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Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

The New Browser War.

In Uncategorized, Web Design on September 24, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Internet Explorer may have beaten Netscape in the First Browser War but IE9 faces an increasingly uphill battle if it hopes to overcome its own legacy and compete with the latest modern browsers.

In recent days, the media has been teaming with reports that Microsoft is finally coming out of its cave and dragging Internet Explorer kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. According to reports millions have already downloaded the latest version of Internet Explorer, dubbed IE9.

Thanks largely to IE6, for the last few years, IE has been considered the joke of the Browser world. After resting on its laurels and relying on the ubiquity of Windows to see them through, IE has fallen from 90% to somewhere above 50%. Meanwhile, the new darlings of the Internet, namely Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome are continuing to increase their marketshare month by month.

Now, armed with their new fishdemo and a whole raft of visual and technical improvements, including the long-awaited support for HTML5 and CSS3, IE9 promises to be Microsoft’s answer to falling marketshare; that is, if it ever gets out of Beta.

What does IE9 mean for the rest us?

If you are a designer, developer or one of the growing number of internet users using Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Camino, Safari or any of the growing number of browsers now available … the answer is: not much…yet.

The problem is even if IE9 is finalised and released next year, HTML5 will still be a working draft. Even with the backing of Microsoft and Apple, there’s still no chance HTML5 will replace Flash anytime soon. Eventually, it is hoped, HTML5 will replace the ageing HTML 4.0 and reduce the complexity of XHTML, allowing web designers to more easily incorporate dynamic web 2.0 technologies such as video and sound into their websites.

As things currently stand, HTML5 won’t work in any version of Internet Explorer below IE8. The only way to get around this problem is with ugly complicated scripts that only a Javascript guru could love. So much for clean code.

If history is any guide, even if IE9 becomes the standard browser, designers will still be lumbered with legacy support for IE6, 7 & now IE8 and, unless something convinces IE users to upgrade, this isn’t likely to change, unless IE9 can first overcome its own legacy and win over their own users.

So, here’s to IE9. The King is not dead! Long live the king.

Web Design is not an oxymoron

In Uncategorized, Web Design on September 17, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Design has always been a vital part of the web. Even with all the knowledge of code in the world, a basic lack of design and layout skill can result in websites which are confusing, ugly, dysfunctional and boring.

There is much more to web design than code and markup. As we stare down the barrel at an uncertain future, web design continues to throw up new challenges. As the browser wars continue and the battle for Flash heats up, HTML5 and CSS3 are being heralded as next phase in web development, web designers are losing sight of the fact that creating websites and is not just about the science, it’s also an art.

Often when people talk about web design, they are really talking about web development. As a result, the design aspect gets pushed aside and tucked away as a subheading under usability. There are hundreds of books and articles on the web written about every aspect of web development, from plain old HTML to server side scripting, Java, PHP and Flash and the rest and much has been said about the code, markup and web development; however very little is said about the design process and even less is said about web design from the designer’s point of view.

Much of this is our own fault. We have long held on to the notion that design should be treated with respect and mystery. So much of what we do is based on our own design sense and subjective aesthetics that it becomes difficult to justify our design decisions to others. As many print-based designers now turn to the web, we are faced with a whole new way of approaching design.

Without a sound knowledge of the technical side of web design, it is impossible to communicate our ideas to others effectively. Learning web markup can be a time-consuming and difficult process but designers shouldn’t be deterred by an often impenetrable wall of geek-speak. After all, Web markup was created with designers in mind.

As designers, we need to discuss and find ways to adapt our unique understanding of layout and design to the web. The same way print designers don’t need to know how to fix a Heidelburg Printing Press to know how printing works, so designers just need to build on existing design skills and knowledge of webcraft in order to create truly beautiful, memorable web designs.

The Spaghetti Monster that ate your website.

In Uncategorized, Web Design on September 14, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Beware of the Spaghetti Website.

This diagram is the result of a bunch of DoD graduates set loose with a PowerPoint presentation. If you’re already redesigning it your head, welcome to the club, you’re a designer.

There are no shortage of ‘spaghetti monsters’ on the web. It’s a common problem when inexperienced clients and designers get bogged down in the details and ‘design-by-committee’ takes over. Your site might start off fairly simple but then the brief takes over and suddenly you’ve got fourteen people looking over your shoulder and an anxious client who thinks he’s bleeding money and before you know it, the Spaghetti Monster has eaten your website and your left with a feature bloated, ugly, indecipherable mess, which is impossible to navigate and could end up a major headache for you, the client and the poor slob that has to use it.

It’s all too easy for a website project to turn sour and sink under its own weight. The trick is knowing how to keep it all together. As designers, our job is to organise information, not just make it look good. It’s got to be easy to find and easy to understand. Web gurus call it ‘usability’ and it’s big bikkies in webland and very costly if you get it wrong.

Here are a few simple rules to help you avoid the Spaghetti Monster:

1. K.I.S.S.
It’s Keep It Simple Stupid and it’s a basic first-rule no good designer is ever without.

2. Aim to design a website your mother can use.
As the saying goes, if you have to explain a joke, it’s not funny. The same goes for websites. If a site needs a flowchart and an Engineering Degree to decipher, chances are, your mother isn’t going to stick around for rule three and neither will anyone else.

3. What’s it for?
Don’t lose sight of the goal of the website. Decide what the site needs to do and stick to it. If it’s a shopping cart, let it be a shopping cart and if it is, don’t forget to put the prices in. It’s really annoying having the look for them.

4. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
The toys are fun to play with but ask yourself if it adds anything to the usability of the site. If it doesn’t help, it certainly shouldn’t hinder.

How to create brilliant design with only ten reliable fonts.

In Uncategorized, Web Design on September 10, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Sitting at my desk, I wonder if the world is ready for yet another web design blog. After all, there are hundreds of them out there. As someone just starting out in web design, I wondered if was qualified to be offering web advice to beginners like me.

That’s the point; the web changes so fast, no one can ever be considered qualified. I’ve read articles, pondered Alistapart and Smashing Magazine and I’ve beaten my head against the impenetrable wall that is the W3school and I’ve come to realise, like the Web itself, Web design is a moveable feast.

As a print designer it’s easy to get complacent and bored doing the same thing over and over. Graphic Design has always been a rapidly shifting art form and I was as glad as anyone to see the back of bromides, chromelin proofs and films. In the last ten years the Internet has completely changed the way we look at design.

On the Web nothing stays the same. Essentially the Web is the client from hell. It’s full of confusing, frustrating limitations, endless jargon and mountains of dry, impenetrable code. Worse, it’s got a short attention span, no idea about design and a style manual that makes the Oxford Dictionary look like a travel brochure and to top it off he’s only got ten fonts.

That’s right, ten core websafe fonts including Comic Sans.

So, why am I doing this? Basically, I love design. All design. I love all its many shapes and forms and variations and I love a challenge. I’m the person who stops to admire a shop sign and clips pages out of magazines, and turns the world over searching for the right typeface. I get annoyed when people use the terms like typeface and font interchangeably and want Comic Sans burned at the stake!

As a designer, I think I’ve learned more about design in the last few months, studying web design, than in the last 10 years. So here to design, to the journey and to those ten reliable fonts…

…Or, perhaps that should be nine.