Tuesday, February 28, 2017

3 Unusual Tactics For Making Your Testimonials More Persuasive

I bet you’ve seen this sort of advice before…

When using a testimonial, you should always:

  • List the customer’s first and last name
  • Include their photo
  • Avoid unbelievable, over-the-top praise

Those are all fine tips to follow, but they’re really just starting points.

Optimizing your social proof requires just as much strategy and testing as improving a headline, hero image or call-to-action button.

Because if you just stick to blindly following ‘best practices,’ you could be missing out on a huge opportunity to squeeze more conversions out of your website or landing page. Here’s why:

Social proof affects different audiences in different ways. The complexity of your offer, the demographics of your visitors and a host of other factors all influence how persuasive your testimonials will be.

And that means you may want to try optimizing them in ways that seem counterintuitive at first.

Or even just plain strange.

I’ll get into more detail about this in a moment. But first, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what typically makes for a convincing and credible testimonial.

Don’t use testimonials unless you’ve seen these tips…

Plenty of articles have already been written offering great advice for using testimonials. And those tips can generally be summed up as:

  • Include a photo and other details
    Providing the customer’s first and last name, location or any other relevant details makes testimonials more realistic. But an even bigger factor is including a (real) photo of the testimonial-giver. There’s plenty of research to back this up.
  • Use testimonials from people your customers can relate to
    According to implicit egotism theory, we generally trust people who are either like us or who we aspire to be like. And that means strong testimonials are often from folks who reflect how your prospects see themselves.
  • Use testimonials from people with authority (if possible)
    The most powerful testimonials come from people your audience sees as an expert or otherwise having authority. In essence, you’re ‘borrowing’ the positive feelings people have toward these individuals (this is called the Halo Effect) when you get their endorsement.
  • Reinforce a specific benefit
    Emphasis on specific. Vague testimonials that say things like “great experience” or “tremendous value” won’t connect with anyone. And it might even hurt your conversion rate. Instead, testimonials should be used strategically as ‘proof’ to support specific claims you’re making on your pages.
  • OR

  • Quash a serious objection
    Research by MECLABS shows that placing testimonials near sources of anxiety (such as the ‘Add to Cart’ button) can ease objections and improve conversions. Bottom line: don’t just randomly sprinkle testimonials throughout your website. First, consider the role they’re playing on the page.

These tips make sense, right?

And if you’ve been in the conversion optimization game for any length of time, I suspect you’re already familiar with most of them.

Now, let’s dive into 3 lesser-known techniques for making your testimonials more credible, engaging and persuasive.

1) Try ‘long-form’ testimonials

Far too many articles give out generic advice like:

“Always keep your testimonials very short.”

Well, no. Not always.

Short, specific quotes from customers may work fine in certain situations. But sometimes a big, juicy testimonial can provide the exact dose of social proof that your page needs. Why?

For the same reasons that long copy can sometimes be more persuasive than short copy. Long-form sales messages often work great when your product is complicated, your audience has loads of objections or the price-tag is high.

As veteran ad man Jay Conrad Levinson puts it:

“Don’t be afraid to use lengthy copy. Of all the things people dislike about marketing, ‘lack of information’ comes in second, after ‘feeling deceived.’”

The trick is to ensure your long-form copy — or long-form testimonial — is interesting and relevant to your audience. Here’s an example:

Long-form testimonials make up the majority of content on Noah Kagan’s sales page for his How To Make A $1,000 A Month Business course. And some of them run well over 500 words!

Now, these testimonials work like sales copy in a number of different ways. But I want to point out one specific technique that makes them so effective: storytelling.

Several testimonials on the page tell raw, human stories about a problem the person was up against and how they discovered a life-changing solution thanks to Kagan’s course.

Take a look at this example:

Dave’s story kicks off with an emotional (and relatable) problem.


He then goes on to tell a story about how the course helped him, eventually building to the ‘climax’ detailing how his life changed afterwards:


In fact, some of the most effective long-form testimonials start with an emotional problem.

Here’s a prime example from the Sweat Block homepage, which was optimized by the team at Copy Hackers. This testimonial follows the tried-and-true problem-agitate-solve copywriting formula:


Now, a customer probably isn’t going to just hand you over a problem-agitate-solve testimonial by fluke. You may need to give them some guidance first.

