Articles by: Gary Stevens
AI in Design
When you hear artificial intelligence (AI) discussed in the news, it’s usually related to new technical achievements in how large sets of data can be organized and understood. But the value of AI goes beyond just data science and can actually extend into other realms like web design.
Normally, web design is thought of as a purely human endeavor, like a form of art that is mostly reliant on creativity. However, advancements in AI have opened up an opportunity for designers to collaborate with smart computer systems to develop user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) content in a more efficient manner.
Let’s explore how AI and machine learning (ML) are used in web design today and how we can expect these two fields to blend in the future.
Basics of Artificial Design Intelligence
The web development community uses the term Artificial Design Intelligence (ADI) first popularized by site builder Wix to describe how new automation technologies contribute to UI and UX work. This change in how professionals approach design methods has skyrocketed in popularity during recent years. Companies like Adobe have even begun to experiment with machine learning to build AI-centric design tools.
Obviously, design has evolved light years since the early days of the world wide web. Back then, webpages were manually coded in HTML while designers tried to determine what colors, fonts, and styles worked best in an online environment. This was a period of great experimentation, marked with plenty of failures and lessons learned.
As the internet matured, common design strategies and best practices emerged to help developers create a consistent experience for users. At the same time, back-end servers have come to rely on automation to build dynamic web-based applications. The ADI movement combines these two concepts to elevate how UI and UX design is accomplished.
Much of modern artificial intelligence is based on a concept called machine learning, where a team compiles a wide range of data and lets a computer network analyze it through a sequence of algorithms. The goal is for the AI system to identify patterns and trends that might not be readily evident to a human.
Early ADI adopters realized that decades of web design experiments – successes and failures – could serve as a useful data collection to run through algorithms. The result has proven to be a powerful tool when it comes to humans collaborating with machines to improve UI and UX.
Consider logos: They’re the foundation of development projects. Back at the birth of the internet, companies would create their own image file to serve as a digital logo. Time passed and some organizations realized they could outsource that task to experts in branding and web design. But still, it remained a purely manual effort.
Fast forward to today and designers leverage logo-makers that run on an AI system. Thanks to the massive data sets that algorithms have already crunched, the process is now as simple as answering a few questions, filling in a few criteria, then waiting for the system to propose different designs. This logo-while-you-wait process relies on the AI engine to analyze the latest logo trends to develop something that fits your company’s needs.
Designing in the trenches – WordPress: If you work in WordPress, and it’s hard to avoid it, you’ll be elbows-deep in artificial intelligence and machine learning plugins before you realize it. There is a true explosion of new products hitting the market in this area, ranging from spam detectors to grammar improvement to a variety of recommendation engines.
A common scenario is a small business owner builds a website on a DIY platform like Wix and then realizes the extreme limitations, so asks you to migrate their website to WordPress, spiff it up, and turn it into a cash cow. Before you realize it, AI and ML are your project partners.
Integration of Tools
Web design is not just about colors, fonts and logos. The best websites in the world deliver a positive UX experience for each visitor. This means that when a person arrives at a website, they are easily find what they are looking for thanks to the combined design power of humans and AI.
One of the primary goals for AI and machine learning when it comes to web design is to make the UI and UX personalized for each user. Not all people agree on what display or set of features is best, especially if they come from different places on the planet and speak different languages. But AI makes it possible for designers to create flexible templates that adapt to the person using them.
Web developers have realized that they can integrate AI-based tools directly into their designs to add value for users. For example, users may want to edit PDF documents directly in their browser. In bygone days, that would have been a tall (or impossible) order, but with AI and machine learning doing the heavy lifting, content can be ”visually” extracted from third-party files and made easier to manipulate on-the-fly, even in a document format formerly considered to be locked-in.
Another design feature that can be AI powered is an in-browser chat tool. Businesses that sell goods or services online often want to provide a way for their customers to get quick support. With an AI-based chat tool, this digital customer service representative can answer questions and point the way to useful information, often finding solutions without having to escalate their query to a human.
