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ALA 274: The emerging content strategist

In Issue No. 274 of A List Apart, for people who make websites: a website without a content strategy is like a speeding vehicle without a driver. Learn why content matters and how to do it right.

Content-tious Strategy

by JEFFREY MACINTYRE

Every website faces two key questions: 1. What content do we have at hand? 2. What content should we produce? Answering those questions is the domain of the content strategist. Alas, real content strategy gets as little respect today as information architecture did in 1995. MacIntyre defines the roles, tools, and value of this emerging user experience specialist.

The Discipline of Content Strategy

by KRISTINA HALVORSON

It’s time to stop pretending content is somebody else’s problem. If content strategy is all that stands between us and the next fix-it-later copy draft or beautifully polished but meaningless site launch, it’s time to take up the torch—time to make content matter. Halvorson tells how to understand, learn, practice, and plan for content strategy.

And, in EDITOR’S CHOICE, from July 31, 2007:

Better Writing Through Design

by BRONWYN JONES

How is it that the very foundation of the web, written text, has taken a strategic back seat to design? Bronwyn Jones argues that great web design is not possible without the design of words.

[tags]contentstrategy, content, strategy, content strategy, web, webcontent, webdesign, userexperience, writing, editorial, Kristina Halvorson, Jeffrey Macintyre, Bronwyn Jones, alistapart[/tags]

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Interviews Press Web Design work Zeldman

“Invent something new”

Jeffrey Zeldman: Inventing Something New on the Planet” is an interview at designinterviews.com.

[tags]design, interviews, zeldman, Jeffrey Zeldman[/tags]

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business Career client services Design development work Working

20 signs you don’t want that web design project

Most clients are good clients, and some clients are great clients. But some jobs are just never going to work out well. Herewith, a few indicators that a project may be headed to the toilet. Guarantee: All incidents taken from life.

  1. Client asks who designed your website.
  2. Client shows you around the factory, introducing you to all his employees. Then, behind closed doors, tells you: “If you do a bad job with this website, I’m going to have to let these people go.”
  3. Client takes six months to respond to your proposal, but doesn’t change his due date.
  4. At beginning of get-acquainted meeting, client informs you that someone has just bought his company.
  5. Client, who manufactures Russian nesting dolls, demands to know how many Russian nesting doll sites you have designed.
  6. At meeting to which you have traveled at your own expense, client informs you that he doesn’t have a budget per se, but is open to “trading services.”
  7. Client can’t articulate a single desired user goal. He also can’t articulate a business strategy, an online strategy, a reason for the site’s existence, or a goal or metric for improving the website. In spite of all that, client has designed his own heavily detailed wireframes.
  8. As get-acquainted meeting is about to wrap, the guy at the end of the table, who has been quiet for an hour and 55 minutes, suddenly opens his mouth.
  9. Leaning forward intensely, client tells you he knows his current site “sucks” and admits quite frankly that he doesn’t know what to do about it. He asks how you would approach such a problem. As you begin to speak, he starts flipping through messages on his Blackberry.
  10. Client announces that he is a “vision guy,” and will not be involved in the “minutia” of designing the website. He announces that his employee, the client contact, will be “fully empowered” to approve each deliverable.
  11. On the eve of delivery, the previously uninvolved “vision guy” sends drawings of his idea of what the web layout should look like. These drawings have nothing to do with the user research you conducted, nor with the approved recommendations, nor with the approved wireframes, nor with the approved final design, nor with the approved final additional page layouts, nor with the approved HTML templates that you are now integrating into the CMS.
  12. Your favorite client, for whom you have done fine work in the past, gets a new boss.
  13. The client wants web 2.0 features but cannot articulate a business strategy or user goal.
  14. Shortly before you ship, the company fires your client. An overwhelmed assistant takes the delivery. The new site never launches. Two years later, a new person in your old client’s job emails you to invite you to redesign the site.
  15. Client sends a 40-page RFP, including committee-approved flow diagrams created in Microsoft Art.
  16. Client tells you he has conducted a usability study with his wife.
  17. Client begins first meeting by making a big show of telling you that you are the expert. You are in charge, he says: he will defer to you in all things, because you understand the web and he does not. (Trust your uncle Jeffrey: this man will micromanage every hair on the project’s head.)
  18. As approved, stripped-down “social networking web application” site is about to ship, a previously uninvolved marketing guy starts telling you, your client, and your client’s boss that the minimalist look “doesn’t knock me out.” A discussion of what the site’s 18-year-old users want, backed by research, does not dent the determination of the 52-year-old marketing guy to demand a rethink of the approved design to be more appealing to his aesthetic sensibility.
  19. While back-end work is finishing, client rethinks the architecture.
  20. Client wants the best. Once you tell him what the best costs, he asks if you can scale back. You craft a scaled-back proposal, but, without disclosing a budget or even hinting at what might be viable for him, the client asks if you can scale it down further. After you’ve put 40 hours into back-and-forth negotiation, client asks if you can’t design just the home page in Photoshop.

