ALA 260: Bolton vs. Boulton

In Issue No. 260 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

Writing an Interface Style Guide

by JINA BOLTON

Ever designed or developed a beautiful interface only to find your hard work ruined months later by gaudy graphics or invalid markup? With proper documentation you’ll have a better chance at seeing your interface stay beautiful. Jina Bolton guides us through the process of developing an interface style guide.

Saving the Spark: Developing Creative Ideas

by MARK BOULTON

Ideas are at the heart of every creative process. However, coming up with them can be hard work. Mark Boulton arms us with tools to meet this challenge.

About the Magazine

A List Apart explores the design, development, and meaning of web content, with a special focus on web standards and best practices. Explore our articles or find out more about us.

Comments off

Comments are welcome in the magazine.

[tags]alistapart, design, styleguide, ideas, brainstorming[/tags]

UX Zeitgeist (beta)

A colleague who is interested in learning more about user experience (UX) design, information architecture, and usability, asked what sites he should visit. I suggested he check the UX Zeitgeist (beta) section of Rosenfeld Media. Not only is it UX Zeitgeist interesting and informative in its own right; it’s also a reasonable who’s who, with an index of 120 UX people, sortable by mindshare, books authored, and other facets.

[tags]userexperience, UX zeitgeist, zeitgeist, UI, design, rosenfeldmedia, UX[/tags]

Flowers in your hair

An Event Apart, the design conference for people who make websites, has posted its San Francisco 2008 schedule. Join us August 18–19, 2008 at the Palace Hotel for two jam-packed 9.5-hour-long days of learning and inspiration with Heather Champ, Kelly Goto, Jeremy Keith, Luke Wroblewski, Dan Cederholm, Tantek Çelik, Jeffrey Veen, Derek Featherstone, Liz Danzico, Jason Santa Maria, Eric Meyer, and Jeffrey Zeldman.

[tags]sanfrancisco, aeasf08, aneventapart, design, webdesign, UX, web, conference, conferences[/tags]

ALA 258: art of community, science of design

What does it take to build an online community like Flickr’s? And how can we tell if interface design conventions we take for granted actually help or hurt users? In Issue No. 258 of A List Apart, for people who make websites, George Oates, a key member of the core team that shaped the Flickr community, tells what it will take to build the next Flickr (hint: the answer isn’t Ajax). And Jessica Enders drops some science on the widespread belief that zebra stripes aid the reader by guiding the eye along a table row.

[tags]alistapart, publishing, publications, happycog, zebrastripes, zebrastriping, usability, design, community, flickr, georgeoates, jessicaenders[/tags]

Stick out your tongue

While employed at a famous New York advertising agency twenty years ago, a partner and I created a TV commercial touting an over-the-counter medicine client’s revolutionary new cold and flu remedy for young children.

Only when the shooting and shouting was over did we learn that the product did not, in fact, exist.

The commercial whose every creative detail we’d had to fight for was never going to run.

The client—the marketing side of a product development group—had a budget of $60,000 to spend. So they spent it, even though the R&D side of the product development group had not been able to deliver the product.

It was not a liquid medicine that needed to be measured. It was not a pill that needed to be chewed or swallowed. It was a pill that dissolved instantly on the tongue. Or would have been, if the engineers had been able to create it.

During weeks of presentation, the client rejected campaigns that would have caught the attention of the nation’s parents. The client bought a safe campaign that called less attention to itself, then set about systematically softening its edges. My partner and I wanted to cast like Fellini or Woody Allen. We brought in amazing children of various backgrounds, their faces rich in character. But the client picked cute blonde girls instead.

And so on. Every decision, however small, required approval. Everything was a fight. A ladies-and-gentlemanly fight. A fight that sounded like polite, mutually respectful discussion. A fight with invisible knives.

