Digital Web Magazine

The web professional's online magazine of choice.

News : September 2007

Contest Deadline is Approaching!

Anyone wanting to score a free pass to Voices That Matter: Web Design had better get cracking: the contest deadline is October 1st, 2007 at midnight (PDT). That’s tomorrow!

Check out the contest page for the details, and start writing. The person with the best essay wins! It’s like grade school, only with better prizes. And no dodgeball.

September 30, 2007 at 6:27 PM

Jessica Neuman Beck

Reminder: Digital Web + Voices that Matter Contest!

We’d like to remind you the deadline is near for Digital Web’s contest for a free spot at Voices That Matter: Web Design. The contest deadline is October 1st, 2007 at midnight (PDT). To enter, just answer our question:

In your opinion, what voice will matter to the world of web design in the near future?

Contest rules apply, and get your answers in soon! Your chances of scoring a free pass are good, so get writing.

September 27, 2007 at 1:55 PM

Tiff Fehr

Voices That Matter - Web Design Contest!

Want to get into Voices That Matter: Web Design for free? Who doesn’t, right? Voices That Matter: Web Design is one of the premiere web design conferences of the year, and it’s coming up October 22-25, 2007 at the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco. Digital Web and Voices That Matter want to see you there! We’re giving away one free pass to the best response to the following question:

In your opinion, what voice will matter to the world of web design in the near future?

To enter, just send your response to the question (observing the rules) to digweb.contest~at~gmail.com. The contest starts tonight at Midnight (Pacific Daylight Time), and runs one full week, until midnight (PDT), October 1st. Check out the official details and get writing!

September 24, 2007 at 11:30 PM

Tiff Fehr

New Issue: Interview with Sidebar Creative

This week Digital Web brings you an in-depth interview with the talent behind Sidebar Creative. Digital Web’s own Matthew Pennell steals a moment from the boys (web experts Jonathan Snook, Bryan Veloso, Dan Rubin and Steve Smith) to learn more about their “freelance co-op”. This interview is a must-read for freelancers who enjoy working with a team of talent.

Also, very shortly we’ll be posting the kick-off for Digital Web’s contest for a free pass to Voices That Matter: Web Design, coming up October 22-25, 2007 in San Francisco. In just a minute (like, right after this issue posts), we’ll announce the contest topic, terms and official rules. Get ready!

September 24, 2007 at 10:24 PM

Tiff Fehr

'She's Geeky' Coming to Mountain View

A recent post by The Identity Woman alerted me to the upcoming unconference ShesGeeky.org, October 22-23, 2007, in Mountain View, CA at the Computer History Museum. In light of the ongoing discussions on women in technology, it’s encouraging to see further promotion of women-oriented geek events. In their words:

The She’s Geeky (un)conference will provide an agenda-free and friendly environment for women who not only care about building technology that is useful for people, but who also want to encourage more women to get involved.

She’sGeeky includes a registration wiki with profiles of planned attendees from all walks of the technology world, so the unconference topics should be fantastic.

In addition to the alert about She’s Geeky, The Identity Woman also mentioned O’Reilly’s ongoing, well-written September article series about Women in Technology: Hear Us Roar. O’Reilly’s series and the discussions about them are very strong, and cover some excellent topics. I hope this dialogue continues into the conferences and topics of 2008.

September 22, 2007 at 10:43 PM

Tiff Fehr

Webmaster Jam Session Live: Real World Accessibility keynote

Ok, so after four sessions (one roundtable, one panel, one platinum session and one presentation) I am pretty beat, but I am looking forward to the last presentation of the day, Derek Featherstone’s closing keynote on Real World Accessibility… well that, and the Adobe/Coffee Cup party tonight! I can sleep later. I am live blogging this one.

Derek just took the stage after J doing his intro and thanking everyone for the conference. Derek points out that there is someone signing for a deaf attendee in the front row and is happy to see a conference putting accessibility in the forefront like that.

Ok, now Derek is swashing the “compliance” issue were it leads to a checklist syndrome. He uses the analogy that if we have rounded corners and gradients we are web 2.0 compliant. It just doesn’t work that way. He goes into a story about how a client didn’t care about one accessibility aspect cause it wasn’t on their compliance checklist. It doesn’t make since. It can be our start point but it can’t be our end point. Looking at accessibility as user experience expands our horizons.

