Starting up? Two good how-tos: UX for Lean Startups & Managing Startups – #business #bookreview

You are eager, maybe too eager, to throw yourself and your meager funding full-force into starting a business, creating a product–yes, another app!–and getting it out to the marketplace. After all, the world wants and needs it now, you keep telling yourself.

But wait, are you basing your gamble on gut instincts, the good wishes of family and friends, and the money smoldering in your pocket? Or have you actually done some planning, research, and testing? What if you could figure out, before you go broke, that the app you have dreamed up and developed actually sucks, but something similar to it, with a better user interface, might do well in the marketplace? And what if you don’t know as much about startups as you think you do?

Here are two books you should consider before rolling the dice on a startup: UX for Lean Startups and Managing Startups.

If you’ve already tossed the dies, you may want to look at the books, too. They contain rich gatherings of well-tested ideas and hard-won advice from many who have started up before you.

Even if you are now well beyond calling your business a startup,  it’s not too late to learn new techniques and ideas that can help you stay afloat and prosper.  You can pick up some useful tips and insights from both of these books.

UX for Lean Startups
Faster, Smarter User Experience Research and Design
Laura Klein
(O’Reilly – hardback, Kindle)

“Lean UX is more than a buzzword,” says engineer and designer Laura Klein in her new book. “In some ways, it’s a fundamental change in the way we design products.”

A key aspect of UX, user experience, is learning how to start out with a “minimum viable product,” or MVP. “[I]nstead of taking months and months building a huge product with dozens of features and all sorts of bells and whistles,” she explains, “maybe it would be a better idea to launch something smaller and start learning earlier.”

In short, you give your customer something useful that they can work with, and you respond to their feedback by making the product work better for them and “adding features that people will use.”

UX for Lean Startups is a smooth blending of how-to steps for creating the best user experience for your new product–while staying within the lines of a tight-budget startup. The author injects some humor and personal experiences to help keep the discussions lively. And you don’t have to read the text from cover to cover. You can find good ideas while jumping around from topic to topic as your needs and curiosity arise.

The 204-page book makes “a lot of references to web-based products and software, but the UX design techniques…will work equally well for building most things that have a user interface,” Laura Klein promises. “Hardware, software, doorknobs…if you sell it and people interact with it, then you can use Lean UX to better understand your customers and to create a better product faster and with less waste.”

***

Managing Startups
Best Blog Posts
Edited by Tom Eisenmann
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

 Okay, information on how to manage startups is everywhere. Mentally, at least, you can drown in it while trying to sort out the business you have just started or are planning to launch soon.

But you can learn plenty from this gathering of more than 70 well-written blog posts by successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

Each year since 2009, Tom Eisenmann, a Harvard professor of business administration, has, on his blog, published an annual compilation of “the year’s best posts by other authors about the management of technology startups.”

In his annual roundup and in this book, he says, he steers clear of “news about product launches and funding rounds; likewise, I don’t include posts that analyze trends in technologies or markets (e.g., big data, cloud computing, SoLoMo services). Instead, my focus has been on the management tasks that entrepreneurs must undertake when they search for a viable business model and then scale a startup.”

He pays close attention to lean startup management practices and various organizational issues such as dealing with cofounder tensions, structuring a startup team, working with a board of directors, and “coping with the psychological pressures that inevitably confront entrepreneurs.” He also tracks “developments in capital markets that are relevant to the management of tech startups; for example, the ebbs and flows of valuation bubbles and the proliferation of incubators and seed-stage funds.”

Some of the well-focused and meaty topics in Managing Startups range from “Very Basic Startup Marketing” to “Five Outsourcing Mistakes That Will Kill Your Startup” to “How to Hire a Hacker” and “Why Do VCs Have Ownership Targets? And Why 20%?”

Eisenmann makes his best-blog-posts-of-the-year selections the old-fashioned way. “I don’t use an algorithm that tracks traffic or social media mentions,” he writes. “Rather, I regularly read a few dozen blogs–mostly written by entrepreneurs and venture capitalists–and I follow links to other posts that look interesting. My criterion for flagging a post for future reference is simple: did I learn something that seems worth passing on to my students or to current entrepreneurs ? When I publish my compilation, I ask readers to suggest other posts that I’ve omitted, and I always get some great additions.”

