The Ideal Web Team | April 26, 2005

Good things come in small packages and I believe the ideal web team consists of around 5 people.

To start with you need somebody to bring in the business. This person obviously needs to be a good salesperson, but not in a pushy, telesales kind of way. They need to be confident and charismatic, comfortable presenting to the board or mixing at networking events. As they will be dealing primarily with other business people, it helps if they come from a business background. However they still need to have a solid understanding of the web.

Next you need somebody to manage and run the business. This person would be responsible for keeping projects on track, on time and on budget. They have to have excellent people management skills and need to be highly organised. They’ll be ones keeping the office running, the wages paid and the accounts in shape.

Sometimes called a producer, information architect, or user experience designer, it’s this persons job to work with the client to shape the direction of the project. This person will work out the strategy, craft the documentation and steer the project to a successful conclusion. This person will need technical, creative and managerial skills and will probably have worked their way up from a design or production role.

For most web projects, design accounts for less than 10% of the workload. Gone are the days of the dedicated visual designer. Instead, the ideal web team needs a hybrid designer who’s as happy sitting in front of Photoshop as they are coding up a stylesheet. As well as being a being a great visual designer and knowing everything about web standards, this person needs to have an intimate knowledge of usability, accessibility and universal design.

Last but not least, you need a talented back end developer. More and more web design jobs are actually mini web applications, so programming is taking up much of the project cycle. However rather than an ivory tower developer, you need somebody who understands people as much as they understand code. As such this person needs to be a strong communicator.

For small teams to work well together, there needs to be a good overlap of skills. Each person needs to have an understanding of what the other person is doing and the problems they face. These skills will overlap the most with the user experience designer who’s job it is to direct the project. Each team member needs to be a good communicator and happy talking to clients, attending meetings or running pitches.

Labels are always a difficult one, but if I had to label these roles they’d be.

That’s my ideal web team. What’s yours and why?

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Google Maps UK and Google Local UK | April 19, 2005

A couple of months ago, Google released their excellent mapping service called Google Maps. The service impressed many with a slick interface that allowed people to literally drag the maps around. This may sound like eye candy but it actually has very practical uses.

Last Friday I went up to London to see various people and tried to use multimap and streetmap to plan my trip. When I typed in my destination I was presented with a small map showing my destination in the centre. What I wanted to do was move my location to the very edge of the map so I could see if there were any nearby tube stops. However pressing left or right either moved the destination a little off centre, or completely off the map. At the time I remember thinking how great it would be if I could simply drag the maps around like Google maps, so I could quickly see if there was a tube stop near by.

Unfortunately Google Maps was only released in the US and many people, including myself, assumed it would take forever to launch in the UK. I believed this partly because of the track record of another of Googles geographic service, Google Local. This is an excellent service that provides local search results in the US. You type in what your looking for along with a location and Google will try to find relevant search results in your area. This service was launched in the States ages ago and hadn’t made it to the UK. If that hadn’t launched yet, the chance of Google Maps making it to the UK any time soon looked slim.

How wrong could I be. Today I learned that both Google Maps UK and Google Local UK have just been launched. First impressions of both services were very good. The maps look as slick as their US versions and the interface just as responsive. The direction finder drew the right directions on the map for everywhere I tried, and navigating around London was a doddle. A local search on Thai, bought up all the Thai restaurants near my house. A local search on my name bought up my old employers site, Message, along with some other, slightly odder results.

Once Google Maps catches on in the UK, I think sites like multimap and streetmap are going to find them selves in difficult times. They have sat on their dominant positions for a long time and a much bigger company has just pulled the rug from under their feet. These mapping companies make most of their money from selling their services to industry, so they will be fine for now. However it probably won’t be long before Google start selling their mapping services to industry as they currently do with their search technology. Will this be a wake-up call to other mapping companies, or will the go the same way as those who tried to compete with Google in the search market?

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You Can Now Pre-order Tiger in the UK As Well | April 19, 2005

OS X 10.4 Tiger install disk

So OS X 10.4, also known as Tiger, will be launched on the 29th of April. If you’re based in the states and want to save yourself $35, you can pre-order your copy of Tiger from Amazon.com. Unfortunately at the time of my original post, Amazon.co.uk weren’t offering the same deal.

