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Articles for people who make web sites.
  • Personalization Pyramid: A Framework for Designing with User Data

    As a UX professional in today’s data-driven landscape, it’s increasingly likely that you’ve been asked to design a personalized digital experience, whether it’s a public website, user portal, or native application. Yet while there continues to be no shortage of marketing hype around personalization platforms, we still have very few standardized approaches for implementing personalized UX.

    That’s where we come in. After completing dozens of personalization projects over the past few years, we gave ourselves a goal: could you create a holistic personalization framework specifically for UX practitioners? The Personalization Pyramid is a designer-centric model for standing up human-centered personalization programs, spanning data, segmentation, content delivery, and overall goals. By using this approach, you will be able to understand the core components of a contemporary, UX-driven personalization program (or at the very least know enough to get started). 

    A chart answering the question Do you have the resources you need to run personalization in your organization? Globally, 13% don’t 33% have limited access, 39% have it (on demand), and 15% have it dedicated.

    Growing tools for personalization: According to a Dynamic Yield survey, 39% of respondents felt support is available on-demand when a business case is made for it (up 15% from 2020).

    Source: “The State of Personalization Maturity – Q4 2021” Dynamic Yield conducted its annual maturity survey across roles and sectors in the Americas (AMER), Europe and the Middle East (EMEA), and the Asia-Pacific (APAC) regions. This marks the fourth consecutive year publishing our research, which includes more than 450 responses from individuals in the C-Suite, Marketing, Merchandising, CX, Product, and IT.

    Getting Started

    For the sake of this article, we’ll assume you’re already familiar with the basics of digital personalization. A good overview can be found here: Website Personalization Planning. While UX projects in this area can take on many different forms, they often stem from similar starting points.      

    Common scenarios for starting a personalization project:

    • Your organization or client purchased a content management system (CMS) or marketing automation platform (MAP) or related technology that supports personalization
    • The CMO, CDO, or CIO has identified personalization as a goal
    • Customer data is disjointed or ambiguous
    • You are running some isolated targeting campaigns or A/B testing
    • Stakeholders disagree on personalization approach
    • Mandate of customer privacy rules (e.g. GDPR) requires revisiting existing user targeting practices
    Two men and a woman discussing personalization using a card deck. They are seated at a round table in a hotel conference room. The workshop leaders, two women, are at a podium in the background.
    Workshopping personalization at a conference.

    Regardless of where you begin, a successful personalization program will require the same core building blocks. We’ve captured these as the “levels” on the pyramid. Whether you are a UX designer, researcher, or strategist, understanding the core components can help make your contribution successful.  

    The Personalization Pyramid visualized. The pyramid is stacks labeled, from the bottom, raw data (1m+), actionable data (100k+), user segments (1k+), contexts & campaigns (100s), touchpoints (dozens), goals (handful). The North Star (one) is above. An arrow for prescriptive, business driven data goes up the left side and an arrow for adaptive user-driven data goes down the right side.
    From the ground up: Soup-to-nuts personalization, without going nuts.

    From top to bottom, the levels include:

    1. North Star: What larger strategic objective is driving the personalization program? 
    2. Goals: What are the specific, measurable outcomes of the program? 
    3. Touchpoints: Where will the personalized experience be served?
    4. Contexts and Campaigns: What personalization content will the user see?
    5. User Segments: What constitutes a unique, usable audience? 
    6. Actionable Data: What reliable and authoritative data is captured by our technical platform to drive personalization?  
    7. Raw Data: What wider set of data is conceivably available (already in our setting) allowing you to personalize?

    We’ll go through each of these levels in turn. To help make this actionable, we created an accompanying deck of cards to illustrate specific examples from each level. We’ve found them helpful in personalization brainstorming sessions, and will include examples for you here.

    A deck of personalization brainstorming cards (the size of playing cards) against a black background.
    Personalization pack: Deck of cards to help kickstart your personalization brainstorming.

    Starting at the Top

    The components of the pyramid are as follows:

    North Star

    A north star is what you are aiming for overall with your personalization program (big or small). The North Star defines the (one) overall mission of the personalization program. What do you wish to accomplish? North Stars cast a shadow. The bigger the star, the bigger the shadow. Example of North Starts might include: 

    1. Function: Personalize based on basic user inputs. Examples: “Raw” notifications, basic search results, system user settings and configuration options, general customization, basic optimizations
    2. Feature: Self-contained personalization componentry. Examples: “Cooked” notifications, advanced optimizations (geolocation), basic dynamic messaging, customized modules, automations, recommenders
    3. Experience: Personalized user experiences across multiple interactions and user flows. Examples: Email campaigns, landing pages, advanced messaging (i.e. C2C chat) or conversational interfaces, larger user flows and content-intensive optimizations (localization).
    4. Product: Highly differentiating personalized product experiences. Examples: Standalone, branded experiences with personalization at their core, like the “algotorial” playlists by Spotify such as Discover Weekly.
    Function: React to basic user inputs
    Feature: personalized modules
    Experience: Integrated personalization
    North star cards. These can help orient your team towards a common goal that personalization will help achieve; Also, these are useful for characterizing the end-state ambition of the presently stated personalization effort.


    As in any good UX design, personalization can help accelerate designing with customer intentions. Goals are the tactical and measurable metrics that will prove the overall program is successful. A good place to start is with your current analytics and measurement program and metrics you can benchmark against. In some cases, new goals may be appropriate. The key thing to remember is that personalization itself is not a goal, rather it is a means to an end. Common goals include:

    • Conversion
    • Time on task
    • Net promoter score (NPS)
    • Customer satisfaction 
    NPS: Net Promoter Score
    Time on Task: Users move quicker
    Conversion: Move more of the thing
    Goal cards. Examples of some common KPIs related to personalization that are concrete and measurable.


    Touchpoints are where the personalization happens. As a UX designer, this will be one of your largest areas of responsibility. The touchpoints available to you will depend on how your personalization and associated technology capabilities are instrumented, and should be rooted in improving a user’s experience at a particular point in the journey. Touchpoints can be multi-device (mobile, in-store, website) but also more granular (web banner, web pop-up etc.). Here are some examples:

    Channel-level Touchpoints

    • Email: Role
    • Email: Time of open
    • In-store display (JSON endpoint)
    • Native app
    • Search

    Wireframe-level Touchpoints

    • Web overlay
    • Web alert bar
    • Web banner
    • Web content block
    • Web menu
    In-store Display: End-cap interfaces
    Email: Time, personalize at time of open
    Content Block: Into the woodwork
    Touchpoint cards. Examples of common personalization touchpoints: these can vary from narrow (e.g., email) to broad (e.g., in-store).

    If you’re designing for web interfaces, for example, you will likely need to include personalized “zones” in your wireframes. The content for these can be presented programmatically in touchpoints based on our next step, contexts and campaigns.

    Targeted Zones: Examples from Kibo of personalized “zones” on page-level wireframes occurring at various stages of a user journey (Engagement phase at left and Purchase phase at right.)

    Source: “Essential Guide to End-to-End Personaliztion” by Kibo.

    Contexts and Campaigns

    Once you’ve outlined some touchpoints, you can consider the actual personalized content a user will receive. Many personalization tools will refer to these as “campaigns” (so, for example, a campaign on a web banner for new visitors to the website). These will programmatically be shown at certain touchpoints to certain user segments, as defined by user data. At this stage, we find it helpful to consider two separate models: a context model and a content model. The context helps you consider the level of engagement of the user at the personalization moment, for example a user casually browsing information vs. doing a deep-dive. Think of it in terms of information retrieval behaviors. The content model can then help you determine what type of personalization to serve based on the context (for example, an “Enrich” campaign that shows related articles may be a suitable supplement to extant content).

    Personalization Context Model:

    1. Browse
    2. Skim
    3. Nudge
    4. Feast

    Personalization Content Model:

    1. Alert
    2. Make Easier
    3. Cross-Sell
    4. Enrich

    We’ve written extensively about each of these models elsewhere, so if you’d like to read more you can check out Colin’s Personalization Content Model and Jeff’s Personalization Context Model

    Cross Sell: You may also like…
    Enrich: You might find this interesting
    Browse: Lean back, shallow engagement
    Campaign and Context cards: This level of the pyramid can help your team focus around the types of personalization to deliver end users and the use-cases in which they will experience it.

    User Segments

    User segments can be created prescriptively or adaptively, based on user research (e.g. via rules and logic tied to set user behaviors or via A/B testing). At a minimum you will likely need to consider how to treat the unknown or first-time visitor, the guest or returning visitor for whom you may have a stateful cookie (or equivalent post-cookie identifier), or the authenticated visitor who is logged in. Here are some examples from the personalization pyramid:

    • Unknown
    • Guest
    • Authenticated
    • Default
    • Referred
    • Role
    • Cohort
    • Unique ID
    Authenticated: Logged in with token
    Unknown: Could be anyone really
    Guest: Dropped a cookie
    Segment cards. Examples of common personalization segments: at a minimum, you will need to consider the anonymous, guest, and logged in user types. Segmentation can get dramatically more complex from there.

    Actionable Data

    Every organization with any digital presence has data. It’s a matter of asking what data you can ethically collect on users, its inherent reliability and value, as to how can you use it (sometimes known as “data activation.”) Fortunately, the tide is turning to first-party data: a recent study by Twilio estimates some 80% of businesses are using at least some type of first-party data to personalize the customer experience. 

    Chart that answers the question "Why is your company focusing on using first-party data for personalization?" The top answer (at 53%) is "it’s higher quality." That is followed by "It’s easier to manage" (46%), "it provides better privacy" (45%), "it’s easier to obtain" (42%), "it’s more cost-effective" (40%), "it’s more ethical" (37%), "our customers want us to" (36%), "it’s the industry norm" (27%), "it’s easier to comply with regulations" (27%), and "we are phasing out 3rd party cookies" (21%).
    Source: “The State of Personalization 2021” by Twilio. Survey respondents were n=2,700 adult consumers who have purchased something online in the past 6 months, and n=300 adult manager+ decision-makers at consumer-facing companies that provide goods and/or services online. Respondents were from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.Data was collected from April 8 to April 20, 2021.

    First-party data represents multiple advantages on the UX front, including being relatively simple to collect, more likely to be accurate, and less susceptible to the “creep factor” of third-party data. So a key part of your UX strategy should be to determine what the best form of data collection is on your audiences. Here are some examples:

    Quizes: Tell us what you like
    Behavioral profiling: Males 40+ who wear fedoras
    Campaign Source: Your discount code 29780…
    Chart showing the impact of personalization across different phases of personalization maturity. It shows that effort is high in the early phases, but drops off quickly starting in phase 3 (machine learning) while at the same time conversion rates, AOV, and ROI increase from a relatively low level to off the chart.
    Figure 1.1.2: Example of a personalization maturity curve, showing progression from basic recommendations functionality to true individualization. Credit: https://kibocommerce.com/blog/kibos-personalization-maturity-chart/

    There is a progression of profiling when it comes to recognizing and making decisioning about different audiences and their signals. It tends to move towards more granular constructs about smaller and smaller cohorts of users as time and confidence and data volume grow.

    While some combination of implicit / explicit data is generally a prerequisite for any implementation (more commonly referred to as first party and third-party data) ML efforts are typically not cost-effective directly out of the box. This is because a strong data backbone and content repository is a prerequisite for optimization. But these approaches should be considered as part of the larger roadmap and may indeed help accelerate the organization’s overall progress. Typically at this point you will partner with key stakeholders and product owners to design a profiling model. The profiling model includes defining approach to configuring profiles, profile keys, profile cards and pattern cards. A multi-faceted approach to profiling which makes it scalable.

    Pulling it Together

    While the cards comprise the starting point to an inventory of sorts (we provide blanks for you to tailor your own), a set of potential levers and motivations for the style of personalization activities you aspire to deliver, they are more valuable when thought of in a grouping. 

    In assembling a card “hand”, one can begin to trace the entire trajectory from leadership focus down through a strategic and tactical execution. It is also at the heart of the way both co-authors have conducted workshops in assembling a program backlog—which is a fine subject for another article.

    In the meantime, what is important to note is that each colored class of card is helpful to survey in understanding the range of choices potentially at your disposal, it is threading through and making concrete decisions about for whom this decisioning will be made: where, when, and how.

    Cards on a table. At the top: Function is the north star & customer satisfaction is the goal. User segment is unknown, the actionable data is a quiz, context is a nudge, campaign is to make something easier, and the touchpoint is a banner.
    Scenario A: We want to use personalization to improve customer satisfaction on the website. For unknown users, we will create a short quiz to better identify what the user has come to do. This is sometimes referred to as “badging” a user in onboarding contexts, to better characterize their present intent and context.

    Lay Down Your Cards

    Any sustainable personalization strategy must consider near, mid and long-term goals. Even with the leading CMS platforms like Sitecore and Adobe or the most exciting composable CMS DXP out there, there is simply no “easy button” wherein a personalization program can be stood up and immediately view meaningful results. That said, there is a common grammar to all personalization activities, just like every sentence has nouns and verbs. These cards attempt to map that territory.

  • Mobile-First CSS: Is It Time for a Rethink?

    The mobile-first design methodology is great—it focuses on what really matters to the user, it’s well-practiced, and it’s been a common design pattern for years. So developing your CSS mobile-first should also be great, too…right? 

