I can do Better than Switching to Flat Design – How?

I found a setting at Customizr, my favorite WordPress theme, which let you choose between “Flat (Classical) Design” and “Material (Modern) Design.” Maybe you have already heard of Flat Design, which means no 3D objects: no shadows, gradients, glow effects etc. I started my reading here:

Is Flat Design a Web Design Standard That’s Here to Stay? 10 Designers Chip In

At the top of this page are three examples of flat design that help us to “get it.” From my previous reading on flat design I had concluded that besides no 3-D, flat meant single page websites with no sidebars.   “Flat” as in “no hierarchy.”

Summary:

Users are so familiar with the web that they won’t need the cues provided by 3-D. Others blast flat design for being non-intuitive and trendy. I agree with the latter.

The Nielsen Group (we like Jakob Nielsen since way back) doesn’t like flat design either, mainly because it lacks signifiers on clickable elements. They say “Flat 2.0” may be a better alternative, aka “Material” design:

Flat Design: Its Origins, Its Problems, and Why Flat 2.0 is Better for Users Sep 2015

Details:

A flat, green web page - Watlinger
Flat Design

This article stated that now users are so familiar with the web that they won’t need the cues provided by 3-D. I disagree: I miss tooltips and I don’t like flat edges that make one window blend into another. Though wherever something can be done without, it makes for a cleaner design and one that fits better on a handheld.

The article continued with quotes from web designers saying that flat design aids cross device compability (responsive layout) and in fact led to usability improvements such as bigger input fields, larger buttons, or larger and more legible text. (I agree with those usability improvements, just don’t waste my space with GIANT text if I read your mobile-first page on my desktop.)

However the bottom third of the page is full of feedback blasting flat design as discrimating against the disabled and the elderly and in general wasting people’s time as they try to figure out the page. It’s fun reading, a lot of good rants in there, some of my favorites:

It gave me a sudden appreciation for the gradients, drop shadows, and other design elements I’d taken for granted in more traditional desktop UI – these are useful hints that aid accessibility that we’ve sacrificed because “flat looks cool”. To really judge good design I think you have to show it to users who have never seen it before. All UI is learned, so people will catch on eventually, but my own opinion is that good UI (and good design) should be intuitive – e.g. is that flat rectangle a button?! Hell if I know, guess I’ll click to find out.

Good design is about respect for a user’s time. Sure people can figure out how to wade through an interface with less than obvious cues, but how can you justify stealing even milliseconds from your users? Bad design sucks the life out of humanity and flat design sucks hard. It’s nothing more than wire framing with a little added color. It’s lazy at best and criminal at its worst. When I see plain text acting like a button I hear Christopher Guest’s voice telling me “I just stole one minute of your life, how do you feel?”

Crop from a green, tan, and white website
Flat Design

It’s like saying “we’re going to remove all signs in a metro station because passengers know it well and the corridors will look cleaner”.

 

On to

Flat Design: Its Origins, Its Problems, and Why Flat 2.0 is Better for Users

www.nngroup.com/articles/flat-design/

The types of cues people use to determine clickability:

* Traditional, externally consistent signifiers (such as the blue, underlined text or raised buttons) – vs. flat “ghost” buttons.

* Something reminiscent of a traditional signifier (such as underlined text of any color or boxed text)

* Contextual clues (such as actionable text or placement at the top of the page) e.g. words on a menu bar

Flat-Design Best Practices

www.nngroup.com/articles/flat-design-best-practices/

A web page with a box that has a shadow
Semi-flat Design

Use the clickability cues mentioned above.

As long as in-line text links are presented in a contrasting color, users will recognize their purpose, even without an underline. (I’ve been doing this for a long time. I often make the underlines appear on links only upon hover)

When Flat Designs Can Work: the potential negative consequences of weak signifiers are diminished when the site has a low information density (is this a good thing?), traditional or consistent layout, and places important interactive elements where they stand out from surrounding elements.