Luckily they now are, so you can save yourself a whopping £14 if you order your copy of Tiger from Amazon.co.uk

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Adobe to Buy Macromedia | April 18, 2005

So I got an iChat message from Veerle this morning telling me that she had some big news and suggesting I have a look at her site. Thinking that she’d either won the lottery or been chosen for the biggest redesign job ever, I went to have a look. I have to admit that I wasn’t quite prepared for the news.

It would seem that Macromedia is being sold to Adobe. Now I really didn’t see that coming. The acquisition brings into question the future a whole host of application. Will Adobe ditch GoLive in favour of the more successful Dreamweaver? Maybe they’ll go the other way? Will they retire the excellent Fireworks and stick with the decidedly inferior ImageReady? And what about Freehand vs Illustrator? Maybe they will roll the applications together so we’ll end up with Adobe Dreamweaver Creative Suite MX 2004. Wouldn’t that be fun.

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What's in a Name | April 18, 2005

Most mature industries have pretty fixed job titles and roles. Take the construction industry for instance. You’ve got Architects, Engineers and Draftsmen. You’ve got Electricians and Carpenters, Bricklayers and Plumbers, Foremen and Site Inspectors. Each one has a defined role and if you met one down the pub, you’d have a pretty good idea what their job entailed.

The movie industry is the same. Every film will have a Director and a Cinematographer. There will be Producers, Actors, Special Effects people and Stuntmen. Each person knows roughly what the other does and how all the roles fit together to produce a great – or not so great – movie.

Because the web design industry is pretty new – practically it’s about 10 years old – we are still in the process of defining our roles. There is also a size issue at play here. To work efficiently, large organisations need to be able to define roles. However in smaller companies, roles are often blurred as people are forced to wear multiple hats. While there are a few large web design companies, over 70% of web companies in the UK employ ten or less people. The smaller companies make up the bulk of the industry and it’s these people who are shaping the industry.

Until recently I wasn’t particularly bothered about having a title. I worked full time for a small web design agency and never really needed to succinctly describe what I did to another person. When people asked what I did for a living I’d usually tell them with an embarrassed shrug that I was a web designer.

I say “embarrassed shrug” for a couple of reasons. Firstly where I live, everybody is either a “web designer”, a “musician” or a “DJ”, and usually all three. Secondly, the term web designer has developed a bit of a stigma of late. In the late 90’s, being a web designer carried some social currency. It meant you were young, smart and professional. Now everybody “does” web design from the 14 year old next door to my hairdresser. Web design has been devalued from a professional endeavour to a trade at best and a hobby at worst. This may sound a little elitist. It’s not meant to be. I love the fact that web design is so accessible. If it wasn’t I wouldn’t be here today.

If you work for yourself or a small company, the title web designer is probably sufficient. However when you want to move to your next job or market your skills to a wider audience you need to do two things. Firstly you need to be able to explain to potential employers and clients what you do as succinctly as possible. Secondly you need to be able to differentiate yourself from potential competition, and the hordes of hobbyists out there.

Before going freelance, I thought long and hard about exactly what it is I do. The obvious choice was visual design and front end development. Obvious because it’s such a nice, distinct and easily marketable package. I come up with visual designs and then translate them into XHTML and CSS layouts.

However, that’s only a fraction of what I do on a daily basis. One of my big interests is usability. At client and internal meetings I’m the person thinking about how the system is going to be used. I’ll work with the client and my team to make sure the goals are set and the system is actually doing what the client wants it to do, in the simplest possible way. I’ll work up use-cases, user flows, wireframes and navigational schema. I’ll write user survey questions , plan and implement usability tests.

Related to this is Information Architecture. I’ve always thought of Information architects as creating taxonomies and controlled vocabularies. Yet a large part of what I do is pure IA. Planning site hierarchies and naming conventions, running card sorts and contextual surveys.

I know many people in the web design industry who do similar work to me, but no two people seem to share the same job title. Some people would call this role a Producer, although others would say that a Producer is more like a Project Manager. Some people would call this role an Information Architect, although I personally think that Information Architect doesn’t necessarily convey the scope of the work done. Some people have started using the terms “Big IA” and “Little IA” to make the distinction, however I feel that belittles the more academic side of IA somewhat.

