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So the dust is starting to settle as we become familiar with a number of techniques for developing responsive websites, but for myself, this road has not exactly been as problem-free as I thought it was going to be. First, a quick overview for those unfamiliar with the concept of responsive web design.

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WDS Day Two: Electric Boogaloo

Posted by Mikey McCorry | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 29-09-2008

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Day 2 was brilliant straight off the bat. Apparently, Jeff Veen gave a very good presentation at the 2005 conference, which unfortunately was before my conference-going time.

Jeff Veen – Designing our way through data

Jeff Veen and his magic blurry fingers!Jeff Veen is truly a brilliant speaker, and having been involved in designing tools such as Blogger, TypePad, Flickr and Google Analytics, he knows his stuff. Now, we all love LOLCATS, the dramatic hamster and being Rick-rolled, but Jeff brings a lot of humour and entertainment to his presentations without resorting to funny Google image search results or tired internet memes. Data can be pretty boring, but by assigning different aspects of data to different design elements to help tell the story of the information. He used an example to show how boring rainfall data can be made into info-graphics quite easily. Remove anything that does not help tell the story. The take-home message was to let go of control, allowing the user to view your content in the way that suits them. Design tools to let them have their own experience. It’s super-important to know yourself first, then understand your users. The best ideas are those that come from a passion.

Jina Bolton – Designing Sexy Stylesheets

The delightful Jina B!Unfortunately, I didn’t learn much from this session as I thought I might. I think I was expecting it to be more about coming up with inspiration for cool design elements and applying CSS to make it all happen. I love Jina’s designs, so it would have been good to see how her mind works when creating a new masterpiece, but her session was still quite entertaining. Jina opened with the rule of “Write it clean. Keep it clean”. I often fall into this trap of allowing my style sheets to get unruly over time. Later down the road when a redesign comes along, it gets harder to fix it all up later. Comments in your CSS are your friend such as comments at the top of the file defining the website’s colour scheme; a technique I already use. Separate your CSS sections with flags (a comment that begin with an = or something) and add a list of them in a comment block at the top to use as an index. This would help when working on larger sites or when working as part of a team. A good idea is to add a simple comment note to show when styles have been redefined in another CSS file, such as an IE6-specific stylesheet. Jina also talked about some CSS3 coolness such as multiple background images, border images, columns and grid positioning, but this was mostly stuff better explained by Andy Clarke at WDS07. Still, it was great to finally meet Jina, as I’d been following her blog for a while now.

Diana Mounter – Custom V CMS

Diana Mounter and the Fruits of Destiny!As part of the LGSA and the Local Government Web Network in NSW, Diana’s session related very closely to my day-to-day as she told the story of how when she started working in Local Government, so had to tie up all the loose bits and pieces on the various websites into a streamlined CMS solution, but over time, as stake-holders wanted more out of their websites, and as the CMS gets stretched to its limits, she started looking into some custom-built solutions. Generally stretching the limits of your CMS is a bad idea, so investing in custom solutions can allow you a much more exciting approach as it allows you to build what you want, learn new techniques and generally not be limited by the confines of a CMS. This also enables you to enhance the end-user experience beyond the capabilities of your CMS. Finding the right balance is important.

Daniel Burka – Changing Successfully: Adapting you interface over time

Daniel Burka! He may Look a little like Clark Kent and sound a little like Kermit the Frog, but he's still brilliant.Daniel Burka is the Creative Director of Digg, and the co-founder of Pownce. Daniel highlighted the need to improve your website over time to prevent it from stagnating. Handling feedback is important: what do people want and why do they want it? Don’t worry about your website getting too big too fast, because having to adapt to scale is a GREAT problem to have. Also, don’t worry about building the most sophisticated system out of the gate. Get it out there and add to it as ne needs are identified. Also removing stuff is iteration too. Try to remove as much as you add. Cameron Moll is a clever dude – Realign, don’t redesign. The Digg commenting system have been changed many times. Digg users love to complain but this should be listened to. Although a comment may be buried, people still click them. They love the shitty comments. The ideal process goes something like:

  1. Get it out there.
  2. Add sophistication.
  3. Start revising, set goals and add features that only meet these goals.
  4. Measure success, Gather feedback, both explicit and implicit.

