Meta Data: What do you use | April 30, 2004

I was thinking about meta data earlier today. I see lot's of sites who's head tags are stuffed full of meta tags and link tags, yet I rarely make use of such data on the sites I build. So I'm interest In what meta data you put into your sites and why.

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Red Blossoms | April 28, 2004

red blossoms

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Sound on the Web - Whats Your Take? | April 26, 2004

I have to say that I really don’t like sound on the web. I usually surf while listening to iTunes, so any site with it’s own sound track just interferes with the music I’m already listening to. I frequently have numerous tabs open at any one time, so whenever these kind of clashes occur, it’s a mad scramble through all on my tabs to find the culprit. The cacophony is usually so great that my initial instinct is to close that site down as soon as possible. Sometimes I do look for a mute button, but usually can’t bear to wait that long.

More often than not, a sound track detracts from the user experience rather than add to it. It’s like elevator music or hold music. If I want to listen to music while I shop, I’ll bring an iPod. I don’t want to be force fed a 20 second loop of Vivaldi or Moby illegally downloaded of the web. And I definitely don’t want to hear some badly composed drum and base loop bought for $10 from annoying-flash-loops.com.

I was pretty surprised a few years back when D&AD decided not to hand out a website award because none of the sites made enough use of sound. For me this shows more about the judges lack of understanding of how people use the web, than a problem with any of the submissions.

I’m not saying that all sound is bad. Used intelligently it can make GUI’s feel more responsive and help brand a site. However, 9 times out of 10, sound on the web is just irritating. I’ve seen so many badly designed and useless sites that use sound that I immediately associate these negative qualities with any site that force feeds me a loop. Another reason why I’m quick to shut these sites down.

However, I realise that this is a very personal and subjective feeling, so I’m curious as to other peoples take on the subject. Do you likes sites with sound or do you find them irritating? If you like sites that use sound can you point to any that use audio intelligently?

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Well Designed PC | April 25, 2004

Nanobe computer sat next to an apple

Seems like Apple no longer have the monopoly on well designed home computers.

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WiFi MP3 player for your Stereo | April 24, 2004

M2000 WiFi MP3 player

How cool is this. I want one!

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Blossoms | April 24, 2004

Pictures of blossom trees taken last weekend in the Brighton Pavilion Gardens.

white blossom

blossom tree with brighton pavillion in the background

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Inciting the Bile of the Web Standards Community | April 23, 2004

David E does a great job of dismissing the work of the W3C, the Web Standards Project and numerous other fine organisations and individuals in one fell swoop.

These days, the rebel youth aren�t so busy admiring Marx as they are giving each other tutorials on how to use XHTML Strict. Bravely battling JavaScript menus and eradicating layout tables, admonishing us to �please think of the children� and design our pages so they�re compatible with the handhelds of next century. Same conformist thinking, same lousy outcome.

According to the Web Standards Project, the world needs this stuff because it�s simpler, more affordable and available to all. Oh really? Could it be that they�re just ideas cooked up by a bunch of overpaid intellectuals?

He does an equally good job of knocking web accessibility and insulting people with disabilities at the same time.

Standards cronies have now latched on to the disabled � the starving African children of high technology � for leverage. Spend time reading A List Apart, and you�ll soon get the impression that accessibility is bigger than cancer, and we�re all about to go blind and lose our mouse-bearing limbs. The solution? Web standards!

I can’t believe what offensive nonsense this man is churning out. Fair enough that you don’t agree with web standards, but why the vitriol? I was so incensed that I actually contacted the publication in question to complain. And to think that I own one of this mans books!

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Spring is in the Air | April 23, 2004

Wow, what a beautiful morning. Spring is definitely in the air.

Blossom trees taken in a park in Brighton

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Mobile Phone Advice | April 22, 2004

My Apple iPhone post got me thinking that I could do with a new mobile phone. Here are some of the things I’d want from a new mobile.