You can’t talk about the data that powers AI and ML in today’s world without talking about how to protect it. Proper collection, storage, and use of data is no longer simply an ethical question. With the stringent GDPR regulations put into play in 2018, and the accompanying fines for misbehavior, it’s a financial survival question as well.
How far has AI come? It’s getting perilously close to being able to consistently hack the vaunted Captcha plugin using machine vision. Heretofore Captcha has served as a trusted website gatekeeper against automated spam but appears to be on the verge of becoming obsolete.
Consider implementing the following precautions when working with AI/ML in your own online life and suggest clients do the same when you hand off a completed site:
1 Almost every site collects some sort of data that falls under GDPR bur few site owners take the time to properly secure themselves against the latest smart malware attacks. A WordPress maintenance plan costs a little bit but removes that particular worry. It’s exactly what it sounds like – outsourcing your security. For some, it’s well worth the peace of mind to bring in experts.
2 If you’re a freelancer or work for a company that collects customer data, you should already have a virtual private network (VPN) in place to keep hackers from stealing or corrupting your information. Already in use by 25% of people who go online, VPNs are rapidly becoming the de facto method of protecting all the info an insatiable AI algorithm needs to become smarter.
The Bottom Line
The advancement of AI/ML will continue to revolutionize all areas of technology, including web design. And we shouldn’t depart the premises without allaying fears that the end game of this technology is to replace designers. That’s not the likely outcome of all this – at least not in any foreseeable iteration of the industry.
Instead, what we can anticipate is for web designers to begin trusting AI as an augmented partner, using it to accomplish repeatable tasks in an efficient way. This frees the designer to focus on the creative tasks that no amount of AI can simulate and benefits the end user, which is the ultimate goal.
Most Common Website Errors 2019
In the modern day business world, it’s obvious that no company can survive or thrive without a strong web presence. But simply throwing some pretty HTML onto a server isn’t enough to guarantee success, especially in competitive industries that are full of tech-savvy entrepreneurs.
When you start your very first online venture, you might presume that you get to sit back and watch a large audience of consumers rush to your website. But pretty quickly you’ll find that gaining and maintaining a user base is a hard job that requires a great deal of time, effort, and creativity.
This article runs through five of the most common mistakes that website owners make and provides the steps to take to get your online business on the path to success.
1- Think More Like a Customer
Time is a person’s most precious commodity and you need to keep that in mind when designing your business plan and the website that will accompany it. Before you sit down to write a single line of code, think about how you plan to add value to your customers’ daily lives.
Once your focus has been set and vetted by others, go about building a website that supports that vision while keeping the user experience as simple and streamlined as possible. You want customers to be able to navigate your web pages easily and find the information and services they care about as quickly as possible.
One mistake that a lot of websites make is to devote too much real estate to advertisements. This can be tempting, as display ads often serve as a new company’s primary form of income. But if you flood your pages with annoying ads, you’ll end up distracting visitors and risk losing their business altogether.
2 – Optimize Better for Search Engines
The discussion around search engine optimization (SEO) reached a peak in the past decade, but it still remains a critical topic to consider when building and launching a new website. If your business provides a unique product or service, there’s a good chance the potential customers are using Google and other search engines look for it.
The basics of SEO are all about making the text content on your web pages simple, clear, and searchable. Do not try and trick search engines by creating bulk pages with fake content, as this will actually cause your website to be demoted within search rankings. Instead, do research on what search terms are most relevant to your business and work them in naturally to your branding content.
3 – Find a Reliable Host
The quickest way to lose customers and visitors is to have a website that is routinely down or delivering poor performance. Today’s internet users expect services to be available around the clock with response times of a second or less. Otherwise they will simply move on to a competitor.
Considering the rush of companies hawking the service, finding a reliable web host is not something to leave to chance or a coin flip. There are actual performance metrics that can be measured across various providers that allow analysis of the results to identify the best value. In a study conducted by Hosting Canada results showed that average loading times across hosts varied from 17500ms down to all the way to 475ms without much variation in price.
