Archive for the 'Design' Category

That web-geek conference in Brighton

d.Construct 2006

I don’t know about you, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s successfully messed up my body clock but I don’t think I can blame anyone but myself for that…

So, I arrived in Brighton on Thursday night after a surprisingly trouble-free train journey. After checking into the hotel, I wandered up the road to Heist for the pre-conference social gathering. I met some new people, caught up with the usual suspects and generally had a good time. We finished up at a random pub on the sea-front at about 3 a.m.

Just under five hours later, my alarm went off. I staggered downstairs where I self-served myself the biggest breakfast of all time, before wandering up to the Corn Exchange, venue for the conference. A bit of fresh air did me the world of good, so I was feeling surprisingly wide awake by the time I got there. I grabbed the freebies, downed some coffee and got chatting to some more of the peeps before we were called into the auditorium.

The conference itself was ace. We had talks from Jeff Barr, Simon Willison & Paul Hammond, Jeremy Keith (twice!), Aral Balkan, Derek Featherstone, Thomas Vander Wal and Jeff Veen. Various other attendees around the internet have dissected each of the sessions so I won’t go into detail.

Obviously it wasn’t all perfect. Biggest problem for me was the lack of leg-room in the auditorium. Maybe it’s just my bad knees?

The good stuff made up for that though. Aral’s “Mash my Flex up” presented Flash to me in a whole new light. Derek Featherstone came up with a series of gotchas and examples of deeply inaccessible coding on some very high profile sites (hello Google Calendar). Finally, Jeff Veen stole the show (as per usual). It was one of his inspirational tour-de-force talks, leaving most of the audience thinking “Yeah, this stuff is ace! Let’s go and build it, right now!”

Which of course we didn’t. After running off to drop off various laptops, bags and miscellaneous freebies off at numerous hotels around Brighton, we all congregated at The Terraces for the Snipperoo sponsored after-party. Alas, I missed out on the free-bar (which ran out in about ten minutes flat). That place closed somewhat earlier than billed, so a bunch of us went-a-wandering, eventually ending up in Sidewinder. Again, I finally crawled into bed shortly after 3 a.m.

Just under five hours later, my alarm went off. I staggered downstairs where I self-served myself the second-biggest breakfast of all time, before checking out and wandering up to the station. After a surprisingly trouble-free train journey, I got home to find that I’d lost my house-keys and ended up climbing in a window. Utter genius. Where did they turn up? Bottom of my wash-bag. Go figure…

Of course one of the best things about the whole conference was the backnetwork. I didn’t have to collect business cards from everybody I met. Instead I logged on, added them to my network (all done with XFN) et voila! I have their contact details. What’s more, it picks up people’s blog posts that mention , along with any Flickr photos tagged with dconstruct06. Madgex, that was an inspired idea!

Oh wouldn’t it be nice…

…if we could get away with just some of the silly ideas we come up with at work?

Alas I wasn’t allowed to put the Evil Edna button onto the live web-site.

Sometimes it comes out of nowhere

I’d been fighting with my own imagination all day. I was trying to get my head in the right place to design something and it just wasn’t happening. Photoshop was sat there, wide open, but nothing was happening.

I spent some time answering people’s questions on the SitePoint forums. I doodled for a bit. I looked at the various CSS gallery sites. I even read A List Apart’s stunningly well timed new article, Designing Through the Storm to no avail. I read through some of my RSS feeds but there was nothing that grabbed me.

It just wasn’t happening. My mind was in the wrong place.

I stared at the blank canvas in Photoshop. I stuck our corporate logo on there and suddenly it wasn’t quite so blank anymore. Now, what if I was to run the nav down there this time…?

The next time I looked up it was 7 p.m. and everybody else had left the office. I had the beginnings of a nice mock-up in front of me now though. That icon looks out of place there, though… nope, leave it, the cleaners have started hoovering, time to get out.

I bet when tomorrow rolls around I’ll have lost the thread again.

See, that’s how you do it!

You may remember the rants I had about the awful new web-sites launched by Hope, Mojo and 24Seven a while back. I was beginning to wonder if we would ever see the mountain bike industry launch a decent website. Well at long last it’s happened: Santa Cruz Bicycles UK have redesigned – and sugarstreet did a damn good job of it.

It looks fantastic. It works well. The HTML code is good. The Javascript is unobtrusive and the site continues to work with it switched off. The images have meaningful alt-content. The content is good.

Obviously it’s not perfect: The navigation isn’t particularly bulletproof and falls apart when I scale the text up. That’s just about all I can find that’s wrong with it right now though, which puts it leagues ahead of most other bike-related sites.

Good work peeps.

[Disclaimer: Mattmagic, the designer behind the redesign, is a friend of mine. My verdict on the website would be the same if I didn’t know him from Adam.]

The obligatory “I’m off to @media 2006” post

I’ll be jumping on a train to London in the not-too-distant future and making my way down to the @media 2006 conference, which is nice.

If you’re going, I might well see you there. I you’re not, well, yah boo sucks to you.

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More failed redesigns: Mojo and 24Seven

I spotted Hope Technology’s new website a while back and branded it a failure. Alas that seems to be something that’s spreading throughout the UK mountain bike industry.

