How we’re staying productive while working remotely

The global COVID-19 pandemic has tens of thousands of people, if not more, suddenly working remotely from home for a prolonged period. For many, this is the first time they will have to stay productive from the comfort of their own home (and in the presence of distractions), not to mention the added anxiety from current events and lack of social interactions.

While as a creative agency, we believe that the value of in-person collaboration is immeasurable and essential to our work. As an effort to slow the further spread of the COVID-19 virus currently sweeping across the globe, the KIMBO Design team is complying with the advice of public health officials and will be temporarily working from home until further notice.

Here are some of our tips for staying productive and facilitating collaboration while working from home:

Wake Up Early (or when you usually would if you were going to work)

It’s obviously hard to wake up early as per usual when you can take your commute time for extra sleep. But I find it’s best to try to get as much of a jump on the day as possible, to settle into a routine and get into your zone more quickly. Go about your normal work morning routine as per usual to create some separation between work and personal time.

Dress as if you were headed into the office

Put on pants people. Pyjamas are comfortable and ideal, but dressing for the day can help you feel like a more productive person that’s ready to get things done.

Morning SCRUM

Every morning either have a quick 15min call or chat/email with your team to discuss what you will be working on for the day. This A) Sets expectations for the team and keeps yourself motivated to get a certain amount of work done; B) Keeps everyone in the loop of where projects are at more consistently; and C) Lets others know if you are overwhelmed and need to offload some work, etc.

Video calls vs. voice calls

If at all possible, try to do video calls over voice calls. This is better for communication (physical queues) and also forces you, even more, to put on pants. The added personal connection from a video call will definitely be appreciated!

Separate your working spot

Because we no longer have the option to even work at a coffee shop or library, we have to set up our stations at home. Not super ideal as this makes creating that work-life separation very difficult and also increases the chances for distraction. Try to find somewhere to work that is as separate/far away from what you do in the house when you’re not working.

Schedule out your day

Try blocking out and writing out times dedicated to working on certain things. This makes the day a bit more digestible and manageable. It sets out some more concrete goals for the day, especially if you don’t have hard deadlines. It can be difficult to stay productive when you don’t have anything pressing to check off.

Avoid your phone/distractions

Put away your phone (unless that’s your primary source for work-related communications, of course). I have started putting my phone in another room or across the room so that I’m not so prone to checking it and getting distracted. I find it’s helpful to do this and only checking it during breaks if necessary.

Everything you should know about WordPress and Microsoft Azure

Two of the hottest terms that often get thrown around in modern web development are ‘WordPress’ and the ‘Cloud’. Since its initial launch back in 2003, the open-source CMS has undergone numerous changes and updates to keep up with the ever-shifting landscape of the internet. One such change is the increasing importance for a website to be flexible so that it can grow organically as your business or project gains traction. Cloud hosting platforms such as Microsoft Azure fulfills this need exactly in a scalable manner.

Here is everything you should know about building a WordPress site and hosting on Microsoft Azure.

WordPress CMS

Initially launched in 2003 and designed for creating blogs. WordPress has since expanded its capabilities significantly and with close to 34% of all websites on the internet being powered by WordPress, it is undoubtedly one of the most popular content management systems (CMS) available out there.

In addition to its reliability and ease of use, WordPress is favoured for its open-source license which allows the CMS to be used and customized for free by anyone. This gives WordPress the unique advantage of having an extensive library of third-party themes and plugins that can be used to customize a website or add special functionalities, many of which are free to use.

Today, WordPress allows users to easily organize and manage content on any type of website with no programming knowledge at all, with many large and small business and governmental organizations choosing to utilize WordPress as their CMS of choice for websites.

All of this added together makes the WordPress CMS a go-to choice for the vast majority of modern website builds.

But why (and when) would one want to choose cloud-based web hosting solutions like Microsoft Azure for their brand-new WordPress site over more traditional offerings like a dedicated server?

Cloud Web Hosting and Microsoft Azure

Hosting a website on Microsoft Azure provides a number of benefits. As a cloud computing platform that provides a combination of IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. Azure offerings include computing, storage, networking, and AI with support for almost any operating systems, framework, and tools.

