Tagged: web design

Effective Web Design and Development

Effective Web Design and Development – COMP-1363

Starting February 4th, I’ll be teaching a five week (one session per week) course on effective web design at Fanshawe College’s continuing education program.

The course is called “Effective Web Design and Development – COMP-1363“.

I’m breaking the five weeks up by doing foundational work first, and building on that work weekly. My idea is to build a very simple HTML website, using the fundamentals that we learn weekly to build upon each week’s lesson. At the end, the attendees will have a very simple, semantically correct, SEO optimized, modern, responsive, and accessible website.

Here’s what Fanshawe’s course outline says:

Effective web design and development is about more than code, and pretty pictures. This course is designed to help you understand the things required to build an effective website for yourself, your business, and your clients. This course will review strategies, software, marketing, promotion, content creation, and modern website design techniques while not requiring coding in-class time.

Continue Reading

Ruby Newbies: My Ruby on Rails Recipe

Ruby on Rails

Ruby on Rails

I’ve been using Ruby on Rails for about five years now, and I can’t actually remember my life before it at this point.  As much as I love Ruby on Rails, I hate setting it up.  Okay, HATE is a pretty stiff word…let’s say “really, really, REALLY dislike”.

However, the last couple of times that I’ve had to configure machines, I’ve kept a really good running log of what I did, and I feel pretty confident that this little recipe will let me keep the rest of my hair.

Continue Reading

Anatomy of a Redesign – A List Apart

A List Apart 5.0A List Apart – For people who make websites, is one of my favourite resources on the internerds for web usability stuff.  I own all of the A Book Apart books, and I’ve always loved their websites.

They just did a total redesign, and posted a great summary of the process.  I always love reading these because redesigning is a fun process to me, and it’s cool to see how other people do it.

Check out A List Apart 5.0  The little walk down memory lane is awesome, it’s cool to see the different versions of the site so far, and seeing that they went ahead and launched without fixing all of the finicky little things.

To launch on time, we have knowingly held off on finessing certain details and (like you do) decided to suppress a few niceties until after the relaunch. If you spot a quirk in the UX logic, an inconsistency in the design hierarchy, or a curious flaw in the CSS, we are probably working on it.

Nice work Mr. Zeldman and friends!

My DIG 2011 Web Stream Overview

Jeffery Zeldman at DIG

Jeffery Zeldman at DIG

The DIG (Digital Interactive Gaming) conference in London Ontario added a Web Development stream this year to compliment the gaming streams. With an opening keynote by Jeffery Zeldman’ and a closing one by Derek Featherstone, there was world class content being offered in my own home town. These are my slightly edited notes which I took during the talks. There’s some great insight in here, and some really cool links for reference later. Continue Reading

Customized or Scalable?

Custom vs Speed

Custom vs Speed

During my day job I’m confronted on an hourly basis with requests for small improvements that people want to make to the website in order to be more personal. Add “My Account Rep”, only show them content they own, put their name on the page, remember what they last searched, show them the most popular research for the products they own, show them the top rated research in what they own, show non-members a view of what it would look like if they were members, but don’t hide the stuff they don’t have access to, I don’t know, maybe a switch of some sort that you can click to give them the “whole view” (seriously…I don’t even know how in the world to write a spec for that).

There’s a problem with all of these though. Our old site was an example of what happens when you allow unfettered, continual customization, and don’t consider the overall impact that each one of those chips in the scalability wall makes.

The above illustration is a good example of the customization vs speed argument, imagine the teeter toter works like this. When you put something on one side, it lifts the other side up, causing the other side to get more and more out of control.  Everyone at some point in their life has been the one on the top part of the teeter totter, it’s not a lot of fun because the person on the heavy end has all of the control, they decide when you go up, or when you go down. They decide when they’ll just jump off the teeter totter and leave you to slam down hard on your butt and probably fall off.

Out of the gate I’ll tell you that speed’s got it’s work cut out for it. It’s trickier to do than customization. I can customize the crap out of a website in hours, but tweaking the speed requires deep plumbing and hard work.

Every time you add a feature to the customization side of the scale, the speed side gets lighter, and it becomes harder for speed to balance the teeter totter. Eventually you get to a point where poor speed is thrashing and flailing at the top of the teeter totter trying to gain his balance…and he simply can’t.

Well why can Google do it then?

