Responsive Design is Not the (complete) Answer

In the last year or so, “Responsive Design” has become quite the buzzword. It’s not just industry jargon or a little article on A List Apart anymore. Project managers, business analysts, salesmen and marketing executives are tossing around the term “Responsive Design”. Heck, a year ago I was explaining the concept to an executive, and now executives are asking for it by name. I’ve even heard of executives asking where the “Responsify” button is in Tridion. Now that Responsive Design has become a buzzword, I’m seeing its meaning and intent get distorted. So, I’d like to offer a gentle “realignment” of where “Responsive Design” fits in the web experience. Read More

Developing Web Tools with a Good User Interface

For the past few months I’ve been developing three different web-based tools.  All three are things that I started as tools for me, and it was after talking to other folks that I learned they might ultimately be useful for them, too. When my user base shifted from just me to a whole lot of other folks, I made a small list of rules to help me make my web tools user-friendly instead of Frank-friendly.   As one of those tools nears completion, I figured I’d share my lil’ list of rules for making good web tools.
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Clever CSS3 Tricks: Using the em in text-shadow and box-shadow

Any of my web development buddies have learned that I’m a huge fan of the em. Huge fan. We’d be Facebook friends, we’d go on vacation together, yadda yadda yadda. When you look at my online resume you’ll be hard-up to find too many px written into my stylesheet. In fact, almost every property with a px is a shadow of some kind. But that won’t be the case too much longer, because I’ve got a nifty trick for creating kind-of global shadows by using the em instead of pixels in your shadows. Read More

CSS Tip: An em isn’t an “m”, but an ex is an “x”

I’m in a CSS mailing list and this morning, Vince over at Ghodmode Development shared a fun little experiment showing that an em isn’t an “m” in CSS. I, along with others, more or less responded with “d’uh”. We’ve seen this phenomenon for years and didn’t totally understand the purpose. In fact, I attempted to devise an experiment that would prove when an em is an “m”, and I couldn’t. Turns out, I don’t know anything about font sizing. Who knew?

 
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Why I use a Mac for building websites and Android for making phone calls

I hated Mac for years. Approximately 27 of them, if I recall. Then my wife twisted my arm and we bought an iMac. Then, two work-issued Macbooks later and I’ll admit that I like designing and developing with Apple’s OSX interface. But I’m not a fan of the iP/hone/ad/od.  Why? Usability isn’t user experience, and  Apple’s mobile devices are a win for the former and an epic failure for the later (I eagerly await your refutations ;).
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Layering the feedback with CSS

Feedback Matters

Long gone are the days where all we did was stare at a website and absorb content. We fill out contact forms, buy stuff, hold chat sessions, Tweet this and unlike that. These website interactions become more complex as they slowly get better at mirroring real-world interactions. One of the steps in mirroring real-world interactions is providing natural, progressive and intuitive feedback.

Ask any pianist or drummer why they don’t like the cheap electronic equivalents and they’ll tell you, “It doesn’t feel real.” That bounce of the key, the way the sound gets louder as you hit it harder; the feedback is either missing, or just wrong. Contrarily, video gamers can’t imagine a day that their controllers didn’t vibrate because it gave them a sense of the game they weren’t getting with graphics.
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The layers of Design

Ogres and onions have layers…

And so do websites. Depending on who you’re talking to and how they’re slicing it, you’ll get different names that essentially represent the same thing: content, design, and functionality. While the end user looks at a site and sees seamless pages linking to one another, the content authors, designers, and developers see the website as a collection of layers that interact with each other.  As content strategies become more complex, we see content being sliced into more distinct layers for content management systems while the design gets treated as a flat, layer-less component of the site.
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Are New Pop-Ups the Old Flash Intros?

After a project was laid on me in the eleventh hour which had to be delivered in the twelfth, I found myself madly trying to educate myself on a foreign subject. The project and the subject doesn’t really matter. What mattered to me was collecting enough data for me to deliver it on time.  Google performed beautifully; but a lot of the sites failed. Why? Pop-ups.
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The CMS Diaries: What’s your first step

I’m beginning the first in a series of posts call the CMS diaries. I’m a contractor for a very large and reputable organization which is launching a new website very soon. I was brought in specifically to serve as the business analyst for the web content management system. As exciting as that might sound, it isn’t.  In the wonderful, wide, world of the web – the CMS is the dullest part. The guy who does your CMS is the accountant for Greenday†. There’s no chance of being hip, cool, or creative. At best, he can say that he’s the reason American Idiot was 99 cents a song on iTunes. Regardless, I will sexify the incredibly boring and forgotten part of your web redesign: The Web Content Management System.

Hold on. What’s really wrong with your web site?

Design. That’s usually what people will tell you, because no one likes a design from last season. And that’s usually what lead to the redesign. And truthfully, design alone is an awful reason to redesign your site. Read through anything that Steve Krug and Jakob Nielsen have written and they’ll tell you it isn’t design, it’s usability. Page one of Ginny Reddish’s book, Letting Go of the Words, says that, “people come to web sites for the content that they think (or hope) is going to be there.” If design is what’s wrong, spend an afternoon with a designer and a CSS developer and fix it*.

Now, if brand and design isn’t the issue, then what I hope is that you’ve gotten user insights that have forced you to focus on usability. And to go back to my previous quote; that makes content top priority. So take your beret-wearing Über-Genius of a web designer out to the park and leave him there to draw pictures of auras. It’s time to bring in the accountant.

Numbers aren’t just your friend, they’re your FaceBook Friend

It’s called web analytics. Analytics is so boring and unsexy, right? Right. But you need someone to actually figure out the user behaviors. Unless you’re planning on doing formal user experience and usability testing, web analytics are your best bet. Google Analytics is free. Throw a few lines of Javascript on your web pages and you’re set. Get in your accountant, or other available nerds to study the numbers and tell you what’s wrong. Getting a committee to tell you what colors are hip won’t fix this. You need objectivity – which numbers can offer.

You want to figure out what people are really getting out of your site. So drop the emotions about how many hours your poured into that venn diagram in the shape of hearts to describe your HR department’s org chart*. No one saw it in two years. But if you’ve got 4,000 searches in the last month for your phone number, the problem is with how someone can find content. It’s time to rearrange your website. That is called Information Architecture.

What does Information Architecture have to do with a web content management system?

What does a stock broker have to do with Green Day’s next album? If it’s going to make a lot of money, you want to know what to do with the money. If you’ve realized that the way your content is arranged on the site is the reason users can’t use it – then your first step is to figure out how to architect your content.

How should the user be finding content?  Look at your numbers and figure out what isn’t getting activity. What is, but isn’t easy to find on the site right now? It isn’t time for a Content Management System yet. It isn’t even time for a design. It’s time to reconstruct your entire website, so that users can find what they want. There’s your first step in the CMS Diaries.

†A quote from a contractor, after I described my job to him. He described me as, “the accountant of the web”
*Unless your existing CMS or infrastructure actually prevents the ability to update stylesheets in a timely manner. If that’s the problem, you need a new CMS.
**Not a joke. I encountered a venn diagram in the shape of Balloons which was actually an org chart. It took three months for the marketing department to create it and despite that no one had seen it in two years, politics kept it coming over.