inside-the-design-of-microsoft’s-hololens-2

By Mark Wilson10 minute Read

Carl Ledbetter simply can’t help himself. The cheery director of design at Microsoft, who leads the design of the company’s Xbox game consoles and Hololens mixed reality headsets, is in a particularly good mood today. With a belly full of pumpkin pancakes on a crisp fall day and a grande Starbucks at the ready, he’s sharing, for the first time, how the company built its newest product: the Hololens 2.

He’s also sharing, at last, that it’s actually shipping. Announced in early 2019, nearly a year ago, the first Hololens 2 orders will be delivered today for $3,500.

He’s not supposed to be telling me everything, not yet. I still have four more interviews set up with members of the Hololens team, and big companies like Microsoft carefully plan these narratives for members of the media such as myself, sharing a drip of details that culminates to a grand reveal.

[Photo: Microsoft]

Ledbetter, I suspect, is meant to show me some early prototypes, plant some themes in my brain, tease the difficulty of the design process, and then let the rest of the team deliver the M. Night Shyamalan twists and turns in product development. But Ledbetter is acting like someone who is so excited about the movie he just watched that he can’t help but give away all the spoilers.

[Photo: Microsoft]

In a rapid-fire conversation, we start talking about, well, everything. Did I notice the empty cylinders on the visor? Those are little chimneys for heat dissipation. How about that nondescript rubbery material on the back? A difficult-to-source textured polymer that won’t yank your hair when you remove the device. How about the fit system, which is just a little knob I turn on the back of the headset? It required the engineering team to cut a circle out of a circuit board! Nobody does that! What about that padding around your eyes? See how perfect the diamond-patterned thatching lines up? Check out any speaker at a high-end audio store and see if they can do the same! Did I know the visor was actually carbon fiber—no, no, of course it doesn’t feel like carbon fiber, because it’s coated with a polymer to make it nicer to touch—but it has to be carbon fiber because carbon fiber doesn’t warp or weaken under heat, which could otherwise throw the headset’s laser and mirror optic system just a picometer out of alignment and make you puke into a hologram. (A picometer is a trillionth of a meter, a measurement at a scale several orders of magnitude smaller than a virus.) And the plastic case that wraps around and protects the laser lenses? That’s called the boat! The boat!

[Photo: Microsoft]

I’m captivated, because I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a seamless combination of hard and soft parts in a piece of electronic hardware, let alone the dozen different materials I can quickly make out with my eye.

None of these individual details matter on their own, of course. It’s the experience that they all add up to. The Hololens 2 weighs just 13 grams, or about half an ounce, lighter than the Hololens 1. But it’s measurably three times more comfortable to wear.

How? That’s the twist.

Building “instinctual interaction”

The first Hololens launched in 2016. For Microsoft, it was a top secret project that, somehow, actually stayed secret until launch. The device was Microsoft’s take on augmented reality, floating holograms in the real world. It was, on one hand, amazing. No one had ever shipped such a device before. On the other, it was awkward in just about every other way.

The UI was confusing. You couldn’t grab or poke the holograms as you’d expect. Instead, you had to awkwardly hold a finger vertically and air tap, a gesture I might best describe as something you’d do playing with a child, using your index finger to speak as King Friday. The field of view was constantly disappointing. Holograms were consistently cropped in your view, destroying the illusion. Hololens 2 addresses these shortcomings with twice the viewable area and better onboard AI, which allows you to grab corners of a hologram to stretch it out—or just snatch the whole thing with your hand.

[Photo: Microsoft]

Another highlight of the new model? Some truly ingenious on-boarding UX. When I first put on the device, hold out my hand, feeling, obviously, a bit silly reaching for air. And that’s when a fluttering hummingbird streaks into the scene. It darts around before landing on me. The hummingbird is the first thing Hololens 2 users will experience when putting on the headset out of the box, and one of those magical moments you hear about in mixed reality. But while I’m giggling at the bird, the system is silently calibrating to recognize my hands.

Microsoft dubs this approach “instinctual interaction” or “instinctual design,” and it wants to build it into every part of the Hololens experience. The idea is to make learning the UX feel natural, rather than instructive, right down to how you put on the new headset (it’s now like donning a baseball cap, thanks to a painstakingly iterated industrial design).

Truthfully, the hardware itself is still the biggest single barrier to the mass realization of mixed reality. The first Hololens was a self-contained headset computer! Amazing! But, wear it for long, and you realized it was front-loaded. It would begin to tip down onto your nose, forcing you to readjust or look through it like a pair of ill-fitting reading glasses.

Microsoft heard all this feedback from its early adopters, and acknowledged that in addition to housing more sensors, more computational power, more battery, and a bigger display, the Hololens 2 design also had to be more comfortable.

“I was like, let me make sure I got this right,” recalls Ledbetter with a laugh. “A lot more stuff, on your head.”

[Photo: Microsoft]

“Technology should not be fashion”

Ledbetter, along with Microsoft technical fellow Alex Kipman, the mastermind behind Microsoft Kinect who you could also call the father of Hololens, both agree that the ultimate incarnation of Hololens would be a pair of glasses that was so thin and light it would be indistinguishable from what you’d buy at LensCrafters. “But the reality is, the technology just isn’t there yet,” says Ledbetter.

