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Category: design

There are 8 posts published under design.

The Future of Content Marketing is Owned and Embeddable

When we, as content creators and consumers, first engaged with the internet, we did so via platforms.


We chatted with Usenet, we built websites using GeoCities, and we distributed electronic mail through Yahoo! Groups. This technology, as primitive as it was in retrospect, allowed us to communicate in a way we never could before. And these platforms were necessary for reaching each other.


Until they weren’t.


As new breeds of platforms cropped up, we were allowed to steer clear of the noise on these legacy platforms and be the sole voice – control the mic, if you will – for a significant amount of the screen real estate. These new services, such as and Open Diary, seemed to almost completely distribute content creation and consumption back to the source. We even included comments after each post to encourage the dialog missing from this new content methodology. And these platforms were essential in stimulating a conversation that was owned by its creator.


Until they weren’t.


All of this disparate content creation seemed to require aggregation, if you look solely at the next wave of content platforms. Disqus aggregated our comments, SlideShare collected our presentations, and YouTube pulled together our videos. The promise was that we’d reach even broader audiences or build even more powerful relationships with other content creators and consumers if we gave up our content to these platforms. These aggregated distribution platforms were great for driving engaged traffic to us.


Until they weren’t.


One by one, these distribution platforms were acquired by mega corporations. And these institutions required growing revenue to appease their shareholders. YouTube inserts ads into your videos. SlideShare charges you for leads. Who knows how Disqus will change if and when they are acquired. The good news is that this uncertainty is swinging the pendulum again, although, this time, again in our favor. Just as the original content creation platforms gave way to individual content creation tools, these distribution platforms will give way to individual-owned, personal distribution networks.


And this is happening today.


It was revealed last year that WordPress now powers a fifth of the internet. That’s twenty percent of all sites, completely disaggregated, and entirely owned by their creators. And not just micro-sites, CNN, TED, and even the NFL all host sites on this powerful tool. Together, content creators using this technology write 33 million new posts and receive 48 million new comments each month. Maybe even more impressive is that these creators receive visits from over 384 million people, who view more than 12.9 billion pages, each month. And all of this happens with the creators retaining ownership of their content.


Our content is increasingly owned and controlled by us.


However, those 384 million visitors don’t just appear from thin air. We, as content creators and consumers, still rely on huge platforms to drive this traffic. We have to care what Google thinks of us. We have to troll for engagement on Twitter. We have to game the system at Reddit. And the worst part is that these platforms won’t let us get anywhere close to the top of our lead acquisition funnel. We may own and control our content, but not our relationship with our consumers from soup to nuts.


A critical element has been missing.


Not entirely missing, only missing to us content creators. Control over creation is one thing; control over distribution is a whole other. We’ll always seek out a new and novel way to distribute our content, just as we’ll always seek out a new and novel way to create it, but that doesn’t mean we should always have to give up control.


And that is what owned and embeddable content becomes all about.


Embeddable content opens the door to new and novel distribution sources, new ways to measure engagement, and new means by which to promote our work. Imagine, instead of comments, visitors embed your content on their own site, responding in kind, and linking back to you as the source. And even more interestingly, imaging all the new and novel ways in which this new distribution would free you create content. Consider this: If you were able to host high-quality, embeddable videos on your own site, would you create those videos differently than if they were only going to YouTube?


You would. So would I.


We’d build in more engagement. We’d paint the canvas wider than the video screen. We’d maybe even add a lead form. How about other content? Presentations, for example. We’d build the narrative with flexibility, especially if we could granularly measure engagement. We’d slide active links and videos early into the deck. We’d maybe even add a lead form. We’d take even more ownership and pride over the entire experience.


Experience is the key, it increases engagement.


When that experience is as engaging as we want it to be, then we, as content creators and consumers, will start to care again about integrating into these massive distribution platforms. Yet this time, those visitors will be seeing our content, on our sites, as we intended. Those embedded content backlinks will go to us and not to some faceless, corporation. Our analytics, leads and customers will be ours, without a platform standing in the way. The only platform will be the one enhancing our way forward, tying into what we’ve already created. We are really just waiting for the right kid, in the right dorm room, to make that certain future a reality.


And the pendulum will swing again.


Success by Design

The internet has become a very crowded place. Even the most original idea can get lost in the digital sea of content.


A new website or application needs to have every element of their webpage to perform seamlessly in order to guarantee that all users will have a worthwhile browsing experience. This is  a serious task, because even the smallest detail can make the difference between a 20-second visit and a 15-minute one.  Here are a few tips I’ve picked up during the designing process of my application, Insticator.