Having done this, set new goals, avoiding feature creep. Add most requested functionality. Perform task analysis, user testing. Don’t set a public timeline for this. Just try to get it perfect and include everything people wanted, then launch it and start the loop again.

Douglas Crockford – Web Forward! Ajax Security

Douglas Crockford. He knows lots of stuff about Javascript. Hmmm... Wish I had something wittier to say...Software is not subject to Moore’s Law. It is subject to Murphy’s Law. Productivity software doubles every 20 years rather than 2 years. Javascript is the ideal mash-up language, but due to the browser security model, the web is under attack. It was not designed to be doing any of the things we’re using it for now. It is inherently insecure. The consequences of an attack are horrible, such as loss of trust or money. Doug went over a lot of this during our workshop on Wednesday.

Mark Pesce – This, That and The Other Thing

The ever-awesome Mark Pesce, and featuring Ben Buchanan on the Twitter back-channel.As with last year, I didn’t take notes from Mark’s brilliant-as-always closing keynote. It’s just too damn hard to take meaningful notes while at the same time trying to take it all in. I suggest you try and find it on YouTube or something, because it was fantastic. Sadly, this was Marks final closing keynote at Web Directions (for a few years at least) to allow him to attend the conference not as a geek-uber-god, but instead as one of us regular, unwashed masses. Good luck with that, Mark. :) Anyway, it will be interesting to see who John and Maxine replace him with for next year’s closing keynote.

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WDS Day One: Recap-o-rama!

Posted by Mikey McCorry | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 29-09-2008

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Web Directions is over for another year, so here is my annual brain-dump of intertesting tidbits from the sessions I attended this year. I’ll try to be a little more brief than in previous years.

Lynne D Johnson – Opening Keynote

The Lovely Lynne D Johnson!Lynne spoke about the decline of the print industry in the face of rising new media. Having worked for a newspaper group for a number of years, I know how big an issue this can get with the traditional print industry. Since the web took off in the mid-nineties, many smaller publishers have always been scared that releasing their product online will eat into their subscriptions and sales, and sadly, not much has changed since then. The newspaper group I used to work for charges a (hefty, IMHO) premium in order to read the newspaper online, which I feel is a big step away from what the web is trying to achieve. Lynne’s presentation highlighted the fact that technology is not-only the medium with which content is distributed, but it can also BE the actual media, as the Twitters, Diggs and blogs of the world have shown. Print is a dying product, but it can be saved. Print needs to evolve in order survive. Lynne believes that the print product will continue to exist as a premium product for long-form articles such as expert essays and novels. After her presentation, John Allsopp announced the first issue of the new Scroll magazine which intends to do just that. This first issue, short-run mag was included in the goodie bag, so it should be interesting if this venture takes off.

Kay Smoljak – Starting and running a Web Development Business

Kay and her partner worked for 7 years for a big agency before realising that things weren’t really moving forward for them. This sounded very familiar to myself a few years back so I understood where she was coming from. Kay offered up little tidbits of advice she’s leaned over the past two years of running her own business, Clever Starfish. She advised to hire an accountant and use a proper accounting system like Quicken, MYOB or an online system like Net Accounts, or FreshBooks. Choosing a business name can be a fun experience, but there are a a number of things to consider such as branding, domain availability and whether you name locks you into one area. Finding the right people when hiring new employees can be difficult, especially when running your business from home, as you’ll need to find someone to fit with your business culture and trust.

