Latest Writing & Things of Interest

July 16, 2018

David Allen Unexpectedly Explains Why Representation Matters

I’m digging into Getting Things Done by David Allen again, and I came across a passage that perfectly explains why representation for marginalized groups is so important. I didn’t expect anything like that in GTD, but there it is:

It’s easy to envision something happening if it has happened before or you have had experience with similar successes. It can be quite a challenge, however, to identify with images of success if they represent new and foreign territory—that is, if you have few reference points about what an event might actually look like and little experience of your own ability to make it happen.

Pretty good explanation if you ask me. For people to understand and believe in success, they need to be exposed to it and see examples of it. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to just dream up realistic paths to success from scratch. We all need examples, people to look to, and paths highlighted so that we can start traversing them, breaking off from them, and forging our own.

July 13, 2018

Link: Who experiences code of conduct violations?

Holy shit, this post from Karen McGrane is spot on. Very disappointing writing, strategy, and stance from Information Architecture Foundation organizers. Is this common with conferences? This level of ineptness? This level of victim shaming? WTF?

Check it out →
July 12, 2018

My Current Favorite Podcasts

podcast microphone illustration

I’ve been listening to podcasts for a few years now, rather casually. It’s only recently that I’ve started digging into them more and listening on a regular basis. There are a ton of podcasts out there, which means there are a ton of terrible podcasts out there. Fortunately, I’ve come across a few of what I consider to be the better ones.

These are my regulars, the one’s I nearly always listen to. Whether it’s when I’m doing dishing, cleaning up, going out for a run (a recent addition to me life), or just want something to listen to while I’m working, these are what I throw on.

The Important Ones

These podcasts are essential listening, as far as I’m concerned. They tackle important issues in interesting ways. And are generally really fun to listen to, too.

Of those, I’ve really been digging the first two. Both bring up a lot of good, divisive issues, and talk about them more frankly than other podcasts, which I appreciate. They’re both relatively new, but I’m hoping they stick around for a long time.

Song Exploder is pure joy for a musician (even a failed one). It’s absolutely fascinating listening to artists walk through their creative process. And the inside look at demos and single tracks from a mix are absurdly cool.

The Fillers

These are the podcasts that aren’t quite as important in my personal development, but they’re always a good listen. I use them to keep up on news, tech stuff, and get tips for personal productivity and general living.

My wife is trying to get me into My Brother, My Brother, and Me, but I haven’t gotten into it yet. I know some diehard MBMBAM listeners, though, so there’s got to be something to it.

Other than that, the rotation changes all the time. I’m always listening to new podcasts and seeing what’s out there. Which means I’m always looking for suggestions on what to listen to. Have a favorite podcast? Email me and let me know about it.

June 29, 2018

Reframing Growth

reframing growth charts

For the longest time, I’ve been against one of the most pervasive attitudes in the tech and business world: growth-at-all-costs. I’m still against that mentality, but my opinions have been evolving lately.

At an intellectual level, I understand that growth is what fuels businesses and the economy. Without growth, everything stagnates and eventually dies. But emotionally, it just doesn’t feel right. Pursuing growth over everything else in a business seems like a recipe for disaster. It leads to the hustle, which leads to the grind, which leads to burnout—both for individuals and businesses.

I can’t get on board with that.

I get why so many companies default to the growth-at-all-costs model, too. So many of them take outside investments that it probably feels like the only path to success for them. When you’re beholden to investors that want a lucrative exit in the next 2-4 years, massive growth is one of very few options left. And investment is so ingrained into our culture that most people default to it as the only way to build a business.

Still, I wholeheartedly think that the One True Path™️ for businesses should be the one laid out by DHH—making a dent in the universe, rather than trying to upheave anything and everything. Create a solid, sustainable business. One which cares about what the customers and employees want, not investors. One that doesn’t consume every waking hour and employee lives in the process. People should default to building a bootstrapped, balanced, longterm business.

It seems like growth is at odds with the “making a dent in the universe” model. Until recently, I definitely felt that, too.

Now, I think that growth is completely in harmony with slower, sustainable business. Growth-at-all-costs is not, but when a business grows more gradually and intentionally, it’s a great thing. That business will be more sustainable and, perhaps more importantly, will positively affect the lives of more people.

That’s the crux for me: helping more people. Until this past year or two, I’d have been against introducing sales and growth hackers and whatever the hell else you want to call it to most businesses, preferring organic, inbound customers instead. But now I think that having those people on a team is the way to go, assuming they understand the goals and values of the business. They help get products and solutions in front of more people, in theory helping those people solve problems and create better work and lives.

I think of Litmus, which only recently started building a sales team. For a long time, us tenured folks were anti-sales. But we’ve seen how effective sales and growth can be for getting our product (which we firmly believe improves the lives of email professionals) in the hands of people and companies that need it. There’s still the fear of growth adversely affecting our core company values, our culture, and our product, but by instilling those values and culture in the sales and growth teams, we can mitigate a lot of the problems that other companies run into.

The email industry is massive and only growing. But there are still so many shitty senders out there—the companies that send ill-conceived, broken, blast-y, spam-y emails on a daily basis. They need a tool like Litmus to help make email better for everyone. The only way we can help them do that is by growing and getting in front of them.

So, yeah… growth can be a good thing. It’s taken me a long time to reframe that in my own mind (and it’s still a work in progress). But I think for anyone that’s anti-growth, looking a little deeper at the benefits of growth and how we can temper the growth-at-all-costs mindset is a useful exercise.

June 22, 2018

What WCAG 2.1 Means for Email Marketers

accessibility meets email marketing

Back in 2012, the International Standards Organization (ISO) adopted WCAG 2.0 as the digital gold standard for accessibility. WCAG 2.0 provided a set of guidelines for ensuring that digital content was accessible to as wide a range of users as possible.