Next up (but not tonight): The Characteristics of Minimalism in Web Design.  Looks like lots of good illustrations, may help me to reduce clutter in my designs.

And finally, I will finish up with: Flat Design vs. Material Design: What Makes Them Different?

What’s your web design philosophy?  What WordPress themes or Joomla templates support this philosophy?  Do you have a web page you’d like to show us and point out the main features that contribute to its usability?

How to Add Links to Your Facebook Posts

An effective promotional post would include a sentence or two (call to action) and an image illustrating your message that linked to a spot to read more.  But how to do that?  Here’s the best I can find TODAY:

A Facebook post in progress
Facebook builds a “Link Preview” if you type a space character after your link.
  1. Prepare your link, message, image, and start your post.
  2. Suggested image size is 560 pixels wide.  It will be displayed at full post width, so set the height with that in mind.
  3. Write your message in its entirety, followed by your link and a space
  4. The space will trigger a “link preview” (see picture on right)

    Facebook post composition in progress
    Editing a Facebook post: options to upload a photo
  5. The link preview appears to take text from the web page’s meta description tag, and let you cycle through a few images from the page.  You can’t edit the meta description part of your post.
  6. If you don’t like any of the pictures or the meta description, you can remove one or both using the tiny faint “X” upper right.  That leaves you with the text of your post and an option to UPLOAD a photo.
  7. New post in Facebook ready to post
    Facebook ready to post

    I don’t see a way to use a photo already existing at your Facebook account.  So you must upload from your browser/PC.

  8. The only way to close the image window is to hit the blue “Post” button lower right.
A Facebook post with a link and a photo
Finished Facebook post, containing a link and a photo.

To the left is the resulting post.  My link goes to the URL shown, the photo goes to … not the link, but to some details about the photo.

To summarize, if the page you link to generates a Facebook link preview that you like, visitors may actually click through to your call to action page.  If the page you link to doesn’t generate a suitable link, you can upload a photo that may draw visitors’ attention, but only the most dedicated visitor will seek out the tiny text of your URL and click it.

What is your experience creating Facebook posts with links?

I took my screenshots, and described my experience, using Facebook as of April 25, 2017.  Have you noticed any improvements since then that you’d like to share?

How Facebook can be a Conduit to your Website

Our chief Facebook poster at Santa Clara FireSafe Council taught me a communication method today, that I’ve shared with my budding Facebook team at Bicycle Exchange. She says it’s a way for Facebook to be a conduit to your own website. Or any link you want to promote. Maybe this technique will help you too.

Postscript: I believe the ideal link would be words or a picture that link to the action page. However Facebook will only let you post a “link preview” it builds from the page; or you must spell out the link and upload a photo from your browser/PC. The photo can only link to the Facebook photo comments panel. As described in my tutorial.

Facebook post
Facebook post that links to a web page

Our Facebook team at Bicycle Exchange has used this “conduit” technique to recruit more volunteer bicycle mechanics. For example, Ivan has created a post that links a photo to our website’s “Contact” page. Here’s the technique I learned:

1) Identify the action you want the person to take as a result of the post.

2) Identify the photo which describes the action, event, news or fact.

3) In a sentence or two describe the thing and summarize the action you want the reader to take.

4) Link the action words, or the photo (or both?) to … something.

5) The “something” in our case can be a page at the Bicycle Exchange website.

Continue reading How Facebook can be a Conduit to your Website

How to Add a Title Tag to your Image in WordPress

It seems both WordPress and Joomla make the website editor go the extra mile to add a title tag to an image in a post.  This is the tag that allows you to describe the significance of the image.  Browsers usually display the tag’s value as a “tooltip” when the visitor hovers over the image.  Not to be confused with the “alt” tag which describes how the image looks to a visually impaired person and helps Google to rank the image.

Small five-petaled pink flowers - Leptosiphon montanusTry hovering over this image to see how your browser displays the title tag.

Both CMS’s automatically build an alt tag value when the image is first used in an article or post.  Joomla hides the setting for the title tag behind an “Advanced” tab in the JCE image editor.  That’s not helpful for encouraging a novice author to provide text for the title tag.