It may be tempting to make your cloud host selection based on price alone, especially because you can find some companies that will offer free or low-cost solutions. But be sure to question everything you see, because when it comes to hosting providers, additional features always cost extra. There are even detailed guides about how to get more from your customers.
For example, the basic plans for a lot of low-cost providers often comes with limited storage space or bandwidth allowances. Or you might sign up for a host and find out that adding a security certificate will cost you hundreds of dollars per year.
4 – Use Multimedia the Right Way
Thanks to higher broadband speeds across the globe, website developers have the option to embed graphics, audio, and video while trusting that their customers will be able to stream it easily. This opens a range of opportunities that can help a business grow and attract a new audience.
When it comes to adding videos to a homepage or landing page, make sure they align to your branding strategy without being obtrusive to visitors. Research has found that marketing videos are a good way of introducing a new product or service on a website, as it creates a more memorable experience than text in a press release.
Videos on your website should always tell a story. They open up a creative outlet for you to let customers see inside your business and understand the work you do.
5- Listen to the Smart Metrics
In order to truly evaluate the performance of your website and business, you need to spend time gathering and analyzing the right types of metrics. Obviously sales numbers and profit margins are an easy way to evaluate financial performance, but in terms of web traffic patterns, you will need to dig deeper.
For example, you’ll want to use an analytics tool to capture information about how your customers get to your website and what they do once they are there. A successful conversion means that you’ve attracted a user to a page and convinced them to perform an action, like subscribing to a mailing list or purchasing a product.
Studying analytics data is important both in good times and bad. If you see a sudden spike in your website’s traffic, you will want to look closer to see what caused it and how you can capitalize. On the other hand, if you find that visitors are routinely staying on your website for less than a minute and never coming back, you’ll want to understand why that might be.
Small businesses don’t have the ability to talk to every customer about their needs and desires. Fortunately, analytics can translate this into data and help companies grow faster than ever.
We’ll leave you with this. The world has evolved far beyond the stage where you can draw visitors simply by putting up a website. There are around 1.8 billion of the things out there. If that makes you think you’ll have to be proactive in order to grab some attention, you’re right. Good luck!
“Blockchain” has become crazy popular in recent years, thanks to the rising value of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other forms of digital currencies. However, the fundamental technology behind this movement has implications for other parts of the internet beyond just cryptocurrency investments.
User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) professionals are beginning to realize how blockchain technology stands ready to revolutionize their strategies and best practices. The age of static HTML websites will soon be gone and replacing it will be a brand new architecture for online platforms.
This article describes some of the key changes that blockchain technology will bring about in the web design world.
Support for Cryptocurrencies
In the early days of the internet, making purchases through a website was seen as a risky activity. Then companies like eBay and Amazon came along to streamline the whole process, with help from payment services like Paypal that offered secure methods for entering credit cards online.
Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum represent the next evolution in the development of online retail. These days, a lot of the discussion around digital currencies is focused on their changing investment value, so it’s easy to forget that these systems can be used online for purchasing and exchanging goods.
As a website developer, you need to consider blockchain platforms when designing the next version of your e-commerce website. Digital currencies should be added as payment options on checkout pages and updated automatically with the latest exchange rates. One of the big advantages of using cryptocurrencies on a retail website is the ability to support micropayments for small purchases like access to a news article.
Distributed Data Storage
Most modern websites and mobile applications are built on the same type of architecture. First, there is a database repository or collection that stores individual records. Then an application layer is created to communicate between the back-end data and front-end interface. The actual visual content lives on a web server that transmits to browsers or devices.
Blockchain technology has the potential to radically change this method of web development. One of the key features of digital currencies is that they operate without a central authority, such as a government or a bank. Instead, their financial ledger is kept on a peer-to-peer network with many nodes that run algorithms to maintain its integrity.
