User Experience News

Here’s a collection of user interface news, as aggregated by AllTop. I take no responsibility for the content, but it’s usually very good.

Video: Mobile in The Future

For the past five years, I've presented an overview of the mobile design topics, insights, and solutions I've been focused on at Google's Conversions event in Dublin. This year's video recording on what's changed in mobile design over the past ten years and where we could/should go next is now live.

While the complete video runs almost three hours, in the first ninety minutes I walk through how we've learned to optimize key flows on mobile over the past ten years and how we can continue to improve with inspiration from natural user interfaces and hardware design. The second ninety minutes are dedicated to Q&A on common mobile design and development issues, what's next in tech, and more.

All Annual Sessions:

Big thanks to the Conversions@Google team for making these sessions available to all.

Speed Reading

My 8th grade teacher had a curious process where she made us produce three book reports each quarter — three books that we picked on our own that fit diverse themes she had chosen. When we turned them in, she’d quiz us on the book. How could she quiz us though on these books that we picked out randomly, you might ask?

She read each and every book when we turned in the report over her lunch break. It wasn’t a big class, and we didn’t all turn the reports in on the same day. But she could easily go through a couple books at lunch.

It was amazing and something I wanted to learn myself. I stumbled through some books on speed reading but never really landed on success until I took an Iris speed reading class when they had a Groupon.

I’ll share a few big tips and ideas I learned there, but it won’t substitute for taking a day long class like I did and going through the exercises.

The biggest lightbulb moment for me in speed reading isn’t faster reading but better skimming.

Afterall, most books and material are filled with fluff. Good ideas separated with a ton of sentences you don’t need <- A great case-in-point. You didn’t need that second sentence. The first one was enough. Damn, I did it again.

When I first get a new book I’ll read the periphery of the thing. The back summary, the insides of the covers. Next, I’ll look over the Table of Contents looking for things like “How’s this book broken up? Is it like three parts with three big ideas, or 27 chapters each with a unique point?”

I want to learn as much about the thing I need to devour beforehand so I know what I’m about to do.

Next, I read the first page of the intro, and then I’ll skip right to the end, and finish the last page of the book. Yes, you might ruin any suspense you were hoping for, so if suspense is your goal, don’t do this.

Next, I’ll go through each chapter. I’ll read the first paragraph (two if the first is short and not useful enough).

Then I’ll go through each paragraph of the chapter and read just the first sentence. The first sentence is often the most important point of a paragraph after all:

Often in a book, you’ll have other paragraphs illustrating that topic sentence anyways.

Then, I’ll read the last paragraph of the chapter which often summarizes everything.

And I do all the above at my normal reading pace. I take my time and carefully consume those skimmed sentences and ideas.

Now I have this crazy good outline in my head of what the chapter is about, and what holes I might have in the ideas. Page 10 talked about X which seemed obvious, but later on, page 35 mentioned a story I didn’t quite understand in my skim.

So now, I’ll go through the entire chapter again but this time as fast as I can.

At this point just being a better skim reader has probably earned you 70–80% of the benefit of “speed reading”. You can go through a second read of a chapter you’ve skimmed and probably know exactly what you need to “re-read” to understand better. And you can probably do that at a normal pace and still save a ton of time.

But the other 20–30% is all about getting through words faster.

Reading as Fast as You Can

You instantly recognized a dog. You didn’t have to vocalize the word “dog”. You also don’t have to first look at its nose, then move to its eyes, then body, etc. You seem to be able to take a whole dog in with your eyes, and just know it’s a dog. But a lot of people don’t read like that.

When you were young, you likely read out loud most of the time. Mouthing each and every word. When you got older you probably stopped saying the words out loud, but many people keep vocalizing the word silently in their heads. You have to learn to stop vocalizing words as you read.

Another habit people need to break is having their eyes read each and every letter as they go along. Again, this is something we learn as young readers. We see a word we don’t know, and we look and sound out each letter until it makes sense to us.

You need to learn to just digest words instantaneously. Even better, you want to learn to digest multiple words together at the same time.

Another bad habit most of us have is rereading text purposefully or subconsciously. We skip over something and then reread it again. Tim Ferriss has found we spend about 30% of our reading time in “re-reading”. What a waste.