So ask specific questions when requesting a testimonial. Things like:

  • What made you seek out our product/service?
  • What was the exact problem you needed to solve? How did it impact your life?
  • How did our product/service solve this problem? How did it improve your [business/social life etc.]?

But even if you don’t take a problem-focused approach, the key to using effective long-form testimonials is to make sure they tell a gripping story.

One that will resonate with your target audience in a powerful way.

2) Show your warts (really, it’s OK)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you should post a testimonial that outright bashes your company.

That’d be weird. And, well, kind of dumb.

But I am suggesting that by leaving some minor ‘warts’ in your testimonials you can convey trust and credibility — if you do it the right way.

One study found that 68% of consumers trust reviews more when they see both positive and negative scores. And a whopping 30% suspect faked reviews when they don’t see anything negative at all.

As master copywriter Bob Bly puts it, “showing your warts” can be an effective marketing technique provided you:

  • demonstrate why your product’s weakness isn’t important or
  • show how you’ve designed your product to overcome the weakness

This tactic works because arguing against your own self-interest builds credibility.

In this Unbounce article, marketer and entrepreneur Pratik Dholakiya suggests testing a landing page testimonial that tells people who your product isn’t right for. This might involve including a line like:

“This product isn’t for [so and so], it’s for [so and so].”

The beauty of this approach is that it sends the message you want happy, long-term customers; not just quicks sales for short-term gain.

Some brands have used not-so-shiny testimonials in more creative ways to reinforce a key message.

For example, Ship Your Enemies Glitter used to feature a reviews section that told an unfiltered story about their product — one testimonial even mentioned a customer’s pending divorce.


OK, this is an extreme example.

The point is that people are skeptical of both online reviews and testimonials. But by slipping in a few “warts” (in a strategic way), you can give your social proof a shot of credibility.

3) Make your testimonial the ‘hero’

Got a beauty of a testimonial?

One that’s credible, relatable and aligns perfectly with the goal of your page?

Then don’t bury it way below the fold! Instead, play that sucker up big time in the hero section for every visitor to see.

Emphasizing the right testimonial immediately sends the message to prospects that your product solves problems for people who are just like them.

I used this strategy while optimizing a key sales page for LivePlan, which is a SaaS product that helps entrepreneurs write professional business plans.

Research showed us that many prospects had niggling doubts when they hit the page. They often wondered:

“Will this software work for my specific industry?”

It was a big barrier to signing up.

So we created a landing page that targeted just a segment of LivePlan’s traffic: people who wanted to write a business plan specifically for a café.

But instead of us telling the audience “this works for café entrepreneurs like you,” we wanted to prove it to them by making a relatable testimonial the hero of the page.

So we emphasized a quick story about how café owner Brian Sung used LivePlan to write a business plan faster and with less effort. Then we A/B tested the new page.

Here are the two hero sections we tested:


The testimonial-focused variant hauled in a 72% boost in paid conversions, which translated into a 53% increase in revenue (when you consider average order value).

There were a few other variables at play here. But ultimately, I believe that this relatable testimonial proved the hypothesis that LivePlan customers needed to feel confident that the product would work for their industry before signing up.

Other companies have also seen ‘wins’ by playing up testimonials like this as well. For example, Highrise saw a 102% lift in conversions when they tested a giant image and quote from one of their customers.

But again, having the right testimonials is key here. You can’t just pick one at random.

If you know headlines focused on “saving time” convert well, playing up a testimonial about how a customer “saved money” isn’t going to cut it.

Consider your goals and strategy for the page. Then select your social proof accordingly.


It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with testimonials, user-reviews or client logos — the bottom line is the same:

Social proof affects different audiences in different ways.

Following best practices is a great starting point. But to squeeze the most persuasive value out of your testimonials, you need to consider things like your audience’s level of awareness and their thought sequence as they hit your page.

Now, maybe the 3 tactics outlined here aren’t a great fit for your prospects. That’s fine.

But it is important that you make an informed, strategic decision about how you use any type of social proof.

Because just tossing testimonials randomly on a page isn’t doing your visitors — or your conversion rates — any good.