This concept of decentralized storage goes far beyond a simple accounting ledger. Data of all sorts can be stored and accessed in a decentralized, private way using blockchain technology. Instead of relying on a single database endpoint, designers will have the ability to spread information across a series of connected nodes that are guaranteed to keep it safe and readily accessible.
The secure nature of blockchain technology is being seen as a legitimate way for companies to verify all types of transactions, not just Bitcoin and Ethereum exchanges. The concept is referred to as smart contracts and represents a major leap forward in how trust is managed online.
Web developers should consider implementing smart contracts into their projects to replace any feature or functionality that involves two parties shifting resources or making agreements. For example, blockchain technology can be leveraged with package tracking, account subscriptions, and other time or location-based activities.
With blockchain integrated into a website’s application logic, business users can rest assured that their resources are being managed and transferred appropriately. The key challenge for UI and UX designers is to build a clean interface to present all the moving traffic.
An easy solution for managing smart contract content (especially if you don’t write code and the thought of learning WordPress makes you break out in hives) is to deploy an online website builder, where you can drag-and-drop visual elements and quickly test different iterations of emerging blockchain functions. Long derided as a substandard option for building a website, today’s generation of DIY site builders like Wix and SquareSpace have become quite sophisticated and now power an increasing number of legitimate sites.
Online privacy remains one of the most controversial topics in the world today. The average internet user is frustrated with how websites and mobile applications are tracking their personal data and sharing it with government organizations or advertising partners.
Blockchain technology may very well provide a promising solution to this headache. Digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum operate on anonymous platforms through the use of private and public keys. Each investor gains access to a unique digital wallet that is identified with a string of characters, not their name or social security number. As a result, every transaction on these markets is kept secure and private.
As a web designer, you can consider using the blockchain model with how identity management is handled on your projects. For example, if a user subscribes to a newsletter on a website, that action could be tracked within the digital ledger. From there, the information can be traced by the user to understand if and when advertising groups are able to obtain it. Since identifying information is kept encrypted, it reduces the risk of data breaches or hacks.
Embracing Machine Learning and Automation
You should expect digital inventions and ideas to evolve quickly as blockchain technology becomes more widely adopted across the web. The opportunities are endless, especially when you consider how blockchain systems could partner with machine learning and automation platforms to capitalize on their processing power and innovation potential.
A great example of automation in web design is the rise of online chatbots. These are small utilities that are appearing on more websites where users often have common questions but find it difficult to obtain answers. With a chatbot, a website visitor can write in a text window as if they are interacting with a human being and then receive helpful replies in a matter of milliseconds.
What makes this type of interaction possible? It’s a combination of engineering knowledge, resource power, and a new way of technical thinking. When you treat user questions and complaints as transactions on a blockchain network, you can begin to visualize trends and patterns and identify ways to quickly respond and resolve such events.
The Bottom Line
While the world of web design and development never stays static for long, the evolution of blockchain technology is poised to shake up the industry in a way that it hasn’t been shaken in a while.
We’re anticipating BIG changes on both the front and back end of sites. We’ve just pointed out a few of the possibilities but there are almost certainly going to be more and likely they’ll come from unexpected directions. Stay tuned. It’s going to be a fun ride.
Business Startup Costs You Need to Consider
Before you buy the first thing for your startup business, sit down with pencil and paper (or keyboard and fingers) and create a list of what you want, need, and absolutely must have. As you go through this process, you will hopefully realize maybe you don’t need that super swanky office chair or top of the line MacBook Pro before you spend money on professional graphics or flesh out the marketing budget.
The bottom line is that there are some costs, as a newbie startup entrepreneur, you can put off until later – or never – and some you skimp on at your own peril. In other words…
Don’t Cheapskate These 8 Critical Startup Costs
#1. Promote or Die
We carefully chose to title this section with the more inclusive term of promotions rather than advertising. In most cases, a new business will not succeed unless it promotes itself heavily, and this means more than buying lots of ads in the local newspaper or radio spots. To promote is to use every means at your disposal to put your startup’s name and product into the brains and onto the lips of as many people as humanly possible, and do it quickly. The real point here is it’s dangerous to simply sit back and wait for customers to come. You need to find them and that costs time, effort, and money.