    Well, not necessarily. Classic mobile-first CSS development is based on the principle of overwriting style declarations: you begin your CSS with default style declarations, and overwrite and/or add new styles as you add breakpoints with min-width media queries for larger viewports (for a good overview see “What is Mobile First CSS and Why Does It Rock?”). But all those exceptions create complexity and inefficiency, which in turn can lead to an increased testing effort and a code base that’s harder to maintain. Admit it—how many of us willingly want that?

    On your own projects, mobile-first CSS may yet be the best tool for the job, but first you need to evaluate just how appropriate it is in light of the visual design and user interactions you’re working on. To help you get started, here’s how I go about tackling the factors you need to watch for, and I’ll discuss some alternate solutions if mobile-first doesn’t seem to suit your project.

    Advantages of mobile-first

    Some of the things to like with mobile-first CSS development—and why it’s been the de facto development methodology for so long—make a lot of sense:

    Development hierarchy. One thing you undoubtedly get from mobile-first is a nice development hierarchy—you just focus on the mobile view and get developing. 

    Tried and tested. It’s a tried and tested methodology that’s worked for years for a reason: it solves a problem really well.

    Prioritizes the mobile view. The mobile view is the simplest and arguably the most important, as it encompasses all the key user journeys, and often accounts for a higher proportion of user visits (depending on the project). 

    Prevents desktop-centric development. As development is done using desktop computers, it can be tempting to initially focus on the desktop view. But thinking about mobile from the start prevents us from getting stuck later on; no one wants to spend their time retrofitting a desktop-centric site to work on mobile devices!

    Disadvantages of mobile-first

    Setting style declarations and then overwriting them at higher breakpoints can lead to undesirable ramifications:

    More complexity. The farther up the breakpoint hierarchy you go, the more unnecessary code you inherit from lower breakpoints. 

    Higher CSS specificity. Styles that have been reverted to their browser default value in a class name declaration now have a higher specificity. This can be a headache on large projects when you want to keep the CSS selectors as simple as possible.

    Requires more regression testing. Changes to the CSS at a lower view (like adding a new style) requires all higher breakpoints to be regression tested.

    The browser can’t prioritize CSS downloads. At wider breakpoints, classic mobile-first min-width media queries don’t leverage the browser’s capability to download CSS files in priority order.

    The problem of property value overrides

    There is nothing inherently wrong with overwriting values; CSS was designed to do just that. Still, inheriting incorrect values is unhelpful and can be burdensome and inefficient. It can also lead to increased style specificity when you have to overwrite styles to reset them back to their defaults, something that may cause issues later on, especially if you are using a combination of bespoke CSS and utility classes. We won’t be able to use a utility class for a style that has been reset with a higher specificity.

    With this in mind, I’m developing CSS with a focus on the default values much more these days. Since there’s no specific order, and no chains of specific values to keep track of, this frees me to develop breakpoints simultaneously. I concentrate on finding common styles and isolating the specific exceptions in closed media query ranges (that is, any range with a max-width set). 

    This approach opens up some opportunities, as you can look at each breakpoint as a clean slate. If a component’s layout looks like it should be based on Flexbox at all breakpoints, it’s fine and can be coded in the default style sheet. But if it looks like Grid would be much better for large screens and Flexbox for mobile, these can both be done entirely independently when the CSS is put into closed media query ranges. Also, developing simultaneously requires you to have a good understanding of any given component in all breakpoints up front. This can help surface issues in the design earlier in the development process. We don’t want to get stuck down a rabbit hole building a complex component for mobile, and then get the designs for desktop and find they are equally complex and incompatible with the HTML we created for the mobile view! 

    Though this approach isn’t going to suit everyone, I encourage you to give it a try. There are plenty of tools out there to help with concurrent development, such as Responsively App, Blisk, and many others. 

    Having said that, I don’t feel the order itself is particularly relevant. If you are comfortable with focusing on the mobile view, have a good understanding of the requirements for other breakpoints, and prefer to work on one device at a time, then by all means stick with the classic development order. The important thing is to identify common styles and exceptions so you can put them in the relevant stylesheet—a sort of manual tree-shaking process! Personally, I find this a little easier when working on a component across breakpoints, but that’s by no means a requirement.

    Closed media query ranges in practice 

    In classic mobile-first CSS we overwrite the styles, but we can avoid this by using media query ranges. To illustrate the difference (I’m using SCSS for brevity), let’s assume there are three visual designs: 

    • smaller than 768
    • from 768 to below 1024
    • 1024 and anything larger 

    Take a simple example where a block-level element has a default padding of “20px,” which is overwritten at tablet to be “40px” and set back to “20px” on desktop.

    Classic min-width mobile-first

    .my-block {
      padding: 20px;
      @media (min-width: 768px) {
        padding: 40px;
      @media (min-width: 1024px) {
        padding: 20px;

    Closed media query range

    .my-block {
      padding: 20px;
      @media (min-width: 768px) and (max-width: 1023.98px) {
        padding: 40px;

    The subtle difference is that the mobile-first example sets the default padding to “20px” and then overwrites it at each breakpoint, setting it three times in total. In contrast, the second example sets the default padding to “20px” and only overrides it at the relevant breakpoint where it isn’t the default value (in this instance, tablet is the exception).

    The goal is to: 

    • Only set styles when needed. 
    • Not set them with the expectation of overwriting them later on, again and again. 

    To this end, closed media query ranges are our best friend. If we need to make a change to any given view, we make it in the CSS media query range that applies to the specific breakpoint. We’ll be much less likely to introduce unwanted alterations, and our regression testing only needs to focus on the breakpoint we have actually edited. 

    Taking the above example, if we find that .my-block spacing on desktop is already accounted for by the margin at that breakpoint, and since we want to remove the padding altogether, we could do this by setting the mobile padding in a closed media query range.

    .my-block {
      @media (max-width: 767.98px) {
        padding: 20px;
      @media (min-width: 768px) and (max-width: 1023.98px) {
        padding: 40px;

    The browser default padding for our block is “0,” so instead of adding a desktop media query and using unset or “0” for the padding value (which we would need with mobile-first), we can wrap the mobile padding in a closed media query (since it is now also an exception) so it won’t get picked up at wider breakpoints. At the desktop breakpoint, we won’t need to set any padding style, as we want the browser default value.

    Bundling versus separating the CSS

    Back in the day, keeping the number of requests to a minimum was very important due to the browser’s limit of concurrent requests (typically around six). As a consequence, the use of image sprites and CSS bundling was the norm, with all the CSS being downloaded in one go, as one stylesheet with highest priority. 

    With HTTP/2 and HTTP/3 now on the scene, the number of requests is no longer the big deal it used to be. This allows us to separate the CSS into multiple files by media query. The clear benefit of this is the browser can now request the CSS it currently needs with a higher priority than the CSS it doesn’t. This is more performant and can reduce the overall time page rendering is blocked.

    Which HTTP version are you using?

    To determine which version of HTTP you’re using, go to your website and open your browser’s dev tools. Next, select the Network tab and make sure the Protocol column is visible. If “h2” is listed under Protocol, it means HTTP/2 is being used. 

    Note: to view the Protocol in your browser’s dev tools, go to the Network tab, reload your page, right-click any column header (e.g., Name), and check the Protocol column.

    Chrome dev tools, Network tab filtered by document, Protocol column
    Note: for a summarized comparison, see ImageKit’s “HTTP/2 vs. HTTP/1.”

    Also, if your site is still using HTTP/1...WHY?!! What are you waiting for? There is excellent user support for HTTP/2.

    Splitting the CSS

    Separating the CSS into individual files is a worthwhile task. Linking the separate CSS files using the relevant media attribute allows the browser to identify which files are needed immediately (because they’re render-blocking) and which can be deferred. Based on this, it allocates each file an appropriate priority.

    In the following example of a website visited on a mobile breakpoint, we can see the mobile and default CSS are loaded with “Highest” priority, as they are currently needed to render the page. The remaining CSS files (print, tablet, and desktop) are still downloaded in case they’ll be needed later, but with “Lowest” priority. 

    Chrome dev tools, Network tab filtered by css, Priority column

    With bundled CSS, the browser will have to download the CSS file and parse it before rendering can start.

    While, as noted, with the CSS separated into different files linked and marked up with the relevant media attribute, the browser can prioritize the files it currently needs. Using closed media query ranges allows the browser to do this at all widths, as opposed to classic mobile-first min-width queries, where the desktop browser would have to download all the CSS with Highest priority. We can’t assume that desktop users always have a fast connection. For instance, in many rural areas, internet connection speeds are still slow. 

    The media queries and number of separate CSS files will vary from project to project based on project requirements, but might look similar to the example below.

    Bundled CSS

    <link href="/site.css" rel="stylesheet">

    This single file contains all the CSS, including all media queries, and it will be downloaded with Highest priority.

    Separated CSS

    <link href="/default.css" rel="stylesheet"><link href="/mobile.css" media="screen and (max-width: 767.98px)" rel="stylesheet"><link href="/tablet.css" media="screen and (min-width: 768px) and (max-width: 1083.98px)" rel="stylesheet"><link href="/desktop.css" media="screen and (min-width: 1084px)" rel="stylesheet"><link href="/print.css" media="print" rel="stylesheet">

    Separating the CSS and specifying a media attribute value on each link tag allows the browser to prioritize what it currently needs. Out of the five files listed above, two will be downloaded with Highest priority: the default file, and the file that matches the current media query. The others will be downloaded with Lowest priority.

    Depending on the project’s deployment strategy, a change to one file (mobile.css, for example) would only require the QA team to regression test on devices in that specific media query range. Compare that to the prospect of deploying the single bundled site.css file, an approach that would normally trigger a full regression test.

    Moving on

    The uptake of mobile-first CSS was a really important milestone in web development; it has helped front-end developers focus on mobile web applications, rather than developing sites on desktop and then attempting to retrofit them to work on other devices.

    I don’t think anyone wants to return to that development model again, but it’s important we don’t lose sight of the issue it highlighted: that things can easily get convoluted and less efficient if we prioritize one particular device—any device—over others. For this reason, focusing on the CSS in its own right, always mindful of what is the default setting and what’s an exception, seems like the natural next step. I’ve started noticing small simplifications in my own CSS, as well as other developers’, and that testing and maintenance work is also a bit more simplified and productive. 

    In general, simplifying CSS rule creation whenever we can is ultimately a cleaner approach than going around in circles of overrides. But whichever methodology you choose, it needs to suit the project. Mobile-first may—or may not—turn out to be the best choice for what’s involved, but first you need to solidly understand the trade-offs you’re stepping into.

  • Designers, (Re)define Success First

    About two and a half years ago, I introduced the idea of daily ethical design. It was born out of my frustration with the many obstacles to achieving design that’s usable and equitable; protects people’s privacy, agency, and focus; benefits society; and restores nature. I argued that we need to overcome the inconveniences that prevent us from acting ethically and that we need to elevate design ethics to a more practical level by structurally integrating it into our daily work, processes, and tools.

    Unfortunately, we’re still very far from this ideal. 

    At the time, I didn’t know yet how to structurally integrate ethics. Yes, I had found some tools that had worked for me in previous projects, such as using checklists, assumption tracking, and “dark reality” sessions, but I didn’t manage to apply those in every project. I was still struggling for time and support, and at best I had only partially achieved a higher (moral) quality of design—which is far from my definition of structurally integrated.

    I decided to dig deeper for the root causes in business that prevent us from practicing daily ethical design. Now, after much research and experimentation, I believe that I’ve found the key that will let us structurally integrate ethics. And it’s surprisingly simple! But first we need to zoom out to get a better understanding of what we’re up against.

    Influence the system

    Sadly, we’re trapped in a capitalistic system that reinforces consumerism and inequality, and it’s obsessed with the fantasy of endless growth. Sea levels, temperatures, and our demand for energy continue to rise unchallenged, while the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. Shareholders expect ever-higher returns on their investments, and companies feel forced to set short-term objectives that reflect this. Over the last decades, those objectives have twisted our well-intended human-centered mindset into a powerful machine that promotes ever-higher levels of consumption. When we’re working for an organization that pursues “double-digit growth” or “aggressive sales targets” (which is 99 percent of us), that’s very hard to resist while remaining human friendly. Even with our best intentions, and even though we like to say that we create solutions for people, we’re a part of the problem.

    What can we do to change this?

    We can start by acting on the right level of the system. Donella H. Meadows, a system thinker, once listed ways to influence a system in order of effectiveness. When you apply these to design, you get:

    • At the lowest level of effectiveness, you can affect numbers such as usability scores or the number of design critiques. But none of that will change the direction of a company.
    • Similarly, affecting buffers (such as team budgets), stocks (such as the number of designers), flows (such as the number of new hires), and delays (such as the time that it takes to hear about the effect of design) won’t significantly affect a company.
    • Focusing instead on feedback loops such as management control, employee recognition, or design-system investments can help a company become better at achieving its objectives. But that doesn’t change the objectives themselves, which means that the organization will still work against your ethical-design ideals.
    • The next level, information flows, is what most ethical-design initiatives focus on now: the exchange of ethical methods, toolkits, articles, conferences, workshops, and so on. This is also where ethical design has remained mostly theoretical. We’ve been focusing on the wrong level of the system all this time.
    • Take rules, for example—they beat knowledge every time. There can be widely accepted rules, such as how finance works, or a scrum team’s definition of done. But ethical design can also be smothered by unofficial rules meant to maintain profits, often revealed through comments such as “the client didn’t ask for it” or “don’t make it too big.”
    • Changing the rules without holding official power is very hard. That’s why the next level is so influential: self-organization. Experimentation, bottom-up initiatives, passion projects, self-steering teams—all of these are examples of self-organization that improve the resilience and creativity of a company. It’s exactly this diversity of viewpoints that’s needed to structurally tackle big systemic issues like consumerism, wealth inequality, and climate change.
    • Yet even stronger than self-organization are objectives and metrics. Our companies want to make more money, which means that everything and everyone in the company does their best to… make the company more money. And once I realized that profit is nothing more than a measurement, I understood how crucial a very specific, defined metric can be toward pushing a company in a certain direction.