Google’s not much different. Take a look at an iGoogle page with loads of gadgets on it, and watch how slow it loads, compare that to the straight Google home page…also keep in mind that Google has locked up about 90% of North America’s smartest software engineers…and if they can’t figure this out, what chance do us mere mortals have?

The appearance of customization is better than true customization.

First off, I believe greatly in putting more of the customization components on the client side. Cookies are a great way to do this, keep their display name, and some basic customization options in their cookie. Users who refuse customization on their machines simply don’t get customization.  Sorry, but that’s the realities of the internet in 2009. On the server side, you need some pre-assembled components, preferably in XML, HTML, or plain ole text files which use the file system rather than the database.  It’s MUCH easier to scale a file system up than it is a database into a cluster.

Too much customization is a bad thing

No matter how much apparent customization you do, eventually you reach a point where you’re still making database calls for pieces. There’s no hard and fast rule for how many database calls are too many…but you know when you hit it.  Your site’s slow.

You also hit a strange point where you’ve essentially created an infinite number of slightly different sites. While this is appropriate for a site like Google, it’s not great for a site which is trying to convey a single directed message.

Customization vs editorial control

There’s a certain level of editorial control that I expect when I go to a website. I’m figuring that there are people who get paid six figure salaries to show me what’s important, to make certain editorial decisions, and decide that this is their best stuff. Yeah it’s cool when I can add a filter to that content to let me see stuff that I’m most interested in, but when I go to the Globe and Mail’s website or Wired.com, I want to see what their editorial has determined is most important…because even though I’m not all that interested in Bio Tech, maybe today’s biotechnology story is relevant to me in a way I’m not even aware of.

In the end, customization is a good thing, but too much can put blinders on content, and put excessive strain on systems.

Design Trends I Love – Pseudo 3D

Pseudo 3D

Pseudo 3D

There’s a new design meme that’s making the rounds. Websites that have some dimensionality to them. I first really noticed it on Jonathan Snook’s Snook.ca, but recently SlashFilm added some of this, and my new favourite site Mail Chimp has some too.

It adds much needed depth to the web, and is neat because it’s a whole new design trend which appears to have sprung up out of nowhere. Continue Reading

Search Engine Optimization is Bunk

The Radical Hive Logo

The Radical Hive Logo

I get about 7 or 8 email spam a week to my domain accounts promising that so-and-so can make my search rankings much higher for only $xxxx.  Of course this stuff is so much snake oil it’s not even funny.  I can help you improve your Search Engine ranking with 10 easy tips.  Best of all, this is completely free!

So, for the robots out there, check this out:

Top 10 Free Search Engine Optimization Tips by Brian Garside

Consider that a preview tip right there.  That title not only improves the ranking for my name, but will also raise the profile of this article in search engines. Continue Reading

Top 10 WordPress Plugins – Updated

Not available in stores...the WordPress Plugin Bar <tm>

Not available in stores...the WordPress Plugin Bar

For this week’s Web Design Wednesday segment, I’m going to revisit a post I wrote about back in August, but a lot of stuff has changed in the seven months since I first wrote it.  For one thing I’m about 100 times more comfortable in WordPress than I was seven months ago.  For another I’ve totally swapped out my old WordPress Plugins for newer better ones.

For another thing, I’ve learned how to build my own plugins.

So this is my latest and most updatedest listing of best plugins for WordPress.  These are all what I consider “manditory” for a new WordPress install. Continue Reading

To hell with IE 6

IE 6 burns in the deepest darkest fires of hell

IE 6 burns in the deepest darkest fires of hell

On February 16th 2001 Jeffery Zeldman posted an article called “To Hell with Bad Browsers” on A List Apart.  It was an eye opening experience for me, and was the piece of the puzzle to why accessibility and standards compliant websites were a must have going forward.  The title was memorable enough that it’s stuck with me all this time.

At the time I had just finished up the launch of TSNMAX, and the CEO of Bell Globe Media, Lib Gibson, was giving me a list of all of the problems that TSNMAX had with Netscape 4.7, which was her sole browser of choice.  The browser was dead in the water at the time, and the “To Hell With Bad Browsers” article gave me a ton of ammunition.

Fast Forward seven years, and we’re in the same boat, except this time with IE 6.  I hope that this treatise can be used by other developers to convince their bosses that it’s time to kill IE 6 in the corporate world. Continue Reading