Archive for the 'web design' Category

What comes after “The Gradient Era”

February 22, 2007

I don’t have enough energy to do this, but it would be cool if someone could give names to each of the “Design Era’s” we have seen come to life. But here goes:

– The Bullet Era: When I first started on the web every link had a “3-d Bullet graphic” (http://web.archive.org/web/19970724115909/www.uri.edu/artsci/artsci_home.html) [note: click though on Economics]

[Somwhere along the way we graduated to the black background sites]

– Black background sites: Some of the first major designs we did were on black backgrounds (http://web.archive.org/web/19981212030944/http://www.mewstavern.com/) [note: first CF site I ever worked on – take a look at beers]

[Missing a ton of designs – for the better of man kind I moved into development at this point]

[Eventually we got to the point where we are today]

– Gradients: If you site does not use Lightbox and have Gradient headers you just ain’t cool

————————–

Well, I can honestly say that I believe that we are finally at the end of the “Gradient Era”:

Proof1: There is actually a web site that will build a gradient image for you. Yes, I did not stutter, it actually builds a gradient image: http://tools.dynamicdrive.com/gradient/. It is my recollection, that if anything ever becomes this “Mainstream” it has already met its demise. After-all, if the blinking text on my Grandma’s web page gets replaced with a gradient image then it’s all over – right?

Proof2: Two web site designs that have come out recently which don’t use any gradients. Not one.

1.) wis.dm – A social bookmarking site heavier on the “social” then the “bookmarking”
2.) mikull.com – my friends blog (yes he has some mad design skills)

So, while I can’t guarantee you won’t stumble upon a site riddled with Gradients, I can say that I am happy to ask “What is next??”.

Gotta go, off to make a few gradient images for a new menu system, I have connected Yahoo’s Menu Object into CommonSpot.

Battle for standardization continues

January 5, 2007

I read an interesting post over on Alex Faaborg’s site today about microformats and how Firefox 3.0 will be using microformats to change Firefox into a “… an Information Broker.”

Much in the same way that operating systems currently associate particular file types with specific applications, future Web browsers are likely going to associate semantically marked up data you encounter on the Web with specific applications, either on your system or online. This means the contact information you see on a Web site will be associated with your favorite contacts application, events will be associated with your favorite calendar application, locations will be associated with your favorite mapping application, phone numbers will be associated with your favorite VOIP application, etc.

This is going to change the way we interact with data on the Web, and it’s something that I am going to be blogging about all this week, stay tuned.

I find this to be as exciting as it is frustrating, all in the same breath.  Ok, so microformats could be the future, it could enable us to truly “write once – use everywhere”.  Some of the examples from the article which get me heated are:

For instance, if you want to sell something, you can blog about it using an hListing, and a site like edgeio will find it when it aggregates classified advertisements across the Web.

Similarly, the microformat hReview allows the creation of review aggregation sites, and XFN (XHTML Friends Network) allows the creation of social network aggregation sites.

When I first started to understand the search process (back when you had to “tag” your sites on Yahoo with a form and Webcrawler was the only “spidering” web site out there) I was promised that we would be able to place “xml” style tags or “semantic” markup in our HTML which specialized sites and search engines would pick up and treat differently.  For instance, a site that would go out and collect information about products would be able to compare 10 online book stores prices for a book if we put something like <isbn-10>1590593812</isbn-10> in our HTML.  The web browser would ignore it but the site would catalog the results and offer comparisons.  That was in 1996.

Now take some more semantic style searches like say at a government site.  I worked with APR Smartlogik on a great project which highlighted Europes advancements in standardization.  Essentially, the UK governement mandates that all pages on a governments public facing web site have meta content which complies with eGMS standards.  Compliant pages have special meta tags which have content tagged against the IPSV taxonomy which allows smarter search engines to index content better.  If you have every tried to find information about when trash is picked up or where the town compost drop off is located then you know what I mean.

I guess my real gripe is that this is all good but let’s get there already.

RSS Feed/vs. Live Bookmarks

May 23, 2006

The ability to bookmark pages has been around since Netscape 1.0 (it may have been available in Mosaic but I can not remember that far back and at the time the concept of the web was so new to me that I may not have understood what a bookmark was). Bookmarks collectively can be viewed as a list of links to sites or pages that a user frequents. For me I link to my banking site, NBA.com, CNN.com, OnTheSnow.com Ski Report, technology help articles that I have found helpful. What made these bookmarks unsuccessful were two things
1.) If a bookmark went bad (i.e. the page was deleted or moved) you were screwed
2.) It gave you no information about the content that was contained on the page so if it changed you were screwed
Along came RSS and "Live Bookmarks" or a "Livemark"

With the advent of RSS the world of bookmarks has begun to change. Imagine some system which allows your bookmarks to be updated automatically. For instance, the page may be moved or content may change. How would you know and why would you ever want to keep up with this all. So here is the scenario:

Problem: I spend a ton of time scouring the web looking for the perfect link which gives me up to the minute updates of all my favorite local (and not so local) ski resorts. After a month of using the link the site changes the URL. Although one would think that this would be a ridiculous thing for a site to do, you all know it happens. So I am now tasked with the job of re-finding that link. Arrrgggh.

