IN­TER­VIEW

The founder of Au­then­tic Jobs in­tro­duces Uni­fied De­sign, the lat­est big chal­lenge to face the web in­dus­try

net magazine - - CONTENTS - Words by Tom May Pho­tog­ra­phy by Eric Til­lot­son

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.

Uni­fied ex­pe­ri­ence

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.”

Shared prob­lems

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.”

Cre­ativ­ity mas­ter

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.”

Multi-tasker

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

the tools”

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