Some cool, but not strictly necessary features would be:

So I’m looking for some advice here. Do you have a mobile phone that you’d really recommend? If so, what is it about your phone that you like so much? Is there anything around at the moment that meets my main criteria, or would it be better waiting a few months to see what new phones are released?

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Bruce Lee | April 21, 2004

bruce-lee.jpg

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Domain Name Problems | April 21, 2004

As a few of you may have noticed, my site has been unavailable for the last 3-4 days. Here’s why.

A couple of weeks ago my hosting company sent me an email saying that they were changing domain name servers, and as my domain name was managed by a third party, I’d need to update my DNS records. This was nice as a few months earlier, they changed some IP addresses without telling me, and my site became unavailable for around 72hrs.

The email sat in my inbox for a while gathering dust, but as the switch off day loomed, I decided It was time I made the change. After work on Friday evening, I went to the control panel for my domain name and entered the new DNS details. Half an hour later, my website dropped off the face of the planet.

I sent a number of frantic emails to my hosting companies tech support, but the response was very slow, and when it did come, it was less than helpful. The first response (around 18hrs later) was simply a copy of a whois, showing the old DNS details. No explanation. No helpful suggestions. I did a quick whois and could see the new DNS details were set, so emailed them this information back. 48hrs later I got another email which essentially passed the buck, saying that it was the fault of the company that managed my domain. Again, I sent more emails asking for a bit more info/help. Another 24hrs later a get a final email saying that the site looks like it’s back up now.

Unfortunately the change has taken a while to propagate. Most ISP’s seem fine, but I still can’t access my site from home using NTL. I’m not sure if the problem was down to the hosting company or the people managing the domain name. However, as this is the second time something like this has happened in the space of a couple of months, I’m more inclined to believe fault lies with the hosting company. Whoever was to blame, I know that, had my hosting company been a little more responsive, a little more helpful, and possibly even a little proactive, the length of time my site was unavailable for could have been greatly minimised.

I am the first to admit that I know very little about hosting matters. This is why I pay a company to look after these things for me. However in my experience, I’ve come across very few good hosting companies in my time. Most seem to treat you like an idiot if you don’t know your A records from your MX records. Rather than being helped, contacting a hosting company usually leaves me more confused, frustrated and antagonised than when I started. The people manning these help desks treat you like idiots because you don’t understand the mechanisms of their business. However, if you did, you wouldn’t be calling them in the first place, and they would probably be out of business.

Many of these help lines work on a system whereby the operators have to answer a certain number of calls an hour. Whenever I’m on the phone to any hosting company for more than a couple of seconds, I can hear in the operators voice that all they want to do is get me off the phone and answer the next call to keep their stats high. So rather than spend 20 min actually trying to help, I end up having to phone them back 6 times and spend 5 min each time getting the run around and leaving knowing no more than when I started. Surely it would be much better just to answer the question first off, than add to your already heavy workload by forcing the caller to ring multiple times until they finally get a satisfactory answer.

Anyway, I digress. For most of you, my site appears to be back online. Until my hosting company decide to change some other setting (probably sometime next month I’d imagine) my site should be fine.

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Apple iPhone | April 16, 2004

iphone.jpg

For a long time people have been talking about the possibility of Apple bringing out a PDA. However this is something Apple have always strongly denied. While an Apple PDA would be good, I think a smart phone would be amazing.

With Apples legendary design aesthetic, you know an iPhone would look great. Running a cut down version of OS X you'd have the power of UNIX and the looks of Aqua in a form factor to die for. Using a mini iPod's flash drive you could have a device that works as a phone, camera, mp3 player and cut down PDA all in one. How great would that be? Surfing the web using Safari on your mobile. Being able to telnet using your phone. If Apple ever did decide to go down that route (they own the iPhone domain name btw), I'd be at the front of the que.

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Feels Like Summer | April 16, 2004

Absolutly beautiful day today. Feels like summer!