    The takeaway? If we truly want to incorporate ethics into our daily design practice, we must first change the measurable objectives of the company we work for, from the bottom up.

    Redefine success

    Traditionally, we consider a product or service successful if it’s desirable to humans, technologically feasible, and financially viable. You tend to see these represented as equals; if you type the three words in a search engine, you’ll find diagrams of three equally sized, evenly arranged circles.

    A Venn diagram with three overlapping circles representing Viable, Desirable, and Feasible with the target directly in the central intersection of all three.

    But in our hearts, we all know that the three dimensions aren’t equally weighted: it’s viability that ultimately controls whether a product will go live. So a more realistic representation might look like this:

    A Venn diagram with two circles (Desirable and Feasible) overlapping. An arrow points from their intersection to a separate circle marked as Viable, with a target inside it.

    Desirability and feasibility are the means; viability is the goal. Companies—outside of nonprofits and charities—exist to make money.

    A genuinely purpose-driven company would try to reverse this dynamic: it would recognize finance for what it was intended for: a means. So both feasibility and viability are means to achieve what the company set out to achieve. It makes intuitive sense: to achieve most anything, you need resources, people, and money. (Fun fact: the Italian language knows no difference between feasibility and viability; both are simply fattibilità.)

    A Venn diagram with two circles (Viable and Feasible) overlapping. An arrow points from their intersection to a separate circle marked as Desirable, with a target inside it.

    But simply swapping viable for desirable isn’t enough to achieve an ethical outcome. Desirability is still linked to consumerism because the associated activities aim to identify what people want—whether it’s good for them or not. Desirability objectives, such as user satisfaction or conversion, don’t consider whether a product is healthy for people. They don’t prevent us from creating products that distract or manipulate people or stop us from contributing to society’s wealth inequality. They’re unsuitable for establishing a healthy balance with nature.

    There’s a fourth dimension of success that’s missing: our designs also need to be ethical in the effect that they have on the world.

    The original Venn diagram of three circles (Desirable, Viable, and Feasible) overlapping with the target in their central intersection. This time, a fourth circle named Ethical encompasses all three.

    This is hardly a new idea. Many similar models exist, some calling the fourth dimension accountability, integrity, or responsibility. What I’ve never seen before, however, is the necessary step that comes after: to influence the system as designers and to make ethical design more practical, we must create objectives for ethical design that are achievable and inspirational. There’s no one way to do this because it highly depends on your culture, values, and industry. But I’ll give you the version that I developed with a group of colleagues at a design agency. Consider it a template to get started.

    Pursue well-being, equity, and sustainability

    We created objectives that address design’s effect on three levels: individual, societal, and global.

    An objective on the individual level tells us what success is beyond the typical focus of usability and satisfaction—instead considering matters such as how much time and attention is required from users. We pursued well-being:

    We create products and services that allow for people’s health and happiness. Our solutions are calm, transparent, nonaddictive, and nonmisleading. We respect our users’ time, attention, and privacy, and help them make healthy and respectful choices.

    An objective on the societal level forces us to consider our impact beyond just the user, widening our attention to the economy, communities, and other indirect stakeholders. We called this objective equity:

    We create products and services that have a positive social impact. We consider economic equality, racial justice, and the inclusivity and diversity of people as teams, users, and customer segments. We listen to local culture, communities, and those we affect.

    Finally, the objective on the global level aims to ensure that we remain in balance with the only home we have as humanity. Referring to it simply as sustainability, our definition was:

    We create products and services that reward sufficiency and reusability. Our solutions support the circular economy: we create value from waste, repurpose products, and prioritize sustainable choices. We deliver functionality instead of ownership, and we limit energy use.

    In short, ethical design (to us) meant achieving wellbeing for each user and an equitable value distribution within society through a design that can be sustained by our living planet. When we introduced these objectives in the company, for many colleagues, design ethics and responsible design suddenly became tangible and achievable through practical—and even familiar—actions.

    Measure impact 

    But defining these objectives still isn’t enough. What truly caught the attention of senior management was the fact that we created a way to measure every design project’s well-being, equity, and sustainability.

    This overview lists example metrics that you can use as you pursue well-being, equity, and sustainability:

    A list of example metrics for ethical impact at individual, societal, and planetary levels. Individual well-being examples include increased calmness, lower screen time, improved safety and privacy. Societal equity examples include improved accessibility, increased team and stakeholder diversity, and increased progressive enhancement. Finally, planetary sustainability examples include reduced energy use, reduced website carbon emissions and device turnover, and increased expert involvement.

    There’s a lot of power in measurement. As the saying goes, what gets measured gets done. Donella Meadows once shared this example:

    “If the desired system state is national security, and that is defined as the amount of money spent on the military, the system will produce military spending. It may or may not produce national security.”

    This phenomenon explains why desirability is a poor indicator of success: it’s typically defined as the increase in customer satisfaction, session length, frequency of use, conversion rate, churn rate, download rate, and so on. But none of these metrics increase the health of people, communities, or ecosystems. What if instead we measured success through metrics for (digital) well-being, such as (reduced) screen time or software energy consumption?

    There’s another important message here. Even if we set an objective to build a calm interface, if we were to choose the wrong metric for calmness—say, the number of interface elements—we could still end up with a screen that induces anxiety. Choosing the wrong metric can completely undo good intentions. 

    Additionally, choosing the right metric is enormously helpful in focusing the design team. Once you go through the exercise of choosing metrics for our objectives, you’re forced to consider what success looks like concretely and how you can prove that you’ve reached your ethical objectives. It also forces you to consider what we as designers have control over: what can I include in my design or change in my process that will lead to the right type of success? The answer to this question brings a lot of clarity and focus.

    And finally, it’s good to remember that traditional businesses run on measurements, and managers love to spend much time discussing charts (ideally hockey-stick shaped)—especially if they concern profit, the one-above-all of metrics. For good or ill, to improve the system, to have a serious discussion about ethical design with managers, we’ll need to speak that business language.

    Practice daily ethical design

    Once you’ve defined your objectives and you have a reasonable idea of the potential metrics for your design project, only then do you have a chance to structurally practice ethical design. It “simply” becomes a matter of using your creativity and choosing from all the knowledge and toolkits already available to you.

    A set of example methods and tools for practicing at the individual, societal, and planetary level. Individual tools include the principle of minimum necessary data, white-hat persuasion techniques, calm-technology guidelines, and more. Societal tools include stakeholder mapping, inclusive sampling and testing, progressive enhancement, accessibility principles, and more. Planetary tools include the flourishing business canvas, extended-service blueprint, website carbon calculators, product-lifecycle mapping, and more.

    I think this is quite exciting! It opens a whole new set of challenges and considerations for the design process. Should you go with that energy-consuming video or would a simple illustration be enough? Which typeface is the most calm and inclusive? Which new tools and methods do you use? When is the website’s end of life? How can you provide the same service while requiring less attention from users? How do you make sure that those who are affected by decisions are there when those decisions are made? How can you measure our effects?

    The redefinition of success will completely change what it means to do good design.

    There is, however, a final piece of the puzzle that’s missing: convincing your client, product owner, or manager to be mindful of well-being, equity, and sustainability. For this, it’s essential to engage stakeholders in a dedicated kickoff session.

    Kick it off or fall back to status quo

    The kickoff is the most important meeting that can be so easy to forget to include. It consists of two major phases: 1) the alignment of expectations, and 2) the definition of success.

    In the first phase, the entire (design) team goes over the project brief and meets with all the relevant stakeholders. Everyone gets to know one another and express their expectations on the outcome and their contributions to achieving it. Assumptions are raised and discussed. The aim is to get on the same level of understanding and to in turn avoid preventable miscommunications and surprises later in the project.

    For example, for a recent freelance project that aimed to design a digital platform that facilitates US student advisors’ documentation and communication, we conducted an online kickoff with the client, a subject-matter expert, and two other designers. We used a combination of canvases on Miro: one with questions from “Manual of Me” (to get to know each other), a Team Canvas (to express expectations), and a version of the Project Canvas to align on scope, timeline, and other practical matters.

    The above is the traditional purpose of a kickoff. But just as important as expressing expectations is agreeing on what success means for the project—in terms of desirability, viability, feasibility, and ethics. What are the objectives in each dimension?

    Agreement on what success means at such an early stage is crucial because you can rely on it for the remainder of the project. If, for example, the design team wants to build an inclusive app for a diverse user group, they can raise diversity as a specific success criterion during the kickoff. If the client agrees, the team can refer back to that promise throughout the project. “As we agreed in our first meeting, having a diverse user group that includes A and B is necessary to build a successful product. So we do activity X and follow research process Y.” Compare those odds to a situation in which the team didn’t agree to that beforehand and had to ask for permission halfway through the project. The client might argue that that came on top of the agreed scope—and she’d be right.

    In the case of this freelance project, to define success I prepared a round canvas that I call the Wheel of Success. It consists of an inner ring, meant to capture ideas for objectives, and a set of outer rings, meant to capture ideas on how to measure those objectives. The rings are divided into five dimensions of successful design: healthy, equitable, sustainable, desirable, feasible, and viable.

    The wheel of success. The central circle reads 'The product is a success when it is'. The next ring outside lists example values such as healthy, equitable, sustainable, viable, feasible, and desirable. The next ring out lists out measurable objectives for those values, and the outermost ring lists tools that can measure those objectives.

    We went through each dimension, writing down ideas on digital sticky notes. Then we discussed our ideas and verbally agreed on the most important ones. For example, our client agreed that sustainability and progressive enhancement are important success criteria for the platform. And the subject-matter expert emphasized the importance of including students from low-income and disadvantaged groups in the design process.

    After the kickoff, we summarized our ideas and shared understanding in a project brief that captured these aspects:

    • the project’s origin and purpose: why are we doing this project?
    • the problem definition: what do we want to solve?
    • the concrete goals and metrics for each success dimension: what do we want to achieve?
    • the scope, process, and role descriptions: how will we achieve it?

    With such a brief in place, you can use the agreed-upon objectives and concrete metrics as a checklist of success, and your design team will be ready to pursue the right objective—using the tools, methods, and metrics at their disposal to achieve ethical outcomes.

    A drawing of a set of mountains that also looks vaguely like a graph. The leftmost valley has 'Pursue the right objective' pointing at it. The middle valley has 'Solve the right problem' and the rightmost valley is labelled 'Build the right solution.' Below the mountains, a timeline shows from left to right: Kick-off, Problem space, Solution space, and Development.


    Over the past year, quite a few colleagues have asked me, “Where do I start with ethical design?” My answer has always been the same: organize a session with your stakeholders to (re)define success. Even though you might not always be 100 percent successful in agreeing on goals that cover all responsibility objectives, that beats the alternative (the status quo) every time. If you want to be an ethical, responsible designer, there’s no skipping this step.

    To be even more specific: if you consider yourself a strategic designer, your challenge is to define ethical objectives, set the right metrics, and conduct those kick-off sessions. If you consider yourself a system designer, your starting point is to understand how your industry contributes to consumerism and inequality, understand how finance drives business, and brainstorm which levers are available to influence the system on the highest level. Then redefine success to create the space to exercise those levers.

    And for those who consider themselves service designers or UX designers or UI designers: if you truly want to have a positive, meaningful impact, stay away from the toolkits and meetups and conferences for a while. Instead, gather your colleagues and define goals for well-being, equity, and sustainability through design. Engage your stakeholders in a workshop and challenge them to think of ways to achieve and measure those ethical goals. Take their input, make it concrete and visible, ask for their agreement, and hold them to it.

    Otherwise, I’m genuinely sorry to say, you’re wasting your precious time and creative energy.

    Of course, engaging your stakeholders in this way can be uncomfortable. Many of my colleagues expressed doubts such as “What will the client think of this?,” “Will they take me seriously?,” and “Can’t we just do it within the design team instead?” In fact, a product manager once asked me why ethics couldn’t just be a structured part of the design process—to just do it without spending the effort to define ethical objectives. It’s a tempting idea, right? We wouldn’t have to have difficult discussions with stakeholders about what values or which key-performance indicators to pursue. It would let us focus on what we like and do best: designing.

    But as systems theory tells us, that’s not enough. For those of us who aren’t from marginalized groups and have the privilege to be able to speak up and be heard, that uncomfortable space is exactly where we need to be if we truly want to make a difference. We can’t remain within the design-for-designers bubble, enjoying our privileged working-from-home situation, disconnected from the real world out there. For those of us who have the possibility to speak up and be heard: if we solely keep talking about ethical design and it remains at the level of articles and toolkits—we’re not designing ethically. It’s just theory. We need to actively engage our colleagues and clients by challenging them to redefine success in business.

    With a bit of courage, determination, and focus, we can break out of this cage that finance and business-as-usual have built around us and become facilitators of a new type of business that can see beyond financial value. We just need to agree on the right objectives at the start of each design project, find the right metrics, and realize that we already have everything that we need to get started. That’s what it means to do daily ethical design.