Currently there seem to be so many job titles floating around. Some of the ones I’ve toyed with in the past include:

The term I currently favour is User Experience Designer. It’s a term that focuses squarely on the user and is closely related to User-centred Design. The User Experience Designers role is to manage the strategic vision of the project. It’s their job to work with the client and design/development team to define the project and then make sure that definition is met. They write the specs, create use-cases and wireframes. They act as the first port of call when clients want to discuss technical or strategic issues and are ultimately responsible for the success of the project.

What does your role entail and what’s your current job title? Do you feel this accurately describes what you do, and if not, what title would you choose?

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OS X 10.3.8 Hangs on "Login Window Starting" at Boot | April 18, 2005

So over the weekend my iBook stopped working. Every time I tried to boot it up, the computer would hang at exactly the same place – “Login Window Starting”. I tried booting into safe mode, but it still hung. None of the usual Mac troubleshooting tips like repairing permissions or resetting the PRAM worked. I checked the Apple support site but came up blank. A quick search showed me that lot’s of people were experiencing the same problems, and each one suggested doing something different to fix it. The two most fixes that looked the best involved trashing the login prefs and ditching the font cache. However neither of them seemed to do the trick. Bugger!

Faced with the thought of an energy sapping hour long phone call to Apple technical support, there was only one thing left to try. Reinstalling the OS. Now when I was a Windows person, It seemed that reinstalling the OS was a regular event. I’ve never had to do this on a MAC, and to be honest I’d hoped I never would. I grabbed all the important info off the iBook by starting it in Target Disk (Firewire) mode, reminding myself that I really need to sort out a back-up solution and then set about reinstalling the OS. For minimum hassle I did an “Archive and Install” and then immediately upgraded to OS X 10.3.9. This seems to have done the trick, so if you find yourself experiencing the same problem, it looks like a reinstall may be your only option :-(

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A Long Weekend In New York | April 11, 2005

After SXSW Interactive wrapped up, most of the “BritPack” headed off home. However I decided to make the most of my time away, so arranged to meet up with my girlfriend for a long weekend away in New York.

I’ve always wanted to visit New York, but despite all my travelling, it’s a place I’ve never managed to get to. New York is one of those big cities–like London, Sydney or Hong Kong– that you absolutely have to visit at least once in your life. We live in an age where American popular culture has penetrated the furthest reaches of the world, and New York takes centre stage in our collective consciousness. It’s one of the places that you’ve seen so many times on TV and in the movies, you feel you know it, even if you’ve never been there before. It didn’t disappoint.

The first taste most foreign travellers get of a country or city is the city’s airport. Singapore and Hong-Kong airports are fantastic. All glass and steel, these futuristic edifices really show the international traveller how that country wants to be perceived. By contrast, Newark Airport felt much more like Heathrow or Gatwick–grubby and dilapidated. My girlfriend was flying in from the UK in a couple of hours time so I wanted to find the International arrivals. Asking for the assistance from Airport staff was an exercise in frustration, as all I managed to elicit was their annoyance, interrupting them from their important duties of staring off into space.

As anybody who’s ever been to Newark will tell you, the facilities “airside” are much better than those in the arrivals lounge, which do a good job of mimicking the facilities of a third world bus depot. If you’re waiting for somebody in the airport, whatever you do, don’t pass through customs. It’s just not worth it.

Three bored and uncomfortable hours later, I met up with Mel and we headed off into town. Now airport transfers are the next big hurdle for the international traveller. In Hong-Kong you’ve got an amazingly clean and efficient train service that gets you into town in no time flat. By contrast getting home from Heathrow involves a trip on one of the rudest, inefficient and uncomfortable bus services in the world.

It would seem that the Newark coach transfer people have been taking lessons from the Airport Express coach service, because the service sucked big time. After a 45 min wait in the freezing cold, we were herded onto a dilapidated and packed bus like cattle. 45 minutes later we were deposited on the sidewalk supposedly to wait for a shuttle bus to take us to our hotel. None of the other people waiting seemed to know what was going on and the person from the bus company was decidedly uncommunicative. Welcome to New York. The queue slowly thinned as people got fed up of waiting and jumped in a cab. When it got down to just us and another couple It was time to jump ship and get a cab as well.