#2. Debt Costs
If you think you can get your business off the ground without borrowing, more power to you. Business loans should not be taken out on a whim, but if you decide to do it, calculate into your cash flow budget the monthly interest cost paid to the lending institution. Don’t get us wrong. Depending on the scope and type of business you’re starting, business debt may or may not come into play. It’s not automatically a bad or good thing. Keep in mind that a lot of very successful businesses got their start by borrowing money. Just remember to calculate ALL the costs.
#3. Employee Expenses – ALL of Them
Unless you’re a one man or woman show or only want to have a hobby business, you’re going to encounter the necessity of hiring employees sooner or later – hopefully sooner. You should realize that the cost of hiring goes beyond the pay rate and includes things like benefits, taxes, uniforms…and the list goes on. If you plan to start your people at the minimum wage and keep them there, please reconsider. Low pay usually yields high turnover and disgruntled workers. That’s not an environment where you should want to spend your time.
#4. Technical Expenses
Back at the beginning of this article we urged you not to lay out crazy amounts of cash for a fancy laptop and fool yourself into thinking it was necessary. Now we’re to the point where we’re going to urge you to spend money on those technical considerations that are necessary to accomplish your business mission. That most likely includes a domain name and website, computers, as well as the critical service subscriptions or software (don’t forget accounting and payroll) you’re going to use daily. We’re going to suggest you not pay $90 million for a domain – see #14 on this infographic. At least not right away. Non-critical expenses are a startup killers!
#5. For Results, Look Like a Pro
While your oldest daughter might be a design wizard for her age – freshman in high school – but we’re talking about your business here and ‘good for a kid’ isn’t good enough. What we’re saying is that all those materials that represent your company’s face to the world – website, business cards, logo, signage, and the list goes on – should be created by a professional designer. Yes, this costs money than the extra $20 you planned to add onto her allowance. Once again, we’re talking about your business. Get serious about it.
#6. Professional Fees – Ughh
You probably don’t need to keep a lawyer on retainer or trot down to an accountant’s office twice daily to ask questions but buying a few hours of a well-compensated professional’s time in the planning stages of your startup is a great idea. An attorney can guide you through the legal maze of forming your company correctly, while an accountant offers invaluable advice in that area that no one likes to think about – taxes. With online payroll services becoming quite affordable, the daily chore of recording daily financial matters should be outsourced in most cases.
#7. Sock Something Away
We’ll call this one the Stage One Emergency Fund. In the early days of your capitalistic endeavor you absolutely must have money squirreled away somewhere to deal with unexpected developments. Let’s say you’re opening a seafood market and your main freezer (that you bought lightly used for more than you’d like to admit) conks out on day three. Hard to run that kind of business without a cold place to put product, so what are you going to do? Dig into that emergency stash and get the freezer repaired, that’s what. The point is not to spend ALL your money before you open the doors.
#8. Insurance and Other Maddening Costs
A single uninsured slip and fall or natural disaster can torpedo even the most carefully planned business. Insurance is expensive, yes, but it’s almost always cheaper than bankruptcy. Then there are the various permits and fees that may apply to your particular business (here’s where a consultation with a lawyer and accountant come in handy). You’ll likely need a tax ID number from the state and one or more local business licenses. If you dabble in alcohol or firearms, expect a VERY thorough vetting process that costs both time and money.
A Final Thought
You’ve likely heard reference to the bottom line at some point. Smart entrepreneurs pay attention to the top line, which means you should continually evaluate prospective spending in light of whether or not it contributes to business growth and development. If it does, make it a priority. Otherwise, put it in the ‘maybe never’ pile. For a business to grow, you can’t be afraid to spend, just do so intelligently.