Alexander Skogberg

UX, Web & Design

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Lost in copywriting – experiencing Japan as a designer

The nature, architecture, people, language, food and culture. During my trip to the mesmerising country of Japan in October this year, I felt there was no end to the impressions I got. In this post, I’ll tell you what stood out about design.

Holding a Japan Rail Pass on a train platform

Was it playing Super Mario World as a kid in the early 90s? Could it have been eating sushi when going to college on the Swedish west coast? Maybe seeing Sofia Coppola’s masterpiece Lost in Translation multiple times had something to do with it.

I don’t know, but for the past few years my curiosity about Japan had been steadily increasing. This fall I finally stopped dreaming and booked a flight to the land of the rising sun.

In this post, I’ll tell you what made impressions on me as a designer.

Riding the Tokyo subway with 38 million people

I started my trip in the nation’s capital of Tokyo. For getting around in this mind-blowing city, the subway is the best choice by far.

Since most of the city’s 38 million inhabitants also prefer the subway the experience is at first overwhelming, but after a few rides completely manageable (as long as it’s not during rush hour).

Packed subway car in Tokyo.

During rush hour, the subway cars in Tokyo are packed. Luckily, the commuters are respectful towards each other.

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Making your design by breaking your design

User interface design is hard. Smartphones, tablets and laptops come in all shapes and sizes with and without keyboard, mouse and touchscreen input. For making your design great in this context, you must first learn to break your design.

Smashing a car in Street Fighter II

Too often in projects I’ve seen design fail late in the development process due to it not being tested enough in different ways. This waste of time and energy can easily be reduced.

There are several reasons for this failure. Sometimes it’s stress, last minute content changes or unclear initial requirements. But sometimes it’s simply because we designers can be unstructured and sloppy. We need to get better, we need to start breaking our design before someone else breaks it for us.

Here’s my guide for putting your design through the wringer.

Break your design with real content

Every designer I’ve ever spoken to has agreed that using real content as early as possible is the way to go. Yet, I often see design filled with placeholder images, Lorem Ipsum text and comfortable made-up content.

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Writing emails people will read, understand and reply to

Email. Love it or hate it, you probably have to use it on a daily basis anyway. Here are my best tips for writing emails people will read, understand and (most importantly) reply to.

Screen for entering a new email in Apple Mail

I’ve sure sent my amount of crappy emails over the years. Emails with vague subject titles, unnecessary CC:s and forgotten attachments. Once, I’ve even hit the Reply All button and sent an email to over 500 coworkers.

I’m always trying to write fewer and better emails and faster and more helpful replies. However, I can always get better and so can you. Now, I’m gonna teach you how!

Here are my best pieces of advice.

Write a detailed subject title

Just like a well-written link on a website, you should know what an email is about just by reading its subject title. This makes searching your inbox less time-consuming and your recipients will hopefully find and read your emails sooner.

So make your subject titles are simple, non-clickbaity and have their keywords as early as possible.

Examples of poor subject titles:

  • “Logo”
  • “Meeting notes”
  • “Send info”
  • “Slides from talk”

Examples of better subject titles:

  • “New logo in EPS format”
  • “Meeting notes for preparing usability testing”
  • “Send conference itinerary (if you have it)”
  • “Slides on talk about wireframing in Sketch”

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How paper wireframing will make you a better designer

There are lots of great tools for drawing wireframes today. However, I still prefer my good ol’ paper wireframing kit. In this post I’ll tell you why and explain how paper wireframing will make you a better designer.

A sketchpad with a thin black marker and a correction tape roller.

In 2012 I was planning on taking my wireframing skills to the next level. I had gotten the excellent app Paper by FiftyThree for my new iPad and had ordered two well-reviewed tablet sketching pens all the way from the US.

Around this time, I also took a paper sketching course by the Swedish designer Mårten Angner. Taking this course completely changed my approach to making wireframes and over the years it has made me a better designer.

Let me tell you why paper wireframing is a must-have skill.

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Hey designers, take more responsibility for website images!

Today, images stand for about 50 % of a website’s total weight. Since poor performance is so tightly linked to decreased revenue and dissatisfied users, we designers must take more responsibility for website images.

Sonic the hedgehog, but fat.

Websites keep getting heavier and heavier. According to data from httparchive.org, the average website weighed 3686 KB on February 15, 2018. Six years earlier (February 15, 2012), the average website used to weigh 986 KB.

Websites have become 373,8 % heavier during the last six years. It’s mind-blowingly bad!

Video stands for a large part of a website’s weight today compared to a few years ago, but the largest contributor to the total weight is still images.

Wensite statistics for February 2018

On February 15, 2018 images stood for ~49.3 % of the weight of an average website. Data from httparchive.org.

Why performance matters

When arguing for the importance of good performance, it’s easy to find supporting research.

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