    For their inspiration and support over the years, I would like to thank Emanuela Cozzi Schettini, José Gallegos, Annegret Bönemann, Ian Dorr, Vera Rademaker, Virginia Rispoli, Cecilia Scolaro, Rouzbeh Amini, and many others.

  • Breaking Out of the Box

    CSS is about styling boxes. In fact, the whole web is made of boxes, from the browser viewport to elements on a page. But every once in a while a new feature comes along that makes us rethink our design approach.

    Round displays, for example, make it fun to play with circular clip areas. Mobile screen notches and virtual keyboards offer challenges to best organize content that stays clear of them. And dual screen or foldable devices make us rethink how to best use available space in a number of different device postures.

    Sketches of a round display, a common rectangular mobile display, and a device with a foldable display.

    These recent evolutions of the web platform made it both more challenging and more interesting to design products. They’re great opportunities for us to break out of our rectangular boxes.

    I’d like to talk about a new feature similar to the above: the Window Controls Overlay for Progressive Web Apps (PWAs).

    Progressive Web Apps are blurring the lines between apps and websites. They combine the best of both worlds. On one hand, they’re stable, linkable, searchable, and responsive just like websites. On the other hand, they provide additional powerful capabilities, work offline, and read files just like native apps.

    As a design surface, PWAs are really interesting because they challenge us to think about what mixing web and device-native user interfaces can be. On desktop devices in particular, we have more than 40 years of history telling us what applications should look like, and it can be hard to break out of this mental model.

    At the end of the day though, PWAs on desktop are constrained to the window they appear in: a rectangle with a title bar at the top.

    Here’s what a typical desktop PWA app looks like:

    Sketches of two rectangular user interfaces representing the desktop Progressive Web App status quo on the macOS and Windows operating systems, respectively. 

    Sure, as the author of a PWA, you get to choose the color of the title bar (using the Web Application Manifest theme_color property), but that’s about it.

    What if we could think outside this box, and reclaim the real estate of the app’s entire window? Doing so would give us a chance to make our apps more beautiful and feel more integrated in the operating system.

    This is exactly what the Window Controls Overlay offers. This new PWA functionality makes it possible to take advantage of the full surface area of the app, including where the title bar normally appears.

    About the title bar and window controls

    Let’s start with an explanation of what the title bar and window controls are.

    The title bar is the area displayed at the top of an app window, which usually contains the app’s name. Window controls are the affordances, or buttons, that make it possible to minimize, maximize, or close the app’s window, and are also displayed at the top.

    A sketch of a rectangular application user interface highlighting the title bar area and window control buttons.

    Window Controls Overlay removes the physical constraint of the title bar and window controls areas. It frees up the full height of the app window, enabling the title bar and window control buttons to be overlaid on top of the application’s web content. 

    A sketch of a rectangular application user interface using Window Controls Overlay. The title bar and window controls are no longer in an area separated from the app’s content.

    If you are reading this article on a desktop computer, take a quick look at other apps. Chances are they’re already doing something similar to this. In fact, the very web browser you are using to read this uses the top area to display tabs.

    A screenshot of the top area of a browser’s user interface showing a group of tabs that share the same horizontal space as the app window controls.

    Spotify displays album artwork all the way to the top edge of the application window.

    A screenshot of an album in Spotify’s desktop application. Album artwork spans the entire width of the main content area, all the way to the top and right edges of the window, and the right edge of the main navigation area on the left side. The application and album navigation controls are overlaid directly on top of the album artwork.

    Microsoft Word uses the available title bar space to display the auto-save and search functionalities, and more.

    A screenshot of Microsoft Word’s toolbar interface. Document file information, search, and other functionality appear at the top of the window, sharing the same horizontal space as the app’s window controls.

    The whole point of this feature is to allow you to make use of this space with your own content while providing a way to account for the window control buttons. And it enables you to offer this modified experience on a range of platforms while not adversely affecting the experience on browsers or devices that don’t support Window Controls Overlay. After all, PWAs are all about progressive enhancement, so this feature is a chance to enhance your app to use this extra space when it’s available.

    Let’s use the feature

    For the rest of this article, we’ll be working on a demo app to learn more about using the feature.

    The demo app is called 1DIV. It’s a simple CSS playground where users can create designs using CSS and a single HTML element.

    The app has two pages. The first lists the existing CSS designs you’ve created:

    A screenshot of the 1DIV app displaying a thumbnail grid of CSS designs a user created.

    The second page enables you to create and edit CSS designs:

    A screenshot of the 1DIV app editor page. The top half of the window displays a rendered CSS design, and a text editor on the bottom half of the window displays the CSS used to create it.

    Since I’ve added a simple web manifest and service worker, we can install the app as a PWA on desktop. Here is what it looks like on macOS:

    Screenshots of the 1DIV app thumbnail view and CSS editor view on macOS. This version of the app’s window has a separate control bar at the top for the app name and window control buttons.

    And on Windows:

    Screenshots of the 1DIV app thumbnail view and CSS editor view on the Windows operating system. This version of the app’s window also has a separate control bar at the top for the app name and window control buttons.

    Our app is looking good, but the white title bar in the first page is wasted space. In the second page, it would be really nice if the design area went all the way to the top of the app window.

    Let’s use the Window Controls Overlay feature to improve this.

    Enabling Window Controls Overlay

    The feature is still experimental at the moment. To try it, you need to enable it in one of the supported browsers.

    As of now, it has been implemented in Chromium, as a collaboration between Microsoft and Google. We can therefore use it in Chrome or Edge by going to the internal about://flags page, and enabling the Desktop PWA Window Controls Overlay flag.

    Using Window Controls Overlay

    To use the feature, we need to add the following display_override member to our web app’s manifest file:

      "name": "1DIV",
      "description": "1DIV is a mini CSS playground",
      "lang": "en-US",
      "start_url": "/",
      "theme_color": "#ffffff",
      "background_color": "#ffffff",
      "display_override": [
      "icons": [

    On the surface, the feature is really simple to use. This manifest change is the only thing we need to make the title bar disappear and turn the window controls into an overlay.

    However, to provide a great experience for all users regardless of what device or browser they use, and to make the most of the title bar area in our design, we’ll need a bit of CSS and JavaScript code.

    Here is what the app looks like now:

    Screenshot of the 1DIV app thumbnail view using Window Controls Overlay on macOS. The separate top bar area is gone, but the window controls are now blocking some of the app’s interface

    The title bar is gone, which is what we wanted, but our logo, search field, and NEW button are partially covered by the window controls because now our layout starts at the top of the window.

    It’s similar on Windows, with the difference that the close, maximize, and minimize buttons appear on the right side, grouped together with the PWA control buttons:

    Screenshot of the 1DIV app thumbnail display using Window Controls Overlay on the Windows operating system. The separate top bar area is gone, but the window controls are now blocking some of the app’s content.

    Using CSS to keep clear of the window controls

    Along with the feature, new CSS environment variables have been introduced:

    • titlebar-area-x
    • titlebar-area-y
    • titlebar-area-width
    • titlebar-area-height

    You use these variables with the CSS env() function to position your content where the title bar would have been while ensuring it won’t overlap with the window controls. In our case, we’ll use two of the variables to position our header, which contains the logo, search bar, and NEW button. 

    header {
      position: absolute;
      left: env(titlebar-area-x, 0);
      width: env(titlebar-area-width, 100%);
      height: var(--toolbar-height);

    The titlebar-area-x variable gives us the distance from the left of the viewport to where the title bar would appear, and titlebar-area-width is its width. (Remember, this is not equivalent to the width of the entire viewport, just the title bar portion, which as noted earlier, doesn’t include the window controls.)

    By doing this, we make sure our content remains fully visible. We’re also defining fallback values (the second parameter in the env() function) for when the variables are not defined (such as on non-supporting browsers, or when the Windows Control Overlay feature is disabled).

    Screenshot of the 1DIV app thumbnail view on macOS with Window Controls Overlay and our CSS updated. The app content that the window controls had been blocking has been repositioned.
    Screenshot of the 1DIV app thumbnail view on the Windows operating system with Window Controls Overlay and our updated CSS. The app content that the window controls had been blocking has been repositioned.

    Now our header adapts to its surroundings, and it doesn’t feel like the window control buttons have been added as an afterthought. The app looks a lot more like a native app.

    Changing the window controls background color so it blends in

    Now let’s take a closer look at our second page: the CSS playground editor.

    Screenshots of the 1DIV app CSS editor view with Window Controls Overlay in macOS and Windows, respectively. The window controls overlay areas have a solid white background color, which contrasts with the hot pink color of the example CSS design displayed in the editor.

    Not great. Our CSS demo area does go all the way to the top, which is what we wanted, but the way the window controls appear as white rectangles on top of it is quite jarring.

    We can fix this by changing the app’s theme color. There are a couple of ways to define it:

    • PWAs can define a theme color in the web app manifest file using the theme_color manifest member. This color is then used by the OS in different ways. On desktop platforms, it is used to provide a background color to the title bar and window controls.
    • Websites can use the theme-color meta tag as well. It’s used by browsers to customize the color of the UI around the web page. For PWAs, this color can override the manifest theme_color.

    In our case, we can set the manifest theme_color to white to provide the right default color for our app. The OS will read this color value when the app is installed and use it to make the window controls background color white. This color works great for our main page with the list of demos.

    The theme-color meta tag can be changed at runtime, using JavaScript. So we can do that to override the white with the right demo background color when one is opened.

    Here is the function we’ll use:

    function themeWindow(bgColor) {
      document.querySelector("meta[name=theme-color]").setAttribute('content', bgColor);

    With this in place, we can imagine how using color and CSS transitions can produce a smooth change from the list page to the demo page, and enable the window control buttons to blend in with the rest of the app’s interface.

    Screenshot of the 1DIV app CSS editor view on the Windows operating system with Window Controls Overlay and updated CSS demonstrating how the window control buttons blend in with the rest of the app’s interface.

    Dragging the window

    Now, getting rid of the title bar entirely does have an important accessibility consequence: it’s much more difficult to move the application window around.

    The title bar provides a sizable area for users to click and drag, but by using the Window Controls Overlay feature, this area becomes limited to where the control buttons are, and users have to very precisely aim between these buttons to move the window.

    Fortunately, this can be fixed using CSS with the app-region property. This property is, for now, only supported in Chromium-based browsers and needs the -webkit- vendor prefix. 

    To make any element of the app become a dragging target for the window, we can use the following: 

    -webkit-app-region: drag;

    It is also possible to explicitly make an element non-draggable: 

    -webkit-app-region: no-drag; 

    These options can be useful for us. We can make the entire header a dragging target, but make the search field and NEW button within it non-draggable so they can still be used as normal.

    However, because the editor page doesn’t display the header, users wouldn’t be able to drag the window while editing code. So let's use a different approach. We’ll create another element before our header, also absolutely positioned, and dedicated to dragging the window.

    <div class="drag"></div>
    .drag {
      position: absolute;
      top: 0;
      width: 100%;
      height: env(titlebar-area-height, 0);
      -webkit-app-region: drag;

    With the above code, we’re making the draggable area span the entire viewport width, and using the titlebar-area-height variable to make it as tall as what the title bar would have been. This way, our draggable area is aligned with the window control buttons as shown below.

    And, now, to make sure our search field and button remain usable:

    header .search,
    header .new {
      -webkit-app-region: no-drag;

    With the above code, users can click and drag where the title bar used to be. It is an area that users expect to be able to use to move windows on desktop, and we’re not breaking this expectation, which is good.

    An animated view of the 1DIV app being dragged across a Windows desktop with the mouse.

    Adapting to window resize

    It may be useful for an app to know both whether the window controls overlay is visible and when its size changes. In our case, if the user made the window very narrow, there wouldn’t be enough space for the search field, logo, and button to fit, so we’d want to push them down a bit.

    The Window Controls Overlay feature comes with a JavaScript API we can use to do this: navigator.windowControlsOverlay.

    The API provides three interesting things:

    • navigator.windowControlsOverlay.visible lets us know whether the overlay is visible.
    • navigator.windowControlsOverlay.getBoundingClientRect() lets us know the position and size of the title bar area.
    • navigator.windowControlsOverlay.ongeometrychange lets us know when the size or visibility changes.

    Let’s use this to be aware of the size of the title bar area and move the header down if it’s too narrow.

    if (navigator.windowControlsOverlay) {
      navigator.windowControlsOverlay.addEventListener('geometrychange', () => {
        const { width } = navigator.windowControlsOverlay.getBoundingClientRect();
        document.body.classList.toggle('narrow', width < 250);

    In the example above, we set the narrow class on the body of the app if the title bar area is narrower than 250px. We could do something similar with a media query, but using the windowControlsOverlay API has two advantages for our use case:

    • It’s only fired when the feature is supported and used; we don’t want to adapt the design otherwise.
    • We get the size of the title bar area across operating systems, which is great because the size of the window controls is different on Mac and Windows. Using a media query wouldn’t make it possible for us to know exactly how much space remains.
    .narrow header {
      top: env(titlebar-area-height, 0);
      left: 0;
      width: 100%;

    Using the above CSS code, we can move our header down to stay clear of the window control buttons when the window is too narrow, and move the thumbnails down accordingly.

    A screenshot of the 1DIV app on Windows showing the app’s content adjusted for a much narrower viewport.

    Thirty pixels of exciting design opportunities

    Using the Window Controls Overlay feature, we were able to take our simple demo app and turn it into something that feels so much more integrated on desktop devices. Something that reaches out of the usual window constraints and provides a custom experience for its users.