[tags]client services, client management, clients, agency, agencies, freelance, work, working, design, designing, designing life[/tags]

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A List Apart Advocacy Applications architecture business Career client services Design development experience Information architecture Standards Tools Usability User Experience UX work Working

ALA No. 273: trad vs. agile

Issue No. 273 of A List Apart, for people who make websites, looks at web design from both sides now:

Flexible Fuel: Educating the Client on IA

by KEITH LAFERRIERE

IA is about selling ideas effectively, designing with accuracy, and working with complex interactivity to guide different types of customers through website experiences. The more your client knows about IA’s processes and deliverables, the likelier the project is to succeed.

Getting Real About Agile Design

by CENNYDD BOWLES

Agile development was made for tough economic times, but does not fit comfortably into the research-heavy, iteration-focused process designers trust to deliver user- and brand-based sites. How can we update our thinking and methods to take advantage of what agile offers?

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. Issue No. 273 was edited by Krista Stevens with Erin Kissane and Carolyn Wood; produced by Erin Lynch; art-directed by Jason Santa Maria; illustrated by Kevin Cornell; technical-edited by Aaron Gustafson, Ethan Marcotte, Daniel Mall, and Eric Meyer; and published by Happy Cog.

[tags]agiledevelopment, agiledesign, informationarchitecture, scope, scopecreep, managing, client, expectations, alistapart, forpeoplewhomakewebsites[/tags]

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experience Happy Cog™ Information architecture New York City people Philadelphia User Experience UX work Working

Cognition

Two greatly gifted user experience professionals are contributing their time and talent to Happy Cog.

Kevin Hoffman

A veteran strategist and instructor, user experience director Kevin Hoffman creates compelling online experiences via patient research and sparkling creative insight. Prior to joining Happy Cog, he spent more than a decade building sites, developing strategies, and leading projects for colleges and universities in Baltimore. Kevin joins our Philadelphia office; we are thrilled to have him.

Whitney Hess

Co-inventor of a patented search tool for American Express, user experience consultant Whitney Hess has a bachelor’s in writing, a master’s in Human-Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon, and ten years’ experience making complex sites work beautifully. Her work for the New York office of Happy Cog will soon bear public fruit; we are delighted to have her on our team.

Welcome, Kevin and Whitney.

[tags]Whitney Hess, Kevin Hoffman, UX, userexperience, happycog, talent[/tags]

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architecture cities glamorous homeownership industry New York City NYC spec Standards Tools work Working Zeldman

Fast high-speed access for NYC internet professionals

I’m home watching a sick kid and waiting for Time Warner Cable to come make a third attempt to install a cable modem. If you’re good at math, that means Time Warner Cable, the market leader in my city, has twice failed to install the correct cable modem in my home.

Because the web never sleeps, even web professionals who work in an office need reliable high-speed access when they are at home. Speakeasy provided that service via DSL in our old apartment (our previous DSL provider having been wiped out, literally, on September 11, 2001), but, as documented in old posts on this site, it took two months of comedic mishap for Speakeasy to get our home DSL working. And after Best Buy bought Speakeasy, it became harder and harder to contact the company’s technical support people to resolve service problems—of which there were more and more. By the time we moved out of our old apartment in December, 2007, frequent gapping and blackouts made our 6Mb Speakeasy DSL service more frustrating than pleasant to use.

The monopoly wins the bid

So when we moved to the new apartment, we decided to immediately install cable modem access as a baseline, and then secure reliable DSL access for redundancy. Time Warner Cable had set up a deal with our new building, and no cable competitor was available to service our location (you read that right), so the Time Warner got the gig. They came quickly and the system worked immediately. The digital HD cable fails once a week, probably due to excessive line splitting, but that’s another story, and we don’t watch much TV, so it doesn’t bug us, and it isn’t germane here.

Unwilling to repeat the failures and miscommunications that marked our Speakeasy DSL installation, I went ahead and had Time Warner Cable set up the wireless network. It costs extra every month, and Time Warner’s combination modem/wireless/Ethernet hub isn’t as good as the Apple Airport devices I own, but it makes more sense to pay for a system that’s guaranteed to work than to waste billable hours debugging a network.

Due to the thickness of our walls, the wireless network never reached our bedroom, but otherwise everything was hunky-dory. Within a few days of moving in, we had reliable, wireless, high-speed internet access. Until Time Warner told us otherwise.