Some of the other topics in his new book include branding, company culture, the role of product managers, knowing when to bail out, and building “relationships with potential acquirers. You never know when you may need them,” he notes.

No matter what size startup you are contemplating or are already running, you can find articles on topics that may be on your front burner now or looming larger and larger in the background.

Si Dunn

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Creating Mobile Apps with jQuery Mobile – A good & wide-ranging how-to guide – #programming #bookreview

Creating Mobile Appls with jQuery Mobile
Shane Gliser
(Packt Publishing – paperback, Kindle)

The long tagline on the cover of Shane Gliser’s new book deftly sums up its contents:  “Learn to make practical, unique, real-world sites that span a variety of industries and technologies with the world’s most popular mobile development library.”

Gliser unabashedly describes himself as a jQuery “fanboy…if it’s officially jQuery, I love it.” He is an experienced mobile developer and blogger who operates Roughly Brilliant Digital Studios. He also has some background in mobile UX (user experience).

Both aspects of that background serve him well in his smoothly written, nicely illustrated how-to book that zeroes in on jQuery Mobile, a  “touch-optimized” web framework for smartphones and tablets.

You may be surprised when you extract the 234-page book’s code examples and related items and find that the ZIP file is almost 100MB in size. Gliser covers a lot of ground in his 10 chapters. And each chapter contains a project.

Still, what you don’t do in the first chapter, “Prototyping jQuery Mobile,” is work at a computer. In the true spirit of UX, Gliser has you start first with a pen and some 3×5 note cards. Your goal is to rough out some designs for a jQuery Mobile website for a new pizzeria.

Why the ancient technology? “We are more willing to simply throw out a drawing that took less than 30 seconds to create,” Gliser writes. Otherwise, it’s too easy to stay locked into one design while trying different ways to make its code work. And: “Actually sketching by hand uses a different part of the brain and unlocks our creative centers.”

Best of all, working first with paper sketches enables team members who are not coders to contribute some comments, suggestions, and corrections for the emerging design.

In Chapter 2, “A Mom-and-Pop Mobile Website,” you step over to your computer with the paper prototype in hand and start converting the final design “into an actual jQuery Mobile (jQM) site that acts responsively and looks unique.” You also begin building “a configurable server-side PHP template,” and you work with custom fonts, page curl effects using CSS, and other aspects of creating and optimizing a mobile site.

“Mobile is a very unforgiving environment,” Gliser cautions, “and some of the tips in this section will make more difference than any of the ‘best coding practices.’” Indeed,  he wants you to be aware of optimization “at the beginning. You are going to do some awesome work and I don’t want you or your stakeholders to think it’s any less awesome, or slow, or anything else because you didn’t know the tricks to squeeze the most performance out of your systems. It’s never too early to impress people with the performance of your creations.”

Chapter 3, “Analytics, Long forms, and Front-end Validation,” moves beyond “dynamically link[ing] directly into the native GPS systems of iOS and Android.” Instead, Gliser introduces how to work with Google static maps, Google Analytics, long and multi-page forms, and jQuery Validate. As for static maps, he says, “Remember to always approach things from the user’s perspective. It’s not always about doing the coolest thing we can.” Indeed, a static map may be all the user needs to decide whether to drive to a business, such as a pizzeria, or just call for delivery. And, as for Google Analytics: “Every website should have analytics. If not, it’s difficult to say how many people are hitting your site, if we’re getting people through our conversion funnels, or what pages are causing people to leave our site.”

Meanwhile, desktop users are familiar with (and frequently irritated by) long forms and multi-page forms. Lengthy forms can be real deal-breakers for users trying to negotiate them on mobile devices. The author presents some ways to shorten long forms and break them “into several pages using jQuery Mobile.” And he emphasizes the importance of using the jQuery Validate plug-in to add validation to any page that has a form, so the user can see quickly and clearly that an entry has a problem.