    In reality, this feature only gives us about 30 pixels of extra room and comes with challenges on how to deal with the window controls. And yet, this extra room and those challenges can be turned into exciting design opportunities.

    More devices of all shapes and forms get invented all the time, and the web keeps on evolving to adapt to them. New features get added to the web platform to allow us, web authors, to integrate more and more deeply with those devices. From watches or foldable devices to desktop computers, we need to evolve our design approach for the web. Building for the web now lets us think outside the rectangular box.

    So let’s embrace this. Let’s use the standard technologies already at our disposal, and experiment with new ideas to provide tailored experiences for all devices, all from a single codebase!

    If you get a chance to try the Window Controls Overlay feature and have feedback about it, you can open issues on the spec’s repository. It’s still early in the development of this feature, and you can help make it even better. Or, you can take a look at the feature’s existing documentation, or this demo app and its source code

  • How to Sell UX Research with Two Simple Questions

    Do you find yourself designing screens with only a vague idea of how the things on the screen relate to the things elsewhere in the system? Do you leave stakeholder meetings with unclear directives that often seem to contradict previous conversations? You know a better understanding of user needs would help the team get clear on what you are actually trying to accomplish, but time and budget for research is tight. When it comes to asking for more direct contact with your users, you might feel like poor Oliver Twist, timidly asking, “Please, sir, I want some more.” 

    Here’s the trick. You need to get stakeholders themselves to identify high-risk assumptions and hidden complexity, so that they become just as motivated as you to get answers from users. Basically, you need to make them think it’s their idea. 

    In this article, I’ll show you how to collaboratively expose misalignment and gaps in the team’s shared understanding by bringing the team together around two simple questions:

    1. What are the objects?
    2. What are the relationships between those objects?

    A gauntlet between research and screen design

    These two questions align to the first two steps of the ORCA process, which might become your new best friend when it comes to reducing guesswork. Wait, what’s ORCA?! Glad you asked.

    ORCA stands for Objects, Relationships, CTAs, and Attributes, and it outlines a process for creating solid object-oriented user experiences. Object-oriented UX is my design philosophy. ORCA is an iterative methodology for synthesizing user research into an elegant structural foundation to support screen and interaction design. OOUX and ORCA have made my work as a UX designer more collaborative, effective, efficient, fun, strategic, and meaningful.

    The ORCA process has four iterative rounds and a whopping fifteen steps. In each round we get more clarity on our Os, Rs, Cs, and As.

    The four rounds and fifteen steps of the ORCA process. In the OOUX world, we love color-coding. Blue is reserved for objects! (Yellow is for core content, pink is for metadata, and green is for calls-to-action. Learn more about the color-coded object map and connecting CTAs to objects.)

    I sometimes say that ORCA is a “garbage in, garbage out” process. To ensure that the testable prototype produced in the final round actually tests well, the process needs to be fed by good research. But if you don’t have a ton of research, the beginning of the ORCA process serves another purpose: it helps you sell the need for research.

    ORCA strengthens the weak spot between research and design by helping distill research into solid information architecture—scaffolding for the screen design and interaction design to hang on.

    In other words, the ORCA process serves as a gauntlet between research and design. With good research, you can gracefully ride the killer whale from research into design. But without good research, the process effectively spits you back into research and with a cache of specific open questions.

    Getting in the same curiosity-boat

    What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.

    Mark Twain

    The first two steps of the ORCA process—Object Discovery and Relationship Discovery—shine a spotlight on the dark, dusty corners of your team’s misalignments and any inherent complexity that’s been swept under the rug. It begins to expose what this classic comic so beautifully illustrates:

    The original “Tree Swing Project Management” cartoon dates back to the 1960s or 1970s and has no artist attribution we could find.

    This is one reason why so many UX designers are frustrated in their job and why many projects fail. And this is also why we often can’t sell research: every decision-maker is confident in their own mental picture. 

    Once we expose hidden fuzzy patches in each picture and the differences between them all, the case for user research makes itself.

    But how we do this is important. However much we might want to, we can’t just tell everyone, “YOU ARE WRONG!” Instead, we need to facilitate and guide our team members to self-identify holes in their picture. When stakeholders take ownership of assumptions and gaps in understanding, BAM! Suddenly, UX research is not such a hard sell, and everyone is aboard the same curiosity-boat.

    Say your users are doctors. And you have no idea how doctors use the system you are tasked with redesigning.

    You might try to sell research by honestly saying: “We need to understand doctors better! What are their pain points? How do they use the current app?” But here’s the problem with that. Those questions are vague, and the answers to them don’t feel acutely actionable.

    Instead, you want your stakeholders themselves to ask super-specific questions. This is more like the kind of conversation you need to facilitate. Let’s listen in:

    “Wait a sec, how often do doctors share patients? Does a patient in this system have primary and secondary doctors?”

    “Can a patient even have more than one primary doctor?”

    “Is it a ‘primary doctor’ or just a ‘primary caregiver’… Can’t that role be a nurse practitioner?”

    “No, caregivers are something else… That’s the patient’s family contacts, right?”

    “So are caregivers in scope for this redesign?”

    “Yeah, because if a caregiver is present at an appointment, the doctor needs to note that. Like, tag the caregiver on the note… Or on the appointment?”

    Now we are getting somewhere. Do you see how powerful it can be getting stakeholders to debate these questions themselves? The diabolical goal here is to shake their confidence—gently and diplomatically.

    When these kinds of questions bubble up collaboratively and come directly from the mouths of your stakeholders and decision-makers, suddenly, designing screens without knowing the answers to these questions seems incredibly risky, even silly.

    If we create software without understanding the real-world information environment of our users, we will likely create software that does not align to the real-world information environment of our users. And this will, hands down, result in a more confusing, more complex, and less intuitive software product.

    The two questions

    But how do we get to these kinds of meaty questions diplomatically, efficiently, collaboratively, and reliably

    We can do this by starting with those two big questions that align to the first two steps of the ORCA process:

    1. What are the objects?
    2. What are the relationships between those objects?

    In practice, getting to these answers is easier said than done. I’m going to show you how these two simple questions can provide the outline for an Object Definition Workshop. During this workshop, these “seed” questions will blossom into dozens of specific questions and shine a spotlight on the need for more user research.

    Prep work: Noun foraging

    In the next section, I’ll show you how to run an Object Definition Workshop with your stakeholders (and entire cross-functional team, hopefully). But first, you need to do some prep work.

    Basically, look for nouns that are particular to the business or industry of your project, and do it across at least a few sources. I call this noun foraging.

    Here are just a few great noun foraging sources:

    • the product’s marketing site
    • the product’s competitors’ marketing sites (competitive analysis, anyone?)
    • the existing product (look at labels!)
    • user interview transcripts
    • notes from stakeholder interviews or vision docs from stakeholders

    Put your detective hat on, my dear Watson. Get resourceful and leverage what you have. If all you have is a marketing website, some screenshots of the existing legacy system, and access to customer service chat logs, then use those.

    As you peruse these sources, watch for the nouns that are used over and over again, and start listing them (preferably on blue sticky notes if you’ll be creating an object map later!).

    You’ll want to focus on nouns that might represent objects in your system. If you are having trouble determining if a noun might be object-worthy, remember the acronym SIP and test for:

    1. Structure
    2. Instances
    3. Purpose

    Think of a library app, for example. Is “book” an object?

    Structure: can you think of a few attributes for this potential object? Title, author, publish date… Yep, it has structure. Check!

    Instance: what are some examples of this potential “book” object? Can you name a few? The Alchemist, Ready Player One, Everybody Poops… OK, check!

    Purpose: why is this object important to the users and business? Well, “book” is what our library client is providing to people and books are why people come to the library… Check, check, check!

    SIP: Structure, Instances, and Purpose! (Here’s a flowchart where I elaborate even more on SIP.)

    As you are noun foraging, focus on capturing the nouns that have SIP. Avoid capturing components like dropdowns, checkboxes, and calendar pickers—your UX system is not your design system! Components are just the packaging for objects—they are a means to an end. No one is coming to your digital place to play with your dropdown! They are coming for the VALUABLE THINGS and what they can do with them. Those things, or objects, are what we are trying to identify.

    Let’s say we work for a startup disrupting the email experience. This is how I’d start my noun foraging.

    First I’d look at my own email client, which happens to be Gmail. I’d then look at Outlook and the new HEY email. I’d look at Yahoo, Hotmail…I’d even look at Slack and Basecamp and other so-called “email replacers.” I’d read some articles, reviews, and forum threads where people are complaining about email. While doing all this, I would look for and write down the nouns.

    (Before moving on, feel free to go noun foraging for this hypothetical product, too, and then scroll down to see how much our lists match up. Just don’t get lost in your own emails! Come back to me!)

    Drumroll, please…

    Here are a few nouns I came up with during my noun foraging:

    • email message
    • thread
    • contact
    • client
    • rule/automation
    • email address that is not a contact?
    • contact groups
    • attachment
    • Google doc file / other integrated file
    • newsletter? (HEY treats this differently)
    • saved responses and templates
    In the OOUX world, we love color-coding. Blue is reserved for objects! (Yellow is for core content, pink is for metadata, and green is for calls-to-action. Learn more about the color coded object map and connecting CTAs to objects.)

    Scan your list of nouns and pick out words that you are completely clueless about. In our email example, it might be client or automation. Do as much homework as you can before your session with stakeholders: google what’s googleable. But other terms might be so specific to the product or domain that you need to have a conversation about them.

    Aside: here are some real nouns foraged during my own past project work that I needed my stakeholders to help me understand:

    • Record Locator
    • Incentive Home
    • Augmented Line Item
    • Curriculum-Based Measurement Probe

    This is really all you need to prepare for the workshop session: a list of nouns that represent potential objects and a short list of nouns that need to be defined further.

    Facilitate an Object Definition Workshop

    You could actually start your workshop with noun foraging—this activity can be done collaboratively. If you have five people in the room, pick five sources, assign one to every person, and give everyone ten minutes to find the objects within their source. When the time’s up, come together and find the overlap. Affinity mapping is your friend here!

    If your team is short on time and might be reluctant to do this kind of grunt work (which is usually the case) do your own noun foraging beforehand, but be prepared to show your work. I love presenting screenshots of documents and screens with all the nouns already highlighted. Bring the artifacts of your process, and start the workshop with a five-minute overview of your noun foraging journey.

    HOT TIP: before jumping into the workshop, frame the conversation as a requirements-gathering session to help you better understand the scope and details of the system. You don’t need to let them know that you’re looking for gaps in the team’s understanding so that you can prove the need for more user research—that will be our little secret. Instead, go into the session optimistically, as if your knowledgeable stakeholders and PMs and biz folks already have all the answers. 

    Then, let the question whack-a-mole commence.

    1. What is this thing?

    Want to have some real fun? At the beginning of your session, ask stakeholders to privately write definitions for the handful of obscure nouns you might be uncertain about. Then, have everyone show their cards at the same time and see if you get different definitions (you will). This is gold for exposing misalignment and starting great conversations.

    As your discussion unfolds, capture any agreed-upon definitions. And when uncertainty emerges, quietly (but visibly) start an “open questions” parking lot. 😉

    After definitions solidify, here’s a great follow-up:

    2. Do our users know what these things are? What do users call this thing?

    Stakeholder 1: They probably call email clients “apps.” But I’m not sure.

    Stakeholder 2: Automations are often called “workflows,” I think. Or, maybe users think workflows are something different.

    If a more user-friendly term emerges, ask the group if they can agree to use only that term moving forward. This way, the team can better align to the users’ language and mindset.

    OK, moving on. 

    If you have two or more objects that seem to overlap in purpose, ask one of these questions:

    3. Are these the same thing? Or are these different? If they are not the same, how are they different?

    You: Is a saved response the same as a template?

    Stakeholder 1: Yes! Definitely.

    Stakeholder 2: I don’t think so… A saved response is text with links and variables, but a template is more about the look and feel, like default fonts, colors, and placeholder images. 

    Continue to build out your growing glossary of objects. And continue to capture areas of uncertainty in your “open questions” parking lot.

    If you successfully determine that two similar things are, in fact, different, here’s your next follow-up question:

    4. What’s the relationship between these objects?

    You: Are saved responses and templates related in any way?

    Stakeholder 3:  Yeah, a template can be applied to a saved response.

    You, always with the follow-ups: When is the template applied to a saved response? Does that happen when the user is constructing the saved response? Or when they apply the saved response to an email? How does that actually work?

    Listen. Capture uncertainty. Once the list of “open questions” grows to a critical mass, pause to start assigning questions to groups or individuals. Some questions might be for the dev team (hopefully at least one developer is in the room with you). One question might be specifically for someone who couldn’t make it to the workshop. And many questions will need to be labeled “user.” 

    Do you see how we are building up to our UXR sales pitch?

    5. Is this object in scope?

    Your next question narrows the team’s focus toward what’s most important to your users. You can simply ask, “Are saved responses in scope for our first release?,” but I’ve got a better, more devious strategy.

    By now, you should have a list of clearly defined objects. Ask participants to sort these objects from most to least important, either in small breakout groups or individually. Then, like you did with the definitions, have everyone reveal their sort order at once. Surprisingly—or not so surprisingly—it’s not unusual for the VP to rank something like “saved responses” as #2 while everyone else puts it at the bottom of the list. Try not to look too smug as you inevitably expose more misalignment.

    I did this for a startup a few years ago. We posted the three groups’ wildly different sort orders on the whiteboard.

    Here’s a snippet of the very messy middle from this session: three columns of object cards, showing the same cards prioritized completely differently by three different groups.