The notice

Last spring we received a form letter from Time Warner stating that they’d installed the wrong modem, and that we were not getting the service we’d paid for. Apparently this was true for all customers who chose the service. Some of our money was refunded, and we were advised to schedule a service appointment or come to the 23rd Street office for a free replacement modem.

I went to the 23rd Street office, took a number, and within about fifteen minutes I was sitting in front of a representative. I showed him the form letter and requested the new modem.

He asked me for my old modem.

I said I hadn’t brought it, and pointed out that I hadn’t been instructed to bring it.

We both reread the form letter.

“It’s implied,” the rep said.

“Implied?” I said.

“Sure,” he said. “If we’re going to give you a new modem, of course we’ll want your old modem.”

I guess it was implied. But it wasn’t stated. And when you charge an installation fee, a hardware fee, and a monthly service fee, and then give people the wrong modem, you probably shouldn’t rely on inference in your customer support copy. To avoid compounding your customer’s frustration, you should probably be absolutely explicit.

I didn’t say these things to the rep, because he didn’t write or approve the copy or send the wrong modem to all those homes. I left empty-handed and continued to use the modem we had. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it. Whatever the poorly written form letter had to say about it, as a customer, I didn’t have a problem with the modem.

A visit from a professional

As summer ended, Time Warner Cable sent me a new form letter. This time I was told, rather darkly, that if I failed to replace my modem, I definitely would not get the service I was paying for. Indeed, my service level would somehow be lowered, although it appeared that I would continue being billed a premium price.

So I called Time Warner, arranged a service visit, and spent the day working at home.

Around the middle of the service window, a Time Warner Cable authorized technician showed up with a regular DSL modem (not a wireless modem).

“You have wireless?” he asked in amazement.

“Yes,” I said. “Doesn’t it say that on your service ticket?”

“Hey, I’m just a consultant. I don’t work for Time Warner Cable,” he helpfully informed me.

“So are you going to get a wireless router from your truck?” I offered after a pause.

“I don’t have those,” he said.

We looked at each other for a while, and then he said, “Besides, you don’t need to replace your modem. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“Come again?”

“There’s nothing wrong with your modem. You don’t need to replace it,” he said.

Then he called someone to inform them that he hadn’t swapped modems.

Then he asked me to sign a form.

“What am I signing?” I asked. “That you didn’t do anything?” I said it more politely than it reads.

“You’re signing that I was here,” he said. So I did.

That evening, as I was bathing my daughter, Time Warner Cable called to ask if I was satisfied with the experience.

I said frankly I was confused why I’d had to stay home all afternoon for a service visit on a modem that didn’t need to be replaced.

The nice lady said she would talk to her supervisor and run some tests.

I was on hold about five minutes, during which my daughter found various ways of getting water out of the tub and onto me.

The nice lady came back on and said, “I’m sorry, sir, but we just ran tests, and you do have the wrong modem. We’ll need to send someone out.”

So here I am, two weeks later, waiting for a technician to come try again. Will this one bring the right hardware? The suspense is awesome.

Although New York is a leading creator of websites and digital content, the town’s home and office internet connectivity lag behind that of practically every other U.S. city. Two factors account for it:

  1. An aging infrastructure. It’s hard to deliver best internet services over a billion miles of fraying, overstretched, jerry-rigged copper line.
  2. Monopoly. How hard would you try if you had no real competitors?

In future installments, I’ll discuss our adventures securing high-speed access to our studios at Happy Cog New York, and discuss the pros and cons of Verizon home DSL.

[Update: Don’t miss the denoument.]

[tags]timewarner, timewarnercable, speakeasy, Verizon, DSL, cablemodem, internet, access, highspeed, high-speed, roadrunner, turbo[/tags]

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A List Apart Code Community Design development Publishing Standards work Working

ALA No. 270: progressive enhancement 2; work at home

In Issue No. 270 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

Progressive Enhancement with CSS

by AARON GUSTAFSON

Organize multiple style sheets to simplify the creation of environmentally appropriate visual experiences. Support older browsers while keeping your CSS hack-free. Use generated content to provide visual enhancements, and seize the power of advanced selectors to create wondrous (or amusing) effects. Part two of a series.

Working From Home: The Readers Respond

by OUR GENTLE READERS

We asked. Our gentle readers answered. In A List Apart No. 263 we inquired how you walk the blurry line when you work from home. Here are your secrets—how to balance work and family, maintain energy and focus, get things done, and above all, how to remember the love.

