The Project Takeover Blues 6 – Buying and Selling

‘I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul’ – Bob Dylan

In the field of Classical Economics whenever mechanisms which bear naturally upon an open market are being discussed there is more or less always a presumption foregoing that ‘scarcity’ is a vitally essential concept.

The laws of Supply and Demand are largely governed by scarcity and by scarcity value in this field.  There are two expressions – i. A Buyer’s Market, and; ii. A Seller’s Market; which arise out of discussions about scarcity in such a marketplace.

All goods and services, and all the different kinds of goods and services, which a Political Economy is able to supply to its marketplace, will carry levels of scarcity.

For instance it is more or less self-evident to us that Gold Bullion is far more scarce than Bread or Rice in most parts of the world.  It is self-evident also that because of this relative scarcity Gold is of a greater value than Bread or Rice generally speaking.

Economists say: Gold has greater scarcity value than that of Bread or Rice.

This reasoning leads us on to looking at supply and demand. It makes sense that a scarce commodity like Gold is in short supply when its supply levels are compared to those of Bread or Rice.  And because of this there are generally more buyers looking to buy it than there are there is Gold available for sale. Otherwise the high scarcity value of Gold could not be sustained and its price consequently would fall. This Gold market place then is a Seller’s Market simply because it is the Sellers who are able to call the shots on Gold transactions being made.

(Please bear in mind that this is theory economics I am talking about, and that  in practice there and many, many variables and factors which are able to intervene and make their effect on this ‘pure’ marketplace and so on the scarcity value of Gold or of Bread or Rice)

In those parts of the world where Bread and Rice are plentiful, when compared to Gold, then their scarcity value is much lower than that of Gold and so the prices at which they are offered for sale are also much lower than Gold is being offered for.  Thus a Buyer’s Market is created wherein a surplus Bread and Rice supply means lower prices and the Buyers are thus calling the shots on transaction details. Sellers will settle more readily for what they can make

Now when one applies this reasoning to a typical relationship between a Developer and a Client; perhaps nine times out of every ten Projects, maybe more, the Client assumes (for some reason?) that the marketplace he is in is a Buyer’s Market.  And so likewise he assumes that he is able to call the shots; to set the price; to lay out the technical requirement; to nominate the tools; to direct the operations; to manage the Developer and his team or company.  In short, the most oppressive of Clients believe that they have bought the complete attention and the complete resource, and the complete management at the Developer’s place of business – at the least for the duration of the building and handover of the project to him.

It’s about control. It’s about risk. It’s about fear. It’s about a Client psychologically having to manage these bogies in his mind; and these lead him on in his bid for hegemony over his Developer until he is satisfied that his project is AOK and in place working and making him money.  The pressures are large for him, and often he is not technical enough to be able to be sure of the Developer and place a technologically reasoned confidence in him. If he were; if he could; he would not have needed to engage a Developer but probably could/would have done the development work himself.

These two things: risk, and fear, urge on his desire for control; all three things together are exacerbated by him, as it were, going into the venture ‘blind’; that is; him being without technical knowledge.  It’s a little like being under the knife of a surgeon and unconscious; you have to weigh up the quality of the surgeon beforehand and you will know nothing about surgery.  You are left with hope, trust and a prayer as you lose consciousness counting backwards.

You might look up on the net beforehand your ailment and run through a lot of time and pages reading about similar conditions and the surgery that is recommended for them. Like a hypochondriac you might delve quite deeply trying to match your apprehensions with an adequate garner of reassurance to be had, one hopes, from one’s reading. Like hypochondriacs, when the operation is serious, maybe life and death, you are likely to get drawn in and begin to grow neuroses and anxieties which do not help you at all to manage and are counterproductive.  You don’t want a surgeon who is anxious and neurotic do you?  Your reading has the opposite effects you want it to have on you.

‘A little learning is a dangerous thing;

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

Likewise your Client, by him assuming control over his Developer, he is likely to do more harm than good to himself.  Like when having a risky operation, one having zero knowledge of surgery is a far better resource for peace of mind than going delving and frantically gleaning off the web a host of half-digested partial-truths about it at the last minute.  The Client who is like this is usually the one who ‘cannot let go’; of his worries, of his apprehensions; and his fears; his urge in response is to call the shots and lay down the law; and generally to harass his Developer and ultimately make his and his own life truly miserable.