Molly is heckling again :) She was calling out what Derek’s solution for radio buttons being more accessible to users who don’t have highly precision input devices such as using your knuckle to click on something. His “hack” is to use a user-side CSS file to increase the size of the radio button. Molly was saying he shouldn’t call it a “hack”.

Derek had a pretty good example of how someone with a screen reader can not use Google Maps since the map navigating buttons are not in fact buttons at all, they are divs. So seeing that he wanted to have a map on his ironfeather site he use the Google Maps API to hide their div-button zoom features and instead created his own zoom features that use the button tag.

Now Derek is talking about Flickr and editing the title element of a photo page. He points out the new addition of the edit link so people with keyboards can access this functionality that they may have not noticed before.

On to Amazon with a screen reader. He’s doing a search and the JS menu pops up. Then the screen reader had to read the source attribute of the image tag because there is not alt text.

Designers and developers need to work better together. And what I mean by that is translating from visual to code. He goes into an example of how someone designed a menu and how a developer built it.

One last example, crazy accessible crossword puzzle made out of XHTML form fields styled by CSS with a little bit of javascript. You gotta see it to really understand how crazy this thing is.

Derek is starting to wrap up. Its all about the people! Git ‘r dun!

September 22, 2007 at 3:51 PM

Nick Finck

Webmaster Jam Session Live: The Story So Far

So far the Webmaster Jam Session has been a huge success. Much larger turnout than last year. A lot of great speakers, far more than last year by all accounts. I think the thing that really made this year’s event was that each presentation was unique and intriguing on a level I rarely see at other conference, but also that there seemed to be an overarching theme of having cross-disciplined teams. For example, designers that known and understand how CSS and XHTML work. Developers who get what makes a good grid or architecture. There has also been a lot of talk about mobile experience and overall a better quality of user experience. Once again the guys at Coffee Cup have put on an amazing event.

September 22, 2007 at 3:33 PM

Nick Finck

John Maeda's Great Talk on Complexity and Simplicity

John Maeda’s TED talk is not to be missed. Take a few minutes to watch. You’ll love it, and be thinking about it the next time you design, develop, create, or even make lunch. John is the brilliant man at MIT behind the book The Laws of Simplicity.

September 20, 2007 at 11:59 AM

Carolyn Wood

New Issue: Killer Contracts and Conferences! (Not Necessarily Related)

This week, Digital Web is proud to feature Andy Budd, who offers up some handy tips about Contract Killers. …Work contracts, not the more nefarious type, calm down. Andy sheds light on the art of quoting design/development work, and also covers alternatives contract types that might better fit certain projects.

In addition to a thorough breakdown of contracts, Digital Web is keeping track of a bevy of upcoming conference activity. Webmaster Jam Session kicks off next week in Dallas, Texas. Also, this past week the folks behind Web Directions North ’08 issued a “Save the Date”. Get your mid-winter travel plans under way early, because WDN’08 is set to throw down January 28-February 02, 2008, in Vancouver, BC and Whistler. As an attendee of last years’ conference, I highly recommend both the top-notch conference and the camaraderie of throwing yourself down Whistler-Blackcomb with other web geeks.

Also, a quick reminder for our upcoming contest in conjunction with Voices That Matter: Web Design conference. VTM:WD (if I can call it that) runs October 22-25th, 2007 in San Francisco. Digital Web has a free ticket to one lucky reader willing to try our little contest. Details coming soon!

September 17, 2007 at 11:24 PM

Tiff Fehr

Google Presentation!

GoogleBlog just mentioned a fun new feature called Google Presentation. It seems the much-rumored counter-offering to Microsoft’s ubiquitous PowerPoint is now out! It looks pretty slick alongside Google Doc’s online word processor and spreadsheet tools, and completes a strong set of publishing tools—all for the price of an internet connection, which is hard to beat. The GoogleBlog post also includes a very helpful video about online collaboration by our good friends at Common Craft. CommonCraft’s video helps explain the benefits of online collaboration with Google Docs. Lee and Sachi recently went full bore into unique, compelling video explanations, and as a fan, I think this one is their best yet.