You need to train your eyes to work like you want them to. You don’t want them going over every single letter. You want them to fixate in fewer places in a sentence.

I remember my 8th grade teacher sliding her whole hand down the middle of the book keeping her eyes stuck there. It’s funny, because using a finger was a technique many kids use to help read but are trained to stop. But you’ll see many speed readers use a finger to read. A finger can help guide your eyes to fewer places on each line and page of a book. It can also force you to keep a pace that’s faster than you might be initially comfortable with.

A lot of this is just practice. Just like running. Get a stopwatch and start timing yourself through some examples. Get an article and figure out the word count. Skim the thing. Now, go back for a reread and get through the thing as fast as possible trying to take in as many words as possible at a time. Keep timing yourself and trying to beat your best. Use your finger/hand to force yourself to go faster.

I won’t go into an in-depth look into training your eyes to ingest more. I’ll leave that up to Tim’s article or classes like Iris.

But one thing I started doing to help train my eyes for faster word digestion: is trying to quickly read a book in a language I didn’t understand. You’ll have much less desire to try and comprehend what you’re reading, because you simply can’t. You don’t have all those same urges to reread things or sound out words.

I hope that helps. The skim reading part is what really cracked open a whole new world of getting through more stuff faster. But I don’t read everything like this. If there’s a great fiction book that I want to take my mind to another place, I read that as comfortably as I can. Speed reading for me is a shortcut to get through stuff. It might even make the book less “fun”. But my goal is often to get through piles of new books and articles out there looking for interesting needles in the haystack.

P.S. Please help spread this article by clicking the ❤ below.

You should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how history, psychology, and science can help us come up with better ideas and start businesses. And if you need a simple system to track leads and follow-ups you should try Highrise.

Speed Reading was originally published in Signal v. Noise on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

24 Top UX Prototyping Tools with Downloadable Comparison Table

The sheer amount of choice of UX prototyping tools can be pretty overwhelming, so here’s an overview of the top 24 tools, together with a FREE downloadable pdf table so that you can easily compare them. Download my FREE 24

Generating Design Elements Directly from Code

Illustration for is a new, open source library from the team at Airbnb Design that allows templates and working assets from…

Make It Rain

Matt Stock is a business owner who loves marketing and has embraced the unglamorous job of selling a pretty mundane service: basement waterproofing. He’s tried everything from Yellow Pages to billboards to Internet advertising at U.S. Waterproofing, his 60-year-old family business. But Matt faced one of his greatest challenges as a business owner and a marketer in 2012, when Illinois was hit with a drought.
Illustration by Nate Otto



MATT STOCK: Music to our ears is when rain occurs. I was hoping on your way over here there’d be a raincloud follow you. My name’s Matthew Stock. I am the president of U.S. Waterproofing.

When there’s water in a basement, unless someone has prior experience, it’s not easy to diagnose it. Even for us when we come there, we’re not there the second it rains, we have to ask a lot of questions, use a certain process to figure out where it’s coming from. But a lot of times, it could be toilet leaking, sewer backup. Believe it or not, we’ve even been called out because the dog peed on the floor.

WAILIN WONG: The business of basement waterproofing — sealing foundation cracks, installing drainage pipes and sump pumps — is necessary but totally unglamorous. That makes the job of selling these services a particular challenge. You’ll hear how U.S. Waterproofing has done it, even through a housing market downturn and a literal dry spell, on this episode of The Distance, a podcast about long-running businesses. I’m Wailin Wong.

SYLVIA: The Distance is a production of Basecamp. I’m Sylvia, a customer support rep at Basecamp. Basecamp is the better way to run your business. It’s an app for communicating with people and organizing projects and work. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by email, chat and meetings, give Basecamp a try. Sign up for a 30-day free trial at

MATT: My true passion is marketing. In a business like basement waterproofing, it’s not a really well known business. If you had a leaky faucet, you know you’d call a plumber and if you needed an electrical outlet installed, you know you’d call an electrician. But most people don’t naturally know what to do if you have water seeping into your basement, so we have to get the word out there.

BARRY SCHILLING: I answered an ad in the newspaper for an in-home salesperson and came in, talked to Matt’s father, Jerry, and next thing you know I was working here.