Developing for the iPhone – Tim Lucas and Pete Ottery

Pete Ottery showing he knows his SHITDANGS!SHITDANGS! Best acronym of the conference. I can’t quite remember what it stands for; something like Super Hot Internet-Type Device And Next Gen Something… I dunno. I’ll look it up later. (Update: see comments) Although the iPhone has Safari, surfing the web with Safari on the iPhone is not always a good experience, taking into account download times and screen resolution. You want your users to get the best experience for their device. Don’t try to force a particular view on your users. You can use a user agent detect and redirect to a mobile version on the homepage, but this should be in it’s own url (eg iphone.domain.com) so the view persists as the user browses around the site. Also, go easy on the animation and transitions. Subtlety works best for these. There are also different interaction models to consider, where using the touch-screen is a lot different than using a mouse. Thumb/finger sizes should allow for a 50x50pixel area for buttons and links. Also, don’t forget you’ve got the full CSS3 support of the WebKit rending engine for nice stuff like rounded corners and drop shadows. At the end, Pete shared some trend statistics of news.com.au’s mobile site compared with the iPhone site, and interestingly, usage actually increased on weekends on the iPhone site in opposite contrast to their main site, highlighting how the iPhone is used differently to traditional mobile devices.

Learning to Love Javascript Libraries

Craig Sharkie, Cameron Adams, Ben Askins, Jason Crane & Earle Castledine

Javascript: It's paneltastic!!This was a double-session, however I really wanted to catch Jeff Croft’s presentation, so I only stayed until the half-way point, which is sad because I’d heard that the rest of the session was really good. The panel format is a new concept for Web Direction, but it looks like it was fairly successful so we’ll probably see more of these next year. It started off with a number of mini-presentations, then showed some examples of different Javascript libraries (MooTools didn’t get a mention which is sad, because it’s a brilliant little library) before putting them head-to-head in a series of exercises, with Cameron Adams representing pure Javascript in his usual witty style. Cameron took advantage of the internet connection on the panel to work a joke into his code examples while waiting his turn to speak. Classic! This session also marked the first Rickrolling I’d experienced at the conference.

Jeff Croft – Elegant Web Typography

Jeff Croft shows his head on my blog twice in three posts!Effective typography should be attractive enough to make it want to be read, but it should never get in the way of enabling the reader to read the content clearly. Many supposedly hard-and-fast rules about typography are antiquated. Jeff pointed out the old 62.5% trick for making relative text sizing easier. This involves resetting the base font size to 62.5%, which in most browsers brings it down to around 10 pixels. This makes it easier to develop and maintain relative sizing. eg. 1.6em becomes 16px, 2.4em becomes 24pix, and so on. When it comes to line-length, apparently 30-50ems (40-70 characters or 7 to 12 words per line) is the magic range for easy readability. Finally, Jeff said that fully justified tex on the web is almost always a bad idea, unless you’re awesome like Cameron Moll. A few resources for more information: Duckwizard.com’s client-side hyphenation library, and SmartyPants by John Gruber for smart punctuation on the web.

Predicting the Past – August de los Reyes

August de los Reyes: born in August, funnily enough...August de los Reyes is the creative director for the Windows Platform Core Innovation team which is working on Microsoft Surface. There was actually a Surface prototype available to play with in between session on the expo floor, which was a bit of fun. The presentation opened with a very impressive promo reel for how Microsoft predicts how surface technology could be used in the future. In fact, the presentation was a little promo-heavy, but this was forgivable due to August’s very insightful ideas and liberal use of humour. I was padded out a little in the middle with an almost three minute clip from an episode of Seinfeld that didn’t have a great deal to do with the rest of the talk. The talk was mostly about being able to predict user interaction models of the future by understanding human patterns and behaviours of the past. A successful user interface ensures that the system output must always be greater than the user input. This is what creates the magic! First we had the CLI, then the GUI. Surface is trying to achieve “NUI” which is a Natural User Interface. The next step should have the user interface as an extension of our selves.

Stay tuned for the highlights from day two.

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WDS08: Workshop Day Two – Javascript, the awesome parts

Posted by Mikey McCorry | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 25-09-2008

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Douglas Crockford. Top bloke and superstar.Today’s workshop, “Javascript: The Good Parts” was run by Douglas Crockford. Doug is a very clever guy who is part of the committee organising the next version Javascript. Although this session was more of a lecture than a workshop, it takes a session with a guy like this to show you how little you actually know about Javascript. I left this workshop with so much more knowledge about Javascript that I came with, which I definitely was not expecting, having worked with Javascript for years now.