We won some and we lost some. For all the back-and-forth with the client, the resulting commercial wasn’t bad at all. The first few times anyone—even the guy delivering sandwiches—saw it, they laughed. Afterwards, they smiled. It could have been okay. It could have gotten my partner and me out of that agency and to a better one.

After the shoot was completed, the client told our account executive that the product did not exist and the commercial was never going to run.

The client had known this going in. So why didn’t they let us win more creative battles? Because they wanted something soft and safe to show the boss who had the power of life and death over their budget.

Why did the boss give them $60,000 to produce a commercial for a product that didn’t exist? Because that’s how corporations work. If they didn’t spend advertising dollars in 1988, they wouldn’t get ad dollars in 1989, when (in theory) they would finally have a product to advertise.

Governments, at least the ones I know of, work the same way. Since last night, the city of New York has been paving 34th Street in places it doesn’t need to be paved. Why do they do this? To justify the budget. In a better world, money set aside to pave streets that don’t need paving would be reassigned to something the city actually needs—like affordable housing, or medical care for poor or homeless people. But cities are corporations—that Mike Bloomberg is New York’s mayor merely confirms this—and few corporations are agile enough to rethink budgetary distributions on the basis of changing needs.

Last week, in an airport, on one of the inescapable widescreen TVs set to CNN (and always set to the wrong resolution) I saw a commercial for a revolutionary children’s medicine product that melts instantly on the tongue.

I guess they finally made it.

[tags]advertising, design, artdirection, writing, copywriting, TV, production, commercials, adverts, wisdom, work, experience, budgets, business, waste, government, medicine, OTC, overthecounter, newyork, nyc[/tags]

The feed is gone

Over the weekend, I added my Ma.gnolia bookmarks feed to my blog post template, such that every post would be followed by links to and descriptions of the last five external web pages to have caught my fancy. Inserting the feed into the template was easy and took all of three minutes.

This morning, I removed the feed.

Why I inserted the feed

From 1995 until around the time Happy Cog worked on the Ma.gnolia design project, one of the things I wrote about here was other people’s websites. I did it because I was passionate about web design, and so were the people who read this site. And of course, writing about other people’s sites also provided a ready form and steady stream of content. From 1995 until about 2001, I wrote here several times a day, and had millions of readers.

Then married life, and a business that grew in spite of my lifelong effort to avoid commercial success, ate into my blogging time. Today I write less frequently and have fewer readers. In an effort to provide linkage even when I don’t have time to write posts, I added my Ma.gnolia feed to my site’s sidebar in 2006. (It’s still there, on my front page. You may need to scroll down to see it.)

A flaw in the design

Not everyone notices the Ma.gnolia feed in my sidebar, due to a flaw—one of many—in the way I redesigned zeldman.com in 2004. (I used to redesign this site several times a year, but haven’t touched it since Spring of 2004.)

When I redesigned zeldman.com in 2004, I thought it would be “neat” to make my sidebar’s linked text almost the same color as the background until you hovered over it. The idea being that the focus was on the site’s content, not all the little crap in the sidebar. The sidebar was like sand, and you, the reader, were like a beachcomber with a metal detector. Hover the metal detector over the sand, and you might find a quarter. Hover over my sidebar, and you might find additional content.

Like most “neat” ideas that aren’t entirely practical, this one required compromise in the execution. The result is a conventional sidebar with low-contrast text. Because of the low contrast, lots of people (including people with certain kinds of dyslexia) pay little attention to the sidebar’s content. So I need to redesign.

But meantime, slipping the Ma.gnolia feed out of the sidebar (on blog posts) and into the body of posts itself seemed like another neat idea. People who’d ignored the Ma.gnolia feed in the sidebar would now, finally, bask in its glory. Every post would end with the last five third-party links I’d reviewed. Neat, neat, neat.

Why I removed the feed

This morning I removed the feed from the body of the blog posts for a technical reason and a design/usability reason.