Tired, exhausted and harassed, the St. Regis hotel was a sight for sore eyes. The room we were staying in was fantastic, with glass chandeliers, walk in wardrobes and our own personal butler. Despite being one of the most expensive and exclusive hotels in New York (Rod Stuart was staying just down the hall), we were never made to feel uncomfortable or out of place. The staff were amazingly friendly and the concierge was one of the most helpful people I’ve ever met.

With a pretzel vendor on every street corner and steam billowing out of every manhole cover, New York was exactly how I imagined it. Huge wide streets, skyscrapers everywhere–it felt like we’d just walked onto a set of a movie. In fact, the streets were so clean compared to home, it all felt a little artificial. Not wanting to burst any illusions of England, but it really takes a trip overseas to remind you how dirty and rundown the UK really is.

However the subway was even grubbier than the London underground. If you’ve ever been on the tube you know that’s pretty hard to accomplish, but New York does manages it effortlessly. While the subway did feel a little oppressive at times, New York felt a lot safer than I’d expected. This could have just been ignorance, but I never felt particularly threatened. Even when we ended up walking around a dodgy and deserted part of the city late one evening I felt safer than I would have in a similar situation in London or Manchester.

The day after we arrived happened to be St. Patrick’s day, so me and Mel went to see the parade. I’d been expecting a big parade, but I wasn’t expecting all the world marching bands to descend on the city for the day. It was huge. The parade started about 10 am and people were still marching along at 6pm. The atmosphere was good-natured and I was really surprised to see how much respect the crowd had for the police. I don’t know if that was just an after-effect of 9/11 or not, but it seemed that the US police have much more respect that their British cousins. Anybody with an ounce of Irish blood in their veins, and many more without, were on the streets wearing traditional green plastic Irish hats, red wigs and four leaf clovers. However I was really disappointed to see people in the parade walking along with banners of Irish terrorist martyrs. For a city that’s been so hurt by terrorism, it seemed inconceivable they’d condone such behaviour.

While in New York, we managed to see most of the main sights. We took the Staten Island ferry past the Statue of Liberty, strolled through central park and enjoyed the amazing art at MOMA. We wandered up Wall Street (boy it’s tiny) and went to pay our respects at “Ground Zero”. One thing I did learn is whatever you do, don’t go up the empire state building when it’s busy. I thought the English were supposed to have the monopoly on queuing! We queued 30 min for a ticket then another 45 to get to the lift. Despite being freezing cold outside it was roasting inside. When we got to the lift we thought that was it, only to be deposited 5 floors below the observation deck to wait another 45 min for the lift up. In the end one of the people working there suggested we take the fire escape. Getting out into the cool night air was such a relief. The views were pretty spectacular, but after 10 minutes we were done. Not really worth the 2 hour wait! And of course we had to queue for another 45 min to get out of the place.

One of the highlights of the trip was a Helicopter ride round Manhattan that Mel organised as an early birthday treat. Despite learning to fly fixed wings when I was younger, I’ve never been in a helicopter (or a hot air balloon for that matter). It was great seeing New York from this angle and we got a close up view of the Statue of Liberty without having to wait hours for the ferry out there. If you’re planning to go to New York I can highly recommend this as an experience of a lifetime.

We were only in New York for 5 days but it really felt like we saw all of it. At least my feet felt like we saw all of it. In one afternoon we walked around Brooklyn heights, across the bridge, around Chinatown and Little Italy, then over to SoHo, before ending up in a fantastic bar near the Apple store. I’d love to remember the name of this bar (cafe something) as it probably had the friendliest bar staff of anywhere I’ve ever been. We stopped in really to rest our feet, but the bar owner kept pouring us free beers. We rolled out of there about 2 hours later decidedly drunker than we went in, having had five beers each but only having paid for two. Now that’s what I call New York hospitality.

We were determined to make the most of the New York nightlife, however Mel was still jet lagged and I was exhausted from SXSW, not to mention all the sightseeing we were doing. One night we made it to the meat packing district and hung out in some cool bars such as APT and Lotus. Another night we hit the lower east side and more grungier places like Max Fish. However we were both so tired we rarely made it out past 1am.