Solution: I spend a ton of time scouring the web looking for the perfect link which gives me up to the minute updates …. (you get the picture) … and instead of linking to that page I link to that sites published RSS feed. The RSS Feed (which I add to my page as a Livemark) contains not only the link for the slopes but is also updated with constants deals on great getaways this weekend to my favorite resort. In addition, if the site decides that it needs to restructure the pages a bit, it simply updates its RSS feed and I lose no time the next time a foot of snow dumps in my region.

Livemarks which up until now have been relegated to consuming RSS content for the purpose of reading articles posted to your favorite news site hold the power to make the solution described above a thing of the norm. A Livemark can help solve the "stale-ness" created with existing bookmarks. My recommendation – developers: create more Livemarks – users: consume more Livemarks – and for everyone to talk more about it.

The Feed Icon

May 19, 2006

Ok, so I just did some quick research on the "Feed Icon" you know that little orange icon that appears throughout web sites today to indicate that some content is available as a "Feed". That research has turned up some pretty interesting stuff.

There is a Wikipedia entry for this feed and it is located @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Livemark.png

Essentially they are calling this a "Livemark" aka "Bookmark" only "Live".

Then if you go down further in the entry you will see that there is a web site devoted to this:

http://www.feedicons.com

Who would of thought that we needed a website (and a pretty "flashy" site at that) to govern the icons used to represent feeds.

If you dig even deeper into the entry you will notice that there is a link to an entry in the Microsoft Team RSS Blog which describes how in December of 2005, they decided to use the little orange icon to represent the live bookmarks in their upcoming release of IE 7. Isn't this great! This is exactly what we need. A standard. Woo hoo!!!!

To me this means progress.  It is this type of progress which will make technologies like RSS a success. 

RSS to the masses

May 19, 2006

RSS Feeds @ MicrosoftSo this image appeared on Microsoft's home page today. I don't usually frequent the Microsoft site so I am not sure how long it has been there but I found this interesting. I have been talking about the launch of RSS as a great technology and as a technology that has not been delivered to the masses. I am convinced that Microsoft will be the company (unfortunately) that will deliver RSS to the masses. Especially with their latest browser. So I clicked the link and I was brought to a page that lists out some of the popular RSS feeds. Feeds that would probably make sense for someone that runs windows exclusively at home and at work (nothing against the Mac).

Technet Security Updates

RSS Feed for Most Recent KBs for Office XP

RSS Feed for MSDN: Windows Media Center (I have recently bought this OS for home)

Anyways there was also a (prominent) link on this page which discussed what a feed was and how to use it. This is the kind of information that I think the masses needs. Education is the key to any new technology. I am glad to see this type of information posted. Even if it is by Microsoft.

Using Feeds (Microsoft style)

True to form they have this excerpt at the bottom:

Reading and subscribing to feeds using Internet Explorer 7

The newest version of Internet Explorer (version 7 due for release in 2006) will support feeds, including automatic discovery of feeds on Web pages, basic feed reading capabilities, and basic support for saving feeds.

Should be a fun ride when IE 7 is released.

When is NBA.com going to get rid of that ridiculous front page

May 18, 2006

NBA Home PageOk, I admit it, I am a huge fan of the NBA. I know post Jordan ratings are down and only true basketball fans can like this game today and the March Madness is more exciting than the NBA playoffs. I know. I know.

We are not here to discuss this though! We are here to discuss the riduculus design of the front page of NBA.com. Now there are many things that I like about the site and I think that they have improved over the years but here are the two reasons I think that the page sucks!

Reason 1
That stupid, ugly, ridiculous expanding/collapsing ad that is half broken. Now my resolution is 1400 x 1050 and it takes up more than a quarter of my screen for the first 10 seconds of the page view time. The fact that this takes up this much real estate is not the real problem though. There are two other problems, one is that it pushes the main content tabs – the 500 x 300 rectangle which contains the latest stories and links. The second problem is that the ad has an annoying _toggle_ style JavaScript function which is on a timer. The basic functionality is designed so that if you wait it will collapse the ad automatically. If however you are impatient (and who isn't) and you want to click the _toggle_ "Expand AD" button it will begin to collapse the ad (thank heavens) except that when the code timer goes off (yes the click did not stop the sites automatic timer) it _toggles_ the ad back into an expanded state. ARRGGGH!

Reason 2
The main content tabs – the 500 x 300 rectangle are completely dysfunctional. Part of the reason they are dysfunctional does have to do with the Ad but they are also dysfunctional all on their own. The tabs are on their own timer which is displayed in the lower right hand corner of the content tab area. When you arrive at the site the content tab timer starts ticking and the ad collapses automatically you have missed the window of opportunity to read the important content for the first tab (which I would assume holds the most important content) and it has already switched over to the second tab. Now to go back to the first tab you actually have to make 2 clicks (In whichever order you choose – I switch it up some nights to break the monotony). The first click is on the "Pause" button in the content tab window. This will stop the automatic rotation of the content tabs. You must then click back to the content tab 1 to see the main content. Now even without the problems related to the expanding/collapsing ad, these content tabs are no good. I read pretty quick but I am no speed reader and even if I could see the content in the first tab when I first arrived at the site, I would never be able to read it fast enough and it would switch to the second tab before I could finish. That is down right cruel!