Kipman doesn’t want to pretend it is, either. That’s why Hololens 2 doesn’t solve the problem of weight by making you wear a little computer on your belt, like the competing Magic Leap. And it doesn’t give up on the promise of holograms with a smaller, less immersive device, like Google Glass did. The inventor takes a philosophical approach to the headset, arguing that you have to embrace what it is as a tool, not what it could be as an accessory.

“[Hololens is] not made to be fashionable,” Kipman says. “Technology should not be fashion. Fashion is ephemeral and expires. Hardware should be timeless . . . if aliens come to Earth thousands of years from now, do archeology, and find these devices, they should understand . . . that it’s something meaningful.”

So for Hololens 2, Microsoft began its ergonomic research anew. It 3D-scanned 600 individual heads of people with varying age, gender, and race, in an attempt to come up with the thresholds of inions (the protrusions on the back of your head) and foreheads, both of which can vary wildly by person. All of this work informed prototypes for new fit systems, because Hololens couldn’t feasibly be custom-made for different sized heads, like shoes are for feet.

I look at some of those prototypes, sitting on the table in front of me, with Ledbetter. They are lovingly hacked-together devices, with exposed skeletons and foam. They’re so raw that they’re unintentionally stylish. One model has springs, and a complicated ratchet adjustment on its temples to tighten down. Another has webbing with big holes and coral foam—I point out that it looks like a Hololens by Yeezy.

[Photo: Microsoft]

A computer shaped by anatomy

Since the headset was being designed before the actual Hololens 2 laser display was finished, Ledbetter’s team had to be creative in testing the project with low-fi proofs. They would 3D-print long tubes and attach them to the head rigs, to simulate having a tiny window lined up perfectly in your eye. In another approach, the lenses were mocked up in acrylic. Wearing these headsets myself, they pinch at my hair and slice into my skin. But in terms of simulating the optics of the real device, they work as intended.

One other major design issue these prototypes were constructed to test was weight. What the team had realized all too well was that the Hololens 1 was front heavy. But by studying cultures around the world, known for carrying heavy loads in baskets upon their heads, they realized that fixing Hololens might not require cutting weight. What if they just balanced it better?

In an extensive prototyping process, they weighed down these various Hololens contraptions with dumb, dead mass, just to understand what the comfort gains and losses would be with varying designs. Human factors specialists on the team ran electrodes to the back of testers’ necks to test how their bodies responded. What they found was that if Hololens was balanced about 50/50 to the front and back of the head, they could reduce the activation of supportive neck muscles by three.

But from an industrial design perspective, doing that was easier said than done. It required splitting the headset’s single computer vision system into two sections, one in the front, one in the back. To connect them, wiring had to be run through the headband of the device—a span of just a few inches—as opposed to soldering all of the components onto a single circuit board, like you would when designing a phone. Any extra wiring was a serious UX concern, because, as Kipman puts it, in mixed reality, where a device is reading and responding to the movement of your eyes, head, and body at the same time, “the speed of light is too slow.”

[Photo: Microsoft]

And then there were the final concerns: How do you get the Hololens on? How do you take it off? What the team handed on was a design that, after being adjusted one time, could be taken on and off just like a baseball cap—possible through a combination of ergonomics, forgivingly stretchable materials, pivoting components, and that aforementioned back adjustment tool. And as for the laser lenses themselves, those can moved aside, too.

Ledbetter looks at me eagerly as I wear the device.

“Just tilt up the front,” he urges me, miming the motion of sliding sunglasses up on my head above my eyes. So I tentatively push the glasses up. They seem like solid plastic. It seems like I’m about to break a priceless preproduction laser display. And yet, the lenses flip right up like a welding cap, leaving the rest of the Hololens 2 firmly anchored to my head.

“Oh. I don’t know,” I say, suddenly feeling even more self-conscious. “I’m not sure about this one.”

“I know,” says Ledbetter.

“I look cool? Is that what you’re saying?” I offer sarcastically.

[Photo: Microsoft]

“No, not at all! This was the debate!” he laughs back. “Someone mocked up this thing, and as designers we’re like, no, no, that’s really geeky and kind of dumb. But what we found is, this is functionality. Function first, practically first. And what we found out is that flip-up feature, as funny as initially it seems, becomes ingrained in behavior.”

Perhaps it does. Though to my surprise, I personally don’t mind talking to people while they or I am wearing the device. I believe that’s because the best usability decision Ledbetter’s team made was to shave off some of the extra plastic that would have blocked your peripheral view. This creates an opening and naturalism to conversation otherwise lost behind bulkier headsets.

In any case, I’ve only worn the Hololens 2 for about 20 minutes during our chat. Unlike the first model, it’s comfortable enough that you really can forget you’re wearing it. Or at the very least, it’s not always distracting you with its weight and fit.

No, I don’t look cool wearing the Hololens 2, but to be fair, Drake wouldn’t look cool wearing the Hololens 2, either. And he’s really not supposed to.

inside-adobe-spectrum,-the-design-system-making-apps-like-photoshop-on-ipad-possible

Today Adobe is opening up new resources for designers and developers with the launch of an official website for its company-wide design system, Spectrum. From the new Creative Cloud desktop app for Macs to the upcoming Photoshop on iPad, Spectrum is what gives Adobe’s apps their distinct look and feel.