Technically, as we all know, it’s not a great idea to pull content from a third-party site. The third-party site can be slow. It can get hacked. It can even go down, causing one’s own pages not to finish rendering. (As I write this, Ma.gnolia’s server appears to be taking a little nap—an infrequent occurrence, although the server is often slow. As for my embedded Twitter feed, like yours, it suffers from near-constant narcolepsy.)

And from a design usability perspective, the idea just didn’t gel. For one thing, people would dig up old posts and write comments on them about sites newly added to the Ma.gnolia feed. Owing to the age of the posts, those comments were unlikely to be found by other readers. And as soon as the feed updated, the comments would become nonsensical, because they discussed content no longer found in the post.

So the feed is gone.

[tags]design, usability, ma.gnolia, zeldman.com, happycog, links[/tags]

Looks good to Mies

The Seed Conference, held in Crown Hall (the “Cathedral of Modernism” designed by Mies van der Rohe) is a one-day event about design, entrepreneurship, and inspiration. Learn about taking control of your own work by seeking out methods to inspire new thinking and adopt unconventional ideas about collaboration and business.

Speakers include Jason Fried, Jim Coudal, Carlos Segura, Jake Nickell and and Jeffrey Kalmikoff, Edward Lifson, and Gary Vaynerchuk. An open panel will follow the presentations and the day will conclude with a reception on the lawn of Crown Hall, featuring wines selected by Mr. Vaynerchuk. Registration is $499/person; attendance is limited to 270; seats are going fast (with nearly 50% sold out in the first week).

[tags]seed, seedconference, design, conferences, segura-inc, carlossegura, 37signals, coudal, threadless, vaynerchuk, edwardlifson[/tags]

ALA 256: map rolling & data viz

In Issue No. 256 of A List Apart, for people who make websites, Wilson Miner shares techniques for incorporating data visualization into standards-based web navigation patterns, and Paul Smith shows how to replicate Google Maps’ functionality with open source software to produce high-quality mapping applications tailored to your design goals. Read and enjoy.

P.S. Just for the heck of it, we’ve started an A List Apart Facebook group. Saddle up!

Comments off. (Comment in the magazine.)

[tags]alistapart, datavisualization, maprolling, googlemaps, opensource, navigation, standards, webstandards, design, webdesign[/tags]

WordPress 2.5 Preview

Yesterday, Matt Mullenweg opened the kimono on WordPress 2.5, built by Automattic and designed by Happy Cog:

“For the past few months, we’ve been working with our friends at Happy Cog—Jeffrey Zeldman, Jason Santa Maria, and Liz Danzico—to redesign WordPress from the ground-up. The result is a new way of interacting with WordPress that will remain familiar to seasoned users while improving the experience for everyone. This isn’t just a fresh coat of paint—we’ve re-thought the look of WordPress, as well as how it’s organized so that you can forget about the software and focus on your own creative pursuits.”

Although 2.5 is still just in preview, the current build is solid enough to build a house on. I’m using it right now. (You’re soaking in it.)

Most of the buzz I’ve seen so far is enthusiastic about the new features, the new look, and the emphasis on usability.

There’s been some nice early press coverage, too. From a detailed review at Technosailor, “10 Things You Need To Know About WordPress 2.5:”

“By far the most comprehensive change in this release was the complete rethinking of how WordPressers do their administrative tasks. Happy Cog Studios was enlisted to do usability research and testing—with the emphasis being on usability research.”

And this, from Wired Magazine:

“Although WordPress 2.5 includes some nice new features like better plugin management, full-text feeds, and built-in photo galleries, the most immediately obvious change is the sleek new look, which comes courtesy of Jeffery [sic] Zeldman and the Happy Cog design team.”

Much more about WordPress 2.5 will soon be revealed. We love this product—it’s the tool that got me to stop hand-rolling zeldman.com after lo, these many millennia—and we’re thrilled to be part of its rejiggering.

[tags]wordpress, 2.5, happycog, design, redesigns[/tags]