Doug started with a history of computing in general which, on reflection, seemed a bit like unnecessary filler as he seemed to rush through the final topics towards the end of the day as he ran out of time. He soon moved on to pointing out some of the bad parts of the Javascript spec, which was a real eye opener. What followed was a heap of useful tips, functions and explanations that explained a lot of the reasons why things are done the way they are. I also got a few unintentionally great band names that came from some of Doug’s terminology, including “Syntactic Sugar”, “The Lunatic Fringe” and “Fat Metal”.

Web folks are nice folks.Following the workshop was the Port 80 meet-up, which I missed out on last year. It was a great chance to network as well as catch up with peeps that I’d met over the previous two conferences (many of who had surprisingly remembered my name, or at least knew me as the guy who looked like Jon Snook). The drinks flowed freely, but I managed to pace myself. :-)

First day of the conference proper is tomorrow, so I’d better get some shut-eye.

WDS08: Workshop Day One – Django-a-gogo!

Posted by Mikey McCorry | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 24-09-2008

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Sydney at nightIf you’ve been following my Twitter page, you’ll know that I’m currently in Sydney for the Web Directions conference. My hotel room is the size of a shoe box, but at least it’s quite comfortable (I brought my own pillow this time). The super-expensive hotel broadband is currently running at dial-up speeds. The shower pressure is nice and strong, however, I’ve gotta say, whoever chose the placement for the bathroom mirror is either oblivious to the obvious or seriously disturbed.

Jeff Croft is a champion!Well, my day one workshop is over and my head is well and truly full after attending Jeff Croft‘s Building a CMS with Django. I went in with no clue about Django or Python but left with not only a greater understanding of the two, but also a lot of new ideas for CMS features and making my code more modular. I can’t say that I’ll be using Django from here on out (I’m still a big fan of CodeIgnighter) but there was definitely a lot of info that will come in handy in future.

Day two is all about Javascript, which is much closer to my comfort zone, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s workshop.

Web Directions Preparations

Posted by Mikey McCorry | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 18-09-2008

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It’s Web Directions time again! Man, I love this conference.

I’ve been to Web Directions for the last couple of years and every time I walk away with not only new ideas, but renewed enthusiasm to get stuff done and innovate. (That’s not to say that stuff will actually get done, but it feels great!)

This year I won’t get to hang with Travis, who I met at WDS06 (back when it was just WD06) as he’s currently jet-setting across the US of A, so if you see me kicking about on my own, please come over and say hi.

The funny thing is that its only around the time of Web Directions that I really get interested in social networking on the web. My Facebook page gets more active, there’s more tweets flying across the place and the Flickr account gets dusted off in anticipation. (I’ve got a nice new camera, so there’s no excuses.)

But also, as with every year around this time, I get the same regrets. This year’s regrets include:

  • I never got around to making that “NOT SNOOK” T-shirt I was thinking about making in order to avoid confusion this year.
  • In fact, my trendy T-shirt collection is kinda lame, and it’s too late to get an order from Threadless to me before the conference. (I’m hoping to pick me up one of those cool molt:n ones at the event, but I can’t decide whether I like design or code more.)
  • My website is STILL using a free WordPress template. *facepalm*
  • I was really hoping to get OzChat up and running in some form by now. I’ve still got a bunch of OzChat.net bubble pens and stuff that would be good swag to hand out to cool people.
  • That seems to be the theme with many of my personal projects: not a lot gets finished. Client work gets first bite of my time, and when that’s done I tend to relax offline. I’m sure this is common among full-time + part-time-freelance web developers such as myself, but it would still be nice to have something cool to show off.

I’m currently in a mad rush to try and get all current work off my plate so I don’t have to worry about anything next week, so I’ll see you at Web Directions.

PS. I found some notes I’d taken from WDS07 that I never got around to posting. I’ll pop them online and back-date it to last year if I get time.