Ensure the Design is User Friendly


First and foremost, you must ensure that your design is consistent and that your website is both easy to find and to navigate. No one wants to visit a webpage that has ten different fonts and an image overload. Second, always be conscious of the size of the content in comparison to the size of the website. People love to scroll; it adds a subtle interactive aspect to web reading, but there is no reason  a user should ever have to scroll horizontally. It’s messy, unprofessional looking, and an unnecessary hindrance   to someone who is trying to engage with a website. This disaster can be avoided if your website is designed to fit the screen properly.




Font is also imperative to hooking a new user. When choosing a font, always keep in mind that it should be common enough to reach a universal audience. Specialized fonts may not show up on some browsers, which will unnecessarily alienate a potential client base. Your font should also be large enough so that people don’t have to squint or enlarge their screens to read.  Additionally, it is essential to have the color of your font contrast with your website’s background. This will dramatically increase the readability.


Make Your Content Simple to Skim


A wordy, crowded webpage is guaranteed to get passed over extremely quickly on a web surfer’s first visit. Web surfers have astoundingly short attention spans. A website has 10- 20 seconds to engage a user before they move on. If your content isn’t both engaging and concise, then you may have to reevaluate your strategy. Longer content is fine for inner-pages because the reader’s interest has been peaked enough to read more.


Make Your Website’s or App’s Purpose Clear


You created a website for a reason and the main goal is to ensure that users are always aware of what kind of website they are browsing. Imagine running a website dedicated to cooking that also contains information for equestrian enthusiasts. Without an organized purpose, the different topics would become muddled and a user would probably spend very little time digging for the information they were originally seeking (the exception being if they were deeply interested in how equestrians plan their daily meals).


When people come across Insticator, I always want them to be aware that they are on a website that is fully devoted to television. We may cover many different genres of TV, but, at the end of the day, our goal is all about the users’ engagement with the small screen. This is apparent on every page of the application and is sure to keep any TV lover invested in the website for more time.


Make It Easy to Navigate


When a user comes across a website for the first time, they, rightfully, expect to browse easily between the homepage and the website’s inner pages. A new user will not waste time trying to figure out a complicated navigation system. Make your navigation bar noticeable and simple. It should stand out in contrast to any of the content pages, since it will act as the gateway to all the pages of your website. It is also a good idea to avoid too much clutter on your navigation bar. Sure, your website has a lot of cool bells and whistles that you want to show off, but there is no reason to display every single feature on your website as a navigation tool. Always keep in mind  that clutter is a huge turn-off.


Your Website Needs to Be Fast


Remember when your mother told you the story about the tortoise and the hare? Well, forget that. When it comes to website functionality, slow and steady never wins any races. Your website should never take more than 10 seconds to load. Ideally any page should load under 6 seconds, any longer and you’ll lose a user before they even get to see  the homepage.


Using a website or app should never be a tedious task and if you follow the guidelines provided, you should be well on your way to launching a successful and attractive website. The last piece of advice I offer to anyone launching a website is that, no matter what, you need to be passionate about the subject matter. It is your passion for  the project that will fuel your need for perfection, and the rest will fall into place.


Why All Companies Need to be More Design-Driven

We see companies becoming more dependent on creative thinking and problem solving to survive. The challenge with traditional business structures is that they do not foster the type of creative environment needed to innovate.


Business management is becoming more and more of a design problem, where it is up to the leaders of the organization to start with the desired outcome and manage the business and move towards that vision.


This is a radical transformation, and one that will not happen overnight. But there are key design principles that leaders can adopt to rethink the way they approach day-to-day work at their companies. In short, companies need to become more design-driven if they want to truly be innovative.


Applying the design process to business


The first step of the design process is to identify the problem. How you define the problem directly impacts the solution, so it is important to get this part right. What challenge is your business trying to overcome? More leads? Increased revenue? Conduct qualitative and quantitative research to gain valuable insight to the problem at hand.


Next, define the criteria for success. Before offering any type of solution, know what success looks like for your organization. This is usually some measureable result—increase revenue by x percent, reduce attrition, more trial signups.


Traditionally, businesses would look for the proven method of success and apply it to their model. This is where a design-driven business has the most opportunity to differentiate itself. From a designer’s perspective, there is always room for finding a different, potentially better, solution. How can your solution be different from every other solution out there?


The way to uncover this is through rapid iteration — the repetition of proposing, building, and testing potential solutions to the problem. The key to this process is building and testing ideas quickly so you can determine its validity as a potential solution and try something else. It’s not enough to propose an idea that might work. Build it. Test it. Try again.


The last step of the design process is deciding — or, more appropriately, dismissing. In the iteration phase, you saw many potential solutions, some good, others not. Dismiss the not-so-good ideas and focus on the ones that are most elegant. This process, however, is not so black and white. Often, different solutions solve different parts of the problem and not others. Elegance is achieving as much of the solution criteria in the simplest way.


