached.

Educating Employees: Employee education is a never-ending process. Information is only part of the education process. Other important aspects of effective learning involve presentation, accessibility and engagement. Whether the subject is changing processes, organizational transformation or employee benefits, creating a podcast can help support your internal educational goals.   

Increasing Collaboration: Does your left hand know what your right is doing? In large organizations, the answer is very often “no.” New ideas emerge when new inputs and perspectives meet existing knowledge. Opportunities to collaborate toward innovation are often missed because of a lack of cross-departmental communication. Challenges like a silo-mentality that ends in groupthink and even inter-departmental obstruction can be transformed through conversations dedicated to cooperation. 

Five Styles of Podcasts

Interview: The interview is a very familiar style of podcast. A host asks questions of guests, often subject matter experts. (Clients have used these to help explain difficult legal and investment issues surrounding retirement.) The person conducting the interview needs a solid understanding of the subject to get the most from the guest. Loosely scripting these talks can be very useful. 

Panel: This style of podcast is well suited to highly technical issues and for collaboration. Panel discussions should have a moderator/host and subject matter experts with different perspectives. One key benefit of the panel discussion is that knowledge is spread across various panelists. This takes the content load off any single person, and it often leads to surprising new perspectives and shared understandings. 

Solo: While this style has the advantage of being the easiest to schedule, produce and edit, the presenter has a difficult job. The solo presenter must hold the attention of the audience without any help. Unless you have a very talented speaker on staff, this podcast is best suited for CEO or other high-level executives. However, beware of over-exposure for key executives. A frequency of quarterly or monthly podcasts is best.

Ongoing Conversations: Unlike a serialized topical discussion, these podcast don’t have an end. The idea is to have two or three trusted voices that become familiar fixtures within the organization. Ideally, they each bring unique, yet complementary, perspectives. For example, one person may continually take the side of the customer, while the other the side of production or marketing. Together they work through challenging issues from familiar perspectives. 

Any department can host its own podcast; e.g., HR, Compliance, Marketing, Research & Development, etc. Because audiences can be very targeted, there is no need for the entire organization to hear every show. Depending on the amount of information you need to cover and the pace of change, weekly or monthly episodes can be a part of employees’ lives.  

Repurposed material: This style of podcast allows you to assemble company talks, learning sessions, outside presentations, videos and other material that different departments generate. Transforming this existing content can eventually create a singular archive for preserving organizational memory and tracking transformation. 

Getting Started

Smith can help your organization strategize and implement your internal podcasts. Contact us; we’ll listen to your specific needs and give you a more detailed presentation of our ideas and capabilities.

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What We're Reading.

Here’s what’s under our reading lamps in 2021.

Allison Artnak

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Conversations about biases, racism and how they infect nearly every aspect of life.

Presence by Amy Cuddy

How to bring your boldest, most authentic self to challenging situations.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

A memoir about growing up as the daughter of Steve Jobs.

Norine Cannon

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

He’s a great storyteller and his reflections on his presidency and his life confirm what I’ve always thought—he’s a good man.

Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld

A compilation of his favorite material over his long career. I also admire his dedication to his craft, choosing to return to stand up vs. retiring on a beach (on his own island, probably).

Mary Cohen

The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity by Norman Doidge

Such a hopeful book. It’s only recently that neuroscientists have confirmed the plasticity of the brain. Reminiscent of the late Oliver Sacks, Doidge presents the latest research and case studies to bolster research findings. As he says, “the true marvel is … the way … the brain has evolved, with sophisticated and neuroplastic abilities and a mind that can direct its own unique restorative process of growth.

The Sediments of Time: My Lifelong Search for the Past by Meave Leakey

Yes. Meave is part of “that” Leakey family. The daughter-in-law of Louis and Mary Leakey and part of three generations of paleoanthropological royalty, she tells her story along with her youngest daughter, Samira. Her discoveries have changed how we think about our origins. Instead of straight-line, ape-to-human progression, her work suggests human species living simultaneously.

What It’s Like to be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing —What Birds Are Doing, and Why by David Allen Sibley

During the early days of the pandemic, so many commentators marveled at their ability to hear the birds singing. It was finally quiet enough to hear birdsong. Birdsong. Is there anything more beautiful or hopeful? This encyclopedia of bird behavior contains a whopping 330 illustrations, many of them life size. Browsing through this volume, it is exciting to learn as much as possible about the creatures that we share this planet with—creatures we can finally hear. 