    The CEO stood back, looked at it, and said, “This is why we haven’t been able to move forward in two years.”

    Admittedly, it’s tragic to hear that, but as a professional, it feels pretty awesome to be the one who facilitated a watershed realization.

    Once you have a good idea of in-scope, clearly defined things, this is when you move on to doing more relationship mapping.

    6. Create a visual representation of the objects’ relationships

    We’ve already done a bit of this while trying to determine if two things are different, but this time, ask the team about every potential relationship. For each object, ask how it relates to all the other objects. In what ways are the objects connected? To visualize all the connections, pull out your trusty boxes-and-arrows technique. Here, we are connecting our objects with verbs. I like to keep my verbs to simple “has a” and “has many” statements.

    A work-in-progress system model of our new email solution.

    This system modeling activity brings up all sorts of new questions:

    • Can a saved response have attachments?
    • Can a saved response use a template? If so, if an email uses a saved response with a template, can the user override that template?
    • Do users want to see all the emails they sent that included a particular attachment? For example, “show me all the emails I sent with ProfessionalImage.jpg attached. I’ve changed my professional photo and I want to alert everyone to update it.” 

    Solid answers might emerge directly from the workshop participants. Great! Capture that new shared understanding. But when uncertainty surfaces, continue to add questions to your growing parking lot.

    Light the fuse

    You’ve positioned the explosives all along the floodgates. Now you simply have to light the fuse and BOOM. Watch the buy-in for user research flooooow.

    Before your workshop wraps up, have the group reflect on the list of open questions. Make plans for getting answers internally, then focus on the questions that need to be brought before users.

    Here’s your final step. Take those questions you’ve compiled for user research and discuss the level of risk associated with NOT answering them. Ask, “if we design without an answer to this question, if we make up our own answer and we are wrong, how bad might that turn out?” 

    With this methodology, we are cornering our decision-makers into advocating for user research as they themselves label questions as high-risk. Sorry, not sorry. 

    Now is your moment of truth. With everyone in the room, ask for a reasonable budget of time and money to conduct 6–8 user interviews focused specifically on these questions. 

    HOT TIP: if you are new to UX research, please note that you’ll likely need to rephrase the questions that came up during the workshop before you present them to users. Make sure your questions are open-ended and don’t lead the user into any default answers.

    Final words: Hold the screen design!

    Seriously, if at all possible, do not ever design screens again without first answering these fundamental questions: what are the objects and how do they relate?

    I promise you this: if you can secure a shared understanding between the business, design, and development teams before you start designing screens, you will have less heartache and save more time and money, and (it almost feels like a bonus at this point!) users will be more receptive to what you put out into the world. 

    I sincerely hope this helps you win time and budget to go talk to your users and gain clarity on what you are designing before you start building screens. If you find success using noun foraging and the Object Definition Workshop, there’s more where that came from in the rest of the ORCA process, which will help prevent even more late-in-the-game scope tugs-of-war and strategy pivots. 

    All the best of luck! Now go sell research!

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  • The best gaming laptops for students: Best overall, best budget, and more

    When looking for a laptop for school, you not only want one that helps you get through your classwork and homework but also something you can have fun with in your free time. It needs to be powerful enough for your late-night gaming sessions, yet portable enough to be a comfortable everyday carry.

    It might be a bit overwhelming shopping for a new laptop if you don’t know where to start, but don’t worry. We went ahead and carefully curated a list of the best gaming laptops specifically for students. We’ve taken everything from display quality to portability to budget into consideration. Read on to learn more about our picks.

    [Need something strictly for schoolwork? Check out our picks for the best laptops for college students]

    Updated 03/23/2023: To include the Acer Nitro 5 as our choice for best budget option runner-up and the MSI Sword 15 A12UE as our new choice for unique style. Read our summaries for both of these picks below.

    Lenovo Legion 5 Pro (2022) – Best overall

    Lenovo Legion 5 Pro (2022) - Best overall


    • Attractive, durable design 
    • Pleasant keyboard and touchpad
    • Plenty of wired and wireless connectivity 
    • Excellent game performance
    • Competitive pricing 


    • Processor performance is midpack 
    • Display is bright, but lacking in color performance
    • Speakers can sound muddy

    The Lenovo Legion 5 Pro tics off a lot of boxes. It offers fantastic gaming performance, a wide range of connectivity options, a rugged design, and so much more. The pricing is competitive, too. This machine is more than capable and the best bang for your buck.

    The Legion 5 Pro has an Intel Core i7-12700H CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Ti GPU, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of SSD storage. According to our tester, the laptop “screamed at 148 frames-per-second” during the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark. The non-touch IPS display has a resolution of 2560×1600 and a maximum refresh rate of 165Hz. The display is also bright, but it’s not as colorful as others we’ve seen. Overall, we feel the pros far outweigh the cons here.

    Read our full Lenovo Legion 5 Pro (2022) review

    Asus VivoBook Pro 15 OLED Ultra Slim Laptop – Best budget option

    Asus VivoBook Pro 15 OLED Ultra Slim Laptop - Best budget option


    • Good productivity performance
    • Superb display
    • Rugged design
    • Great battery life


    • Boring aesthetics
    • Unimpressive 720p webcam
    • Unreliable fingerprint scanner
    • Poor port selection

    If you’re looking for strong gaming performance at an affordable price, the Asus VivoBook Pro 15 OLED is a fantastic choice. According to our tester, this laptop can easily handle “gaming, streaming, and day-to-day productivity.” It has an AMD Ryzen 7 5800H CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 GPU, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of NVMe PCIe SSD storage. You may need to drop down to medium or high graphics when playing newer AAA titles. That said, this machine should be able to run older games just fine. The OLED panel is also superb and battery life is great. In fact, it lasted over 11 hours on a single charge during our battery-life benchmark. That’s impressive for a gaming laptop. There are a few minor nitpicks to be aware of, though.

    The fingerprint scanner is downright finicky and the overall aesthetic is uninspiring. The port selection isn’t too diverse, either. If you can live with those caveats, the VivoBook Pro 15 OLED is an absolute joy to use and well worth considering. If you’re interested in more budget gaming laptop recommendations, be sure to check out our picks for the best gaming laptops under $1,500 and the best gaming laptops under $1,000.

    Read our full ASUS VivoBook Pro 15 OLED Ultra Slim Laptop review

    Acer Nitro 5 – Best budget option runner-up

    Acer Nitro 5 - Best budget option runner-up


    • Strong CPU/GPU pairing for the price
    • Roomy 1TB SSD with room to add second drive
    • Decent battery life
    • Quiet operation


    • Plastic chassis is bulky and hefty
    • Dim display
    • So-so keyboard and tiny touchpad
    • Terrible webcam
    Best Prices Today: $1,239.00 at Amazon

    Another option for the budget-conscious buyer is the Acer Nitro 5. This 17.3-inch laptop provides ample performance and plenty of screen real estate for a very reasonable price. It includes a Ryzen 7 processor, RTX 3060 GPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB PCIe M.2 SSD. Those are pretty good specs for a laptop that frequently goes on sale for under $1,000.

    The main reason it didn’t take the top spot over the Asus Vivobook Pro 15 was due to the differences in displays. The Vivobook Pro 15 comes with a stunning OLED display while the Acer Nitro 5 only has a 1080p IPS panel. The Nitro 5 is also a bit more expensive, but it does come with a bit more performance for that money. Overall, the two are very close, but which you buy will likely come down to what is most important to you—slightly more gaming performance, or a better display.

    Read our full Acer Nitro 5 AN517 review

    Lenovo Slim 7 Pro X – Best ultraportable for gaming

    Lenovo Slim 7 Pro X - Best ultraportable for gaming


    • Attractive, robust design
    • Thin profile, low weight
    • Enjoyable keyboard and touchpad
    • Excellent processor performance


    • No Thunderbolt 4, Ethernet, or dedicated video-out
    • Display is sharp, but falls behind OLED alternatives
    • Battery life is slightly behind the pack

    The Lenovo Slim 7 Pro X combines the rare combination for gaming laptops of being both ultra-lightweight and powerful. Weighing in at just over three pounds, it lives up to the name of ultraportable. In such a tiny package they somehow manage to fit an AMD Ryzen 6900HS CPU and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 GPU. This means that you can expect strong gaming performance even while on the go.

    There honestly aren’t many knocks against it. While the display is sharp, it’s not OLED and the battery life is lacking a little bit. But these are minor inconveniences and don’t really take away from the overall appeal of this ultraportable. One thing to note however is that the RTX 3050 GPU is fine for most games, but it won’t be able to handle ray tracing, so if playing at the ultra settings is important then you may want to consider a laptop with a more robust graphics card. However, if you’re looking for a portable gaming laptop that promises solid performance, the Lenovo Slim 7 Pro X is a great option.

    Read our full Lenovo Slim 7 Pro X review

    HP Victus 16 (16-d0097nr) – Best keyboard

    HP Victus 16 (16-d0097nr) - Best keyboard


    • Very good value
    • Surprisingly comfortable keyboard
    • Large 16-inch 1080p screen with a high 144Hz refresh rate


    • Budget RTX GPU
    • Audio doesn’t feel quite right
    • Display hinge is a bit flimsy
    Best Prices Today: $875.00 at Amazon

    The HP Victus 16 has a really comfortable keyboard, which is great for schoolwork because of longer typing sessions. According to our tester, he was “happy to use the keyboard on a long-term basis.” HP put a number pad in there as well, which is perfect for gamers. But how does it perform? Well, let’s get into the guts then.

    This laptop should be able to run most older games on medium to high graphics, as well as everyday tasks like writing papers, browsing the web, and so on. It features an Intel Core i7-11800H CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of PCIe NVMe SSD storage. The 16.1-inch display has a resolution of 1920×1080 and a refresh rate of 144Hz. The display hinge is a little flimsy though, so you’ll want to be mindful when handling it.

    We didn’t have many knocks against this laptop, but the design is anything but a head-turner, that’s for sure. If you can live with the ho-hum design, the Victus 16 is a solid choice, especially if you’re on a strict budget.

    Read our full HP Victus 16 (16-d0097nr) review

    Alienware x15 R2 – Best high-end option

    Alienware x15 R2 - Best high-end option


    • Ample power for gaming performance
    • Smooth and gorgeous QHD display
    • Stunning otherworldly design with RGB lighting


    • Rear-orientated ports can be hard-to-reach
    • Middling battery life unplugged
    • RAM comes soldered onto the motherboard

    If you want the cream of the crop, the Alienware x15 R2 is the one to pick. It’s rocking an Intel Core i7-12700H CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti GPU, 32GB of RAM, and 1TB of PCIe NVMe SSD storage. The 15.6-inch display has a resolution of 2560×1440 and a maximum refresh rate of 240Hz. Wow. Just wow. It has some quirks, though. The rear ports are difficult to reach and the RAM is soldered on. That said, the features really dominate any drawbacks.

    If you’re in a position to shell out the cash, the Alienware x15 R2 will surely deliver an out-of-this-world experience.

    Read our full Alienware x15 R2 review

    MSI Sword 15 A12UE – Unique style

    MSI Sword 15 A12UE - Unique style


    • Attractive, simple design
    • Lighter than most budget gaming laptops
    • RTX 3060 can handle most modern games
    • Competitive pricing


    • Mediocre keyboard and small touchpad
    • Dim display with narrow color gamut
    • CPU and GPU performance slightly behind competitors
    • Webcam and connectivity don’t impress

    If aesthetics are more your style, then the MSI Sword 15 will undoubtedly impress. While it’s a more-than-capable-enough laptop in its own right, the truly unique design makes the Sword 15 stand out from the pack. Many gaming laptops are bulky, heavy bricks in which aesthetic design seems to be an afterthought. Not so with the Sword 15. It sports a sleek, futuristic look with white and black accents and a cool blue keyboard backlight. And at just 4.96 pounds, it’s also lighter weight than many gaming laptop competitors. It’s a great-looking, well designed budget gaming laptop that will not only look and perform well in class, but also during those after-study gaming sessions.

    Read our full MSI Sword 15 A12UE review

    How we tested

    The PCWorld team puts every Windows laptop through a series of intense benchmarks that test GPU and CPU performance, battery life, and so on. The idea is to push the laptop to its limits and then compare it against others we’ve tested. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of each test and the reasons why we run them.

    Windows laptops

    • PCMark 10: The PCMark 10 benchmark is how we determine how well the laptop handles general use tasks like web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, streaming, and so on.
    • HandBrake: HandBrake is more intensive than PCMark 10. It measures how long a laptop’s CPU takes to encode a beefy 30GB file.
    • Cinebench: Cinebench is a brief stress test of the CPU cores. It renders a 2D scene over a short period of time.
    • 3DMark: 3DMark checks if 3D performance remains consistent over time by running graphic-intensive clips. This is how we test a gaming laptop’s GPU.
    • Video rundown test: To gauge battery life, we loop a 4K video using Windows 10’s Movies & TV app until the laptop dies.



    How much graphics power will I need?

    The GPU is important because it’s the component that determines how smoothly your machine handles games. Fortunately, you don’t need the best graphics card to get reliable graphics performance, which is good news if you’re on a strict budget. If you’re looking to save some cash, go for the GTX 1650. It’s an entry-level GPU that’s powerful enough for 1080p gaming on mid-to-high graphics. If you need more oomph and higher frame rates, we’d suggest shooting for a GTX 1660 Ti or higher, or a more current RTX 30-series GPU.


    What about processing power?