As well as fun nights out we also managed to get some great food in New York. One night we headed out to SoHo for some excellent Mexican food at Dos Caminos. Another night we sampled some traditional New York pizza at Lombardi’s. I was much less impressed with the food at the Emperor Diner, however the setting was great and it’s the only place I’ve ever eaten a burger while listening to live piano music.

All told, I had an excellent time in New York. It’s a great city and I definitely plan to go back soon. Now that I’ve done the tourist thing I’ll look forward to spending more time exploring the city, eating at great restaurants and enjoying the nightlife.

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I'm Not Spamming You, Honest! | April 9, 2005

If you’re visiting this site because you’ve been sent some spam that appears to come from this domain, I’m afraid the we’ve both been had. Some lovely person has decided to “spoof” my email address and send out tens of thousands of spam emails pretending to come from me. Unfortunately, because it’s so easy to forge email headers, there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop this.

I’ve now become the victim of what’s technically known as a Joe Job. In the last 10 minutes I’ve had around 200 bounced emails get through my own spam filtering. Another 200 the 10 minutes before that. I’d hate to think how many are actually hitting the server, but I imagine it’ll be quite a lot.

If you’ve received one of these spam emails, it may be worth reporting the server they are coming from. To do this you’ll need to select “Show Full Email Headers” in your mail program, copy out the spam email and paste it into the SpamCop website. SpamCop will interrogate these headers, attempt to deduce who owns the IP address the spam is coming from and provide you with the email address you should report the abuse to. Send the spam you received, including the full headers, to this address along with a message that reads something like this.

“I am receiving spoofed messages from the server addressed in the headers of this email. Please shut down this server immediately, or close the relays on the box. You are hosting a machine that is spamming and may be held liable if you refuse to correct this issue.”

The spammer is probably exploiting a hole in this server and the company running it will want to know about this and shut down the hole as soon as possible.

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Pre-order Tiger Now | April 7, 2005

OS X 10.4 Tiger install disk

The Apple rumour sites are in overdrive at the moment, trying to guess when the new version of OS X – also known as Tiger – will be announced. The original guess was the 1st of April, but that came and went without incident. The current thinking is it will be announced mid April, possibly on the 18th.

If you’re planning to buy a copy of Tiger and would like to save a few bucks – $35 to be precise – you can pre-order your copy of Tiger from Amazon.com.

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Sony Ericsson k750i | April 6, 2005

Last year I purchased a Sony Ericsson k700i and I have to say it’s the best mobile phone I’ve ever owned. However my one gripe is the camera. If you’ve seen any of the advertising you’ll know that the phone is marketed on the basis that its form factor looks like a digital camera. As such, you’d expect the phone to have semi-decent imaging capacities. Unfortunately you’d be wrong. I’d hoped that I could take the odd picture and upload it to flickr for a bit of moblogging action. However the quality of the images isn’t really up to that. Instead the camera has been relegated to taking disposable pictures of drunken nights out.

Now to be honest I didn’t really expect to get quality pictures. I knew the resolution wasn’t great, and after all, it’s only a phone. I’ve spoken to many people about this and they always tell me to carry a camera with me wherever I go. However I really can’t be bothered having another digital device loading down my pockets, just on the off chance that I want to take a picture. Instead I’d much prefer to have a single device that could do both jobs.

One of the other reasons I bought the k700i was it’s integrated mp3 player. I’m not a massive consumer of mobile music, but I occasionally find myself on a bus or train and it would be great to be able to listen to some tunes. When I first got the phone I transferred some music over, however the phone could only fit about two thirds of an album on it. I think I used the mp3 player twice before getting bored of the same 8 tracks. Instead I went out and bought an iPod shuffle and my k700i headphone are now gathering dust in a draw somewhere.

Sony Ericsson k750i

Enter the k750i, the k700i’s bigger brother. Now this looks like a really slick bit of kit. It has all the feature I like about the k700i, with the addition of a 2.0 megapixel camera and up to a gig of removable storage. The specs arn’t such that you’ll be throwing away your digital camera and mp3 player. However they are good enough to fill a useful niche, and I’ll be upgrading as soon as my contract allows. That’s assuming an even better phone isn’t release in the meantime.

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