This type of Client is strictly-speaking assuming control. He is like a chimpanzee let loose in the Space Shuttle coming in to land.  He has no real idea what is required technically; whether it is feasible; or possible, or impossible or impracticable or easily added or doable or not.  His efforts show in a fit visual image:

‘Like a madman shakes a dead geranium’

Clients like these are those most liable to run through Developers one by one like diarrhea.  They appear never to learn the basic lessons of their business and of their business transactions.  We have all gone up to our wives and husbands who have been struggling so irritatingly to us with a screwdriver and a faulty appliance and at last we have let rip with; ‘Give it here! Let me do that!’  And soon thereafter with a humble, perhaps grovelling apology admitting defeat similarly to one’s spouse.

In this then we can all feel sympathy for the nervous edgy guy who just cannot help but want to control his baby, his project, who cannot help himself, who cannot control even his own desperate urges to dominate; there is so much at stake for him – he envisages.

But is it not all ego? Is it not all the blind inherent assurance in the self that everything will be alright if only I can take over and control and manage the tasks and the issues at stake.  Not many, not even among the worst of egoists, will be likely to feel or believe that they can do better than that surgeon they are entrusting, are having to entrust, their body and innards to for a few hours. And that will be that.  No argument. Besides, they will be unconscious and could not do it if they even thought they might be able to!

But the Developer is fair game – thus the presumption of there being a Buyer’s Market is ever the case with many Clients, anxious about their development project, its negotiation and delivery. Such a Client will nearly always do his best to ‘lean on’ and so ‘steer’ his Developers as much as he is able to usurp.

To finish up; consider this: What do you look for when choosing a good surgeon? Short answer: Character. Longer answer: clean tidy shoes and apparel, suitable to a man or woman of eminence and distinction in his/her profession.  He or she exudes a confidence which is not idle, proprietary or overweening; and seems to be fluent on her/his specialist knowledge; observant, patient, engaged personally and considerate; a good bedside manner; polite and with a lively mind: someone who has the look and feel of a person to whom you could just about trust your health.

Bottom line: isn’t it pretty much the same when choosing a Developer? A less desperately critical issue than choosing a surgeon maybe, but even so, doesn’t this very lesser level of concern in fact mean that one should be more at ease and not jack oneself to be over pressured – after all, few Developers have messed up so badly that they have put their Client in a wheelchair or dug them an early grave.

Designing for Function

We took a fleeting survey of Designing for Content in Part 2 and now we go on to look at how functionality might affect how one might design a website

Firstly there are some important Considerations:

Get to the Root of the Purpose of each Function to be Designed for (i.e. what does it do?)

Many websites, whether commercially driven by sales as well as those that are not intended for profit-making, will want to classify their items of data. Take a typical physical local general store at the corner of the street: it has perhaps ten thousand product types in stock – from garden hoes to boxes of matches, handkerchiefs to penetrating oil.  Easy even for an old timer sales assistant to lose his way around, when the item he wants has been misplaced and is not in its proper place. When you have a map for finding the needle in the haystack, when the map is accurate: no problem; when it is even just a few centimeters out: big problem.

So classification; i.e. a stock map or a data map – for doing online organisation is usually an essential. And there are millions of permutations of cataloguing which might make up viable classification systems; and this is the nub.

Designing for your classification pages is a vital part of making your chosen mode of cataloguing data easy to use for clients and site visitors. Design can make all the difference between a good experience and a nightmare. But the capabilities of a good design are not a universal panacea for taking the pains out of searching and finding. You must choose a cataloguing system that is fit for the purposes you require of it; and it should be one also that is amenable to good design work being possible to be applied to it.