12″ MacBook

Ahead of Adobe MAX next month, we learned a little more about Spectrum from Shawn Cheris, Director of Experience Design at Adobe. As apps like Lightroom, Fresco, and soon, Photoshop become key products in Adobe’s line of mobile tools, having one consistent experience across platforms is more important than ever.

The Spectrum project began in 2013, long before Adobe formally introduced the design system to the public with a blog post in May 2018. As Cheris’s team refined the principles behind Spectrum, new products and existing teams inside Adobe began to embrace the system.

“The central tenets of Spectrum are to be ‘rational, human, and focused.’ In practice, this means trying to reduce the user experience down to its simplest possible state,” Cheris says. Adobe’s teams embrace the famous Dieter Rams idea of good design being “as little design as possible.”

Lightroom features a similar design and workflow across Macs, iPads, and iPhones.

A drive for simplicity brings new challenges when trying to reinterpret decades of desktop app design — built with keyboards and mice in mind — to newer platforms like iPad OS. Spectrum is the starting point. “Where platforms have a strong point of view about certain interactions, we use the convention that users are likely to expect,” Cheris says. “The ideal is to try to follow the best practices on every platform while making those experiences familiar to users who use our products on multiple platforms. It’s a tough balance that we’re always working on.”

Adobe’s designers try to support cross-platform design for every component in the Spectrum library, like buttons and icons. The best ideas created by Adobe’s teams outside of the system are folded back in. Spectrum also afforded Adobe the opportunity to make a core investment in accessible design. Every component in the system meets WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 standards, and Adobe is working on 2.1 compliance.

Adobe Fresco and Photoshop on iPad’s prerelease interface (foreground) are cut from the same cloth.

You may have noticed that Adobe’s most recent apps on iPadOS all share a similar user interface. Fresco borrows from Lightroom. Photoshop and Fresco both feature a customizable Touch Shortcut. This isn’t by accident. “Spectrum provided answers to many UI and UX questions [in Photoshop on iPad] from interface components to color systems, and helped unify and coordinate those answers across many simultaneous app design efforts,” says Ryan Hicks, Photoshop on iPad’s Lead Designer. Adobe tried to balance Photoshop’s heritage with fresh ideas for modern touch devices to create a product both familiar and new.

“Part of what Spectrum is meant to accomplish is, in fact, to provide a more modern experience,” Cheris adds. “And ‘modern’ almost always means you have to be a little different than whatever came before.”

Now, the system over 400 designers inside Adobe are already using is becoming accessible to designers and developers who integrate with Adobe products and build plugins for tools like Adobe XD. UI kits, fonts, and icons resources are free to download on the new Adobe Spectrum website, along with comprehensive documentation on Spectrum’s Principles and Best Practices.

“Spectrum is a repository of Adobe’s best thinking to date at any given point in time,” Cheris says. “All of our components are documented here, which represent all of our lessons around usability, accessibility, and cross-platform design.”

You can learn more about Spectrum and download resources for Adobe XD on macOS at the official website. Stay tuned for more coverage from Adobe MAX, starting November 4.


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SMX Attendees

Search Engine Land’s SMX® East, the go-to event for serious search marketers, returns to New York City next month — November 13-14.

This year’s agenda, featuring 100 search marketing presentations and two new tracks devoted to agency operations and local search for multi-location brands, is loaded with actionable tactics you can implement immediately to drive more awareness, traffic, and conversions. It’s the biggest agenda the Search Engine Land experts have ever created.

If you work in SEO, SEM, content marketing, social media or any other customer-facing activity — if you work at an agency or for a brand that managers multiple locations — you can’t afford to miss this conference.

Keep reading for your big SMX East preview… and book your pass now to enjoy up to $300 off on-site rates!

3 Insightful SEO & SEM Keynotes

Rand Fishkin will kick things off Wednesday, November 13 with his keynote, From Everyone’s Search Engine to Everyone’s Competitor. In years past, Google has been the largest driver of traffic to almost every web-based business in existence. Today, that’s still true, but a strange new trend is rearing its head – Google’s becoming your primary competitor. From travel to sports, reference to news, and answers on every topic, the search giant is working harder than ever to keep searchers on Google rather than sending them to your sites. In his keynote, Rand will show, via clickstream data from tens of millions of devices, how the landscape of the web is shifting, and how to compete against Google in a game they control.

Immediately following Rand’s SEO keynote is a special SEM keynote conversation with Microsoft Ads: Smarter Customer Journeys: The ABCs of CX (Customer Experience). The future of marketing is understanding the Customer Experience Quotient (CXQ) that is leveraging all of the data and insights into the customer journey and then applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimize the customer experience and improve marketing performance. Join Christi Olson, Head of Evangelism at Microsoft Advertising, and moderator Ginny Marvin, Search Engine Land’s Editor-in-Chief, for a discussion on the ABCs of CXQ and learn how to reduce the growing gap between the 20% of businesses that have managed to achieve a high customer experience quotient.

The following morning, Thursday, November 14, will begin with another SEM keynote — this time from Google: Advance Your Omnichannel Strategy for the Holiday Season and Beyond. With more connected devices and digital touchpoints, customer journeys have become more complex. In order to gain customers and drive results across channels, it’s critical to measure and optimize for both online and offline sales. Join Google’s Zack Bailey, Head of Omnichannel Solutions, and Irem Erkaya, Global Product Lead, together with moderator Ginny Marvin, to discover how machine learning and automation can help you optimize for omnichannel success at scale for the holiday season and beyond.