WAILIN: This is Barry Schilling, who joined U.S. Waterproofing 30 years ago, when Matt’s father was president of the company. Today Barry is vice president and the only non family member with an ownership stake. In 1987, he was an eager new salesman with a great idea about how to explain basement waterproofing services to homeowners.

BARRY: I built a model of a basement and I used to take that into people’s homes to show them how our system worked and it allowed me to sell a lot more jobs. It’s in the other room.

WAILIN: Really? Can I see it?

BARRY: Sure.

WAILIN: Okay, can we walk over and see it?

BARRY: Sure, let’s go walk.

WAILIN: Barry and I walk to the conference room next door to Matt’s office. We interrupt a meeting going on inside so he can get the model, which is sitting in the corner under a pile of stuff. It’s made of balsa wood and dark gray, with the approximate dimensions of a bakery cake box.

BARRY: This thing’s been around for 30 years.


BARRY: So this is the drain tiles, the sump pumps, the electrical outlet that the sump pump would be next to, the discharge pipe to take it outside. This shows a block wall, how it’s hollow and fills with water.

WAILIN: How’d you get that texture on there?

BARRY: Well, this is sodium bentonite that we use to seal cracks. So I wiped glue on the surface. I sprinkled the sodium bentonite on there and then I sprayed a clear sealer over it, so it looks like cement. People have sat on this thing, people have dropped it, so it needs to get rebuilt. It looks better with age, though! I mean, it doesn’t look like it was made out of balsa wood, does it? I’m telling you, this could outlast me!

WAILIN: Barry is one of the old timers at U.S. Waterproofing. He already had years of experience in sales and marketing by the time Matt was working part-time for the family business and going on his first customer visit at the age of 16.

MATT: So it was about 1991. I drove out to a customer’s house, recommended a repair, maybe around 0 or ,000. The customer had to think about it and I remember to this day getting a page from my father asking me how it went. He was surprised I didn’t sell it. I had to go back to the customer’s house to convince him why they should buy today. We were probably more on the aggressive side of things, and I still believe that today. There’s nothing wrong with asking for business, but I was probably a little too casual and nonchalant and being only 16 years old, wasn’t used to asking and asking twice for business so it was something that the veterans such as my dad had become accustomed to, so I think it was his way of breaking me into the business.

WAILIN: In 1999, Matt joined the company full time and channeled his energy into marketing.

MATT: We were primarily doing Yellow Page advertising and relied on word of mouth referrals. It’s funny, my Yellow Page rep, who I’m still friends with today, refers to me as the melting ice cube as I’ve really cut back my budget on Yellow Pages. But there are still elder people that choose to use it. We advertise on TV, you may have heard U.S. Waterproofing’s commercials on radio spots, and we also have billboards, a dozen plus throughout Chicagoland, primarily on highways. You can only show so many things on a billboard, they say seven words max, and one of the ones we became well known for is “Basement Leaking Got You Freaking.”

AD VOICEOVER: Leaking got you freaking? For a free consultation…

WAILIN: Matt also hoped that embracing Internet technology would give him an edge over his competitors. U.S. Waterproofing got into pay-per-click advertising so that Google searches like “basement waterproofing” plus a zip code or town name would turn up ads for the company. Another big development, in 2012, was creating a section on the website with hundreds of articles about foundations and waterproofing that show up in Google search results. Matt writes a lot of the posts himself.

MATT: Pretty much anything you would Google on the Internet, you know, “why is my basement leaking in Chicago” or “what is the best sump pump.” We’re not necessarily going to show up number one. I can’t control that, only Google can. But more content is what Google likes. We find many of our customers will visit 10, 15, 20, 30 plus pages before we even go out to their home. It just makes the process that much easier for us. When we arrive at their home, show them our brochure, they’ll pull out all these articles, printed. It takes what could be four hours of questions down to 30 minutes.

WAILIN: But one persistent issue for the company, which Matt didn’t discover until he came onboard full time, was that U.S. Waterproofing didn’t own the URL That belonged to another company with a similar name on the East Coast. U.S. Waterproofing had to come up with something else.