How companies can be more design-driven


1. Offer flexibility within constraints. Employees need guideposts to operate within around budgets, goals or milestones. This is especially important during the iteration phase. When there are outlined parameters from the beginning, employees will thrive on the increased autonomy.


2. Develop a culture of iteration that permeates throughout all parts of the business. This applies to company policies, benefits, and even management structure. When there is the assumption that things don’t have to stay the same for long, it becomes easier for the company to make needed adjustments


3. Finally, companies need tools that enable leaders and team members to focus on the solution, not the mundane work that gets in the way. This is something I think about every day at 10,000ft — how to enable companies to be better decision-makers. Whether it’s a resource management tool, design software, or an accounting program, tools should support the organization in building an environment that nurtures innovation, rather than constrains the path to it.


Five Creative Practices for Better Product Design at Your Startup

Collaborating with a team of like-minded individuals to create something from nothing can feel truly magical, particularly when it comes to designing web products.


On the flip side, it can be pretty scary to break new ground and realize there’s no one waiting on the other side with the “correct” answer for what you should do next. Such is the nature of the beast, and anyone who has worked on a startup appreciates both sides of the coin. Three startups in, I have trouble imagining my life any other way.


At Tapastic, we’re building the world’s best community of comic creators, where publishers can grow their audience and readers can discover great visual stories on the web or their mobile devices. With over 800 creators and more than a thousand series published so far, we’re clearly doing something right… but each day, there’s a lot to think about, and even more to do. That’s the joy and challenge of building products, and what keeps me up at night — and also what keeps me coming back for more.


Over the years, certain patterns and lessons have emerged across the different companies and projects I’ve worked on and I’ve distilled those down to five key creative practices for better product design at your startup:


1. Simplify your focus


Coming up with ideas and features is exciting. Factor in the competing priorities and varied feedback from design, engineering, PR, and sales perspectives (not to mention, ahem, the users), and it’s easy to end up wanting to build everything.


Even if you’re past the point of finding product-market fit and building your MVP, it’s still critical to evaluate the impact and return on your product decision and be brave enough to cut mercilessly. If the core value isn’t solid and you’re not hyper focused on delivering it without fail, none of the other things will last long enough to matter. Likewise, not all feedback is valuable or useful, and so it must be interpreted and acted on with the same degree of focus to avoid building a camel or getting sidetracked down a rabbit hole.


2. Check your ego at the door


No one really wants to use your product, they only want the result or value it produces. They also rarely care about how clever you are, or how difficult some UI trick was to pull off (unless they happen to be a designer or developer too… even then, that respect doesn’t necessarily equate to more usage or dollars). When designing a product, it’s terribly easy to think of yourself as the user and never really explore beyond that, but it’s important to remember that good design really starts with problem solving rooted in empathy.


There’s been some recent debate regarding the Dribbblisation of design, which certainly provides value for critique and feedback, but primarily strikes me as designing to show off for other designers. I think Jony Ive put it best when he said, “it’s very easy to be different, but very difficult to be better.” A lot of ego-based design is about standing out and being different for the sake of identity, rather than striving, first and foremost, to deliver a better solution to your audience.


3. Take a hike


Stand up (too much sitting may be killing you) and go for a walk outside – a quick, 10-minute trip around the block will do. I know you’re indispensable and #fomo is pandemic, but seriously, leave your phone behind. Tucked in your pocket, the temptation to check it will be overwhelming (even without phantom vibrations). The point of the walk is not to make progress toward inbox zero or check Facebook on a smaller screen, but to entirely disconnect from pixels and shift your context to a novel environment.


Besides giving your eyes much needed rest, walking clears your head, improves focus, and boosts creativity. Take a pen and notebook if you must, but I prefer to stroll without an agenda, allowing my subconscious to solve problems and absorb inspiration without added pressure. I try to do this at least every few hours.


Beyond the health benefits, unplugging momentarily helps restore perspective; in overwhelming moments of frustration the break allows me to remember I’m pushing pixels, not saving lives (if your work actually involves saving lives, thank you, but you’re on your own).


4. Have a beer (you’ve probably earned it)


Or a cup of coffee, depending on your goal. Need to focus, achieve flow, and grind? Top off that cup of coffee. Looking to make new connections, find inspiration, or tap fresh ideas? Reach for a beer! While neither is a panacea, I’ve experienced great productivity gains pairing coffee with noise canceling headphones and come up with many novel solutions sipping a beer while sketching at a cafe.


As with all things, moderation is key and more doesn’t equal better. Too much beer leads to not caring enough, and too much coffee results in my writing this post at 4am…


5. Share what works


What works for me might not work for you, but I’d love to hear what does! Sharing your process not only helps others work more effectively with you, but the requisite introspection will help you better understand yourself. Besides, it’s always reassuring to hear others are going through the same challenges, and how they worked through them.


Feel free to share your tips or chat with me about startups, interfaces, and product design.