Azure allows you to scale up or down resources anytime to accommodate for spikes or drops in demand for your site with a pay-as-you-go pricing, making it more flexible and cost-effective than traditional servers for handling sites with volatile traffic rates (e.g. school sites often see sudden and significant traffic surges on snow days, while traffic is usually pretty mild on most days).

Deploying a WordPress site on Microsoft Azure is fairly simple and benefits from crucial advantages such as automatically scaling and load balancing, etc. Backups are automated and a wide range of metrics are available basically out-of-the-box.

Supported by a large fleet of data centres strategically placed around the globe, hosting on Cloud solutions like Azure offers the flexibility needed for preserving data residency (e.g. compliance with data privacy laws) and rapid scaling up for your website and business in any part of the world.

Building a WordPress site and hosting on cloud solutions such as Azure combines the best of both worlds. Offering the reliability and scalability of the cloud while being cost-effective, user-friendly, and easily customizable with the open-source WordPress CMS.

What to expect for Social Media Marketing in 2020

Saying that social media will only become more prominent in the everyday lives of people in 2020 should come with no surprise. But what about it? What are some things to look out for in order to ensure success in your digital marketing efforts for the upcoming year?

Here are our predictions for where social media marketing is heading towards in 2020:

smartphone

Mobile

A few sets of stats to set the tone first (as of Nov 2019):

To put this into perspective, every time you run a piece of content or ad on the internet, 8 seconds is all you get to capture an audience’s attention before they move onto the next piece. And if your content is not optimized for mobile, you miss out on more than half of the world’s internet users and 95% of the users on the world’s largest social networking platform.

This is why it is important to optimize your content distribution strategy with up to date market insights continuously. For instance, if you are trying to promote a line of outdoor clothing to millennials. Your targeted audiences are likely outdoor enthusiasts, they would likely follow many outdoor recreational activities oriented social accounts on Instagram and Facebook, and depending on their interests, they may be more active in the summer or winter (e.g. surfer vs. snowboarder). Being millennials, they’re likely primarily on mobile and are more active on Instagram than on Facebook.

Of course, audience targeting is only half the story, the other half of Social Media Marketing has to do with the actual content itself.

instagram story

Videos

There is increasing consumer preference for video content over static images. This is especially true for digital ads and sponsored social media content. A quick scroll through Instagram and Facebook and you would notice that there are significantly more videos around than merely a few years ago.

Videos must be utilized in order to stand out from the crowd and capture the attention of your audience properly. Instagram Stories have also risen to become one of the most popular channels that people receive video content and can be effective in promoting brands in a more personalized way.

This blurs the line between different social media platforms being exclusive for their respective types of content (e.g. YouTube for videos, IG for photos, etc.). But at the same time, this introduces a whole new category of online videos. Where YouTube videos have evolved into more serious and polished productions nowadays, social media Stories are typically vertically viewed videos (on mobile) that are shorter in length and (relatively) less polished due to their temporary nature (stories are typically only available for 24hrs after they’re posted).

whatsapp

Instant Messaging

One of the most important aspects of crafting an effective marketing campaign has to do with choosing the right platform to get your message out. This is especially true for digital marketing, where there are so many different platforms out there it may be disorienting to decide on which one works best for your needs.

There is no denying that Facebook has some of the biggest and most effective platforms out there for social media marketing. Note that in this context we are not just referring to Facebook as a platform by itself, but the company and its subsidiaries as a whole. This includes some of the most popular social networking platforms on the internet right now, such as Instagram, FB Messenger, and WhatsApp Messenger, among others.

Study shows that 80% of adults and 91% of teens message every day. In 2018/2019, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp were the three platforms that mobile users spent the most time on. These are also some of the most frequently accessed apps right after a smartphone gets unlocked. There is also an increasing preference for people to get customer support through instant messaging rather than by email/phone.