[tags]progressiveenhancement, workathome, webdesign, webdevelopment, alistapart[/tags]

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Advocacy business Community democracy dreams engagement Happy Cog™ homeownership New York City NYC Philadelphia poverty war, peace, and justice work

Housing Works launch

We call ourselves web designers, but sometimes we are more than that. Sometimes we get to participate, in however small a way, in something much larger and more important than ourselves.

Started in 1990 by four members of ACT UP, Housing Works helps people who are homeless and have HIV or AIDS. Housing Works not only saves lives, it restores dignity, purpose, and hope to those whom society has cast aside. Happy Cog is honored and humbled to have worked with this amazing organization and to announce the relaunch of the Housing Works website, redesigned by Happy Cog.

Our thanks to Housing Works’s Christopher Sealey and his team—we bow endlessly in your direction, sir. And my thanks and commendation to the amazing people at Happy Cog who did the work:

[tags]Housing Works, AIDS, HIV, homeless, homelessness, advocacy, hope, happycog, work[/tags]

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A List Apart Accessibility art direction Design development industry maturity Standards Survey Usability User Experience Web Design Websites wisdom work writing

A List Apart is changing

A List Apart, for people who make websites, is slowly changing course.

For most of its decade of publication, ALA has been the leading journal of standards-based web design. Initially a lonely voice in the desert, we taught CSS layout before browsers correctly supported it, and helped The WaSP persuade browser makers to do the right thing. Once browsers’ standards support was up to snuff, we educated and excited designers and developers about standards-based design, preaching accessibility, teaching semantic markup, and helping you strategize how to sell this new way of designing websites to your clients, coworkers, and boss.

Most famously, over the years, writers for ALA have presented the design community with one amazing and powerfully useful new CSS technique after another. Initially radically new techniques that are now part of the vocabulary of all web designers include Paul Sowden’s “Alternative Styles,” Mark Newhouse’s list-based navigation, Eric Meyer’s intro to print styles, Douglas Bowman’s “Sliding Doors,” Dave Shea’s “CSS Sprites,” Dan Cederholm’s “Faux Columns,” Patrick Griffiths and Dan Webb’s “Suckerfish Dropdowns,” Drew McLellan’s “Flash Satay,” and so on and so on. There are literally too many great ones to name here. (Newcomers to standards-based design, check Erin Lynch’s “The ALA Primer Part Two: Resources For Beginners“.)

Web standards are in our DNA and will always be a core part of our editorial focus. Standards fans, never fear. We will not abandon our post. But since late 2005, we have consciously begun steering ALA back to its earliest roots as a magazine for all people who make websites—writers, architects, strategists, researchers, and yes, even marketers and clients as well as designers and developers. This means that, along with issues that focus on new methods and subtleties of markup and layout, we will also publish issues that discuss practical and sometimes theoretical aspects of user experience design, from the implications of ubiquitous computing to keeping communities civil.

The trick is to bring our huge group of highly passionate readers along for the ride. My wife likens it to piloting the Queen Mary. (Q. How do you make the Queen Mary turn left? A. Very, very slowly.)

The slow, deliberate, gradual introduction of articles on business and theory has not pleased all of ALA’s readers, some of whom may unrealistically wish that every issue would present them with the equivalent of a new “Sliding Doors.” It is possible, of course, to publish one CSS (or JavaScript or Jquery) article after another, and to do so on an almost daily basis. We could do that. Certainly we get enough submissions. The trouble is that most articles of this kind are either edge cases of limited utility, or derivatives that do not break significant new ground. (Either that, or they are flawed in our estimation, e.g. relying on dozens of non-semantic divs to create a moderately pleasing, minor visual effect.)

We review hundreds of articles and publish dozens. Some web magazines seem to have those proportions reversed, and some readers don’t seem to mind, and that’s fine. But any content you see in ALA has been vetted and deeply massaged by the toughest editorial team in the business. And when you see a new “design tech” article in our pages, you can be sure it has passed muster with our hard-ass technical editors.

Moreover, the fields of meaningful new CSS tricks have mostly yielded their fuels. We’ve done that. We’ve done it together with you. While a few new lodes of value undoubtedly remain to be tapped, we as a community, and as individuals who wish to grow as designers, need to absorb new knowledge. ALA will continue to be a place where you can do that.

When we began focusing on web standards in 1998, we were told we were wasting readers’ time on impractical crap of little value to working designers and developers. But we kept on anyway, and the things we learned and taught are now mainstream and workaday. While we apologize to readers who are again being made irritable by our insistence on occasionally presenting material that does not fall directly within their comfort zone, we hope that this experiment will prove to be of value in the end.