September 17, 2007 at 9:43 PM

Tiff Fehr

The Times, they are a chaaangin'

Just published on the New York Times (and, I’m assuming this is not an April Fool’s Joke, given that it is currently September): Times to End Charges on Web Site

Some relevant passages:

The New York Times will stop charging for access to parts of its Web site, effective at midnight tonight. The move comes two years to the day after The Times began the subscription program.

In addition to opening the entire site to all readers, The Times will also make available its archives from 1987 to the present without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain. There will be charges for some material from the period 1923 to 1986, and some will be free.

(Hat tip to Sean McDonald‘s Tweet)

September 17, 2007 at 7:05 PM

Derek Featherstone

iPhone, iTouch, iSimplicity

The iPhone is hot. The announcement of the iTouch (touch screen iPod) bolsters interest in these micro Macs. Yesterday’s announcement of the open source and free SIM unlock for the iPhone may be the event that allows for greater uptake and popularity of the iPhone in the world-wide hand-held market

The list of iPhone apps that are “out there” will continue to grow. Just a week ago we saw a great list of iPhone apps from ModMyiPhone. Right now developing iPhone apps seems to be the thing to do. Bravo for experimentation, innovation, and fun!

I’ve heard this a lot lately, and it is one of my favourite sayings too: just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. As professionals, we should always be looking for wonderfully simple solutions to the problems that we face. I find Jeffrey Zeldman’s tweet timely and appropriate:

That sweet iPhone Twitter client: http://twitter.com/home (iPhone has a browser, remember?)

Thank you for the reminder, Jeffrey!

September 12, 2007 at 5:42 AM

Derek Featherstone

New Issue: Floats, a Book Excerpt and More

Back from our late-summer break, Digital Web has a slew of news for you with this issue! First and foremost, we have another installment in our popular Web Design 101 series. Virgina DeBolt stops by to help us all wrap our noggins around floats in CSS. Beginners, this is a great introduction. Experts—don’t lie—we could all stand to improve our understanding of floats, one of the cascade’s more complicated concepts.

Secondly, Digital Web is glad to feature an excerpt from Kevin Potts’ new book, Web Design and Marketing Solutions for Business Websites. Kevin covers the basics of how to connect to your customers through an effective website. Focusing on landing page techniques, product page design and individual product pages is the key to keeping customers on the buying path.

Thirdly, I’d like to renew our thanks and appreciation to our Technical Director, Walker Hamilton. During our break, Walker launched Digital Web Magazine on a new CMS. This is the first issue published on the new system. Kudos, Walker!

Lastly, Digital Web is fortunate to sponsor the Voices That Matter: Web Design conference, coming up October 22-25th, 2007. In connection to the event, Digital Web is giving a way a free conference pass to one lucky reader. Contest details are coming soon to this very news feed. So stay tuned, and win a free pass to Voices That Matter: Web Design!

September 10, 2007 at 11:00 PM

Tiff Fehr

Sleep like a Rockstar at the Webmaster Jam Session

For those who have not registered for the Webmaster Jam Session, now is your chance kick it like a rockstar! The folks at Coffee Cup are giving you a chance to win an upgrade to a Presidential Suite at the Adam’s Mark hotel. That’s right, this is your chance to impress the hell out of your colleagues and friends by throwing the biggest hotel room party ever and invite everyone you know, cause there is certainly room in this 2,180 square foot pad! So what are you waiting for? Register before September 13th and you could win! Get jam’n, there are only three more days left to rock this deal!

September 10, 2007 at 9:23 PM

Nick Finck

d.Construct 2007 Live: Tom Coates - Designing for a Web of Data

After complimenting Brighton on the quantity and quality of its gay population. Tom Coates of Yahoo! Brickhouse — the internal startup incubator where they are designing for the internet of the future — wants us to realise that “your site is not your product.” You must be part of the web of data, find paths through that web, and turn those paths into navigation.

The idea of what we think of as a product is changing, says Coates: Google, Flickr, Upcoming, Facebook, they have all escaped from the browser and pushed into other environments, and they can all be built upon — creating more fun, value and enthusiasm in their users. The web is changing from a network of pages connected by links into a web of data connected by services and APIs, and anywhere the network goes, these products have an outlet: “ubiquitous invasive computing”.