This marks a shift towards even more integration between a business and its social media presence. Meaning that maintaining a healthy and effective social media presence is more important than ever if not essential, as this is what customers come to expect.

eCommerce

Deeper integrations between businesses, eCommerce, and social media

What we may see more of in 2020 is deeper social media integration with company websites and their operations (e.g. live chat supported by FB messenger to replace a customer service hotline). With Instagram Shopping and Facebook Marketplace entering the eCommerce space with social media integrations, we will likely also see more diversity in terms of how people shop online, and an increase in purchases that come directly from social media advertising.

The Importance of Data Visualization & Infographics

It is no secret that since the introduction of the world wide web, modern audiences have developed an increasingly shorter attention span for information and resources they come across. In the rapidly moving world of the internet, individuals receive more and more information with significantly less time to review each piece, and the phenomenon has become even more apparent since the mainstream adoption of smartphones.

With the sheer amount of resources available to us at our fingertips, an average individual could easily come across hundreds of different articles each overflowing with information every day. This makes it increasingly difficult to capture the attention of the modern audience and keep them enticed with traditional web and document design approaches.

This is where data visualization comes in. First impressions matter. You don’t want your audience to lose interest in your work at first sight.

Data Visualization

An ongoing trend in modern web and document design is a gradual increase in the utilization of infographics and other data visualization solutions in place of text and numbers.

Most commonly used to help create a compelling narrative and to present essential information/data in a visually engaging manner, infographics are especially important in the design of websites and data-heavy documents (e.g. Annual Reports).

Data Visualization

Infographics allow the most vital information of a website or document to be presented front and centre. They help people understand key information derived from the data and can be used to quickly communicate a message, to simplify the presentation of large amounts of data, to see data patterns and relationships, and to monitor changes in variables over time.

This is especially suitable for many public sector entities where large amounts of data often have to be distributed as public knowledge. An great example of this would be Statistics Canada.

Making these resources available in a visually engaging manner also encourages audiences to redistribute/share information on topics they’re interested in through their own social media channels. This expands the audience base and helps capture the attention of the audience (maybe even just for a split second). This allows raw data to almost become sharable PR materials as well, ensuring that the return on investment spent on producing these materials is maximized.

These are just some of the many reasons why infographics have gained momentum in a range of modern design. For more information on how data visualization could help you, please feel free to get in touch or check out our case studies.

What Are PWA and What Can They Do For You?

PWA, also known as Progressive Web Application, is a relatively new concept and approach into enhancing user experience and performance with web applications. While the objective for PWA is to reuse code to provide a mobile experience, they are becoming the next biggest thing due to reliability, speed, and functionality. Consequently, mobile phones are now leading source of internet traffic while desktop usage has grown far inferior in comparison. Thus PWA could potentially inspire a new generation of web applications in a different light.

What are PWA?

In short, PWA is a website that looks and behaves as if it is a mobile application. They are built to take advantage of mobile features without the hassle of installation and deployment through an app store. However, they could be installed to a device like a native app, if desired. The PWA concept allows for user engagement to content, simple usability and more importantly, converse improvement.

What are the Advantages of PWA?

The important question to ask is why build a PWA in the first place? You are probably questioning, “is PWA a responsive design?”  The answer is, well, no. While responsive web design is the rendering and layout of a website based on screen size, platform and orientation. PWA includes more features than a standard responsive web design and, in fact, utilizes responsiveness for it to work. The benefit of PWA, like mentioned above, is that a PWA website allows users to interact with it as a dedicated application but with the full functionality of a website and minus the installation/deployment hassle. In addition, they are cheaper to develop than native apps and have significantly less competition. In comparison with non-PWAs and traditional mobile sites, they actually are significantly faster. 10% of users will leave a page for every second that they have to wait for a site to load. 53% of mobile sites were abandoned if a page took longer than 3 seconds to load. Thus, running a slow mobile site essentially translates to losing potential users and clients. Moreover, PWAs are reliable and engaging. Once launched, it can run even with an unstable or in absence of an internet connection. Not to mention, they are secure because all PWAs must utilize the HTTPS protocol. Lastly, PWAs can run on almost all modern mobile device, therefore minimizing considerations needed for adaptability and compatibility issues.