SEO Sessions

Gone are the days when SEO was about tweaking on-page elements or building links. There’s much more to effective SEO today, especially with the advent and adoption of machine learning and artificial intelligence. We’ve got you covered with two full days of tactic-rich SEO sessions that cover everything from Javascript to penalties, mobile-first to page speed, and voice search to campaign testing:

  • Breaking Down The Periodic Table of SEO Factors: 2019 Edition
  • Learning From The Winners of Google Algorithm Updates
  • Behind The Scenes With Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools
  • Google and Bing Talk Spam and Penalties
  • Advanced Tactics For A Mobile-First Indexing World
  • Conversational Search and The Impact Of Voice On SEO
  • SEO Tactics That Truly Move The Needle
  • How To Apply AI & Machine Learning To SEO
  • Schema and Structured Data: “Hidden” Gold For SEOs
  • Satisfying The Need For Speed
  • The Correct Way To Test Your SEO Campaigns
  • Tackling the Challenges Of Enterprise SEO
  • JavaScript: The SEO’s Swiss Army Knife
  • Ask The SEOs

SEM Sessions

The search marketing landscape seems to change every day. At SMX East, you’ll access two days of wide-ranging SEM sessions, including expert advice about must-have reports to big-picture CRO strategies, tips for integrating search ads with emergent marketing channels like Amazon and Walmart Advertising, insights about automation, and beyond. Check out what’s on tap, including the unveiling of the first-ever Periodic Tables of PPC!

  • Breaking Down The Periodic Tables Of PPC
  • How To Properly Set Up Testing For Accounts Of All Sizes
  • Awesome Tests, Profitable Results
  • Must-Have Reports For SEMs
  • From Targeting Practice To Targeting Perfection: Your Key To Better Results
  • Under The Hood With Google Shopping, Amazon and Walmart Advertising
  • The State of Offline Conversion Tracking
  • Clarifying The Murky Waters Of Attribution
  • Conversion Optimization For The Long Run
  • Roundtable: How Automation Really Works and When To Use It
  • Ask The SEMS

New! Agency Operations Sessions

New York City is the advertising agency capital of the world. That’s why the Search Engine Land editors built a new, full-day track dedicated to agency operations and management. These in-depth sessions will deliver executive-level education and peer-to-peer conversation for agency principals, executives, and senior leaders:

  • Profitable Pricing Strategies For Agencies
  • Managing Clients, Managing Yourself
  • Handling Client Transitions
  • Getting Your Agency Services Mix Right
  • Making The Pitch: Putting Your Best Foot Forward Without Giving Away The Goods

(We’re also hosting an exclusive agency marketers meetup… more on that in the Networking section!)

New! Local Search For Multi-Location Brands Sessions

Search marketers supporting brands with multiple locations face unique challenges: capturing and responding to reviews at scale, addressing spam, boosting rankings, leveraging voice search, and measuring the real-world impact of campaigns, for a start. The sessions on this new track were designed to address these specific pain points and offer actionable tactics multi-location marketers need to know:

  • Ranking in Google Local and Google Maps
  • Google My Business From A to Z
  • Managing Reviews On Multiple Local Platforms
  • Local Presence Management for Multi-location Brands
  • Future-Now Local Search: Assistants, Voice, Maps and More

(Psst! Don’t miss the special multi-location brand marketers meetup… keep reading for more details!)

Search Marketing Essentials & Insights Sessions

Modern search marketing extends far beyond SEO and SEM. The Search Marketing Track is a catch-all of must-attend sessions on content marketing, paid social ads, video, storytelling, and much more.

You’ll also find Insights Sessions on this track (and in the SMX Theater)… these sessions feature must-try tactics, nuggets of sage advice, and takeaways that make you more effective and productive. Speakers are challenged to deliver the goods in a limited amount of time (10 minutes or less!), making it a great place to soak up a wide variety of fresh ideas. Check out what’s in store:

  • Thriving in The New World Of Pagination
  • Get Off The Content Treadmill: HubSpot’s Playbook For Driving More Traffic From Existing Content
  • Best Practices For Securing Your Site
  • Google Analytics Insights Is Your New Best Coworker
  • How To Estimate The SEO Impact Of Site Navigation Changes
  • Paid Is A Dirty Word (And Other Lies They Tell You About Marketing)
  • SEO & Platform Migrations
  • Paid Social Tactics That Drive Conversions
  • B2B SEM: Meeting Specific Challenges With Really Smart Tactics
  • How To Structure Facebook Campaigns For Success
  • Amp Up Your User Engagement Data with Google Tag Manager
  • How To Tell Your Brand’s Story Through Video Ad Sequencing
  • SEO and SEM Data Sharing For Maximum Impact
  • How Brands Approach SEO and SEM
  • Refreshing Evergreen Content: How, When and Why
  • Profitable Content Strategies For Competitive Markets
  • Essential SEO Reports And How To Leverage Them
  • The Challenges Of Hiring & Retaining SEO Talent In Today’s Competitive Environment
  • Managing Search Terms In A New Match-Type World
  • YouTube Success Stories For Marketers
  • The Best Of Both Worlds: Reactive & Proactive SEO
  • The SEO Implications Of Google’s New Nofollow Rules
  • Want to Win at Amazon? Don’t Forget Organic
  • Search is the New Shelf: Under The Hood With Amazon & Walmart Advertising

Solutions Track Sessions

All of the sessions you’re read about so far are “editorial sessions,” programmed by the Search Engine Land editors. Speakers are hand-selected because of their expertise and authority on a given topic. No one bought their way onto a panel.