    For Intel processors, aim for a 12th-gen Intel Core i5 or i7. For AMD, go with a Ryzen 4000 or 5000. A processor with four cores is good, but six cores or more is better. More cores helps your machine divvy up the workload.


    Are memory and storage options important?

    Absolutely! 8GB of RAM is the bare minimum I’d recommend, but if you can afford it, go for 16GB instead. This will help overall browser performance, which is important when you’re doing schoolwork. Memory is typically upgradeable, so you can always swap it out and add more later on.

    Storage directly impacts how many games you can install on your computer. You should get at least 512GB of SSD storage plus a hard drive, as newer titles tend to eat up a ton of space. SSDs load games faster because the data is stored on chips rather than a spinning disk. Plus, SSDs are quieter and more power efficient. You’ll also need the space to store homework and so on.


    Should I invest in a top-quality display?

    Don’t go for anything below 1080p. If the picture isn’t sharp enough or is too dim, you can always pick up an external monitor to plug into. For those who suffer from tension headaches due to eye strain (hi!), 4K is the way to go. That said, 4K displays are expensive because they have higher refresh rates and faster response times.


    How long should my laptop last on a single charge?

    Generally speaking, most gaming laptops have bad battery life. That’s because they’re power-hungry machines. It’s a lot of work running an AAA title on ultra graphics, you know? Depending on your use, most gaming laptops will last anywhere from four to six hours on a single charge. However, if you limit your use to schoolwork only, you may be able to squeeze out another hour or two.

  • Our Spring Digital Blowout makes web hosting more affordable than ever

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    With a Premium Plan, you can add unlimited websites and subdomains, and get unlimited monthly bandwidth, SSD storage, MySQL databases, custom email addresses, and more.

    Don’t overpay for something as essential as hosting. From March 22 to April 3, you can get a lifetime Premium subscription to iBrave Cloud Web Hosting for just $85 when you use promo code SPRING15.


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  • Nacon RIG 800 Pro HX review: A headset primed for marathon gaming
    At a glance

    Expert's Rating


    • Incredibly lightweight and perfect for gaming marathons
    • The bass is enhanced and sounds fantastic
    • Dolby Atmos surround sound works a treat


    • Adjusting the detachable ear cups is quite fiddly
    • No dedicated software app for finetuning the EQ
    • Ear cups don’t swivel or move much at all

    Our Verdict

    The Nacon RIG 800 Pro HX sounds fantastic, with a deep bass profile and Dolby Atmos surround sound that transforms regular gaming sessions into multidirectional audio extravaganzas.

    Best Prices Today: Nacon RIG 800 Pro HX

    Best Buy
    Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide

    The Nacon Rig 800 Pro HX is a gaming headset with a prominent bass profile and Dolby Atmos support for immersive 3D audio that sounds especially great in FPS games. It’s also lightweight, comfortable, and comes with quick 2.4GHz wireless connectivity and a convenient base station for charging.

    Despite having an all-plastic frame, it feels very robust and sports a modern look you’re never going to tire of. With its only two main drawbacks being fiddly ear cups and no dedicated software app, it’s a solid option for serious or causal gamers.

    Note: See our roundup of the best wireless gaming headsets to learn about competing products, what to look for in a wireless gaming headset, and buying recommendations.

    Nacon RIG 800 Pro HX design and build

    The Nacon Rig 800 Pro HX is made from a selection of materials that seem quite contradictory. On the one hand it sports a plastic frame instead of a metal one and an unassuming mesh material for its outer ear cups, yet the rims are surrounded by a plush, premium leatherette that’s remarkably tactile.

    Was this an arbitrary decision by Nacon? A cost-cutting venture, perhaps? Admittedly, those thoughts did cross my mind, but any reservations completely melted away as soon as I put it on—it was just so comfortable and practical for gaming.

    The biggest selling point for me was its light weight—the plastic keeps it down to a lowly 290 grams, which means it’s almost imperceptible on your head, even during marathon gaming sessions—which is precisely what Nacon intended it for.

    Gamers who play FPS titles like Halo Infinite, Metro Exodus, and newer titles in the Battlefield and Call of Duty franchises, are in for a treat, since they’ll reap the full benefit of this headset’s Dolby Atmos support.

    The mesh fabric too was a nice addition that you just don’t see in headsets with leatherette ear cups. It felt cool against my ears and prevented my cups getting all sweaty and greasy through a few stinking-hot 86-degree days.

    The other various components deserve praise too; features like the self-adjustable headband that distributes weight horizontally across the whole width of your scalp rather than centering it uncomfortably at one point—and the controls on the left ear cup, which have just the right amount of tension for precise tuning.  

    My review unit had a volume wheel, a game/party wheel for use with Xbox, an on/off button, and a mute mic button, so there was plenty of on-ear control at my fingertips when I needed it.

    The ear cups are a little different from the slide-down type you see in some headsets. They don’t swivel and come fully detachable. To adjust them, you have to take them out then slot them into one of three holes in the headset’s outer frame.

    Nacon RIG 800 Pro HX connectivity and microphone

    My 800 Pro HX review unit’s packaging came with the iconic green and white Xbox logos denoting its compatibility with Xbox One and Xbox X/S, as well as PC, all with Dolby Atmos support. But you can also purchase a version that’s compatible with PC and PlayStation, or one with PC, Mac, and PlayStation compatibility.

    Wireless connectivity is via a low-latency 2.4GHz USB-A Wi-Fi adapter that you can either connect directly to your device or insert into the headset’s multifunction base station. Both options gave me a signal that was quick and responsive and worked up to 10 meters away.

    Nacon RIG 800 Pro HX

    The RIG 800 Pro HX’s base station charges the device between games. 

    Dominic Bayley / IDG

    The base station also charges the headset’s 1,800mAH battery, or alternatively you can plug the USB cable directly into the headset itself. Charging takes approximately seven hours to reach full capacity, which gives you roughly 24 hours of playtime.

    A uni-directional noise-cancelling microphone is located on the left ear cup and has flip-to-mute functionality, which I found really useful for switching between my team chats and speaking to family. I was pleased to see the mic has a really clean signature, keeping distortion to an absolute minimum. The end is made from a flexible material so you can position it exactly where you want it.

    Nacon RIG 800 Pro HX software

    Regrettably, the Rig 800 Pro HX doesn’t have its own dedicated app, but you can download the Dolby Atmos software app, which gives you some control over how the headset sounds. For example, you can make footsteps more prominent by switching the Performance Mode setting from off to on, or optimize sounds in the high-, mid-, or low-frequency range by choosing one of the Intelligent Equalizer settings in the app’s main page. It’s relatively easy to use and definitely worth the effort.

    Nacon RIG 800 Pro HX performance

    While some headsets do 3D audio as a kind of side-act, the 800 Pro HX makes it a main event. Nacon says the 40mm drivers have been precisely tuned for Dolby Atmos 3D audio, so that you can react faster and more accurately to what’s going on around you. The headset’s bass has also been enhanced, and these two things were really noticeable in my playtesting.

    For example, in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, most of the audio sounded clear and refined, but deeper sounds like explosions and the thudding of weapons firing really stood out, resonating with a heaviness that really got my attention. The audio also circled around my ears in a full 360 arc, giving me a precise positional awareness that made it easier to locate foes and keep my character alive for longer.

    That said, gamers who play FPS titles like Halo Infinite, Metro Exodus, and newer titles in the Battlefield and Call of Duty franchises, are really in for a treat, since they’ll reap the full benefit of this headset’s Dolby Atmos support. Getting it working is a piece of cake, too—you just plug it in and it automatically engages with the software to optimize your sound.

    Nacon RIG 800 Pro HX

    The Nacon RIG 800 Pro HX has detachable ear cups that slot into holes in the headset’s frame.

    Dominic Bayley / IDG

    Switching to a game of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I listened for any distortion, but I didn’t hear any. In this game too, the 3D audio was sublime, bringing to life the sounds of the forest with an eerie realism that I’ve seldom heard with other headsets.

    mentioned in this article

    Logitech G Astro A30 Wireless

    Logitech G Astro A30 Wireless

    As to the controls, I really like the vertical orientation that made finding my volume wheel super quick. The base station, too, is a great addition—it’s so compact that it didn’t take up much space on my desk and helped keep my headset safe when I wasn’t using it.

    The only thorn in this headset’s side, if I have to mention one, is that the ear cups are kind of fiddly to adjust—I wish they had been the simple pull-down kind like in the Logitech Astro A30 Wireless, which would have prevented me having to detach and reattach them all the time. That said, the holes in the frame look awesome, giving the 800 Pro HX its trademark fighter pilot look that I never got tired of seeing.

    Should you buy the Nacon RIG 800 Pro HX?

    Gamers of all types will be impressed by the Rig 800 Pro HX’s clear and refined sound, but we’d especially recommend it for FPS gamers because of its prominent bass and sublime 3D Dolby Atmos support. Plus, the Rig 800 Pro HX’s light weight will keep you super comfortable those times when a few minutes gaming turns into many, many hours.

    Gaming, Headphones
  • This rare mouse ushered in modern computing. It just sold for $178K

    The very first computer mouse, something that we’d recognize as an ancestor of modern pointing devices, was invented in 1964 at the Stanford Research Institute. Douglas Engelbart and his team crammed two metal discs (one for horizontal tracking, one for vertical) into a wooden block and added a button on top for selection. The team refined both their hardware and their input devices for the “Mother of All Demos” in 1968, which laid the foundation for graphical user interfaces and much of modern personal computers.

    Early examples of Engelbart’s mouse design are museum pieces and coveted collector’s items. For example, a slightly refined three-button mouse and its accompanying five-key coding input tool were sold on March 16th by the RR Auction House, as reported by Metro. This combination of serial inputs was essential to the famous demonstration that revolutionized the way computer input was imagined. It’s easy enough to draw a line between this mouse design and the one included with the Xerox Alto as the first consumer model, though by 1973 various engineers had figured out how to track vertical and horizontal movement with a ball instead of two discs.

    Though the auction house had estimated the final price at around $15,000, the lot sold for $178,936. It was part of a series of auctions titled “Steve Jobs and the Apple Computer Revolution,” easily outpacing other items like an original Apple Lisa ($81,251) and a sealed first-generation iPhone ($54,904). It should be pointed out that Engelbart’s famous demonstration wasn’t actually attended by Jobs — it went on to inspire Xerox’s early 1970s designs, which would then result in a partnership that helped create the initial Apple machines of the early 80s.

    But I guess “The stuff that would eventually end up influencing Steve Jobs, and pretty much every piece of personal computing for half a century,” doesn’t really roll off the tongue.

  • Best webcams 2023: Top picks and expert buying advice

    Probably no other hardware category saw as rapid a rise over the past few years as webcams thanks to the work-from-home zeitgeist spurred on by Covid. Manufacturers now realize that 1080p resolution, proper lighting, and improved audio matter, though budget options often focus on just the camera itself. Premium options often go far beyond.

    Most laptops still ship with a 720p webcam, so a 1080p webcam can be a step up—what better way to stand out from the pack on your next Teams call? There are even premium models with integrated ring lights for a few dollars more. Other, more expensive options feature 4K resolution or higher-refresh rates, which will make a noticeable difference to both you, your friends, and your colleagues.

    We haven’t tested every one of these webcams, but we’ve pored over the available models to pick out the best webcams based on specs and bundled extras, including our own reviews. You can also refer to our separate story on the best Windows Hello webcams to buy a webcam for videoconferencing and to log you in to your PC. We’ve taken two recommendations from that list, however, and added them here: a premium and budget webcam with Windows Hello.

    To help you choose, check out our buying advice below our recommendations.

    Logitech C920e Business Webcam – Best overall webcam

    Logitech C920e Business Webcam - Best overall webcam


    • Three-year warranty
    • Exposure and color controls
    • 78.5-degree viewing angle


    • Lacks 60fps support

    The Logitech C920e is the most recent version of the venerable Logitech C920, probably the most iconic webcam of the last few years. Confused about whether you should buy the C920e or the C920s? Logitech describes the C920e as a business camera, and the C920s as the consumer version—they’re otherwise identical, save that the C920e has a three-year warranty versus a two-year warranty, while costing the same. The C920e reportedly offers lighting and color controls that the C920s does not, as well.

    Both cameras use a narrower 78.5-degree viewing angle, which focuses on your face better than webcams that use a 90-degree viewing angle. It’s also an autofocus camera, which helps justify its higher price. Aside from a lack of 60fps support, this is still a great webcam. We prefer it, in fact, to Logitech’s most recent webcam, the Logitech Brio 305, which is slightly more expensive and lacks the 1.2X zoom the C920e offers.

    A number of Asian companies are starting to match what the C920e offers on paper, but its superb video quality could be harder to mimic. You can refer to our Logitech C920 review for more information.

    Anker B600 Video Bar – Best premium webcam

    Anker B600 Video Bar - Best premium webcam


    • 65, 78, and 95 degree viewing angles
    • Built-in speaker, microphone, and light bar
    • Adjustable settings for brightness, contrast, and more
    • Privacy shutter
    • Swivel mount


    • 30fps
    • Too heavy for use with a laptop screen

    The price tag on Anker’s premium B600 video bar may cause double-takes. But this webcam packs in the features. Inside is a 2K resolution camera, four-microphone array, speaker, and built-in light that also serves as a privacy guard—and you get a high level of control over all the hardware.

    Capacitive buttons on the device let you mute the mic, adjust the intensity of the light, and turn the light on and off. Though a bit fiddly, they work and solidly cover the basics. There’s an LED light that indicates the mic’s status, too.