If you’re interested in learning more about PWAs and how KIMBO Design can help bring your vision to life, please feel free to get in touch with us here or visit Google’s PWA CheckList for details.

Website Repository: What is it and why is it important?

Broadly speaking, a repository describes a central file storage location that stores multiple files. It is often utilized in software development to store multiple versions of files, such as incremental updates to a product after its initial release. One of the prime examples of this would be GitHub, one of the world’s leading software development platform on the internet.

However, a repository does not necessarily only describe software development databases such as GitHub’s. One of the challenges that web programmers often face is that the built-in search functionality of many CMS’ often provide underwhelming performances when processing queries for resources on the website. It is often the case that a website’s content library must be meticulously tagged and organized manually in order for these default search functions to be effective, as they lack the ability to search within files.

For example, a PDF file stored on a WordPress website will only be searchable if the user’s query term includes the PDF file’s title and/or tags. It is not possible (with the default WP search function) to search for a specific line of item within said PDF file, which severely limits the practicality of the search function.

File Searching

A number of workarounds exist to solve this limitation of the WordPress CMS. However, I’d like to discuss one particular solution here, namely a custom programmed repository. This is a solution that we developed for our recent collaboration with DIVERSEcity (please feel free to visit the link for more information on this project).

What this describes is essentially a WordPress powered file database that has been custom programmed to include the ability to search within PDFs (i.e. searches both the title and content of the file itself). This allows for much greater flexibility in the search function as a user will be able to find a particular file just by searching for a line that they remember from within that document. Furthermore, the KIMBO repository is responsive for mobile devices and allows users to directly view documents in their browser, eliminating the need for additional applications to be installed (e.g. Microsoft Office). This is coupled with built-in functionality for converting documents between XLS, PPT, Word, and PPT, along with the ability to download the original file format for maximum flexibility.

While the KIMBO repository is custom programmed from scratch, it is compatible with Linux servers that run on PHP just the same as a typical WordPress site. Meaning that the said repository can be integrated into most modern WordPress websites in the market nowadays. The KIMBO repository also has password and leech protection built-in, though it is recommended that a website be hosted on an SSL-certified dedicated server for maximum protection.

UX/UI Design Trends of 2019

Animations & Liquid Graphics

Designs are becoming more digitized, and designers and artists following these trends bring complex forms of color to the real world. And liquid, holographic, chromatic forms, and glitters are everywhere, including the UI design. It concerns not only graphics but also typography.

Among everything, new browser capabilities opened the door for animation. Not just as the motion of elements, but a legit design opportunity. The discipline known as motion design involves a lot of design aspects but intersects with psychology and biology. Complexity replaces fad as the main characteristic feature of animation in design. Motion and transitions convey a lot of information that otherwise would be lost.

Skeleton Load Screens

This method makes users think that your website is fast. While your website is loading skeleton screens give the user a feeling of smooth progress, fluency and speed. A good example of this is the new YouTube skeleton load screen.

3D Interfaces

3D rendering and CG augmentation of real footage and imagery have been around for some time. For the sake of speed and performance, and also accessibility, designers have a history of avoiding complex 3D models in UIs. Better browsers turned this luxury into an affordable feature. Highly Complex VFX or Visual Effects take movie-like scenes into the realm of websites.

This trend will be specifically useful for product companies with complex processes that are not very visual. By using the 3D visualization, you can tap into any technological process and create a deeper level of understanding.

Vibrant Custom Illustrations

Custom illustrations with bold, vibrant colors and funny stylized people are coming back in 2019 and become the main trend of the year. Today companies take more advantage of custom illustrations. Using custom illustrations, the company demonstrates the uniqueness of the values of their brand. This approach in design helps businesses get closer to their customers by making their experience with a brand more personalized. The most popular directions are illustrations with simple shapes and isometric forms.

Dark Themes

The dark themes started to gain mainstream popularity shortly after the release of the macOS Mojave update in 2018. Dark themes most notably attract power-users and a number of world-renowned companies have released software updates with dark themes.