[tags]alistapart, webdesign, magazine, editorial, content, focus, change, publishing, standards, webstandards, css, design, layout, userexperience[/tags]

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A List Apart Design Typography Usability User Experience UX work writing

Mental models. Yipes! Stripes!

In Issue No. 267 of A LIST APART, For People Who make Websites…

Look at it Another Way

by INDI YOUNG

Before you can solve a user’s problems, you must see them as that user sees them. Once you understand what drives people’s behavior, not only do new ideas flow freely, but the ideas that flow are appropriate and useful. Indi Young tells how to get out of your own way and hear what your users are telling you.

and…

Zebra Striping: More Data for the Case

by JESSICA ENDERS

As designers or marketers, we share a desire that our tables and forms be easy to scan, read, and use. Does the widely practiced shading of alternate rows help, hurt, or have no effect? A previous study proving inconclusive, designer and researcher Jessica Enders has tackled the conundrum again, coming up with statistically relevant data and a set of recommendations.

[tags]jessicaenders, indiyoung, mentalmodels, zebrastripe, zebrastriping, alistapart, ALA, happycog, publications[/tags]

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A List Apart content Design development Publications Publishing Standards style work writing

ALA 266: next generation sprites, metaphors

In Issue No. 266 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

CSS Sprites2 – It’s JavaScript Time

by DAVE SHEA

In 2004, Dave Shea took the CSS rollover where it had never gone before. Now he takes it further still—with a little help from jQuery. Say hello to hover animations that respond to a user’s behavior in ways standards-based sites never could before.

Mapping Memory: Web Designer as Information Cartographer

by AARON RESTER

The rise of the social web demands that we rethink our traditional role as builders of digital monuments, and turn our attention to the close observation of the spaces that our users are producing around us. It’s time for a new metaphor. Consider cartography.

[tags]daveshea, aaronrester, alistapart, webdesign, webdevelopment, informationarchitecture, userexperience, css, sprites, jquery, animation, navigation[/tags]

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A List Apart An Event Apart cities Code conferences content creativity CSS Design development eric meyer events experience Happy Cog™ Ideas industry Jason Santa Maria San Francisco Usability User Experience UX Web Design work Working Zeldman

Photos from An Event Apart San Francisco

Take a dip in the Flickr photo pool from An Event Apart San Francisco 2008. Day Two is about to begin.

111 Minna Gallery (MediaTemple party)

[tags]aeasf08, aneventapart, webdesign, conference, sanfrancisco[/tags]

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Design Happy Cog™ links Philadelphia Web Design work

Books-a-Million

Pssst. New Happy Cog Studios design. Books-A-Million Online Bookstore. It looks even better when you start using it. Details soon at happycog.com.

Update: A Books-A-Million case study is now available for your reading pleasure at Happy Cog dot com.

[tags]books-a-million, happycog, design, webdesign[/tags]

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A List Apart Accessibility Community Design development Publications Publishing work writing

ALA No. 265: better experience

In Issue No. 265 of A List Apart, for people who make websites: The web is a conversation, but not always a productive one. In “Putting Our Hot Heads Together,” Carolyn Wood shares ways to transform discussion forums and comment sections from shooting ranges into arenas of collaboration. Plus: Because of limited awareness around Deafness and accessibility in the web community, it seems plausible to many of us that good captioning will fix it all. It won’t. In “Deafness and the User Experience,” Lisa Herrod explains how to enhance the user experience for all deaf people.

P.S. The Survey for People Who Make Websites closes Tuesday, August 26. Don’t miss your chance to help educate the world about the practice of our profession. Please take the survey and encourage your friends and colleagues who make websites to do likewise.

Comments off.

[tags]alistapart, deafness, user experience, UX, accessibility, collaboration, discussion, comments, community [/tags]

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A List Apart Accessibility Applications architecture art direction business Career client services Community content Design development Diversity experience Happy Cog™ Ideas industry Standards Survey User Experience UX Web Design work Working writing

The Survey for People Who Make Websites

It’s back, it’s improved, and it’s hungry for your data. It’s A List Apart’s second annual survey for people who make websites.

I took it! And so should you. The Survey for People Who Make Websites.

Last year nearly 33,000 of you took the survey, enabling us to begin figuring out what kinds of job titles, salaries, and work situations are common in our field.

This year’s survey corrects many of last year’s mistakes, with more detailed and numerous questions for freelance contractors and owners of (or partners in) small web businesses. There are also better international categories, and many other improvements recommended by those who took the survey last year.

Please take the survey and encourage your friends and colleagues who make websites to do likewise.

[Comments off. Pings on.]

[tags]survey, web design survey, webdesign, webdevelopment, professional, alistapart[/tags]

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