Design for re-combination, we are told. It drives people to your service, and puts you in the middle of an ecosystem. FireEagle is a Brickhouse project about location (“it’s where you’re at!”). By sharing information on your current location, there is a huge amount of data you can access and provide to users.

Datasets are useful the larger they are, so pretty soon you’re going to have a scaling problem. How do you find your way around all that data? With more data, says Coates. Whether created during the production of the data (e.g. Flickr’s camera type and aperture information), obtained through direct analysis, or through crowd-sourcing (e.g. tagging), more data means more relationships between pieces of data, and thus more pathways through it.

September 7, 2007 at 2:41 PM

Matthew Pennell

d.Construct 2007 Live: Matt Webb - The Experience Stack

Matt Webb, of design consultancy Schulze & Webb, knows lots of long words and isn’t afraid to use them. Conversational Implicature. Positive Interpersonal Emotion. And Adaptive Design, which is the somewhat obscured central point of his talk. “Design is the conscious and intuitive effort to impose meaningful order.” (Victor Papanek)

Webb’s Experience Stack of human factors (tangible, cognitive), interaction (customization, sociality), product (products and people living together), service (the life-cycle), and brand (implicature, or the tendency to find illusory order in what is said), is just one in a series of disconnected slides that bounces from quotes (“Nothing is easier than believing we understand experiences we’ve never had.” – Gwen Bristow; “We assume that the problem is with us, and not with the products we’re trying to use.” – Jonathan Ive) to defining what makes a product (shelf-demonstrable, explainable in a sentence, for an audience, identifiable, measurable, and predictable), to at one point apparently controlling his slides with a Wiimote. A key takeaway is the value of customization to the user experience; options are “lazy design”, whereas customization “bridges the gap between products and people”.

September 7, 2007 at 9:23 AM

Matthew Pennell

d.Construct 2007 Live: Cameron Moll - Good vs. Great Design

How do we go from creating something good to something great? Through a series of humorous anecdotes, Cameron Moll introduces concepts that go to the core of what it is to be a truly great designer.

Great design, says Moll, is not just communication, it is meaningful communication. Something as simple as the inclusion of a hand in an iPod advert at once provides a sense of scale and indicates utility. “Design is as much a matter of finding problems as it is solving them” (Brian Lawson, How Designers Think)

On the subject of productivity, remember that user efficiency should trump machine efficiency. The much-loved Web Developer Toolbar is held up as a poor example — remember when you could Disable All Styles without having to navigate through three different sub-menus? But examples of great design abound — typography with meaning (the recent Dyson ad); bulletproofing for potential use cases (Microformats well-handled text resizing); and preventing, not fixing, problems (the ubiquitous Ajax-powered “your username is available” feature).

A stand-out tip from Moll is a simple test for the performance of your information hierarchy — simply greyscale and blur a screenshot. Can you still tell which parts of the page are the most important?

Download the slides here

September 7, 2007 at 6:36 AM

Matthew Pennell

d.Construct 2007 Live: Leisa Reichelt - Waterfall Bad, Washing Machine Good

Eschewing Keynote, or even PowerPoint, Leisa Reichelt‘s slides are simple photos of Post-It notes, and this lo-fi approach carries through into the meat of her talk on project methodologies.

The old way of running projects — scope-design-build-test, also known as the ‘waterfall’ method — is outmoded, wasteful, and just doesn’t work, says Reichelt. Instead, make incremental improvements, quick-wins, and adopt more of a ‘washing machine’ project lifecycle. It’s difficult to argue with her when even the guy credited with inventing the ‘waterfall’ agrees: “I believe in the concept, but the implementation is risky and invites failure.” (W.W. Royce)

You can’t analyse experience, Reichelt adds; it has to be experienced — but by only testing right at the end, you risk discovering problems that can send you right back to the beginning. So why is it that today, this ‘waterfall’ methodology has become the standard project management process for tech companies, when it’s bad for both designers and humans?

The ‘washing machine’ approach — iterative, early releases, multi-disciplinary, collaborative, and involving actual end users — is far-better suited to the way we as designers think, allowing us to make design decisions right the way through the project instead of stopping at an arbitrary cut-off point, and furthermore does not assume that we know what we want to end up with when we start our projects.