Picture of a daisy on a sunny afternoon

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And the WSA winner for March is... | April 9, 2004

If you don't already know, the winner of the "Web Standards Awards":http://www.webstandardsawards.com/ Gold Star Award for March goes to "Jason Santa Maria":http://www.jasonsantamaria.com/. Unlike "last months unanimous winner":http://www.webstandardsawards.com/previous/the_85th_pga_championship.html, this month proved to be a much closer contest. Tied with "Adaptive Path":http://www.adaptivepath.com/ for two rounds of voting, it was down to that months judging panel "Chairman" to cast the deciding vote. So as well as commending "Jason Santa Maria":http://www.jasonsantamaria.com/ for an excellent job, I'd also like to commend "Adaptive Path":http://www.adaptivepath.com/ for putting on such a closely fought battle.

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Gurus v. Bloggers, Round 1 | April 9, 2004

In Gurus v Bloggers Andrei Herasimchuk of Design By Fire, pits the websites of 8 web gurus against the websites of 8 bloggers. And guess what? The bloggers kick guru butt.

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Easter Reading | April 9, 2004

It’s Easter, so I’ve decided to post up some holiday reading. Some of these links are brand new, while others have been sitting in my todo file for ages.

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Web Design Book Page Updated | April 5, 2004

I've just updated my web design books page to allow visitors to choose if the links point to Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

The links on the previous version used to point to Amazon.co.uk, but considering the number of American readers this site gets, I decided it was time for a change. Spurned on by Dunstan's selector I knocked up my own.

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Web Design is Information Design | April 2, 2004

Graphic designers tend to concern themselves mostly with the aesthetics of design. Do the colours work well together? are the shapes visually appealing? does the overall piece elicit the desired emotional response?

A good graphic designer is more akin to a commercial artist. Creating beautiful, evocative pieces of work that could be seen as art in their own right. Is it any wonder then, that print designers often refer to their work as "Artwork".

Information design is seen as the poor cousin of graphic design. While the graphic designers are off creating beautiful artwork for posters, logos or glossy brochures, an information designer is more at home designing airport signs or end of year reports.

Whereas the graphic designers job is usually to make something look good, the information designers job is to make something as logical and as easy to understand as possible. The information designer is less artist and more information architect and usability expert.

Designing information isn't particularly sexy (which is probably why so few people do it), but in an age where time is short and information is everywhere, Information design is critical.

And this is where the web comes in. The primary reason people use the web is to find information. If a web site has been designed well, it's easy for a visitor to find and digest the information they are looking for. Conversely, a badly designed web site will frustrate the user and make the content much less accessible.

I believe web design has much more in common with information design, than it does with straight graphic design. In fact, I'd go as far as to say, web design is information design.

This was hammered home to me the other day while working on a small redesign job. I was sat in front of Photoshop tasked with redesigning the home page for an e-commerce site. Knowing which elements were needed on the page, I started adding them one at a time. I'd start by adding the most important elements first, and when they were in the right place, I'd add the less important elements.

Once the page hierarchy was more or less right, I'd move things around within the hierarchy in order to promote certain bits of information and demote other bits. When things needed emphasising I'd emphasise them, when things needed separating, I'd separate them.

The design started out with a basic concept, but the end result was pure information design. Elements were placed on the page because that's were they made the most sense, not because that's where they looked the nicest.

I'd always associated web design with graphic design, but it really is much closer to being a subset of Information design.

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Bring in the Gimp | April 1, 2004

It sure ain’t pretty, but if your looking for a free image manipulation package for OS X, the Gimp may be worth a try. The Gimp (GNU Image Manipulation Program) has been around on Linux for an age, and has recently been ported to OS X

The version I’ve installed comes from OpenOSX and can be downloaded for free from their FTP Server. To run this you’ll need a windowing system like Apple’s X11 which you can freely download from the Apple site.

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