Rick Cole

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor

Modern man has forgotten how to breath properly, says James Nestor. I had no idea that breathing with the proper tempo, depth and even orifice has a such powerful impact on health, emotional wellbeing and even disease vectors. Who knew breathing would be such a big deal in 2020?

Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America by Chris Arnade

No matter how many Lululemons and Whole Foods are in your neighborhood, you are only a short drive away from a much harsher America. A successful Wall Street banker, Arnade took long walks to clear his mind. On one walk he stumbled into a surprising community⏤poor, drug addicted, hopeless, dispossessed and forgotten New Yorkers living where Manhattan meets the Bronx. Over time he befriended and then photographed the residents of Hunts Point in a remarkably respectful manner. After discovering “back row America” is everywhere, Arnade left his job on Wall Street to introduce them to us. This book touched me deeply.   

Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief by Jordan B. Petersen

Imagine Moses, Fredrich Nietzsche, Charles Darwin, Joseph Campbell, Malcolm Gladwell and Dr. Laura coming together to help us understand how our universe, biology, psychology, history and more create a framework for the ways we see and believe “reality.” Fascinating!

Amy Crowell

Empathy: Why It Matters, And How to Get It by Roman Krznaric

This book inspired the A Mile in My Shoes traveling museum, a collection of curated  personal stories in the form of short podcasts where the listener also walks around in the author’s shoes. 

Standoff: Race, Policing and a Deadly Assault that Gripped a Nation by Jamie Thompson 

Jamie was my college roommate. Its timeliness is apparent. Included on a short list of books recommended to read about this issue. Plus, I always love giving her a plug.

Also, The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington (see below). The latest by another contemporary of mine at Furman University. I enjoyed his first novel, Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Homeland Elegies: A Novel by Ayad Akhtar

Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight against the Drug Companies that Delivered the Opioid Epidemic by Eric Eyre.

Eric Eyre and Ayad Akhtar were on a list of 2020 books recommended by the New York Times Book Review and given to me at Christmas. Hope to make it through before next Christmas.

Michael Garcia

The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington

This is the second novel from an old college buddy who everyone knew would always write amazing novels. As predicted, it’s really good.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Inspiring and disturbing, this alt-history page-turner will keep you thinking.

The Expats by Chris Pavone

When you just want to read something fun.

Glen Gonzalez

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Because I’m craving a classic.

How to Read the Constitution and Why by Kim Wehle

Because it feels necessary.

A Village Life by Louise Gluck

Because this is a score for American poets. She was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 27 years.

Pity the Reader by Kurt Vonnegut and Suzanne McConnell 

Because Vonnegut has a distinct and quirky literary voice and I’m curious to hear his perspective on the craft.

Don Sanford

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

His second novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. It is a fascinating glimpse into a dark time in American history seen through the eyes of a young black man in a segregated reform school in the South just one generation removed.

The Stand by Stephen King

I have always been a fan of King and, so far, I think this might be his finest work. Also, while the book was written decades ago, it is so relevant to what we are seeing in the world as the subject of the novel is a global pandemic. Wonderful character development and a real pager tuner. I can’t put it down.

Julia Wolf

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.

The book is about how choices made without thinking aren’t actually as simple as they may seem. 

America Was Hard to Find: A Novel by Kathleen Alcott. 

The story, beginning in the late fifties, of a brief love affair and the child who resulted.   

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. 

The book traces the known history of our “most feared ailment” from its earliest appearances over five thousand years ago to the present, and the war that is still being waged.

Trey Wood

A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the 20th Century by William F. Buckley, Jr.

Among Buckley’s many talents was an ability to see promise in most people regardless of their politics. This collection of that most challenging of the written arts – the eulogy – demonstrates both Buckley’s talent and his gift for seeing the best in people. Here, he shares final thoughts concerning 52 souls, including figures some readers might be surprised to see this famous political conservative comment upon in such fashion, such as John Lennon, Jerry Garcia and John Kenneth Galbraith. 

Let’s Connect

If you’ve read one of these or have a great suggestion of your own, we’d love to hear from you. 

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