(There will be articles on Classification per se coming in this series the future)

Here are some tips:

  • Build a storefront that carries some ‘in-your-face’ product/data ‘specials’ advertised as it were at the front door where the punters enter and browse with an eye to assessing who you are and what you are like.
  • Like in the general store, have your products/data organized on ‘shelves’, that is, make groupings your items of product or data into appropriate classes, sub-sections etc
  • A general store will  have salespeople situated at strategic points; and so you might have signposts carrying relevant information posted neatly without diverting browsers too far from the main matter on the page,
  • And of course a checkout counter where items can be paid for; or else a holding page wherein a client saves the data he wants and marshals it.

The aim is to hit that delicate balance of convenience and comprehensiveness without making it feel like coercion and cajoling. Leading people by the hand rather than forcing them heavily through to the checkout

Beneficent Mission Creep

  • Design can have unintended consequences, some of which will be beneficent and some might be adverse, and these arise generally as a result of a website’s client-base ‘hijacking’ and extending the functionality planned for in the initial build.
  • Unintended uses that are created by a user base, depending on the nature, are often taken advantage of by site admins as ‘windfalls’ which can be developed and made into discrete features and sometimes novel attractions.
  • One has seen historically that popular social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) have continuously, quickly, latched onto and developed such ‘discovered’ features especially those elected for use by, say, businesses (like sponsored posts, payment channels, etc.)
  • Businesses in particular, because of their increasing use of the web to trade in, and so because of their increasing dependency on creating a big, well-esteemed online presence, so as to succeed and grow; have moved-in on a host of extraneous web entities, enabling them to reach out to larger and/or more focussed audiences/potential customers/clients.

The website User base (who are the people going to use it?)

  • Classification of goods/data is paramount here.  Your clientele will want their data/goods arranged on display and for use in ways suited to their best convenience, and not to your own. In this respect: The customer is always right. So it’s worth consulting your client base and finding out how they like things being done, even when what they tell you  seems counter-intuitive or counter-productive.  Keep them sweet.
  • You will benefit from market research so as to find who are your target markets, and you can build into your design the knowledge you acquire in this way.  If you have an overarching concept which dominates your website it is important you make it as appealing as it can be to your known target audience.
  • Important gauges of target audiences include: age, gender, social strata, levels of specialised knowledge expected, spending power/disposable incomes, ethnic and cultural expressions, predilections, hobbies, interests, occupations and so on.
  • Knowing about all these descriptors of your typical client enables you to pitch your store or database services at that optimum level where Mr and Mrs Average are comfortable and at home. Your knowledge about them will serve you to be tailored to their cloth
  • Tech-savvy audiences/clients can handle features or interfaces which are more advanced and sophisticated than average. Technologically-challenged users will conversely need more hand-holding by way of use of easy wizards and step-by-step procedures. Your expository texts likewise will need to sit well within the range of audience/client skill and awareness

Getting the User-interaction bits right (How do your users use the site?)

  • All in all a good website will feel intuitive and natural to its users.
  • As technology progresses it appears that user interface trends are beginning to converge, coming  from different virtual spaces (e.g. mobiles, desktops, web, etc.). You could do worse than merely to take your cue as to what are the newest up and coming trends, from the popular commercial operating systems, and from the flourishing, fashionable websites. Use what they can show and tell you for your own inspirations.
  • “Intuitive” can be a difficult word. It means different things to different user bases. For example, the majority of your users are, say, Apple Mac fans, so you’ll want to look into and research Human Interface Guidelines for OS X and/or Mac. Such research will pay off with help and recommendations for your interface patterns, such as button placement, standard glyphs and symbols, and so on.  At least some of these items are going to be variant from those found on Windows or Android.
  • Finally, you don’t have to slavishly follow fashion and the popular vote –  there is always room for new opportunities; in a rapidly-evolving arena like the Internet there is always going to be space for new guys like you to create new trends and employ new user interfaces, design techniques, and goals.

So follow your instinct, and if you believe you can cut the mustard; then go for it.

Project Takeover Blues 5: Conflicts of Interests, Pressures, Priorities

The absurdist drama of the later 20th century, plays like Samuel Beckett’s famous ‘Waiting for Godot’ and Harold Pinter’s ‘The Caretaker’ usually carry rambling storylines which by design largely go nowhere.  At least when judged by the sequential and structured trajectories of traditional European storytelling.