Sustainable Design and Why It’s Crucial

Sustainable design is a design philosophy that focuses on creating products that are both beneficial to their users and sustainable for the environment as a whole.  These types of designs are known by many names, most notably as sustainable, environmentally friendly, or green designs. Regardless of what it is referred to as, sustainable designs strive to minimize human impact on the environment while still maintaining the core functionality that a product is required to perform. These types of designs are usually accompanied by the use of renewable resources and innovative production processes to achieve their goals of sustainability.

As the effects of global climate change become more apparent by the day, a newfound sense of awareness for sustainability has swept across the globe at an unprecedented level. Consumers and businesses demand for sustainable designs are higher than ever, making this one of the most critical modern design considerations of today. What was once thought of as more of an ideal goal is now rapidly making its way into the reality of our everyday lives in the form of sustainable designs and is now being commonly applied to a variety of products and designs. This ranges from multimillion architectural and construction projects, to something as simple as conscious typesetting, colours, and paper type choices on a printed document to minimize the use of ink and paper for the publication. What is important is that this concept has found its way into almost every single aspect of our lives, and it is crucial that we embrace this change to avoid being left behind playing catch up.

Sustainable Design

Principles of Sustainable Design

A number of key considerations for sustainability need to be taken into account by the designer throughout the development process of a product or design. These considerations often come in at the following different stages of a typical design and development process, namely: Form, Function and Usability, Cost-Effective Solutions, Renewable Materials and Recycling, & Durable Design Solutions.

Whether these considerations are being applied to a product packaging or a massive construction project, the core values behind sustainable design are the same, and that is to develop products and services that minimize negative environmental impact (and maximize on positive, long-lasting impacts) while serving the products or services’ intended purposes.

KIMBO Design is an industry leader in the development of sustainable designs. Our CGD-designated designers adhere closely to the sustainability design guidelines set out by the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada, which were developed with the contributions of KIMBO Principal / Creative Director Kim Pickett. If you’re interested in learning more about our work, please feel free to consult our case studies page or get in touch with us for more information on sustainable designs.

Universal Design & Usable Design

The terms accessible design, usable design, and universal design are all approaches to design that can result in products or services that are easier for everyone to use, including people with disabilities. In continuation of Part 1 of this series, we will explore the subtle difference between accessible, universal, and usable designs, as well as usable design. And more importantly, why this distinction is important.

Universal Design

Universal Design

Universal design is the design and composition of products and environments to be understood, accessed, and used by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. In other words, a product or environment should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to utilize it, regardless of their age, culture, or abilities. By considering the different needs and abilities of all individuals throughout the design process, universal design creates products or environments that meet all people’s needs. Most simply put, good universal design should lead to a product that is easily understood, accessed, and used by all people without the need for adaptation or specialized training.

It is important to understand that while both accessible and universal design are concerned with addressing the needs of users beyond those considered to be “average” or “typical.” Accessibility is not the same as Universal Design as utilization of the former design philosophy is not intended to accommodate everyone and is instead focused more on making products accessible specifically to those with disabilities. In the case of websites and information technology products such as apps, while universal designs aim to make products to be easily understood, accessed, and used by anyone, including those with different types of disabilities. These products often have an even more ambitious goal, they are often designed to minimize or eliminate the need for special assistive technologies altogether. Though it is not uncommon to see a combination of both philosophies working together in harmony.

One good example of this is the Apple iOS operating system designed for the iPhone and iPad line of products. Housing a simple interface with minimal unnecessary complications, iOS was designed to be intuitive, or so to say easily understood and used by anyone, including those with disabilities or are unfamiliar with information technology. That being said, iOS also comes with support for a range of accessibility features, which are designed to make the product more accessible specifically for users with disabilities. This includes the display of inverted colours for those with colour blindness and assistive touch for those who have difficulties accessing the physical buttons on the iPhone.