The focus in Chapter 4, “QR Codes, Geolocation, Google Maps API, and HTML5 Video,” is on handling concepts that can be “applied to any business that has multiple physical locations.” Gliser uses a local movie theater chain as his development example. A site is created that makes use of QR codes, geolocation, Google Maps, and linking to YouTube movie previews. Then, he shows how to use embedded video to keep users on the movie chain’s site rather than sending them off to YouTube.

In Chapter 5, the goal is “to create an aggregating news site based off social media.” So the emphasis shifts to “Client-side Templating, JSON APIs, and HTML5 Web Storage.” Notes Gliser: “Honestly, from a purely pragmatic perspective, I believe that the template is the perfect place for code. The more flexible, the better. JSON holds the data and the templates are used to transform it. To draw a parallel, XML is the data format and XSL templates are used to transform. Nobody whines about logic in XSL; so I don’t see why it should be a problem in JS templates.”

Next, he shows how to patch into Twitter’s JSON API to get “the very latest set of trending topics” and “whittle down the response to only the part we want…and pass that array into JsRender for…well…rendering” in a manner that will be “a lot cleaner to read and maintain” than looping through JSON and using string concatenation to make the output.

Other topics in Chapter 5 include programmatically changing pages in jQuery Mobile, understanding how jQuery Mobile handles generated pages and Document Object Model (DOM) weight management, and working with RSS feeds. Gliser points out that there is still “a lot more information out there being fed by RSS feeds than by JSON feeds.” The chapter concludes with looks at how to use HTML5 web storage (it’s simple, yet it can get “especially tricky on mobile browsers”), and how to leverage the Google Feed API. Says Gliser: “The Google Feeds [sic] API can be fed several options, but at its core, it’s a way to specify an RSS or ATOM feed and get back a JSON representation.”

Chapter 6 jumps into “the music scene. We’re going to take the jQuery Mobile interface and turn it into a media player, artist showcase, and information hub that can be saved to people’s home screens,” Gliser writes. He proceeds to show how “ridiculously simple it can be to bring audio into your jQuery Mobile pages.” And he explains how to use HTML5 manifest “and a few other meta tags” to save an app to the home screen. Furthermore, he discusses how to test mobile sites using “Google Chrome (since its WebKit) or IE9 (for the Windows Phone)” as browsers that are shrunken down to mobile size. “Naturally, this does not substitute for real testing,” he cautions. “Always check your creations on real devices. That being said, the shrunken browser approach will usually get you 97.5 percent of the way there. Well…HTML5 Audio throws that operating model right out the window.”

Since “mobile phones are quickly becoming our photo albums,” Gliser’s Chapter 7, “Fully Responsive Photography,” shows first how to create a basic gallery using Photoswipe. Then, in a section focused on “supporting the full range of device sizes,” he explains how to start using responsive web design (RWD), “the concept of making a single page work for every device size.” The issues, of course, range from image sizes and resolutions to text sizes and character counts per line, on screens as small as smart phones and tablets, or larger.

In Chapter 8, “Integrating jQuery Mobile into Existing Sites,” three topics are key: (1) “Detecting mobile – server-side, client-side, and the combination of the two”; (2) “Mobilizing full site pages – the hard way”; and (3) Mobilizing full site pages – the easy way.” Gliser avoids some potential “geek war” controversies over “browser sniffing versus feature detection” when detecting mobile devices. He zeroes in first on detection using WURFL for “server-side database-driven browser sniffing.” He also shows how to do JavaScript-based browser sniffing, which he concedes may be “the worst possible way to detect mobile but it does have its virtues,” especially if your budget is small and you want to exclude older devices that can’t handle some new JavaScript templating. He also describes JavaScript-based feature detection using Modernizer and some other feature-detection methods.

As for mobilizing full-site pages “the hard way,” he states that there is really “only one good reason: to keep the content on the same page so that the user doesn’t have one page for mobile and one page for desktop. When emails and tweets and such are flying around, the user generally doesn’t care if  they’re sending out the mobile view or the desktop view and they shouldn’t.” He focuses on how “it’s pretty easy to tell what parts of a site would translate to mobile” and how to add data attributes to existing tags “to mobilize them. When jQuery’s libraries are not present on the page, these attributes will simply sit there and cause no harm. Then you can use one of our many detection techniques to decide when to throw the jQM libraries in.”