While meeting WCAG 2.0 is still an excellent goal to strive for, a lot has changed in digital technology since 2012. As of June 5, 2018, a new version of WCAG has been launched as the recommended guidelines for building products and content for digital platforms. WCAG 2.1 builds on version 2.0 by adding 17 new criteria, bringing the total criteria (all the considerations you should be thinking about when developing digital products) up to 78.

Although WCAG 2.1 is mostly related to mobile and web applications and sites, HTML email marketers and developers need to understand the guidelines that WCAG provides. Email is digital content and, like everything else we all release, we should take every precaution to ensure that it’s usable by as many people as possible—regardless of their ability.

Here’s what email marketers and developers should know about WCAG 2.1, with a few thoughts on how to take the new criteria into account in your own email campaigns.

What’s New in WCAG 2.1

The 17 new criteria are largely categorized around three themes:

  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Low vision users
  • Mobile users

These three task forces tackle different accessibility issues, and the new criteria address those issues in a modern way. Here’s a quick listing of what’s been added in the 2.1 recommendation.

  1. Orientation guidelines: So that digital applications support both landscape and portrait orientations.
  2. Identity input purpose: To help those with cognitive disabilities better understand input fields.
  3. Reflow guidelines: To prevent horizontal scrolling, which increases effort for low vision users on average 40-100 times.
  4. Non-text contrast guidelines: To increase the contrast of important images and UI controls.
  5. Text spacing guidelines: to make paragraph, letter, and word spacing, and line height, user adjustable for low vision users.
  6. Content on hover or focus guidelines: To reveal content hidden behind hover or focus states for low vision users.
  7. Pointer gestures: To aid disabled users who might not be able to complete complex hand gestures.
  8. Pointer cancellation guidelines: to prevent accidental activation of a function from a single pointer event.
  9. Character key shortcuts: To prevent speech-to-text users from inadvertently triggering functionality based on a shortcut.
  10. Label in name guidelines: To help speech-to-text users interact with content based on visual labels.
  11. Motion actuation guidelines: To prevent disabled users from having to perform difficult or impossible actions based on device motion.
  12. Status message guidelines: To make it easier to detect and understand status and alert messages.
  13. Identify purpose guidelines: To help prevent confusion around elements.
  14. Timeouts: To prevent data loss due to user inactivity.
  15. Animations from interactions guidelines: To prevent problematic side effects for users with vestibular disorders.
  16. Target size guidelines: To help make interactive elements usable for all users.
  17. Concurrent input mechanisms guidelines: To allow users to use multiple input mechanisms for easier use.

There is a lot that goes into each of those new criteria, and differing levels of acceptance for implementing them, both of which you can learn more about in the official WCAG 2.1 specification.

What You Should Consider in Your Campaigns

I know, I know… that sounds like a lot to take in. Not everything applies to HTML email campaigns (hell, most of it doesn’t), but there are still a few key takeaways for email marketers. Here’s what you should keep in mind when building your next campaign.

Make Emails Responsive

There are a few criteria related to making content accessible across different screen sizes. In particular, the criteria on orientation and reflow are directly applicable to email campaigns. Emails should be usable regardless of device orientation and when viewed on a screen of 320px, horizontal scrolling should not be required. This isn’t just important for disabled users, it’s important for all users.

If you’re not already, start using responsive coding techniques to allow your emails to flow and resize across screen sizes. These techniques typically combine any of the following to achieve responsiveness:

  • Fluid instead of fixed tables
  • CSS media queries for changing styles based on screen size
  • Fluid images across screen sizes
  • Text resizing based on screen size
  • Content choreography to simplify layouts on smaller screens

Even though Gmail updated their rendering engine to support more traditional responsive techniques, the most robust method is still the “hybrid” or “spongy” approach, which you can read more about here.

You’ll also want to watch out for using fixed heights for elements that contain text. With the new text spacing guidelines, you need to make sure that text content isn’t cut off and hidden when resized. It’s almost always a bad idea to use fixed heights on anything but images anyways (and I’d argue about doing it then, too), so just fix that stuff now so you never have to worry about it in the future.

Consider Contrast and Size

Although text contrast has been a long-standing accessibility guideline, the new criteria specifies contrast rules for non-text elements like user interface components and graphics. Keep an eye on the contrast of button text and, if you’re using images or graphics like charts and info graphics, make sure the colors used have a high enough contrast ratio (3:1) for people with low vision.

Additionally, make sure your interaction targets are appropriately sized. Most people are using the 44px-by-44px rule already but, if you aren’t, now’s the time to fix that. There are a number of caveats to the new criteria, but keeping click and touch targets big with a decent amount of white space around them is a good guideline to follow.

Watch Those Animations

More and more emails are using interactive elements which include animations triggered by users, whether it’s in the form of hamburger menus, carousels, or in-email games and purchase experiences. It’s worth keeping an eye on those animations to prevent users with vestibular orders from experiencing problems. Keeping animations minimal and subtle is a good rule of thumb.

As many as 35% of adults over 40 years old have dealt with vestibular problems. If you’ve ever experienced vestibular issues, then you understand the chaos they can cause. If you haven’t, use a little empathy.

A Few Resources on Accessibility

As the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines grow, they can be difficult to keep track of or fully understand. Here are a few links to resources both for WCAG 2.1 and keeping tabs on the changing accessibility landscape.

June 20, 2018

Link: Six Colors Coverage of Podcasting

I’m working on a new podcast and have been in research and development mode to make it as good as possible. Jason Snell and Dan Moren’s archive of podcast-related articles for Mac and iOS users has been absolutely invaluable. I already own a lot of the apps they discuss, but I’m discovering some golden tips for getting the most out of them.

Check it out →
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