So here are the improvements that I would make:
1. If I click on the "Expand/Collapse" button for the Ad collapse it and don't open it again. I shouldn't have to do this but I will give them the right to show me the ad if I can close it at will
2. Take a note from ESPN (which has implemented a very similar tabbing style content area) – Display the main content above the content tabs in a non-expiring style and then below the main content do your tab content thing _BUT_ when I click on a tab – stop the damn automatic tab switching timer! Or at least place the "Pause" button on – or near – the tabs.

Ahh… the price we pay for the love of the game.

[ UPDATE: 2006.06.03] – it appears that the NBA has seen the light.  The horendous drop down add no longer appears at the top of the page.  Now if they would only fix the stupid rotating graphic…

What will we see return from the first .com boom?

May 2, 2006

Everyone remembers the hey day, or have read about it. Daily massages, in office happy hour specials, boat cruises, pool tables, TV Rooms with every cable channel immagineable, Play Stations (the PS2 and XBox were still on the drawing board). Work was a forest of toys and playthings. It hardly resemebled a place where money was actually made. But, for someone spending 70+ hours a week at work, what was 5-10 spent around a ping pong table. It just made sense.

In light of the recent fever sorrounding Internet Development again, I can't help but wonder what we have learned this time around. Certainly we have learned that the companay in order to be successful, needs to have some customers. They can not just be some idea that makes sense. Additionally, the "prototype" needs to be as close to production as possible before large amounts of funding are turned over. But what about the working environment. Did we learn something there? Was our open attitude towards "distractions" a misstep or was their some value there?

Working environments will change and are changing. I think that motivation to spend "extra" hours at work will still be driven internally, instead of the top down approach of typical brick and motor companies. While we will not see a full return to the early days of Interent development you will see an occasional fosball table here an there and early Friday cocktail hour will make a comeback.

People work a lot here in America especially in a time of growth like we are seeing here. During that time of growth you need to produce a working environment that is enticing. If you are not ready to give up equity or do profit sharing inside your company then you should at least set up (or designate some as your) entertainment committee. Get the husbands, wives and families of your workers involved. Spouses that compete with the company for precious time like to be involved.

In any case, like I stated before, I am ready for the next wave!

We don’t need no stinkin’ navigation

April 12, 2006

I have been implementing web sites for what seems like forever and I have to honestly say that this is the first time I have ever heard this "Do we even really need a navigation".  The crazy thing about this statement was that the client was honest.  The other crazy thing is that the client was not your normal crazy customer they were serious and they had a point.  Why would really need some complicated navigation.  If you represent content in a logical way each of the "jump" pages in a web site should be good enough.

Obviously, they did not remove the nav all together, I think that would be suicide, but they bring up a valid point that I think needs to be brought to light.  This is not a new point, gosh, google has made this point since its inception.  What the exercise gave them (the "do we really need a navigation" exercise) was that they evaluated their content at a high level and realized that they were managing links in a complicated navigation that were not even being used.  Their theory was that the navigation at a minimal needed to offer some high level access to areas so that users that were unfamiliar with the site could "get around".  They concluded that they really needed just 2 levels of navigation for their entire site.  Note: this site is a prominent site that you would all know and receives millions of page views a week and has thousands (if not 10's of thousands) of pages so, it this is a big decision.

I liken their decision with the recent changes in the Duke.edu site. They have "googleized" their home page to have "search" as a prominent part of their "navigation".  Duke has been in the lead in other areas of their use of digital media.  A few years ago, they were one of the first Universities to give their freshman each an IPod so they could record their classes.  Other universities have begun to offer Podcasting of the lectures (I think Stanford even sells them on ITunes).  Maybe Duke (and the client above) are on to something.  Maybe we have become more sophisticated as web users and we don't need elaborate navigation's.  I will leave you with one note though (since I am currently undecided on the need for "full" navigation elements) – recently this client during a very high traffic time, created an image that linked to a major point on their site.  After a few days of low links to the major portion of the site, they added some text "Click here for more info >>" in the bottom right corner of the page – in one day with the new image they received 3 times as much traffic to the major area.  Maybe we are not so ready, but I still like the idea of "trimming" navigation's based on actual usage.  Certainly makes the CMS implementation a heck of a lot easier.

“Is ugly the new Black”

March 28, 2006

http://www.uie.com/brainsparks/2006/03/27/is-ugly-the-new-black/

What would happen if someone came along and built a better craigslist by using new techniques like AJAX? I will have to admit that I could care less about the looks of things as long as they are functional. To me, the Google Mail is successful mostly because it is easy to use. It is not the most glamourous interface but it does the job well. Microsoft, Yahoo and even my Verizon account have interfaces that spend too much time being cool and a lot less time being useful.