MATT: A lot of people associate the problem, meaning water leaking into your basement, they call it seepage. And it also happened to be a seven character word. So we said, or they said, shall we say, my forefathers, if we can’t use “U.S. Waterproofing” in our URL, what is another way to accomplish that? So they took out the URL, S E E P A G E dot com, and then we were also able to get the phone number, toll free number, 888-SEE-PAGE, again because it was a seven character word.

WAILIN: Seepage is a funny word. It’s kind of awkward to say. Try it! Seepage. Seepage. Also, not everyone knows how to spell it. This was not lost on Matt.

MATT: We actually had a radio spot about it, which I never loved but my old advertising agency did. It was a play on that word where it went something like, “Honey, there’s a note on the fridge? See page?”

MAN IN AD: What’s this note on the fridge?

WOMAN IN AD: Oh, it’s about the basement.

MAN: No, it says “see page.”

WOMAN: That’s seepage, Herb. Seepage in our basement?

MAN: See page. Is there someone named Page I’m supposed to see?

WOMAN: Herb, we have water seeping into our basement…

MATT: We realized after a long time that while people, when they were calling us and describing the problem, they would say “seepage,” but even to this day, if I say to someone else our old website or phone number, they still say “See Page.”

WOMAN IN AD: Okay Herb, I’m gonna call U.S. Waterproofing at 888-SEEPAGE, and they’ll send someone, probably named Page, to give us a free estimate.

MAN IN AD: I’m glad we cleared that up.

WOMAN: I’ll take care of it. Go watch the ball game.

MATT: Over time, we’ve evolved our branding from “your foundation’s enemy is seepage” to “a better basement starts with us,” the U-S being a play on U.S. Waterproofing. We wanted to be known for more than just seepage because we do more than just that. Seepage is described as water oozing through a foundation. U.S. Waterproofing has many other services, amongst them concrete raising, sump pump installation, window well covers, foundation repair, crawl space encapsulation, I could go on much further. During periods of drought, the soil beneath the foundation tends to shrink. When the soil beneath the foundation tends to sink, the house could then sink.

WAILIN: You should get

MATT: That’s funny you mention that. While we had, we said well, that doesn’t describe a drought period, so we had and I believe even to this day, if you type that in it should still redirect to

WAILIN: Matt finally reached a deal to buy from the East Coast company about a year ago. By then, U.S. Waterproofing was already several years into its strategy to market a bigger range of services, like structural repairs in dry times. This approach proved to be a smart move in 2012, when Illinois was hit with a drought. The busy period for U.S. Waterproofing typically starts in early spring and runs through late fall. That’s when there’s the most rain, and it’s home buying season. In Illinois, sellers have to disclose if they’re aware of flooding or leakage in their basement or crawlspace, so U.S. Waterproofing gets a lot of business from people fixing up their homes to get ready for a sale. The most recent recession officially ended in 2009, but the company was still seeing the effects of the housing crisis in 2012. Here’s Barry Schilling.

BARRY: So if the real estate market is down, people are not calling you to fix that type of a situation ’cause they’re not motivated to fix it to sell the house. So now when you take a downturn in rainfall, it has a direct effect on the business.

MATT: One missed rain in March or another missed rain in April, nine out of ten years, on average, eight out of 10 years, we’re gonna see some rains. But when we really started to get nervous was the summer…

WAILIN: In August 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated all but five of Illinois’ 102 counties natural disaster areas. The Chicago area fared better than other parts, but even so, by the end of that year, precipitation at O’Hare International Airport was almost 10 inches below normal.

MATT: And that’s when we started to make some small moves, such as pulling back on advertising. But the problem with pulling back on advertising is you could ultimately be cutting off your supply. It was less expensive forms of advertising such as truck graphics, mailings to our customers, email, but one thing that’s hard for U.S. Waterproofing is to spend a lot of money in a drought because our bread is still buttered with rain.

WAILIN: Matt had been through a drought before, in 2005, but that one wasn’t accompanied by a real estate downturn. This dry spell felt different. So Matt had to take other steps besides tweaking his advertising strategy.