Usable Design

Usable Design

Usable design takes a slight divergent from the two design philosophies previously discussed. Like universal and accessible designs, usable design emphasizes on creating products that are easy, efficient, and satisfactory to use. Usability shares some key goals with universal and accessible design philosophies. All three disciplines seek to design products and environments that are easily learnt and operated by the user. Thus, designers usually emphasize on three key aspects of their product’s user experience: efficiency, consistency, and learnability. A good usable design should be easy to use, allowing the user to perform a task with maximum efficiency with minimal training.

That being said, usability designs don’t always take into consideration the needs of people with disabilities. Thus, usable product features often don’t necessarily translate well to people with disabilities. Think of a website for example: a highly graphical user interface with no text may be intuitive for people with normal vision. But for those who are visually impaired, a strictly graphical user interface without any accessibility features may be difficult to navigate (such as a text to speech reader for example).

Usability Testing

So there we have it. The difference between Universal, accessible, and usable designs. A truly good design that allows for maximum reach to the most people must incorporate all three design philosophies, it should be designed with universal principles in mind and accessibility consideration for people with special needs especially in usability tests.

If you are interested in seeing an accessible design in action, please feel free to visit our Case Studies page. KIMBO Design is highly knowledgeable in the incorporation of accessibility features into our designs, our extensive experience in working with clients such as the Government of Canada has allowed us to consistently deliver a universally usable user experience in our designs.

Accessible Design and Why It Is Important for Websites

The terms accessible design, usable design, and universal design are all approaches to design that can result in products or services that are easier for everyone to use, including people with disabilities. Accessible design is a design concept in which the needs of people with disabilities are taken into specific consideration. It refers to the characteristic that products or services can be used independently by people with different forms of disabilities. Such as a design concern has a long history, but public awareness about accessibility came with the passage of legislation such as the United States’ ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) in 1990, which required public facilities and services be fully accessible to people with disabilities.

If you’ve been around the web, chances are you’ve probably come across of accessibility standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1). Accessible design is a cornerstone in modern UX design considerations. Well thought out and implemented accessible designs ensure that people with disabilities and special needs are able to access and utilize products and services at the same degree of efficiency and usability as the typical user. This is especially important for products such as websites and online content such as digital documents.

Accessible Design

But why is accessibility important?

Most simply put, it expands the scope of your potential audiences, improves search engine ranking, and makes it easier for people with disability and special needs to access your product/service.

Approximately 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability according to the World Health Organization. This is equivalent to almost one billion people. All of whom would instantly lose access to your products and services if accessibility features were not taken into consideration. On the grand scale, failure to comply with accessibility guidelines such as the WCAG 2.1 for web resources not only prevents those with disabilities from accessing important information that may be easily available for others, but also hinders your product/service’s ability to penetrate an untapped market of over one billion people.

Accessibility design improves search engine ranking. Search engines such as Google make the effort to rank websites in compliance with WCAG 2.1 higher than their counterparts who are not. This is to say, if two websites had the same exact architecture and content, with their only differentiating factor being that one is WCAG 2.1 compliant and the other is not. Google would rank the former website higher in its search results than the latter. Thus, having a website with accessibility design incorporated out of the box will greatly improve ranking results and make Search Engine Optimization (SEO) processes more efficient and effortless.

Lastly, some countries have strict laws and policies which dictate that certain products/services must comply with accessibility standards to some degree. Such is the case for many governmental websites and public sector resources in North America and Europe, where WCAG guidelines must be followed to ensure that all of the governing body’s citizens are able to access crucial information from the government. In recent years, even a number of private companies like Netflix and Dominos have been sued for discrimination because of the operation of non-ADA/WCAG compliant websites.

While comprehensive guidelines on how to meet internationally recognized accessibility standards such as the WCAG 2.1 are available from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), simply meeting these standards on paper may not necessarily be enough for a fully accessible user experience. One must always take into consideration the real-world user experience when developing an accessible design for products or services. If you are interested in seeing how an accessible website looks like, please feel free to visit our Case Studies page and filter for government websites to see some samples.

In part 2 of this series, we will explore the subtle difference between accessible, universal, and usable designs, as well as usable design. And more importantly, why this distinction is important.