For these absurdist dramatists it is not so much the destination, but rather what happens along the way in their plots that makes them interesting and successful. I was going to add ‘innovative’ also, but it struck me that the Jewish tradition of storytelling, stretching back some 3,000 years and more, has aspects in common with this absurdist drama.

For a basic understanding of what a Jew would want to obtain from her reading of a traditional Hebrew story you only need to go to The Bible, The Old Testament, with its fabulary stories like the events in the Garden with Adam and the Serpent, or else to the magic realism of The Book of Jonah.

Like an audience needs to do when it is watching a drama of Beckett’s or Pinter’s, Jews find in their stories not a naturalistic narrative with close verisimilitude to actual life and events,  but instead a figurative approach to learning about their religion and life in general. They ask themselves: ‘What is this story trying to convey to me; what is it offering; what is it aiming to teach me?’

Beckett and Pinter and their school above all share with the Biblical story makers an ability for deep close insight into human’s psychological states and the human condition in general.  It is this insight which allows their works to retain their value and to add value to the lives of those who experience them.

A foundational strand of human psychology which is developed in many of these stories might be loosely termed as the portrayal of ‘human characters talking across one another’, and ‘talking at crossed purposes’. The two facets of human interaction are rather different but are quite nearly related to one another.

‘Talking across one another’ entails an amount of self-absorption or even self-obsession, in two or more persons who appear prima facie to be in conversation; but who are in fact missing what the other is saying, and hearing only their own voice.

Usually this means that several different topics are being talked about at the same time; one by each person involved.  Their individual self –absorption often denies them the power to observe this is happening; or that no-one else is listening to them.  These abortive conversations are capable of going on for quite some time and their participants are able to come away from them being even yet oblivious of the absurd situation they have just played out.

In the drama of course this oddity is often built-up into a comic feature and at the same time carries a considerable amount of pathos leading to audiences sensing the tragedy inherent in such situations. The human existential aloneness of each of us; the impossibility of full human connectedness with one another

‘Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,

Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,

Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.’

The paradox in all this is the realisation of a liberation of the spirit which one is able to receive by way of one’s working to nurture and grow a self-awareness of one’s inevitable existential aloneness.  Such liberation is incomplete always, since one can never wholly know oneself or come to terms totally with whom one might be.  But the very fact of acknowledging one’s utter aloneness in the final instance, oddly enough begins to free oneself up from the oppressive spiritual weight of the loneliness of it all.

One result of obtaining some such self-awareness is that one is enabled to observe rather more clearly cases when conversations in fact become only occurrences of ‘ships passing in the night’, instances of ‘wholly missing one another’s point’.

However, how might any of this rarefied meditation apply to project takeovers?

Simply said: Many of the communications between developers and their clients fall into this category of being ‘talking at crossed purposes’

Trying to be a good communicator, like humility, is endless. The philosopher Karl Popper once said: ‘There is nothing I can say that cannot be misunderstood.’  But first and foremost a person must listen, and be listening, in order to have the slightest chance of understanding at least in part another person’s communication. One cannot listen whilst one is self-absorbed. An when one has one’s own agendas uppermost in one’s mind all the time one is conversing one becomes hamstrung for listening.

The diverse agendas of developers as set against their clients’ agendas are usually radically, perhaps irreconcilably, different.  The client is focused on delivery dates, on meeting deadlines and hitting milestones, so as to furnish monetisation and sales and marketing of his awaited products.  His money he has invested in his developer to make his project he considers to be dead money until the products are built tested signed off launched and making income for him.  Time then is of utmost importance. Speed even. He will be fussy so as to chivvy along as much as he can as much as possible. He may even out of anxiety be going over his developmental plans and refining them as he goes, thus doing what his developer will call ‘tinkering’ with the original specification and so on. Money and time being absolute priorities to the client he will be most reluctant to accept a later delivery date or to pay more so as to cover any such refinements he adds.