MATT: During a period of drought, a basement waterproofing company can only do so many things. It can only cut costs in so many ways. The tone that my great uncle Al founded the company on was taking care of its employees. It just didn’t make sense to let go of people in mass scale because we always knew it would rain again, but it was also not the right thing to do to our employees. We’ve always been a financially healthy company, one that doesn’t really borrow much money. So what we asked our employees to do, the only thing we asked them to do, was take a voluntary day off, one out of 30 days. We asked our employees, hey we’re doing our best to try to get through this, we’re asking you to take a day off on your dime to help us get through that period and we’ll do our best to employ everybody. It’s a hotly debated topic about what would we do if it happened again.

WAILIN: There’s nothing Matt can do to predict or prevent the next drought, and there will inevitably be more droughts in the company’s future. Matt likes to keep a long-term view. He says U.S. Waterproofing has worked on over 300,000 homes over its 60 year history. There are a lot more to go.

MATT: We don’t exactly know when the rains are gonna hit. I do check the weather, but I don’t obsess over it. Obsessing over something you can’t control usually isn’t a good idea. There’s millions of homes throughout Chicagoland and the surrounding suburbs, so I’d rather do a little bit at a time than all at once, let’s just say that. I don’t want to be known as the company that hopes for problems for homeowners, but certainly we’re there to take care of them if they occur.

WAILIN: The Distance is produced by Shaun Hildner, who will be thrilled if he never hears me say “seepage” ever again, and me, Wailin Wong. Our illustrations are by Nate Otto. If you know of a business we should feature on our show, you can email us at or tweet at us @distancemag, that’s @distancemag. The Distance is a production of Basecamp, the app for helping small business owners stay in control of projects and reduce email clutter. Try Basecamp free for 30 days at

Make It Rain was originally published in Signal v. Noise on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

1977 EPA Graphic Standards System to Be Reissued

EPA Logo by Chermayeff & GeismarBack in 1975 famed design agency Chermayeff & Geismar was tapped to create a branding and graphics standards system for…

Don’t Promise

We’ve all been there.

A customer’s upset. They make a demand. Maybe it’s reasonable, quick, easy, and no big deal. Fine. But sometimes it’s unreasonable given the context and situation. And we give in.

Promises to placate rarely end up well. Sometimes you’ll do anything to avoid the immediate pain of saying no. And since in the near-term there’s little cost to saying “yes”, promises feel like a bargain. But while promises are cheap and easy to make, actual work is hard and expensive to do. If it wasn’t, you’d just have done it now rather than promised it later!

Promises are like debt — they accrue interest. The longer you wait to fulfill them, the more they cost to pay off.

One of the biggest costs is regret. Past promises are often met with current regret. Once it’s time to get to work, you realize just how expensive that “yes” really was.

You promised someone you’d release that new feature or product by the end of the year. Sounded totally reasonable in April — “sure, we’ll have plenty of time to get to that!” — but now that it’s November, you have to scramble.

Things that were slated get pushed off. People have to get reshuffled. Teams reassembled. Priorities put on hold. Other things delayed. New ideas take a backseat to old ones. All because of a simple “yes” to dodge the pain of saying “no” months ago.

Many companies are weighed down by prior obligations of placation. Promises salespeople made to land a deal. Promises the project manager made to the client. Promises the owner made to the employees. Promises one department made to another.

The further away the promise, the easier it is to make. And the more painful it is to ultimately deliver. That’s because when the time comes to fulfill the promise, Employees would rather be working on new ideas rather than old promises. You have to put aside progress to make up for the past. Tomorrow waits for yesterday.

Morale takes a hit when the past continually snaps you backwards. Energy and will is sapped. Undesirable past obligations are a constant source of stress and frustration. People leave when they feel like the work they’re doing today is last year’s work.

It might feel difficult in the moment, but you’re far better off saying no in the first place. Take the short term pain that goes away quick vs. the long term pain that sneaks up on you and intensifies as obligations come due.

Don’t Promise was originally published in Signal v. Noise on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A lesson from albizia trees

What happens when growth is “tall and fast”…

A fallen albizia tree, photo courtesy Sen. Russell Ruderman.

“Did you hear that noise?”

I was in Hawaii last week walking along the Manoa Falls Trail, when our guide who was taking us through stopped us.

We all shook our heads, “no.”

