In the spring of 1977, I was a 21-year-old freshman at Utah State University. Russel M. Nelson, today President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then said in an Institute fireside talk:
The job where you’ll spend most of your work life, doesn’t exist yet.
Dr. Nelson helped pioneer open-heart surgery. In medical school, they taught him never touch the human heart. Fortunately, he didn’t believe them. Instead, he listened to the still small voice of inspiration.
He was so right. My future work life didn’t exist. It couldn’t be taught. I dropped out of school and started an electronics manufacturing business. My journey began.
Today – I’m Steve Teare, performance engineer.
The thing I like most about web design is it’s forgiving nature. If you make a mistake, you fix it. This reduces the risk in dollars and lowers potential reputation damage. No expensive catalogs in the dumpster.
Web hex color seemed a free gift. More colors cost extra using 4-color CMYK or even spot-color printing.
Screen transmitted colors felt beautiful and crisp. They were like proofing photo transparencies on a light table. The weak, reflected light of CMYK print didn’t compare. You could create millions of colors with hexcode and RGB Jpeg images. Wonderful.
I didn’t enjoy losing the precision typography of the print world. Even with the advent of web fonts, I felt a loss. Why? Because fonts add extra weight and calls to webpages. That slows things down. And fonts just don’t look proper onscreen.
But the biggest web problem: website projects never had an endpoint. They were perpetual and in flux. Whimsical goals from a committee dictated site content and features. The politics and interdepartmental squabbling caused endless delays. Everyone wanted to be the art director. Or were spineless cowards afraid of challenging a dictator bully. Who would defend common-sense rules of web design? Did rules ever exist?
The World Wide Web became dismal territory ripe for opportunists.
I built promotional “ebrochures” online for starters. They had a disposable, temporary feeling. Much like marketing materials on thin newsprint or tissue. Unsubstantial and shallow production cheapens messages. People approached websites with anxiety and suspicion. Anyone could publish anything. The assumption was lies, robbery or deception.
WordPress called web-content brain dumps the democratization of publishing. I called it a garbage dump.
I studied intangibles creating trustworthiness and belonging.
The downside for adding website extra features was measured in milliseconds of page load time. That’s the hidden currency and extra cost of adding web assets. How long people would wait for a page load was short. Human expected fast printed-page turns. Less than 200 milliseconds. That instantaneous feeling was impossible at first. But as internet connections became cheaper and faster, page load time didn’t reciprocate. They were still slow. Why?
Cheaper speed encourages consumption of speed resources. It’s ironic rebound psychology called Jevons paradox.
Jevons Paradox for Web
1. Web design becomes more accessible to abusive (see sloppy or apathetic) novices.
2. Available cheap connections increases web speed consumption.
3. Sites get slower instead of faster.
The bigger the pipe – the more designers crammed junk thorough it. Constantly clogged.
The term user experience got wider knowledge by Donald Norman in the mid-1990s. Norman wrote the design book, “The Design of Everyday Things.” The Information Age bloomed. I was working on my own definition of user experience as web “hospitality, habitat, or courtesy.” No one was buying it.
I registered the domain name PagePipe in February 2004. The focus was page speed or performance optimization. My goal was balancing aesthetics and speed consumption. I did many experiments on PagePipe.
In spring of 2011, I first encountered the phrase and definition of User Experience – UX. I supposed it was a branch of usability or user interface. Definitions of UX were simpler then.
User experience (UX) is how a person feels while using your website. That simple. UX professionals referred to themselves as “unicorns.” They got paid 3 to 4 times what a web designer made in a year. Special.
The definition of UX evolved into a hodgepodge of disciplines. It included psychology and user satisfaction and *delight*. It got weird as everyone piled on the UX gravy train. Print designers jobs from magazines and newspapers evaporated. Layoffs and downsizing by droves. Print was dying (or dead). Designers were in bad shape and searched to sell their skills. UX shingles flew up like crazy.
Anyone could say they’re a UX professional. No accreditation needed. It’s pseudoscience. I then, despised UX as a corrupt, snake-oil discipline. Eye tracking? Really? UX became a vaporous smokescreen. Insubstantial language or double-speak intended to impress or convince fools. Hand-waving professionals.
The big web change was all about the efficiencies of web marketing and design. Print became old school. The return on marketing investment (ROI) was highest from Internet channels. Electronic-media budgets swung and began outpacing print advertising. A wild commotion in the advertising world began.
Distracted people chased imaginary UX problems.
So, did God tell me to pursue UX as a profession? Yeah. He did. In my heart, I had a spiritual connection to UX. The legitimate concern that *feelings* during site usage made a difference. I wanted to belong to this inspiring, idealistic UX movement. I believed being hospitable, polite, and kind with speed rewarded website owners.
In my mind, UX was empathy.