The developer is focussed on getting the project right. He will have a head full of code and future planning. He will be pressed for time; developers are always pressed for time. He will be managing any crew he has and catering to their needs so as to keep them sweet. He will want invoices paid promptly, in the form of the client’s understood to be dead money. The developer is also probably involved in researching and sourcing of raw material for use in building custom apps and themes; not just looking for customisable pre-built open source apps, but usually also for know-how and clear and useful tutorials to help him and his team do clean jobs. The role of developer is naturally expansive and amorphous being an unknown quantity in respect of how much time and work will actually be required on a project on any given day. He has to juggle time, and roles, and sequences, and configurations; he is not easily pinned down and cannot easily say definitely when, or sometimes what or how, right up front.

These two guys then, the developer and the client, coming together to speak and communicate with one another: is it any wonder that so many times they miss one another’s drift, their points, and points of view?

‘The voice returns like the insistent out-of-tune   

Of a broken violin on an August afternoon:         

“I am always sure that you understand               

My feelings, always sure that you feel,               

Sure that across the gulf you reach your hand.’

The Project Takeover Blues 4 – Concatenations

When there’s train crash, at speed the railcars which follow the engine bogey crash and crush up into one another as like a concertina.  Sometimes, especially when one has been in one of these accidents, time seems to slow down to a crawl for you; and this is a subjective state which however seems for all the world to be very real when it is taking place. And so you get the impression that you are watching a movie in slowmo, that somehow you are outside of yourself like a person watching in a cinema, and things are crystal clear and going on somewhat surreally all around you.

So the railcars crash and crush up into one another as it were very clearly and slowly, and the sound might not be even noted by you, even though the noise is going to be terrific.

The crashing and crushing up into one another of the railcars is a concatenation; a series of interconnected events, a sequence which, once set in motion, is more or less thereafter inevitable in its continuance and in the case of a train crash, linear in its consequences.

Now imagine a more complex situation; an exponential concatenation; and add several concurrent strands to it, say fifteen or twenty; and further let each strand be capable of interacting and interfering with the outcomes of the other sequences of concatenation, so that the overall consequence of the event is as near as one can imagine envisaging what an atomic fission chain reaction might be like to experience when occurring at a level of magnitude fitted to daily human life.

What needs to be done now is to psychologise this imagined physical event. Because such events do occur like this between humans in relationships; they are of the kind whereby say a couple fall in love and wed, and yet five years down the line they are fighting tooth and nail in public, in an acrimonious courtroom war of attrition with an aim to do as much hurt to the other as either can dream up.

The wedding day is the rail network running fine and everything is on time. Five years later the divorce is the catastrophe that happens when all the signalmen on the network have oddly gone loco (!) and switched points and lights so that our chain reaction of series of concatenations becomes a terrible bizarre reality.

Of course trains can’t all pile up in this way in fact; it’s just not in the nature of track layouts, so you have to excuse the illustration as being unfitted in this respect. Nonetheless relationships do deteriorate and once they reach a momentum to break free of convention and restraint, and these fissile explosions boil up and over, they behave as if they could be governed by the laws of physics

You might be able now to get a bead on what we mean when we say that some Project Takeovers are dangerous because analogous to you being handed a ticking bomb to fix back into being a fluffy toy.  The chances of you being able to do this are really not good.  Because when gaps open between developers and their clients which allow tensions to brew and fester, and respect to wither and fail; and expectation to switch to a negative value; and communications to begin to hide from parties as much as they reveal to them; when this and other strands of dysfunction kick in and begin messing with a developer/client relationship, then the Project is on course to be a train wreck.

One cannot hear a symphony during an earthquake. One cannot grow crops during an eruption. In the same way one cannot  complete a Project well when relations between you and your client are seriously falling apart. Inevitably the friction, frustrations and simmering resentments will poison not just the well from which you and he drink in common, but will mar the understanding of what technically is required  in the project and how by design this requirement might be implemented.  You may have heard the joke that a rhinoceros (sometimes it is a giraffe) is an animal designed by a committee; well take this joke a step further and one might say that nothing of any pleasing or functional shape and purpose was successfully made by mutual enemies.

The story is well picked out by William Blake:

I was angry with my friend;

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:

I told it not, my wrath did grow.

Some things cannot be said between business associates. They are likely to be discussed by the several friends of each of the parties about the other party, and there is no satisfaction in that to either party.  Thus wrath grows insidiously.  It is these situations which lead, in a good many cases to, so as to become parcelled up as, explosive charges, resulting in Projects that are to be handed over to subsequent developers as Project Takeovers.