“Okay, well that’s good,” he said. “If we had, it would have been the sound of the albizia tree limb cracking. You have to be careful if you hear that noise, The albizia tree limb could be cracking above your head… and onto your head.”

Our guide went on to explain that albizias are one of the largest, fastest growing trees in the world. Yet the albizia tree has one big problem: Their wood is weak and brittle.

As a result, albizia trees often topple and split, causing damage to other plant life around them — and to people. In Hawaii, albizia trees have become such a hazard, there are active efforts to preemptively remove them before they get too big and dangerous.

Tall and fast on the outside, weak and brittle on the inside. Looking at these trees, it made me think of businesses too. How the companies I’ve seen that seem big, tall and fast-growing cripple and implode internally. Preoccupied with raising as much money as they can and spending as much money as they can, these companies operate without regard to profitability, how well they’re solving a real problem, and if their team’s culture is healthy. Without strong insides, they don’t last long. And like albizia trees, they leave a wake of damage for others to clean up when they fall.

Even in nature, the things that grow too fast don’t survive.

As we grow Know Your Company, I get a lot of questions from folks about why we intentionally stay small and bootstrapped. Why don’t we go out and raise a bunch of money? Why we don’t go hire a team of fifty people? Why not try to be big, tall, and fast-growing?

To them, I say: Look at the albizia tree. There’s a lesson from nature there.

We’re proud to take the albizia tree lesson to heart — we serve almost 300 companies, 15,000 employees in 15+ countries with just a team of three people. And, we’re bootstrapped and profitable. Come see what we’ve built at Know Your Company — if you’re a business owner who doesn’t want your company to turn into an albizia tree as well, you’ll want to take a look.

(If you enjoyed this article, please click the ❤ below so others can find it! And please say hi at @cjlew23 — I always love meeting new people.)

A lesson from albizia trees was originally published in Signal v. Noise on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Books That Have Influenced Our UX Careers, Part 3: Books on Topics Other Than UX

<p class="author">By <a href="">Janet M. Six</a></p> <p>In Part 3 of our special <em>Ask UXmatters </em>series about books that have influenced our UX careers, we consider books that, while not about User Experience, have greatly influenced members of our expert panel. For our discussion of influential design books, see <a href="" title="Part 1">Part 1</a>. We covered books on UX research and usability testing in <a href="" title="Part 2">Part 2</a>. You may also find the references in the <em>Ask UXmatters</em> column &#8220;<a href="" title="Inspiration for UX Design from the Arts and Sciences">Inspiration for UX Design from the Arts and Sciences</a>&#8221; of interest.</p> <p class="note"><span class="run-in-head">Announcement</span>&#8212;<em>UXmatters</em> is now an Amazon Associate, so you can support <em>UXmatters</em> by initiating a shopping trip on Amazon by clicking a book link in this column, then buying the book or any other products on Amazon. Thus, by making purchases on Amazon, you can&#8212;at no additional cost to you&#8212;help <em>UXmatters</em> cover its operating expenses, fund our ongoing Web-development efforts, and defray the recent ,000.00 cost of completely rebuilding our site to implement our responsive design. Please show us that you value <em>UXmatters</em> and want us to continue delivering high-quality, free content to you every month. Thank you! <em>UXmatters</em> plans to launch a new Books section on our Web site, recommending additional helpful books to our readers on User Experience and other topics of interest to UX professionals. <a href="" class="read_more_link">Read More</a></p>

Increasing Your Research Velocity with Visual Data Collection

<p class="author">By <a href="">Michael Morgan</a></p> <p>Have you ever found yourself collecting much more data than you need during a usability study? I think we are all likely familiar with the concept of <em>scope creep</em> as it applies to building products. Research scope creep occurs when you collect too much data during usability testing.</p> <h2>The Scope/Time Tradeoff</h2> <p>One of the biggest challenges I have encountered in my nine years as a UX researcher, conducting usability tests on prototypes, is handling the tradeoff between</p> <ul> <li><span class="run-in-head">scope</span>&#8212;Trying to figure out the breadth of the data you&#8217;ll focus on collecting is challenging.</li> <li><span class="run-in-head">time</span>&#8212;Collecting and analyzing large volumes of data from research sessions can be time consuming. <a href="" class="read_more_link">Read More</a></li> </ul>