The founder of Authentic Jobs introduces Unified Design, the latest big challenge to face the web industry
Cameron Moll discusses why tools aren’t that important, and explores the latest headache facing the web industry: Unified Design
The best web conference speakers need two things. First, an impressive track record in web design, ideally on projects the audience is already familiar with. And second, to be able to draw out lessons from those experiences, which everyone can apply to their own projects.
Cameron Moll scores highly on both counts. The thing he’s best known for is very well known indeed. Authentic Jobs, which he founded in 2009, is one of the most popular job sites for web professionals. But it doesn’t just provide a service in matching the right vacancies to the right designers. The team’s constant battle to provide a high-quality user experience also provides Moll with raw material for his insightful talks.
And that will certainly be the case when he takes the stage at Generate New York (22 April 2016), to talk about the big topic of the moment: Unified Design.
So what is Unified Design? “It grew out of realising that there’s something we’re all wrestling with,” Moll begins. Five years ago, he points out, most of us had two devices; 10 years ago, just one. “Now it’s not uncommon to have four or five different screens that we use throughout the course of any given day, from sun up to sun down.”
We think nothing of going from one screen to another, even during the same activity. “Facebook did some research in the US about a year ago and found that 40 per cent of people with more than one screen will continue an activity throughout those screens,” he says. “So if they start it on one screen, they’ll finish it on another.”
Those numbers will continue to increase, Moll predicts. So the question becomes: how do we ensure users can access our content on a variety of different screen sizes and platforms? How do we ensure a smooth transition when they decide to go from one of those screens to another, and want to pick up where they left off?
“Since talking about this, I’ve found that we’re not doing a great job in some areas,” he says. “That applies to big companies as well as small ones. And we can do better at this. My presentation will help people understand the dynamics of this and offer tips and advice for making a good, unified experience for users.”
It’s worth noting that when Moll uses the word ‘we’ , he’s not just referring to the industry as a whole. Even Authentic Jobs has struggled with Unified Design, he admits. Moll recalls a time when one team member was signed in as a user (i.e. the company itself was hiring, and so was advertising the job on its own site).
That team member drafted a listing, and then had someone else go and sign into their account. The listing was nowhere to be seen.
“We were like, what’s going on here?” recalls Moll. “One of the developers pointed out that it was session-based. And I was like: are you kidding me?” When Moll had been presenting his talks on Unified Design, he had been assuming that if you signed into Authentic Jobs with your account on one screen and then went to another – a mobile device, for example – that job listing would show up. But sure enough, the session was based on cookies.
“That’s exactly what I’d been talking about for a year and a half, this idea of: don’t store data like that, that would need to be carried over to another screen, in a cookie or in a session. Tie it into the account, so anyone can sign in.”
The problem should have been fixed by the time this issue is printed, Moll assures us, but it’s clear that Unified Design is a challenge for everyone in the industry.
“When I stand up on stage and talk about this, I’m very honest and I say, look: this is something I’m wrestling with too. We’re all making mistakes in this area. So let’s learn from each other and get better at it.” Moll mentions online clothing retailer Zappos as an example of a large company whose design was not, until recently, unified. “If you had items in your cart on one screen and you signed into your account on another screen, they weren’t there because again they were cookie-based,” he explains.
“But since I’ve been talking about this they’ve actually fixed it. I used to use them as a bad example, now I use them as an example of someone who’s made that transition. So it’s certainly fixable, whether you’re a small company or a big one.”
Unified Design shares some of the challenges that were originally thrown up by responsive design. Moll points out that we quickly learned it was much easier to built responsiveness into sites from day one, rather than going back and trying to “add responsive” to something that was two or three years old.
It’s a similar case with Unified Design. “If you go into projects thinking: this needs to be unified across many different screens and data needs to persist, then it’s much easier than going back and trying to fix a system that is already outstanding and having to rewrite many different things,” he reasons.
“The approach is relatively easy if you start with that mindset. If you have to go back and do some patchwork it’s definitely harder, but it’s not impossible.”
The passion Moll shows for the subject is typical of his passion for design and creativity as a whole. Aside from his role at Authentic Jobs, and writing books such as
CSS Mastery (2009) and Mobile Web Design (2007), he’s also the artist behind a unique
“You need to go into projects thinking:
this must be unified across many screens and data needs to persist”
series of letterpress posters (structuresintype.com) that reimagine buildings as if they were constructed entirely of type. And as this eclectic range of activities suggests, he’s fiercely tool-agnostic.
“I place greater value in mastering creativity than I do in mastering tools,” he explains. “I grew up working with wood in my garage, so that was one medium. When I fell into design, I didn’t really have a plan to do that, it just came to me, so to speak. In my mind, it was: ‘Okay, this is just another set of tools’. But the synthesis, the creativity, is still there.
“I grew up playing a lot of music as well, so this idea of composing things out of material, whether they be tangible or intangible, has always been part of who I am. I think that’s why I found myself dabbling with these letterpress print posters and doing freelance work. I just appreciate the challenge of mastering creativity as a whole, rather than solely and exclusively mastering the tools.”
The right jobs
It’s an attitude that’s become part of the DNA of Authentic Jobs, and goes a long way to explaining its success. “We’ve been around for 10 years and I think we’ve established a strong presence and brand, ” Moll says. “The fact that ‘Authentic’ is part of our name is no mistake because we really do try to be as authentic as possible. Not just in how we communicate to the public but in trying to ensure as best we can that there are legitimate, good jobs posted to the site.”
Just to be clear: there is no screening process on Authentic Jobs – anyone in the world can post a job there. As a result, quality control is something the team needs to be aware of. “We’re careful in where we advertise, ” Moll points out. “So hopefully we attract the right kind of people that will post legitimate, well-paying jobs, with a good atmosphere and a team-playing culture, those kind of things.”
The list is monitored regularly for questionable posts, and the team will get in touch with the customer if there are any alarm bells ringing. Users will also help by flagging listings, to bring them to the attention of the team.
Authentic Jobs is confident in what it’s offering. “We say we don’t want your money if you’re not finding success with your job list. We let the customer define what that is, whether that be 100 job applications or just two. Sometimes you can get just three applications. That would be very low, but you might find a very qualified person.”
Founder, designer, author, speaker, letterpress adventurer … how does Moll juggle it all? “I think we’re all pressed and the challenge is how to manage our time wisely,” he responds. “Like it or not, society expects us to multi-task. There’s no way to get around it. To operate in today’s society requires you to at least have some grasp of being able to do more than one thing at once.
“I used to think I was special – as bad as that may sound – in that, I have five children, and I’m running a business, I have these posters on the side, and I’m often a soccer coach.
“I don’t know that I’m that special these days. I think we all have many different things that we’re involved in, and we’re all trying to do our best to make sense of it all.”
“I appreciate the challenge of mastering creativity
as a whole, rather than just mastering