Mobilizing full-size pages “the easy way” involves, in his view, “nothing easier and cleaner than just creating a standalone jQuery Mobile page…and simply import the page we want with AJAX. We can then pull out the parts we want and leave the rest.” His code samples show how to do this.

Chapter 9, “Content Management Systems and jQM” looks at the pros and cons of using three different content management systems (CMS) with jQuery Mobile: WordPress, Drupal, and Adobe Experience Manager. “The key to get up and running quickly with any CMS is, realizing which plugins and themes to use,” Gliser writes.  He also explains how to use mobile theme switchers.

Drupal offers some standard plugins that provide contact forms, CAPTCHA, and custom database tables and forms, and enable you to “create full blown web apps, not just brochureware sites,” he notes. But: “The biggest downside to Drupal is that it has a bit of a learning curve if you want to tap its true power, Also, without some tuning, it can be a little slow and can really bloat your page’s code.” .

As for Adobe Experience Manager (AEM), Gliser merely introduces it as a “premier corporate CMS” and a “major CMS player that comes with complete jQuery Mobile examples.” He doesn’t show “how to install, configure, or code for AEM. That’s a subject for several training manuals the size of this book.”

Chapter 10, the final chapter, is titled “Putting It All Together — Flood.FM.” Using what you’ve learned in the book (including prototyping the interfaces on paper first), you create “a website where listeners will be greeted with music from local, independent bands across several genres and geographic regions.” Along the way, Gliser introduces Balsamiq, “a very popular UX tool for rapid prototyping.” He discusses using Model-View-Controller (MVC), Model-View-ViewModel (MVVM), and Model-View-Whatever (MV*) development structures with jQuery Mobile. He shows how to work with the Web Audio API , and he illustrates how to prompt users to download the Flood.FM app to their home screens. He finishes up with brief discussions of accelerometers, cameras, “APIs on the horizon,” plus “To app or not to app, that is the question” and whether you should compile an app or not. Finally, he shows PhoneGap Build, the “cloud-based build service for PhoneGap.”

Bottom line: Shane Gliser’s book covers a lot of  useful ground for those who are ready to learn jQuery Mobile.

Si Dunn

Lean Analytics and Lean UX – Two new guides to better business and user experiences – #bookreview

Okay, how are we leaning today? Leaning in? Leaning back? Leaning to the left or right? Leaning over? Or just leaning toward chucking all “hot new” postures that supposedly help us pose ourselves for career success?

Here’s some good news. None of the above leanings are topics in two new books from O’Reilly’s popular “Lean” series, edited by Eric Ries.

Lean Analytics deals with using data to help you determine if there is a profitable need for the product or service you hope to offer with a startup business. Lean UX, meanwhile, deals with the process of designing a better user experience (UX) for a company’s apps, website or other products.  Here are short reviews of each book:

Lean Analytics
Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster
Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz
(O’Reilly – hardback, Kindle)

“Entrepreneurs,” the authors state, “are particularly good at lying to themselves. Lying may even be a prerequisite for succeeding as an entrepreneur–after all, you need to convince others that something is true in the absence of good, hard evidence. You need believers to take a leap of faith with you. As an entrepreneur, you need to live in a semi-delusional state just to survive the inevitable rollercoaster ride of running your startup.”

But…you also need cold, hard data. And what you learn from that data may not mesh well with the lie you are living as you try to start a new business from scratch. Yet, it may save you from failing and wasting a lot of money.

“Your delusions,” the authors argue, “no matter how convincing, will wither under the harsh light of data. Analytics is the necessary counterweight to lying, the yin to the yang of hyperbole. Moreover, data-driven learning is the cornerstone of success in startups. It’s how you learn what’s working and iterate toward the right product and market before the money runs out.”

Lean Analytics builds on the Lean Startup process developed by Eric Ries. In today’s digital world, the authors explain, “[w]e’re in the midst of a fundamental shift in how companies are built. It’s vanishingly cheap to create the first version of something. Clouds are free. Social media is free. Competitive research is free. Even billing and transactions are free.”