Mattmagic pointed out that both Mojo and 24Seven have recently launched redesigns. He’s left it to me to point out exactly what’s wrong though. Let’s take them in turn:

24Seven Bikes

  • That’s possibly the most pointless splash page in the world, ever. What’s more, it’s completely inaccessible. Where a normal link would have worked, they’ve gone with an image map. They’ve used obstructive javascript instead of the href attribute. Best of all, they’ve forgotten to include any alt text. Search engines? Screen readers? No, I didn’t think so.
  • Oh, I see, it’s supposed to open in a perfectly sized popup window isn’t it? It doesn’t though, because I’ve told Firefox to open links in the same window unless I say otherwise. Someone needs to read Veen’s Give Up Control.
  • Frames? In this day and age? Are you quite mad?
  • Great use of the title element. A nice helping of UNTITLED DOCUMENT across the top of the browser window looks really professional.
  • Those are some nice navigation buttons you have there. I can’t read them though. Is there any chance you might choose a legible font next time?
  • Whenever you use a graphic to create a navigation element, you must supply alt text. It’s not an optional extra.
  • Speaking of navigational elements, using select elements to jump between pages is just plain daft, especially when they cease to work without Javascript.

Oh I give up. I could carry on for hours about this one.

Mojo Suspension Hoodoo

  • Oh man, another great splash page. Why do people still bother with these? This one looks great if you’re browsing maximised at 1280 x 1024. Anything less and I start to get horizontal scrollbars. Even better is the fact that there are no obvious navigational elements. It takes a good few seconds before you realise those three words down on the bottom left are buttons.
  • What the hell is an M-CYCLE anyway? Just write motorcycle and be done with it.
  • We’re currently greeted with the message “THE WEBSITE IS CURRENTLY BEING UPDATED (20/03/06), SO SOME IMAGES & LINKS MAY NOT WORK. PLEASE BARE WITH US, AS IT WILL BE SORTED OUT VERY SOON, THANK YOU.” Firstly, you might want to spell “bear” correctly. Secondly, why did you launch if the site was going to be full of broken links? That looks professional, doesn’t it?
  • Once we get inside we find great use of frames once again. I don’t tend to keep my browser maximised, and I quite often have a sidebar open. Thanks to the brilliant design of this site, half of the navigation disappears off the side of the page. Now, I know I ranted about unecessary horizontal scrollbars up there, but here’s somewhere I actually need one. Unfortunately, one isn’t forthcoming. Just fantastic.
  • Clearly I’m going to have to shout it this time. ALT TEXT, ALT TEXT, ALT TEXT and not just when you feel like it, either.
  • The bottom frame and the flash animation that sits within it: That really is completely pointless guff isn’t it?

Again, I could go on.

In conclusion

These sites are both great examples of work by someone who’s got themselves a copy of Dreamweaver but has virtually no idea how to use it, let alone an understanding of exactly what it does or what it outputs. “As long as it looks OK on my PC that’s good enough”.

As for semantic markup and standards compliant code, there’s no point even showing it to the validator. It’s awful. Not quite as bad as Hope’s code, but I suspect that’s simply because Dreamweaver has cleaned up it’s act a bit over the years.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t particularly enjoy tearing someone else’s work apart like this. I know that these companies produce damn good product and have great customer service. Alas their websites are absolutely awful and someone needs to say something.

So well done. Congratulations on your . Joe Clark would be proud. For your sakes I hope you got them dead cheap.

First Annual Naked Day: April 05 2006

So, Dustin Diaz has come up with the idea of Naked Day. It’s simple really, you just switch off your website’s stylesheets for the whole of April 5th.

It’ll be interesting to see how well all of the participating sites out there work without stylesheets. Mine’s not too bad, but it could definitely be better.

I’ve put the stylesheets back now, after all it’s now April 6th here and I can’t stand to look at the nudeness anymore.

So this is how I’ve been working recently

Making CSS layouts work in Internet Explorer for Windows has for me, until recently, been something of a struggle. I know CSS virtually inside out, and still the dreaded IE factor would always get in the way. Some fairly recent developments have changed all that for me though.

  • First up is the discovery and subsequent documentation of Internet Explorer’s mystical “hasLayout” property. Basically, if your CSS can trigger hasLayout on an HTML element, it magically solves lots of problems with IE’s page rendering.
  • Second is an obscure piece of the CSS specification, which basically says any element with overflow set to something other than visible should expand to contain any floated elements within it. This only works for Internet Explorer if you can trigger the mystical haslayout on the element in question (AVK has more).

Blah blah blah, obscure something-or-other, whatever

You’re right, it’s pretty dull stuff, but put the two things together and they add up to something big. This very simple approach has solved two of the biggest fundamental problems with using CSS for page layout: Floated content escaping from it’s parent element, and compatibility with Internet Explorer.

  • To stop floated content from escaping from it’s parent element, set that parent element’s overflow to hidden (or something else other than “visible”).
  • To make the layout work correctly in Internet Explorer for Windows, give that same element a width or height (or use another way of triggering hasLayout).

Simple huh?

But what about the real world?

OK, let’s take the current incarnation of this very website. On each of the major structural elements on the page, I’ve set (for example) width: 25em; and overflow: hidden;. The former triggers hasLayout, and the latter encloses any floated content. Ah bisto! The site works in Internet Explorer with virtually no fiddling. Superb.

So take two things away from this: Non-visible overflow and dimensions. They are your saviours.