But we recognize that our many sponsors and exhibitors also have great information to share. That’s why we provide a platform for you to learn from them: The Solutions Track. This track gives you the chance to learn from our vendors in an expanded format. They know they’re competing with our editorial sessions for your attention, so they’re highly motivated to deliver great information and value. Here’s a look at some sessions coming to NYC:

  • How Big is Your Marketing Blind Spot? High-Intent Users, You Might be Missing, with Natural Intelligence
  • How To Beat Amazon In Search (on a much smaller budget), with Longtail UX
  • Mastering SEO Silos, with Bruce Clay, Inc.
  • SEM Breakthrough: How Your Reviews Impact Ranking and Conversions, with Trustpilot
  • Success Stories in Local Search: How to Boost Online to Offline Traffic, with SweetIQ
  • Talk, Talk, Talk: A Tech Readiness Primer for 3 Critical Customer Conversations, with Uberall

SMX Theater Sessions

The SMX Theater is where you can learn even more from our sponsors in bite-sized bursts. These 15-minute presentations feature case studies, lessons, and demos of exhibitor products and services, including… 

  • Using AI-Powered Conversational Analytics to Improve SEM and SEO, with Invoca
  • How to Dominate in the Ever-Changing SERP Landscape, with Perficient Digital
  • The SEM Automation that Beats Google Shopping and DSA, with Longtail UX
  • Digital PR — What is it, REALLY?, with Exults

… and many more still to be announced!

Q&A Clinics

Bring your burning questions to a panel of experts ready with answers and advice! SMX Clinics are 100% Q&A and your chance to speak directly and openly with the experts you know and trust. There are no presentations. No PowerPoints. No agenda other than to answer your case-by-case queries. So raise your hand, take the mic, and ask your questions. Our panelists will take turns sharing their opinions and advice. Here’s a look at the clinic topics for SMX East: 

  • SEO Sites
  • SEO Tools 
  • SEM 
  • Google Analytics 
  • Social Ads 
  • Landing Pages
  • Content Optimization

Classroom Track with Google & Microsoft Ads

Step inside the Classroom for full-day training with experts from Google and Microsoft Ads.  These carefully-crafted curriculums deliver hands-on training in an intimate setting. Learn With Google sessions include:

  • Spark Inspiration & Action With Discovery Ads
  • Elevate Your Performance With Auction-Time Bidding
  • Master Google Ads In 2020: Ads & Keywords
  • Find And Connect With Your Best Customers
  • Unlock Your Potential: Performance Planner & Optimization Score

Stay tuned for details about Microsoft Ads’ Classroom training!

Immersive Workshops

The SMX agenda offers a ton of valuable learning — but that just isn’t enough for some attendees. That’s why we host full day pre-conference training designed to take your search marketing to the next level.

SMX workshops, held Tuesday, November 12 from 9:00am – 5:00pm, offer a level of immersive training that you won’t find anywhere else. Each course is led by recognized industry experts. Choose from: 

  • Content Marketing for SEO (New!). Struggling to get your marketing team on board with why and how to do content marketing for SEO — in such a way that helps achieve organic growth? This workshop is for you. Speaker, author, and leading expert Michael Brenner will discuss the SEO context and business case for content marketing. He’ll walk you through a roadmap that any SEO expert can use to get their marketing teams on board to deliver the organic reach, engagement, and conversions clients demand. Workshop Presenter: Michael Brenner.
  • Video for Search Marketers (New!). Video is dominating the content landscape, but because traditional video production is expensive, complicated, and slow, it’s often underutilized by many search marketers. Join marketing and video expert Michael Hoffman for a full-day workshop exploring the best practices and secret hacks for making video a powerful driver of both organic and paid search programs. You will also learn how to leverage new and lower-cost ways to produce video that you can use to quickly scale your video marketing campaigns. Workshop Presenters: Michael Hoffman & Rami Atassi.
  • In-House SEO Exchange. Join Jessica Bowman for a full-day of “open the kimono” knowledge sharing in the only event designed by in-house SEOs for in-house SEOs. Because attendees are all in-house SEOs, the walls come down and you get to talk to the people actually doing SEO at the big brands, build relationships, and share solutions that you would normally only hear behind closed doors. There is no other workshop with this level of sharing! Workshop Presenter: Jessica Bowman. 
  • Advanced SEO Training. Spend a day with a master SEO and come away with cutting-edge SEO techniques – tackling RankBrain, voice search, AMP, featured snippets, and more – that can help raise your rankings and visibility in search engines. Workshop Presenter: Bruce Clay.
  • Advanced Google Ads Training. Even with all of the new marketing channels that have opened up over the years, Google Ads (formerly AdWords) is still the core of many companies’ interactive campaigns. If your PPC campaigns are not running efficiently, it can have a drastic impact on your bottom line. Join Brad Geddes for a full day of advanced Google Ads training and discussion that will teach you not only the best practices but also advanced concepts and strategies that are based on a decade of research and testing. Workshop Presenter: Brad Geddes. 
  • Hardcore Technical SEO Tactics & Techniques. Do you deal with big SEO problems? Do you work in a large enterprise, or have a site with millions (or billions) of web pages? If so, the basic SEO training material is not what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the master class, the one that is loaded with advanced content. Topics include how to analyze and solve a variety of thorny technical SEO challenges, how to create and implement progressive web apps, PWAMPs, how to understand the impact of machine learning and AI on search. Workshop Presenter: Eric Enge.