About the author: Dustin Walker is a copywriter and partner at Good Funnel — a marketing agency that does in-depth customer research to help online businesses fire up their revenue. Follow Dustin on Twitter @dustinjaywalker.

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How to visualize a startup’s USP

Common web design problem: Just writing out why a company is special is usually an insufficient way to tell a story to people in a way that will give them a rapid understanding of what makes a company’s product or service awesome.

We have to get visual—people should be able to blur their eyes when they land on a site and know what you do, and what key actions they would take on the site immediately. But it also takes deeper collaboration with key stakeholders in the company you’re working with to be on board, so you can allocate project resources.

Ideally a site visitor in a company’s demographic should have a positive reaction to the site that is instinctive and immediate. This is why it works so well when sites use photography of a person smiling, interacting with the product or receiving the benefit of the service; when visitors see that, it’s their natural instinct to imagine that scenario—with themselves at the center of the scene. A website created with an understanding of how humans instinctively react to certain types of imagery, will most certainly be more effective in driving action.

If someone imagines themselves as a client, or enjoying the benefits of a product when viewing someone smiling and doing so, it’s referred to as the “mirror effect,” and you can use it to your advantage if you can first get to the core of why the startup you are marketing appeals to it’s best customers. This works best in conjunction with “future pacing” or website copy that invites them to think about what it will be like when they are enjoying their new purchase—like “imagine how you will feel ten days from now when you are driving a Tesla home from work.”

Ask: “Why do your best customers come to you vs. the competitor?”

The answer to this question—is not only pinpointing the core demographic, but is also digging up the key differentiation that’s so critical to hammer on, in a website design. If you can determine not only who the best customers are—but why they come to your client and not their competitor, then it’s time to show the visual representation of that somehow.

Dig deeper—ask key stakeholders or people in the startup to give actual examples of people that have told them why they went with them over competitors. If there is a sales team, there will be many examples, since people often chew through their considerations before closing a deal. If it’s a product, talk to those doing customer service and ask them the questions they get asked over the phone with people considering purchase. These questions, and the positive answers that led to a sale, will be keys to showcase visually on the site.

For instance in the case of juicing startup Juicero, their biggest differentiator is the lack of a mess and the no-hassle aspect of their first at-home cold press juicer for mass market. They show someone enjoying the juice, but also a very clean counter behind them—the number one differentiator between their solution and cheaper at home juicers that make an incredible amount of mess.

If your product has a better user interface than the competitor – perhaps show that in all its glory in a couple different devices, so people can get a feel for what they’re buying, like this site for Oppsource.

And of course – if it’s a beautiful product, simply showcase it with well done photography in a way that shows its best features like this site for Starry Wi-fi systems.

Ask: “What does a successful interaction look like physically? What does a pleased customer look like as they’re receiving the benefit of your product or service?”

A happy customer is always going to be your client’s best sales tool. Whether they be through referral, testimonials on your website, or my favorite—photos of previous customers, or pictures of people happy and receiving the benefit of what the company does.

For a traditional business—this might be a satisfied man in front a perfectly cooked steak, taking his first bite, or a woman looking at herself in the mirror with something she finds fits her perfectly well. This is the single most effective principal of effective web design—it’s not about your product or service, and every detailed feature, it’s the customer or client experience—the benefit, and showcasing the emotional appeal of that benefit that will tell the story you need for the site visitors to feel.

For this medical device and solutions startup Nuance healthcare solutions, they needed to show that their documentation solutions aren’t just the same old, but rather make it more natural with visual components, voice documentation, and imaging exchange within the software.

By showing someone, directly benefiting from the solution—interacting with a patient and using voice documentation, rather than taking notes, they are able quickly allow a visitor to understand, at an instinctual level, how their practice might benefit from the software.

Ask: “How can we get photography, iconography, graphs, visual statistics and trust factor badges to support the claim of superiority for this offering?”

Of course it’s not just about the homepage hero section—there are ways to do icons in a way that feels commonplace and generic, and  then there are ways to do them that feel intentional and specific to your brand.

Ask: “How can we show your real team in a fun and down-to-earth way that helps people trust you?”