September 7, 2007 at 5:41 AM

Matthew Pennell

d.Construct 2007 Live: Peter Merholz - Experience Strategies

Taking the stage to the strains of a 19th-century wurlitzer, Peter Merholz contrasts the complexity of the first commercial cameras with modern experience design. Like those other ubiquitous examples of revolutionary user experience design, the iPod and the Wii, it wasn’t long before someone came along to rewrite the rules; Kodak launched their first camera with one simple instruction: “You press the button, we do the rest.”

Merholz describes product differentiation as a pyramid: simple Technology is sufficient at the birth of an industry; but pretty soon Features become your key selling point – until ‘featuritis’ sets in (cf. Word’s toolbars); and finally it is the job of Experience to distinguish your product in the market.

Developments that succeed often completely rewrite the rules – Kodak’s first camera, the Tivo, the iPhone. Thank God for the Wii, says Merholz – finally we have a new example of successful user experience design instead of the iPod (although it still creeps into one or two of his slides). Don’t play the technology and features battle.

We often build systems from the inside out — start with the data, build the logic around that, and only then consider the interface — but this new breed of products design from the outside, considering the interface first before figuring out how to make the technology serve the experience. We also have to learn to “leverage the system” — use what we know about the ecosystem in which our product exists; an iPod doesn’t do much on its own, but combined with iTunes and the online Store it becomes a compelling user experience.

And, for the customer, the experience is the only thing we are delivering, and the only thing that they care about.

September 7, 2007 at 3:45 AM

Matthew Pennell

d.Construct 2007 Live: Jared Spool - The Dawning of the Age of Experience

Why, with a technically inferior device, did Apple succeed in the MP3 player market? It’s all about the user experience, according to Jared Spool. Companies like Apple and Netflix have built up a previously non-existent business from nothing to market leader in 7 years – with 85% of new Netflix subscribers signing up on the recommendation of an existing user.

Can we translate this knowledge into our own work? The answer is simple – invest in user experience design. Spool’s list of factors that contribute to successful experience design include: Integrating the user and the business; Understanding that it is learned but not open to introspection; Accepting that it is invisible; Investing in people to meet the multi-disciplinary demands of modern design — and it’s something we are still learning how to do.

Oh, and apparently great user experience design is a lot like sexing a chicken. Who knew?

September 7, 2007 at 2:08 AM

Matthew Pennell

A new backend... no pilates involved!

Over the last few weeks Walker Hamilton has been working with other core members of the Digital Web team to revamp the inner workings of this website. I am sure Walker would have had a hard time building the new Digital Web if he weren’t working with some really great people on the Digital Web team. Matthew Pennel saved Walker’s keyboard some abuse, and Nick Finck, Carolyn Wood and Tiff Fehr provided much help and guidance. These great folks volunteered their time to help track/squash bugs and make sure the feature set rocked.

While I cannot consider myself a member of the DW team, I am proud that Walker has been able to invest some of our company’s (visicswire) time and energy into this project. We love taking great things and making them better. Congrats again to the team, and enjoy!

September 6, 2007 at 1:49 PM

Jonathan Greene

Web Standards in Email

My good friend, David Greiner at Freshview is giving web standards in email a kick in the pants: Why we need standards support in HTML email. Hold up, I know what you are thinking... email is meant to be text only, we shouldn't do "design" in email. Come on, I know you were thinking it... well, put those thoughts aside for a second and read David's take on it all. No really, read the damn thing before commenting. He actually makes a damn good case for it.

September 5, 2007 at 11:58 PM

Nick Finck

the web comes to the iPod

Apple today announced the soon to be available iPod touch - effectively a phoneless iPhone. The new iPod enables wifi based web browsing, featuring a variation of Safari as its browser. How do your page designs fair when the browser window is 320px wide? Is this the end of the fixed width page design?

September 5, 2007 at 3:06 PM

John Allsopp

Smashing Magazine Celebrates

Smashing Magazine is celebrating its first anniversary with a big design/development book giveaway, some useful questions answered by 50 designers and other web professionals, and other events. They promise a lot will be happening this week, so stop by to visit—and maybe even win a prize.

September 3, 2007 at 8:50 PM

Carolyn Wood

Media Temple

via Ad Packs