These workshops include breakfast, lunch, and refreshment breaks. Bundle your workshop with an All Access pass for maximum value and $300 off on-site rates.

New to the industry? Our Search Marketing Boot Camp is perfect for beginners looking to get a foothold on the basics. Fundamental sessions include:

  • Keyword Research & Copywriting For Search Success
  • Paid Search Fundamentals
  • Essential Google Tools
  • Search Engine Friendly Web Design

If you want to brush up on SEO and SEM basics, now’s the time to take the leap. In addition to the workshop sessions, you’ll get access to breakfast, lunch, refreshment breaks and a Certificate of Completion if you attend each individual Boot Camp session. Upgrade to an All Access pass to unlock the complete SMX experience:

Invaluable Networking

SMX East brings together the most accomplished search marketers in the world. You’ll share stories, exchange advice, and talk shop during meals, refreshment breaks, and the Expo Hall Reception, sponsored by Perficient Digital.

We’re also hosting four interactive meetups on the evening of Wednesday, November 13, where you can connect with like-minded marketers in a welcoming environment: 

  • Agency Meetup
  • Technical SEO & Developers Meetup
  • Multi-Location Meetup
  • Professional Development for SEOs & SEMs Meetup

After the meetups, join fellow attendees at Microsoft’s Open Perspectives to explore principles of diversity, inclusion, and inclusive marketing. Discuss deep and relevant issues and challenges that we all face with a focus on the experiences of underrepresented groups and their allies. This is an open event where all are welcome and can contribute to the conversation.

Birds of a Feather tables elevate lunchtime small talk to guided, valuable discussions based on your professional interests. Once you register, you’ll receive a list of table topics! (Only available to All Access pass holders.)

And don’t forget to submit a request to join our SMX Facebook Group once you register. You’ll be able to chat with fellow attendees before, during and after the conference.

Exhibitors & Sponsors

Last but certainly not least, explore the Expo Hall to meet with and learn from 30 market-defining vendors setting up shop. Tinker with marketing technology and tour an array of products and solutions that can save you time and money.

Don’t Take Our Word For It…

You’ve just read nearly 3,000 words on what you’ll get at SMX East and why it’s a worthy investment for your company and your career. Now, check out what some of our past attendees have to say about their SMX experiences:

Good speakers, and the ability to learn more about areas I don’t specialize in from the experts.” – Kamilla Dynia, SmartPak Equine

It was a well planned conference, engaged presenters and small; I found great the fact that there were clinics for the participants to ask questions.” – Ana Aguilar-Hauke, One Pica Space

The content is always solid. And the direct interaction with speakers and brands makes getting the worth out of the visit very easy.” – Joe Martinez, Granular


Pick Your Ideal Pass & Register Now

SMX East kicks off in just three weeks but there’s still time to secure your pass. Choose the option that best suits your goals and budget and register now to enjoy up to $300 off on-site rates. (Remember, if you need a hotel in NYC, book your lodging through SMX to secure special room rates!)

  • All Access Pass: The complete conference experience — all sessions, keynotes, clinics, networking events, and amenities, including WiFi, speaker presentations downloads, breakfasts, lunches, refreshments, and the SMX Mobile App. 
  • All Access Workshop Pass (best value!): Maximize your time by adding a full-day post-conference workshop to your agenda. 
  • Expo Pass: Perfect for meeting marketers and connecting with vendors. This free pass gets you the Expo Hall and exhibitors, Solutions Track Sessions, SMX Theater presentations, Q&A Clinics, select networking, WiFi, the mobile app, refreshments, and more. 

I hope you’ve found this preview useful and that you’ll join the search marketing community in NYC for an unparalleled training experience.

Register now and I’ll see you soon!



About The Author

Lauren Donovan has worked in online marketing since 2006, specializing in content generation, organic social media, community management, real-time journalism, and holistic social befriending. She currently serves as the Content Marketing Manager at Third Door Media, parent company to Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today, SMX, and The MarTech Conference.



Marketing Land and MarTech Today, sister publications of The MarTech Conference, recently released the first-ever Periodic Table of Email Optimization and Deliverability.

Authored by Jennifer Cannon, MarTech Today senior editor, this guide provides a holistic understanding of the email marketing space as it exists in 2019 — and tells you everything you need to know about sending emails that your subscribers want to receive.

I had the chance to speak with Jen after the official unveiling of the Periodic Table of Email Optimization and Deliverability at last month’s MarTech Conference. Topics ranged from her extensive background in email marketing to the research that went into creating the asset, favorite elements, tactical advice, even spirit animals. Keep reading for the goods!