People want to see who works for the company. Whether that’s two founders by themselves, a 15 person team at a grill out, or even like this photo for Buffer, sharing transparently how they spent 100k on their team retreat and – thanking customers for their support through their subscription:

To recap, the keys to helping people have a positive reaction when they land on the page are:

  • Making it easy for them to find what the site is about quickly, and what key action the site is for.
  • Showing smiling faces of customers—or smiling faces on the startups team.
  • Demonstrating the benefit from the startup’s product or service in a visual way by showing it in action, or someone who is receiving the benefit. Make it immediate and evoke emotion.
  • Display brand appropriate iconography that actually makes sense with the key points of differentiation the site is supposed to demonstrate, and consider how motion can communicate those unique value propositions.

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American Cancer Society Launches Major Redesign

A medical website is only as good, and helpful as the clarity of the information presented there and the navigability of the site. In acknowledgment of this, the American Cancer Society recently redesigned its site in order to serve its site visitors more effectively. When you’re searching for information about cancer for yourself or family members, you need to find what you’re looking for easily and efficiently.

The Society sought to better serve patients, medical professionals, caregivers and others who are searching for cancer resources. The ACS’s site didn’t only get a facelift; it also was moved onto another platform: Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) to achieve this goal—more than 10,000 webpages were also moved over from the legacy content management system of ACS to AEM. The site is one of the most highly trafficked sites for cancer information, so it was crucial that the UX and mobile friendliness were improved for faster searching success.

While UX and navigability across all devices were primary redesign goals, so was making the site bilingual, specifically to serve the Hispanic audience. The solution? The redesign also resulted in the creation of a Spanish-equivalent site that’s fully functional.

The redesign was quite a challenge because it involved a slew of different objectives.

Finding information on particular forms of cancer is a high priority for many visitors, so the redesign focused on creating better navigation paths that empowered them to discover the information they wanted more easily, including launching the new Cancer A-Z Glossary.

News on cancer is a big part of patient and doctor education. The redesign made sure to establish a lively news center where the content is tagged by cancer type and other, vital particulars. This allows visitors to efficiently filter the news via one-touch access.

Along with the above, 12 unique templates were created to provide ACS site managers with the flexibility the required to create custom pages. At the same time, they were able to stick to ACS design and brand guidelines for a consistent look and feel across the redesigned site.

The end result is a faster site with better information architecture. Part of that is attributable to the clean, minimalistic design approach, too. The homepage features a lot of white space, which helps visitors focus on important site elements like:

  • The navigation bar
  • The headline (mission statement)
  • The Donate CTA
  • Contact info
  • The hero image

Scroll down below the fold, and you’ll also see a card-based design that easily chunks content into different information groupings and sections for a seamless transition.

The site’s color palette is also accordingly minimalistic, with red, blue and white being the main colors repeated throughout the design.

Overall, the ACS’ redesign is a study in how good design makes life easier for visitors by improving usability. For a medical resource site like the ACS, there’s no more important task to be accomplished by the designers, as millions of people around the world depend on its high-quality information to help them make educated decisions about their health.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Thinker, Mover, Shaker, Spy: How One Man and His CIA-Backed Company are Changing the Way the Government Collects and Analyzes Your Data

The name Alex Karp may not mean much to you now — but it’s about to. That’s because Alex is the brains behind Palantir, the closest thing to a “killer app” the U.S. government has — a system which allows one to discern meaningful context and insights from a swamp of seemingly meaningless data.

With scraps of what appear to be unrelated information, Palantir can craft intuitive charts, visual graphs and vital forecasts — showcasing ties and links on everything from the locations of wanted criminals to hotbeds of human trafficking.

What does this mean for the rest of us? Everything.

What is Palantir?

The name “Palantir” comes from a fictional stone in the Tolkien universe that allowed the user to see things happening in different areas — much like a crystal ball. This modern version ties together wisps of information to track, monitor and make connections in everything from wars to law enforcement.

A few of Palantir’s more notable moments include:

  • Helping U.S. forces track down and kill Osama Bin Laden
  • Assisting the Marines in Afghanistan by doing forensic analysis of roadside bombs to predict insurgent attacks
  • Sifting through 40 years of documents to convict Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff
  • Locating Mexican drug cartel members who murdered an American customs agent
  • Finding the hackers who installed spyware on the Dalai Lama’s computer

How Palantir Works

Emerging from its secretive cocoon of James Bond-like technologies and insights, Palantir is poised to change business as well. Pharmaceutical companies use Palantir to help them analyze and predict drug interactions. Hershey uses Palantir’s technology to help it increase chocolate sales. J.P. Morgan Chase uses Palantir to help it in the fight against mortgage fraud.