    The companion AnkerWork app expands your settings. Choosing between viewing angles of 65, 78, and 95 degrees is fast, as is downscaling the default resolution from 2K to 1080p, 720p, or 360p. You can also tune the brightness, sharpness, saturation, and contrast of your video feed, alter the light bar’s color temperature, and set the light’s brightness to auto adjust based on ambient conditions.

    This webcam is an extremely nice all-in-one solution, so long as you’re parked at a desk. (This video bar and its swiveling mount require a monitor for proper support.) The camera is clear and crisp, the speaker gets plenty loud, the mic holds its own against many laptops and earbuds, and the light is handy in dark rooms or for balancing out harsh backlighting. You can use the B600 as a speakerphone, too, eliminating problems with other callers hearing themselves as they speak.

    Razer Kiyo Pro Ultra – Best premium 4K webcam

    Razer Kiyo Pro Ultra - Best premium 4K webcam


    • ‘DSLR-quality’ imaging
    • 4K options, HDR too
    • Terrific configurability
    • Lens cap as well as a privacy shield


    • Whew, that price!
    • Average mic quality
    • No Windows Hello
    • Limited purchase options; just Razer.com for now
    Best Prices Today: $299.99 at Razer

    The Razer Kiyo Pro Ultra claims to offer DSLR-quality images, and it comes pretty close. Unfortunately, many webcams have a wispy, ghosty effect when capturing video, and you’ll find none of that here—you’ll look like a professional caught on camera. This is simply one of the best webcams you can buy, though you’ll pay for the privilege, too.

    The Razer Kiyo Pro Ultra captures video at 4K at 30Hz or 1080p at 60Hz, using autofocusing technology that does a great job. HDR is also an option, though you’ll probably prefer to turn off this option. The field-of-view varies between 72 degrees and 82 degrees, depending on the resolution. Manual pan and zoom are available, but you might wonder why the camera can’t orient itself toward your face automatically. Otherwise, the Razer Synapse software offers an absolute ton of configurability.

    About the only thing that could stand to be improved is the mic—you may prefer using your laptop’s mic instead.

    Read our full Razer Kiyo Pro Ultra review

    Dell UltraSharp Webcam (WB7022) – Best premium 4K webcam runner-up

    Dell UltraSharp Webcam (WB7022) - Best premium 4K webcam runner-up


    • 4K and HDR
    • AI framing crops the image to keep you centered
    • Configurable field of view


    • Privacy shutter is a separate piece that you could lose
    • No mic

    If you want to pay extra for a 4K webcam—to show yourself off at an ultra-high-resolution—we recommend this Dell UltraSharp webcam. Save for a ring light, this webcam ships with all of the bells and whistles. The 3.5-inch-long webcam mounts either on a laptop/display or via a tripod; Dell includes both. There’s a 2-meter (over 6 feet) cable, terminating in a USB Type A interface with your PC.

    There’s an intriguing mix of features: HDR, autofocusing, digital zoom (up to 5X), framing, brightness, saturation, and more. Unusually, the WB7022 is neither fixed-focus nor does it offer a fixed field-of-view (FOV). Dell’s AI framing crops the image to keep your face centered, and you have the option of configuring the field of view from 90 degrees, to 78 degrees, and down to a narrow 65 degrees. Dell applies HDR, temporal, and spatial noise reduction to help you look your best. There’s even Windows Hello.

    There are a few oddities: The privacy shutter doesn’t flip down; it’s a separate piece that magnetically connects to the front of the lens. There’s no mic, either, so you’ll have to use a headset or just your laptop’s mic. You’re also trading high resolution for an otherwise standard 30fps frame rate.

    eMeet C960 Webcam – Best budget webcam

    eMeet C960 Webcam - Best budget webcam


    • Dual mics
    • Noise cancellation


    • Fixed focal length
    • No privacy shutter, though it looks like there is
    Best Prices Today: $24.55 at eMeet$38.99 at Amazon

    This 1080p webcam also has a wide-angle 90-degree viewing angle, which might be a little wide for a single person. It perches on the back of a laptop or flat-panel display. Don’t be fooled by the image; there’s no privacy shutter, though you drape a cloth over the webcam when not in use.

    Reviews of this camera seem to be almost universally good, though you’ll need to make sure that you’re well lit. If you need extra light, eMeet also sells a version of the webcam with a ring light for $59.99.

    Nexigo N60 – Best budget webcam runner-up

    Nexigo N60 - Best budget webcam runner-up


    • Privacy shutter
    • Noise-cancelling stereo mic


    • Fixed focus
    • 110-degree viewing angle
    Best Prices Today: $31.99 at Amazon

    This 30fps 1080 webcam is optimized more for group calls, as its 110-degree viewing angle will pick up more of the scene than rival webcams.

    This webcam also clips onto a laptop or monitor. One of the nicer touches is a small LED alerting you when the camera is powered on and connected.

    I bought this webcam for my son during the pandemic, and he used it everyday to connect to his classes via Zoom. He didn’t have any complaints about picture quality, and we haven’t seen any from other buyers, either. NexiGo provides some basic software controls to help adjust color and contrast, too. The mics seem to do quite a good job picking up your voice and filtering out any ambient noise.

    NexiGo N980P – Best webcam for wide-angle

    NexiGo N980P -  Best webcam for wide-angle


    • 60fps
    • 120-degree viewing angle
    • Privacy shutter


    • Lack of fine adjustments
    Best Prices Today: $45.99 at Amazon

    This fixed-focus 1080p webcam captures frames at a smooth 60 frames per second, as opposed to the more standard 30fps. You’ll look smoother and more lifelike as a result. The camera also captures at a 120-degree angle, which might not be ideal for a home user but can work quite well in a living room or conference room. This webcam is very highly reviewed on Amazon, with reviewers praising it for its color balance but criticizing it for its inability to be finely adjusted.

    It’s still a fixed-focus camera though—if you want an autofocusing model we’d recommend you pay about $100 for the upgraded NexiGo N680p instead.

    Logitech Brio 4K Ultra HD Webcam – Best premium webcam for Windows Hello

    Logitech Brio 4K Ultra HD Webcam - Best premium webcam for Windows Hello


    • Sharply detailed resolution with vibrant colors
    • Wide-angle field of view
    • Infrared-based facial recognition


    • Expensive

    If we’re being honest (and price is no object) the Dell UltraSharp webcam above would be our top pick for a Windows Hello webcam. But Logitech’s also feeling the heat, and it has lowered the price of its Brio 4K as a result. We can’t help but recommend it.

    It still ranks highly among premium webcams, primarily because it’s one of the few autofocusing webcams that captures in 4K resolution. The Brio includes a ton of features to make you look great, and its Windows Hello support will log you in in a snap.

    Read our full Logitech Brio 4K Ultra HD Webcam review

    MouseComputer Facial Recognition Webcam – Best budget webcam for Windows Hello

    MouseComputer Facial Recognition Webcam - Best budget webcam for Windows Hello


    • Inexpensive, but decent quality


    • 720p resolution
    • You may need to disable your PC's own webcam
    Best Prices Today: $64.99 at Amazon

    Our separate story on Windows Hello webcams offers cheaper options than the MouseComputer webcam, but the image quality of the webcam itself appears to be better—or, conversely, the competition is fudging on whether they offer true 1080p resolution. In any event, this $65 or so webcam seems to offer what you’ll need, plus Windows Hello functionality.

    Users have complained that you’ll need to make sure Windows is up to date and that your webcam is directly plugged into your laptop. There’s no privacy shutter, unfortunately.

    1080p webcam buying guide

    A standalone 1080p webcam can’t add Windows Hello to your system, but it can greatly improve how you look on your next Zoom call. Here’s what to look for. You’ll probably ask yourself: Should I prioritize a 60fps webcam over an autofocusing webcam? What about 4K? We’d say that if you have to choose one, prioritize a 1080p webcam, then a higher refresh rate, then jump up to 4K. Unless you’ll be moving about a lot, a fixed-focus webcam will do just fine.

    You might not have thought about it, but consider, too, that looking like you’re on television will subtly lend you authority. People gravitate toward celebrities, and a 4K, 60Hz webcam is basically what your TV offers. If you’re an executive or making sales calls over Zoom or Teams, a premium webcam may give you an edge. That’s why professional streamers use them, after all.

    Adjustable or fixed focus

    Don’t worry about fixed-focus, as virtually all webcams have been pre-configured at a focal length that’s about the distance between your face and your laptop or monitor. You’ll need to account for this with tripods, however, or pay a little more for an autofocusing webcam. Autofocus webcams are handy for situations where you may be moving about the room, but beware distracting webcams that frequently refocus.

    Higher frame rates

    A standard webcam captures video at 30 frames per second, and will look “normal.” You’ll notice the smoothness of a 60fps camera though, and so will people you’re on a video call with.

    Field of view (FOV) 

    The camera’s field of view can vary. A 90-degree FOV helps people focus on you (and perhaps not the mess you’ve hidden off to the side). A 110-degree or higher FOV works better for group shots, although distortion can become a problem the wider your FOV gets. Think of a 90-degree FOV as one that would show two people seated side-by-side at what you would consider a “standard” distance from a webcam, or a foot or two. A 110-degree FOV can show three people, squeezed a bit close together. Keep in mind that many videoconferencing applications offer the option of virtual backgrounds, which eliminate visual clutter.

    Privacy shutter

    These devices are not a privacy threat, for the simple reason that they can be unplugged easily. Most have a flip-down privacy shutter, but you could always put tape over the camera or drape it with a dark cloth. 

    Ring lights

    Yes, integrated ring lights are now a thing on premium webcams, and worth the money if lighting is a challenge for you. While the integrated light will certainly help with lighting, a big bright display in front of you can serve a similar function. You can also purchase a ring light separately.

    Windows Hello

    You may have used Windows Hello with a fingerprint reader or another laptop. The camera simply “recognizes” you, logging you in. It’s exceptionally convenient. We have a separate article on the best Windows Hello webcams.

    Tripod bundle

    With so many webcams on the market, manufacturers are trying hard to differentiate their products. The new trend is a small tripod, which gives you more options for mounting the camera. Normally, however, it will clip to the top of a laptop display or monitor.


    There’s a potential wild card that may be attached to webcams in the future: artificial intelligence, specifically Windows Studio Effects. Right now, the current Surface Pro 9 (5G) uses the AI capabilities in the Qualcomm Snapdragon processor to apply background blue, automatic panning effects, and more. (Our review discusses this.) Other laptops that use Intel Core and AMD Ryzen processors don’t include AI capabilities—yet. Specific models in the 13th-gen mobile Core and AMD Ryzen 7000 Mobile series include some basic AI capabilities, and future processors in both families may offer AI capabilities and therefore Windows Studio Effects.

    What this essentially means is that we’d expect future webcams to pan and zoom automatically to keep you in the frame. Few do this today, however.



    Do you need Wi-Fi for a webcam?

    Yes and no. These webcams all connect to your computer directly, via a USB port, and you can record video from them while offline. Your computer will then need to be connected to either ethernet or to Wi-Fi for you to be able to chat with a friend or business partner, however.


    Can a webcam work without a computer?

    Some webcams can work without a computer, but not all of them. USB webcams, featured here, connect via USB to a computer and require it to operate. USB webcams are most often those used for video chat or live streaming from your computer on websites such as Twitch.

    IP webcams however, can connect directly to a network, router, or modem and do not require a computer at all in order to work. IP webcams are most often used as security cameras or for live feeds that upload directly to the cloud. Those are separate products, however, and not the same webcams we’re talking about here.


    How do I connect my webcam to the internet?

    For USB webcams, it will be as simple as plugging the camera into your computer’s USB port, downloading the firmware, and then connecting to the internet via your computer.


    What software do I need to connect my webcam?

    Technically, most webcams are plug and play, so you should simply be able to connect them to your PC to get them to work. Many, however, require their own software utilities to be installed to take advantage of specific features and to facilitate automatic updates. To actually use your webcam in a conference call, however, you’ll need to use Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, or another videoconferencing app. Make sure you enter the app’s settings menu and select the webcam’s camera and microphone to provide the audio and video for your call.

    Business, Camera Accessories, Cameras, Computer Accessories, Desktop PCs, Laptop Accessories
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  • The field of digital bioacoustics uses advanced sensors and artificial intelligence technology to observe and decode how many species use their own communication methods to share information with each other. Discovery's Curiosity Daily podcast helps you get smarter about the world around you. Find Curiosity Daily today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get podcasts. Listen now.
  • Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, author of 'Moore's Law' that helped drive computer revolution, dies at 94
    Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, a pioneer in the semiconductor industry whose "Moore's Law" predicted a steady rise in computing power for decades, died Friday at the age of 94, the company announced.
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    On the eve of a high-profile TikTok hearing this week, the company shared that it now has more than 150 million US monthly active users. But after the heated, hours-long hearing, filled with lawmakers telling TikTok's CEO the app should be banned, some may now be wondering where all those users will go next if the social network disappears.
  • TikTok collects a lot of data. But that's not the main reason officials say it's a security risk
    After TikTok CEO Shou Chew testified for more than five hours on Thursday before a Congressional committee, one thing was clear: US lawmakers remain convinced that TikTok is an urgent threat to national security.
  • The US government is seeing 'an increasing number' of TikTok-like data security cases
    The US government is tracking a growing number of foreign-linked business transactions that pose potential data risks to national security similar to those raised by TikTok, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told lawmakers Thursday.

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