Lauren Donovan: Hi, hello, welcome, Jen! Let’s get this started with a brief look at your professional background with email marketing.

download the newest Periodic Table now to ensure your email marketing’s on the right track!



About The Author

inside-microsoft?s-plan-to-fix-america?s-broken-voting-system

Voting is broken. From the hanging chad debacle of 2000 to the 2018 midterms when decade-old touchscreen computers cast the wrong votes, to long lines outside polling places, our democratic right to elect our own officials is constantly at odds with unreliable equipment and balloting policies that vary from one district to the next. And this is all not to mention that voting machines are absurdly hackable. It’s enough to make people not want to vote at all.

But what if you could vote however you wanted to vote? Which could mean at home or, if you’re a person with a disability, with the assistance of specialized hardware? What if you could go online later and ensure your vote was your vote, and that it counted? What if you could write your own piece of software to do a recount of, or audit, your small town’s mayoral election instantly?

[Photo: Radii]

That’s the vision of ElectionGuard, a new project by Microsoft, which debuted this summer at the Aspen Security Forum. ElectionGuard is an open code standard, that anyone can audit, freely use, and plug into, to create secure digital voting machines that remove many of the barriers of voting. Microsoft teamed up with Tucker Viemeister, a renowned industrial designer who spent years at prestigious firms including Frog, Smart Design, and Rockwell Group designing devices like hair dryers and coffee makers, to build something of a concept car for the future of voting—mostly out of off-the-shelf parts.

ElectionGuard is less a response to conspiracies about voter fraud, and more about trying to make voting in the United States more modern and equitable. In this sense, it fits into Microsoft’s broader strategy to push inclusiveuniversal design that accommodates the needs of many different types of users. “This is our Hello World app,” says RC Carter, director of strategic projects at Microsoft who led the project. “We took it upon ourselves to do it seriously, and build a system . . . as if we were a voting system company.”

[Photo: Radii]

Rethinking secure ballots

To rethink voting, you need to rethink the ballot as a secure, auditable technology. Today, tallied votes literally live in the hands of election officials, in machines or on paper. Tomorrow, however, Microsoft imagines a sort of digital paper trail that anyone could access.

This new type of voting system is only possible because a cryptology researcher inside Microsoft built a totally new security standard. That standard allows everyone’s votes to be encrypted, so that their privacy stays, well, private. But votes can still be tallied without being decrypted (and therefore susceptible to tampering or prying eyes). The code for this system would live on Github. And much like you can create apps for the iPhone by plugging into its software development kit (SDK), anyone can create apps to plug into ElectionGuard, to tally results. That means the whole idea of private recounts of paper ballots would be a thing of the past. The data could be public, and analyzed, instantly.

“Think of it as a parallel election that’s releasable to the public, and retrievable by the public, in an encrypted format that protects the secrecy of the voter,” Carter says. Existing voting machine companies would theoretically be able to plug into ElectionGuard to run it in parallel with their own machines and processes, like a digital backup.

And if voters wanted to get more granular with the data, and actually see that their vote was cast correctly, they can. Each voter would receive a private key at the time of voting, sort of like a case number you get when you call any customer service. After an election is over, you go online, enter the number, and check your vote.

Crucially, ElectionGuard’s actual voting application doesn’t require Windows, or even an active internet connection at polling places. It can run right in a Chrome browser (a standard which was recently supported by Microsoft). Its data can be uploaded to a private and local, or national, server once voting is done. For a digital product, ElectionGuard is designed to operate largely in a safe, or a black box.

[Photo: Radii]

Building a better voting machine

So what would the experience of voting with ElectionGuard actually be like? It starts with a sleek voting machine. Viemeister designed a machine with a smooth white case that protects the electronics inside from easy tampering. “The way we designed this was, you flip the thing on its back, then you can take the bottom off, then all the components are accessible from that,” says Viemeister. It’s not tamper-proof, but it’s reasonably secure. “We figured someone unscrewing six screws is going to ring some bells with the election official.”

[Photo: Radii]

Within the case, there’s an Xbox Adaptive Controller and a Surface tablet. They’re both Microsoft products, but they don’t have to be. “We need to do that in order to get this prototype done as fast as we could,” says Viemeister. “But it plays into the fact that any election district could cobble together their own hardware to build the thing.”

However, the Adaptive Controller, an Xbox product that debuted last year to make gaming more accessible to people with different disabilities, makes a good fit for a voting machine. The controller has two giant physical buttons you can use instead of the Surface touchscreen, and a D-pad for moving up, down, left, and right. These giant buttons require very little dexterity for someone with limited mobility to operate. And given that a poorly calibrated touchscreen can record incorrect votes—and has in the recent past—physical buttons make a lot of sense in voting machines. “The whole idea of universal design is it’s just good for everybody,” Viemeister says. “I think people are going to look at those big buttons there and think, ‘This is what I need to vote,’ instead of people with disabilities being like, ‘Great, I can use this to vote.”