Imagine someone using your identity to open a home equity line of credit and siphoning funds to a computer in a cybercafe in Nigeria. Palantir can piece together these connections across data from bills, home and I.P. addresses to help eliminate the problem before it balloons into a massive loss (and a huge headache for whoever has had their identity stolen) — and it can do it all in seconds. Staff at J.P. Morgan Chase estimate that Palantir has saved them hundreds of millions of dollars.

In short, the brainchild of an eccentric philosopher is quickly becoming one of the most lucrative and profitable private tech companies. You may recognize the name of its largest stakeholder too — Peter Thiel, the billionaire investor behind PayPal and Facebook. And Palantir is poised to potentially go public — making Karp Silicon Valley’s newest billionaire and doubling Thiel’s original investment in the company.

But Karm fears the change that money will have on Palantir. An “I.P.O”, he says, “is corrosive to our culture, corrosive to our outcomes”. But at the same time, Palantir has to make money in order to thrive. It seeks out big contracts with major players and counts Democratic strategist James Carville, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, and former C.I.A. director George Tenet among its advisers.

But what does all of this mean for you?

Big Brother vs. Big Data

One need only look back a few decades to remember that making money and changing the world are often at odds with each other. While still graduate students at Stanford, Sergey Brin and Larry Page wrote that “advertising-funded search engines will be inherently biased toward the advertisers”. Then they founded Google, which makes fistfuls of money off of advertising.

Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg championed a “society of complete openness” while being incredibly secretive about how it mines the information you share to target ads to you. A search engine and a social network are one thing – but something that can tie everything about you together in seconds – has much more serious and far-reaching implications.

But Palantir knows that privacy concerns about it are not unfounded. Courtney Bowman, a former employee at Google, now works at Palantir as a “civil liberties engineer” — helping lawmakers understand how to use modern technology while keeping privacy safeguards in place. One of Palantir’s features includes a series of safeguards designed to limit who can see what. Another feature includes an “audit trail” to let investigators see that certain rules and regulations with regard to data handling, were followed precisely.

And although these features are wired into the system, using them is not required. “What keeps me up at night is that we have to keep thinking about this as we grow into new marketing and new regions,” says Mr. Bowman. “[a]s you move into higher levels of computing complexity, you can’t retreat into the argument that [the technology of finding hidden things] is neutral.”

With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility

We’ve seen what could happen when commerce and surveillance combine. One Palantir employee pitched a Washington law firm on ways that they could expose WikiLeaks – which included cyberattacks and disinformation.

Although the idea was never formally executed, the pitch papers and emails between the two groups were posted online by hacktivist group Anonymous. Because of the sheer size of Palantir, coming to a consensus on how its service is used can be difficult. According to an article in the New York Times, some employees don’t want Palantir helping Israel because of their position against Palestinians. Palantir still has contracts with the Israeli government. But currently, they are not working with China. Nor are they working with tobacco companies.

At its core, Palantir still has a great deal of finding itself to do. As the company continues to grow, it’s easy to lose sight of its goals as it scales to accommodate massive growth and change. Palantir’s ability to remain steadfast in the face of corruption and very hot, sensitive issues will remain a focus, as will its very difficult decision as to whether or not it should go public.

Still, there’s a great deal of untapped potential for technology like this – especially for marketers. What are your thoughts on this kind of big data mapping and analysis? Do you feel that Palantir is poised to become the next big game changer in commerce much as the Internet was decades ago? Or do you feel it’s more of a fad that will only see limited use outside government, military and law enforcement areas?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps business owners improve website design and increase conversion rates through compelling copywriting, user-friendly design and smart analytics analysis. Learn more at iElectrify.com and download your free web copy tune-up and conversion checklist today!

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Essential design trends, March 2017

Here’s the point of emphasis…

That’s the theme this month. This collection of trends focuses on adding emphasis to the design with specific detailing from italics to split screens to stark, minimalist backgrounds paired with a trick or two.