5 Easy Things You Can Do To Get A Higher Selling Price Of Your App

After spending countless hours developing your app and finally getting it published, you might be wondering, “what do I do now?”


Perhaps you are tired of this app, want to clean out your app portfolio, or maybe you just want to get some cash so you can move on to your next project. Whatever the case may be, taking one last look at these 5 aspects of your app before you list it to sell could boost its value and get you the final payout you deserve.


1. Optimize Your Keywords

The simplest thing that you can do is to make sure that you rank for popular search terms related to your app. The most common mistakes that we see are: using too few keywords, using keywords that people are not searching for, or using keywords that are not closely related to the app.


2. Have Analytics Installed


You are 43% more likely to sell your app if you have analytics installed, and your app probably won’t sell for more than $10,000 if you don’t. Potential buyers need to know what they are getting for their money and without this information, they are less likely to fork over anywhere near what you think your app is worth. Be sure to have some solid data on how your app is performing before listing it for sale.


3. Localization Is Key


This might not be a simple task for some, but for others, it may be really easy. Consider what it would take to expand your app into even one other country. This may significantly increase the number of times that your app is downloaded and make your app much more valuable to a buyer. Taking the time to localize your app could really pay off.


4. Optimize Your Graphics


Before you sell your app, take a second look at your icon and screenshots. Is your icon the best representation of your app? If not, you should run it by a professional designer get their thoughts. They might have some great ideas on how you could make it more appealing, and more likely that someone will download your app.


Next, take a good look at your screenshots. Make sure that your first screenshot quickly communicates what your app does. Also remember to use all of the available slots for screenshots. This will give your app maximum visibility and convince people who might otherwise only be mildly interested in your app.


Once you have made changes to your graphics, be sure to test your changes over a period of time to be sure that they are having a positive effect on your downloads.


5. Improve Your Web Presence


Now that you have tuned your App Store presence, make sure that your online presence is ready to go too. It may not add a lot to the sales price of your app, but it does look better to a buyer when you can hand over everything in a neat package.


Check to see that your branding is consistent across your website and social media accounts.


To conclude, if you are getting ready to sell your app, we hope that this post has reminded you to take a closer look at these 5 aspects. It might be tempting to list it right away and get whatever you can, but a little more time and effort could yield a much bigger payday.


Using Design Concepts to Redefine a Market

When Apple first released the iPod, it seemed like everyone had to have one. Not only was it a new product, but it was a new take on portable music players, which had remained basically the same for years. It was cool, well-designed and had the basic, necessary functionality – the ultimate blend of form and function. It’s a great example of how to redefine a market or create a new one – an important lesson for large companies and startups alike. This strategy is being used for what could be considered unlikely markets and product categories.


Markets change for all kinds of reasons – changing habits, outdated trends, economic conditions, globalization, new technologies, and others. Companies often respond by developing new products and services (without much thought given to design), changing prices, using different marketing strategies, and so forth. However, aesthetics can have a large impact since they increase perception of quality and value, and success can be achieved as long as the actual quality and value is there. This goes back to having both form and function, as with Apple’s products. It can also give a company a competitive advantage since a brand perception is created that belongs to the company and can’t be duplicated.


It may seem unlikely, but one market that design could be said to be redefining is tobacco. This includes electronic cigarettes (e-cigs), which, despite not actually containing tobacco, has leading tobacco companies getting involved. Consider tobacco maker Lorillard, which last year paid $135 million to acquire leading e-cigarette brand Blu. Murray Kessler, the chairman and chief executive of Lorillard, recently told the Wall Street Journal that he wants to de-normalize smoking and normalize vaping in part by replicating the behavior smokers are used to. He also noted that the company wants to differentiate its e-cigs from competitors like Njoy (which recently received venture funding) by offering a black e-cig as opposed to the usual white so they won’t be mistaken for regular cigarettes by people nearby. Kessler says the black outsell the white by eight to one.


Further supporting the shift from regular cigarettes to e-cigs and other specialty devices with new designs is a recent study predicting that the premium “novel nicotine delivery devices” market will quickly gain momentum in the coming decades. This is part of an evolution away from the usual cigarette iconography while at the same time fulfilling a demand for healthier options as cigarette use is declining.


Startups are also jumping into the market with design and functionality beyond e-cigs. The Pax by Ploom, a vapor device being offered by Vape World resembling an iPod, has an anodized aluminum exterior and a motion-sensing shut-off feature. Unlike e-cigs, it uses real loose-leaf tobacco heated and turned into a vapor without combustion, avoiding the harmful chemicals and byproducts in smoke. Its design appeals to both tech enthusiasts and those who want a vapor device that has some style and advanced functionality.


If a normally staid market like tobacco can be redefined with the help of design, almost any market (and related products) can do the same with a bit of imagination.