[Photo: Radii]

But the design is still mindful of the needs of people with disabilities. As Carter points out, many people with disabilities today are forced to ask for special, accessible machines to vote, which takes up a big chunk of their time when they want to get in and out of a polling place like anyone else. An added bonus of the Adaptive Controller is that it has extra ports for voters to bring their own specialized hardware like the sip and puff mouth controllers often used by paraplegic people. These open ports don’t pose a security concern, Carter says. They aren’t USB plugs that connect to a central computer and allow access to the memory or hard drive. These are ports that only connect to the controller. So the only thing you can take control of with a plug-in device is the controller itself.

[Photo: Radii]

Vote at home (sort of)

The machine also includes a QR code scanner, like what airlines use to scan your phone when you’re boarding a plane. With a QR code system, you could actually fill out your ballot at home, taking as much time as you like. Then you could generate a QR code that contains all your ballot’s data. When you get to your polling place, you scan it, the votes appear on the screen, and all you need to do is double check them. For jurisdictions that legally require paper ballots, Viemeister designed a printer cover—literally a case that goes over the printer found at polling places—to allow people to print out their ballot, while protecting the printer from tampering.

[Photo: Radii]

Imperfect UX

ElectionGuard might still seem a bit clunky in a world where we can do almost anything from our couch with our smartphones. But voting is simply too steeped in different bureaucracies, and the security risks are too numerous, for there to be one do-it-all app that gets the job done overnight. Any new voting solution needs to be multifaceted, offering various ways to satisfy every municipality and preferred voting style. “We try to balance all the concerns,” says Carter. “There’s a phrase our team uses, ‘maximum agreement.’ How do you find maximum agreement?”

[Photo: Radii]

ElectionGuard is going into limited pilot trials at unannounced polls next year. Polling places are already gearing up for the 2020 election, so don’t expect to see ElectionGuard all over the place by then. But Microsoft is hoping its open source system can start better serving voters—and American democracy itself—by 2021.

?just-four-dudes?:-inside-easylist,-a-community-run-ad-blocking-list

In early June, employees at the digital car marketplace Autotrader UK discovered that they had a problem.

Dozens of site visitors were complaining that they were unable to see car listings supplied by site’s car dealers, rendering the site difficult, if not impossible, to use.

After some digging, Autotrader UK figured out that the malfunction was only happening to visitors using ad-blocking software, which helped lead staffers to the source of the problem: EasyList, an open-source, community-run list of rules that powers popular ad-blocking software including Adblock Plus and the browser Brave.

The crowdsourced list helps control the browsing experience of a substantial number of internet users. Though EasyList does not publish current figures about its use, Adblock Plus alone has been downloaded more than 100 million times. UBlock Origin, another popular adblocker, has more than 15 million active users across Chrome and Firefox.

While the purpose of the list has always been to keep advertising out of web experiences, EasyList’s rules regularly break normal editorial features on sites. In the past six months, EasyList changes have broken the buy buttons on commerce site The Inventory, the video player on Animal Planet, disrupted site navigation on Fandom, and disrupted the style and CSS loading process on job search site Indeed.

Though most of these issues were resolved quicklyas publisher sites continue to evolve, they have to contend with the possibility that they might run afoul of one of the most important crowd-maintained documents on the internet. EasyList did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s crazy that more people don’t know about this,” said Marty Kratky-Katz, the founder of Blockthrough, which lets publishers monetize using Adblock Plus’s Acceptable Ads program. “I don’t think they mean any harm or have any malicious intentions. But it’s not like they were experts in balancing publisher monetization, or like they were elected. They’re just four dudes.”

EasyList was originally launched in 2005, as a kind of add-on to the Adblock browser extension. Several different people have overseen it since then, and today, a group of four people, led by a man named Ryan Brown, is authorized to change EasyList’s rules.

Over time, its list of rules (and exceptions to those rules) has grown sprawling. Analysis conducted by Brave last summer found over 70,000 rules in EasyList, a mixture of network rules, which determine whether a site fetches sites or code from web addresses that match a certain kind of pattern; element rules, which dictate whether certain page elements, such as banners, can be displayed; and exceptions to the element and network rules.

The exceptions, which constitute about 9% of EasyList’s rules, according to Brave, are necessary because EasyList’s network and element rules sometimes break a normal site’s functions. In many cases, the breaks are caused when developers use a word in their code that EasyList has banned, such as “advert.” Those sorts of issues are easiest to fix by site developers. “Sometimes it’s easier just to change things on our end,” said Josh Butts, svp of product and technology at Ziff Media Group, which operates a portfolio of commerce, shopping and editorial sites.

But there are occasions when those changes are hard to make. In Autotrader UK’s case, for example, the change would have involved fixing hundreds of thousands of pages. That compelled them to visit EasyList’s message board, where it had to plead its case and hope an EasyList author would decide to make a change.

In many cases, fixes are minor and people from EasyList make them quickly, often within a matter of hours. But sometimes its authors dig in. The Autotrader UK example took nearly a week to resolve, in part because one of the list’s authors made it clear that he would prefer Autotrader UK to change code on their end, rather than write an exception.

Autotrader’s parent company did not respond to a request for comment.

Those periodic disruptions are trouble for both parties. But ad-blockers don’t mind. “Is there stuff they’re blocking that maybe they shouldn’t? Yes,” Kratky-Katz said. “But I think it’s a price worth paying if you’re in favor of ad-blocking.”

An earlier version of this story confused uBlock and uBlock Origin. uBlock is owned by Adblock Plus; uBlock Origin is independent.