Here’s what’s trending in design this month:

1. Split Screens

Split screen design was something that started gaining traction in mid-2016 and now it is a big deal. Browse through collections of website design and split screen outlines are everywhere.

What’s nice is how quickly the style has evolved. Early split screen designs featured mostly symmetrical designs with a yin and yang style aesthetic. The new split screens have a more “anything goes” feel to them.

The three examples below show three very different ways to use the same trend.

  • Rency uses a split design to contain a loop video and the main navigation. The contrast between the white area and red is stark and forces the eye across the screen. It also ensures the user will find the navigation because it is the only element within the colored portion of the design.
  • GECN is a complex governmental site that uses a split screen to convey two different ideas with two links immediately in the design. While the split isn’t full-screen and contains a lot of text, this is a good alternative for a design with lots of calls to action, user bases or complicated content.
  • Bashful uses a concept similar to Rency but with a twist: The design features a full-screen video loop and half of it is covered with a tinted color box. All the clickable elements are inside the tinted area and the navigation menu is hidden in the top right corner of the video.

What each of the examples have in common is that the split screen design adds emphasis to the content. It helps drive the users to specific elements in the design through use of color and with actual or perceived movement, thanks to contrasting “screens.”

The best part of the newer split screen designs is that there’s an asymmetrical flow to them. Designers aren’t stuck in a yin and yang format and the result is much more interesting visual patterns.

2. Italics

One of the least used character styles is getting more play as a display option.

Italics are making their way into the typography palettes of designers, and not just for the occasional point of emphasis. More italics are being used for display typefaces, secondary elements such as links or menu items or for broader emphasis.

Italics are a fresh take on your typical type styles. Because they aren’t so widely used, this trend is one that is sure to grab the attention of visitors, even if they aren’t sure what about the lettering got their attention in the first place.

Italics are a subtle change that don’t even require a new typography palette. They do come with some cautions and suggestions for best practices.

  • To make the most of italics use them sparingly for small blocks of text.
  • Use a highly readable typeface if you plan to italicize; novelty options can get tricky.
  • Use the typeface italic and don’t try to create your own version by slanting letters. (That can get messy in a hurry.)
  • Use italics to represent commonly italicized elements, such as the title of something, as showcases in many of the examples below.
  • Pair italics with a simple effect, such as an animation or color, for even more emphasis.
  • Because italics can be a little more difficult to read, make sure there is plenty of contrast between the type and background.
  • Pair italic type options with a simple serif or sans serif typeface as to not detract from the italic.

3. Solid Backgrounds with a ‘Trick’

One of the easiest ways to create visual emphasis is with contrasting elements. While a solid color background might seem plain or flat, it can be the perfect canvas for a design trick, such as animation, illustration or sound.

The contrast between the starkness of the background and the trick, helps bring the user interface element to life. From the simple bouncing squares in the 3K design to the fun cartoon from Retrace Health to the parallax scrolling of Florian Monfrini.

Each of the effects stands out because of the simplicity of the background. Further, these backgrounds don’t get in the way of the design either. Each one is white or pastel and fades out of the foregrounds so that users focus on the messaging of the primary content. (Black or simple dark backgrounds can work equally well.)

This is why it works: Users aren’t caught up in the canvas and the design almost pops off the screen. It’s almost like art on a wall. If the wall is painted with wild colors and patterns, it can be tough to see the framed image that you are there for, but a piece of art on a white wall is a showpiece.

This design trend creates a showpiece for that trick you’ve been wanting to incorporate into a project. It can be almost anything. And it will be the highlight of the design with a simple canvas to display it on.

One caution when planning a color choice for a simple background: For the most impact stick to a white, black or neutral color. Bold, bright colors are almost a design trick in themselves and might detract from your goal.


Every design needs to place emphasis on something. That’s why this group of trends is so refreshing. Each underlines something important for users with an easy to understand way of providing emphasis. Users know exactly what italics mean and they can see variance in split screens or backgrounds that contrast with user interface elements.

What trends are you loving (or hating) right now? I’d love to see some of the websites that you are fascinated with. Drop me a link on Twitter; I’d love to hear from you.

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