Today in WordPress I wanted to add a title tag to the image in my new post.  I dutifully filled in the caption, description and alt tag values in the image editor when I uploaded my image.  A title tag was automatically filled in for me.  But when viewing my post in a browser window, no tooltip on hover!

So, I went to text mode in my post and added the title tag “by hand.”  This time on hover I got an entire paragraph of text with embedded HTML markup.  So that didn’t work.  On close examination of my markup I could not see what was wrong.  So I found this helpful article by WPBeginner.

WordPress post editor, showing image selected
WordPress image editor, showing an image selected, pointing out the edit button

It explained the purpose of alt and title tags, and even explained that the “title” setting WordPress uses when the image is first uploaded, is NOT the title tag that shows as a tooltip.  The article’s directions said that, in my WordPress visual post editor, click on the image then click the edit button that appears.

Look in the “advanced” section to find a field you can fill in with the value of the title tag.

I had to hunt a while to find the “advanced” section, as it was out of view within the popup box.   But finally, “success!”Editing image title attribute - screenshot

I have figured out how to add the title tag in two ways now: if nothing special is going on with captions or other shortcodes, you can simply add a title attribute to the image in question in the post editor’s text mode; or you can use the image editor, scroll down to “advanced” settings and fill in the tag there.

By the way, in adding those last two images, I was reminded of how easy it is in WordPress to display a CAPTION for the image: you just fill in the caption field within the image source.  In Joomla how the caption is used depends entirely on the template, and it requires tricky CSS overrides on the web developer’s part, and perhaps CSS knowledge on the editor’s part, to make it look good.

Also, I accidentally selected two images and found BOTH were inserted into my article.  Does anyone have a good use for such a feature?

How can Let’s Encrypt provide SSL certificate without an IP address?

SiteGround tech support recently introduced a new feature to me when I asked the cost for an SSL certificate for a client’s website.  She said I can set up an SSL certificate for free using a new feature available at their web hosting cPanel called “Let’s Encrypt.”

I tried it out and it seems to work!  I’ve coded this link with http protocol.  Click it to see that the server redirects you to a page that uses the https protocol.  Does it work for you?  Or does your browser display some SSL certificate error messages?

For a long time I’ve provided SSL encryption only when necessary (e.g. e-commerce sites, sites that collect visitor’s private info) because it’s extra cost (lately about $80/year) and requires tech support’s help.  I looked into how SSL could work without needing a dedicated IP address:

I found a thread that explains why no dedicated IP address needed for the SSL certificate.  It says that if your web server’s SSL library supports “server name indication” (SNI), which all modern libraries do, there’s no longer a need for a dedicated IP address for each SSL certificate.

The difference is that if the browser supports SNI, it can send the host name unencrypted, so the server can properly match the virtual host without needing to decrypt the request first.  It also says that for older versions of IE browser running on Windows XP, these browsers don’t support SNI.  It doesn’t say how web servers would handle such requests from these browsers

…   but this next article gives an example of extra work a web server has to do to figure out which website to go to if it gets a request from IE browser with host name encrypted: if it can’t figure out which website to go to, it returns a certificate error.

Joomla global configuration screenshotJoomla has a setting that lets you direct the website to USE the SSL certificate once the certificate is installed on the web server.  That’s how I finished the SSL setup for the example Joomla website above.

For a future topic, once I learn how to set up SSL for a WordPress website I’ll make a new post here.

This just in (9/26): WPBeginner has an article all about how to set up an SSL certificate at SiteGround and DreamHost then what’s required once the certificate is installed, to use it in your WordPress site.  I have not yet read the article, but I’m open to comments from others who have and tried it out.

A quick online search just now shows that only SiteGround and DreamHost offer integration with Let’s Encrypt.  I am looking for my 2nd-favorite web hosting company, InMotion Hosting, to support Let’s Encrypt, but it seems as of Dec 2015 they have no plans to add it.