Taken together, these facilities mean “you can build something, measure its effect, and learn from it to build something better next time. You can iterate quickly, deciding early on if you should double down on your idea or fold and move on to the next one.”

Their 409-page book is not quick reading. But it deserves attention and study, whether you want to start a business, already have started a business, or hope to revamp and improve a business that has been in operation for some time. Lean Analytics presents many examples and case studies that illustrate how you can gather and analyze existing data, then test products or services to determine if they are something that customers actually need, want and will use.

With new data from the tests and the ability to continue testing, you can modify your product or service and focus more resources, energy, and time on improving and refining what will work best for your customers–and your bottom line.

***

Lean UX
Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience
Jeff Gothelf with Josh Seiden
(O’Reilly – hardback, Kindle)

“Lean UX is a collaborative process,” the two authors of this book emphasize. “It brings designers and non-designers together in co-creation. It yields ideas that are bigger than those of the individual contributors. But it’s not design-by-committee. Instead, Lean UX increases a team’s ownership over the work by providing an opportunity for all opinions to be heard much earlier in the process.”

For example, forget the notion of a web designer hiding in an office for a week or so and then emerging with what he or she insists will be a “masterpiece” as the company’s new home page.

Particularly in software development, a key aspect of Lean and Agile development theories is the notion of creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). “Lean UX makes heavy use of the notion of MVP,” the two authors explain. “MVPs help test our assumptions–will this tactic achieve the desired outcome?–while minimizing the work we put into unproven ideas. The sooner we can find which features are worth investing in, the sooner we can focus our limited resources on the best solutions to our business problems. This concept is an important part of how Lean UX minimizes waste.”

The web designer’s “masterpiece” might work okay, but it also might offer costly confusions for customers and others visiting the website. Instead, Lean UX emphasizes collaboration, teamwork, testing prototypes, analyzing the results, gathering feedback from outsiders, revamping the project, testing it again–and continuing the process.

According to the writers, the most powerful tool in Lean UX is one that is basic to human beings: conversation. Indeed, conversation should be “the primary means of communication among team members.” Some of the other tools for collaboration also are basic: pencils, pens, notepads, whiteboards, blackboards, and simple paper templates that can spur discussions, opinions, and basic designs for the Minimum Viable Product and its successors, before moving the work to computers.

Lean UX is just 130 pages long. But it is rich with how-to examples, process descriptions, short case studies, clear steps, useful illustrations, and good examples that you can adapt and employ to create cheaper, faster, and better user experiences.


Si Dunn

Killer UX Design – How to create compelling, user-centered interfaces – #bookreview

Killer UX Design
Jodie Moule
(SitePoint – paperback, Kindle)

The overused term “killer app” tends to kill my curiosity about books with “killer” in the title.

Still,  “killer” title aside, Killer UX Design deserves some attention, particularly if you are struggling to create a better user experience (UX) for products, websites, services, processes, or systems. The eight chapters in this 266-page book provide a well-written “introduction to user experience design.”

The focus, in UX design, is on “understanding the behavior of the eventual users of a product, service, or system. It then seeks to explore the optimal interaction of these elements, in order to design experiences that are memorable, enjoyable, and a little bit ‘wow’,” the author says.

She is a psychologist who co-founded and directs Symplicit, an “experience design consultancy” in Australia. “With the digital and physical worlds merging more than ever before,” she says, “it is vital to understand how technology can enhance the human experience, and not cause frustration or angst at every touchpoint.”

You won’t find JavaScript functions, HTML 5 code, or other programming examples in this book, even though software engineering increasingly is a key factor in UX design. Instead, the tools of choice during initial design phases are: Post-It Notes, index cards, sheets of paper, tape, glue, hand-drawn diagrams and sketches, plus clippings from newspapers, magazines and other materials.

And, you likely will spend time talking with other members of your UX design team, plus potential users of your product, service, or system.

Some of the chapters also deal with prototyping, testing, re-testing and tweaking, and how to modify a design based on what you learn after a product, service, or system has been launched.

A key strength of Killer UX Design is how it  illustrates and explains the real-life — and seldom simple — processes and steps necessary to design an app that is both useful and easy to use.

Si Dunn