So in the fall of 2011, unemployed but with a golden parachute, I dove in studying about User Experience. I invented a web-based satisfaction survey based on IBM research. Matthew Rauch and Joe Harris, Sr. were my business partners. When Matt later found employment in Boise, he left. Money talks. But we learned how to make 2k pages load real fast. We built only with modern CSS for graphic elements.
No real web entrepreneur wants to buy UX. No professional web designer cared much about satisfaction surveys or UX. It was a dud product. No one knew what UX was good for to make money. I burned about 18 months before giving up. We won $2,000 in a business plan contest – the only money we made. We didn’t lose money. Only time.
I watched an hour-long, boring-conference-speaker talk about user experience. At the very end, the high-paid techgeek started to walk away from the podium. He then turned around and said up close in the mic, “Oh, and if you don’t have speed, you can’t have good UX.” Wow! In less than one minute, he declared the death blow for UX is mediocre speed.
UX is nonexistent without speed?
Website content is still more important than speed. You heard that truism from me – a speed freak.
I already identified speed as the number one barrier to good user experience. Everyone understood the problem with speed. No hour-long explanation needed. If you don’t have it, visitors leave. Simple. Clear. Concise. People hate slow pages. Everyone.
Speed kills UX.
Steve Souders coined the term web performance optimization in 2004. Google pirated him away from Yahoo in 2008. He made it possible to test speed online for free. WebPagetest opened to the people that year (2008). It was later acquired or sponsored by Google in 2014.
Web speed fascinated me for years before the seduction of UX. In 2001, the expectation was webpages should weigh less than 50k. So I was building 25k to 35k experimental pages. I tested how I could decorate them in creative lightweight ways. Pushing the limits.
I built sites with an esoteric technique called Framed Hybrid. It was a precursor to responsive design and had dynamic image resizing using flash. Again I was considered an idiot. All content adjusted to fit the screen size. Who needed that? My respected peers thought I was a fanatic, off-the-rails nutcase. Fixed-width page design was the rage.
The Apple iPhone happened on June 29, 2007.
In May 2010, responsive web design became a hot new topic. A book about it appeared in 2011. This change doomed fixed-width, pixel-perfect website design. In 2013, responsive web design started appearing in droves on the Internet. No more building one site for phones and another separate site for desktop. One responsive site served all size screens using CSS and HTML5 code. Device agnostic. Today all WordPress themes are responsive out of the box.
Everyone thought I was crazy and boring talking about speed and dynamic sites in the early 2000s. Connections were getting better and faster all the time. It appeared I was swimming upstream or even backwards. Being unconventional makes me so happy.
Wireless mobile took the web back to the age of dialup-modem connections. Speed for mobile devices was scarce and optimization in vogue again. Mostly.
I ignored WordPress CMS until 2013. I disdained the bloat and slowness of Content Management Systems. But my Michigan friend, Christian Nelson, challenged me to make WordPress do what I wanted. And I wanted fast load times. I blogged about my contemptuous WordPress journey on PagePipe.
By 2011, WordPress was on 15 percent of Internet sites. It became a de-facto standard. Seven years later, WordPress “owned” 30 percent of the Internet. So they brag anyway.
I installed WordPress for the first time on PagePipe in Spring of 2014. I blogged about WordPress design like millions of other sites. I didn’t start focusing on WordPress speed until the beginning of 2015. And then I focused on mobile speed around April 2015. PagePipe traffic kept increasing. Bounce rate kept dropping, Dwell-time on pages rose higher. I was stunned. Trusted friends told me no one would read boring technobabble about speed. It wasn’t significant. Ha!
I created my first ebook May 24, 2017. I blogged for over 2 years with no passive income. Bless Christopher in England. He bought my first book the first day. He and I were both elated. He produced a one-second page load without coaching – and I got my first $19 sale of Toxic WordPress. I sold 16 copies in 2017. Big deal. The single issues of Plugin Clones started in November 9, 2017. Bundles hatched in January 2018. ComboPacks birthed in November 25, 2018.
Unit sales went down but average invoice went up as I focused on bundles. A positive indicator of efficiency. Sales in dollars increased.
Google started whining about speed being important in April 2010. Google made sounds about speed’s affect on search ranking in 2015. But they weren’t very serious. And didn’t make roll-out adjustments for mobile-first page ranking until July of 2018.
Before 2017, my engineering and web peers considered me stark raving mad. Mobile changed speed’s valuation. Site-owners became anxious about mobile experience.
Many sites now have 70 to 80 percent of their traffic originate from mobile devices. Fear is a great motivator. But more than fear is pain. Slow speed caused market pain. It wasn’t about feelings or empathy. Speed was about money and profit. Fear of loss. Failing.
Does speed help with page rank? Not as much as good relevant content. But Google put speed fear in site-owner’s hearts.
Speed is the number one barrier for good user experience. People hate slow loading pages. They always cared but now – at last – site owners hate it, too. Audience fear, owner greed, and beginner indecision are my business friends.
The credit goes to God’s inspiration. That’s part two of this story.