Now certain heavy elements are by the course of their nature highly unstable at NTP.  In the natural  order they will deplete into stable but more or less inert substances.  And on the way to stability they emit, sometimes for aeons and aeons, emmanences fatal to life of nearly every known kind.  In the same way there are persons who like these heavy elements are volatile and unreliable, dangerous; and, unfortunately too often, they also destroy themselves because of their adverse natures. They too often also end up ostracised from normal and amiable society, living lives on the streets or in closed wards.  Whether or not they might be held responsible for any consequences of their nature is not in question here.  The observation to be made from this figure is that many, maybe most of these unfortunates are so fragmented as personalities because they are so deeply and intractably conflicted within themselves.

‘If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand’

This then is another figure for that relationship which ought to be one of communing and mutually assisting parties with prima facie goodwill and generous good faith; but which in the course of events over time deteriorates so that neither party knows where they are and trust has utterly failed.

With Project Takeovers very often this is the damage that has been done already – to the client and to his Project – to his former developer and to this developer’s own trust and good faith – and one is taking it on, if one decides to take it on, as a balled tangle of threads constituted of knots of thwarted emotions and frustrated wills, which, as you being the new developer, very likely will be yours to try to unravel in addition to having to complete the Project. This is often the case even concerning the actual development work previously done by any former developer; one too often will have to reverse engineer and re-engineer virtually from scratch any development work already accomplished.

‘He has walled up my way, so that I cannot pass, and he has set darkness upon my paths.’

[This article was originally published at “The Project Takeover Blues 4 – Concatenations“]

Project Takeover Blues Part 3: Psychological Attrition

Much of this article is applicable in a wider, more general sense than just to the mind-messing which can go on when a part-completed Project is taken over by a new developer. Although in these instances they manifest most acutely and are the frequent, maybe invariable, accompaniment to these occasions.

They manifest most acutely for the most part because of the back-story, the history of the development so far carried out by the former (now sacked) developer, and the aftermaths of his/her now failed relationship with a dissatisfied client commissioner of the works.

Many times, especially when the client is not technically-minded and holds in his head an idea of the finished product he wants, but with no understanding of the means and works required to obtain it; this kind of client is a type who most likely to come to grief with his developers.  It is the difference between knowing how to use the controls of a TV or PC, but yet having zero knowledge of how they work or how they are manufactured, which generally opens up a gap in these relationships which is very hard to bridge or practicably proves unmanageable to work with.

(A further exacerbation frequently arises which can be exampled by reference to a commonplace experience of parents in this new and technological age. Their children frequently have grown up accustomed to and acclimatised to an unrestricted availability of plenty in a consumption-driven economy, wherein many consumables are of easy access, but of whose scientific history, development, composition and operation these children know and care nothing. It is felt back story is not to be needed – and because of a spoon-fed dispensation provided by specialized technocrats who stand a universe away in apprehension from the worlds of these children – these children place very little if any value on or feel gratefulness for being able to possess immensely complex and refined technological (and other) products which have issued so freely and abundantly in availability to them.  They have come too easily.)

And so likewise, too often the lay guy who is commissioning works from a developer shows he has a belief that he holds an inalienable right to ask for the moon if he desires it, and feels that to have it is his unconsidered entitlement and the developer’s summary duty is to provide it.

The customer then believes he is always right, even though he has no qualifications, has shown no aptitude or ability in, or even felt moved to be curious about, how the works he expects provided ‘on a plate’ are in fact done and achieved.

As adjunct to this state of complacent ignorance too often an assumption of unquestioned, unquestionable seniority over a developer accompanies this outlook.  Again because of a lack of a sense of any value and weight to the expertise a developer uses and which goes into the sophisticated products he is able to create; and because the client customer considers himself to call all the shots because his pocket is going to finance the works he wants done; these considerations he feels, in a confidence of blind ignorance, place him in an unassailable position of master directing his servant.

The developer must be solicitous and show obsequiousness to his, the client’s, assumed standing, desires, requirements, and sometimes whimsy.  The client like some minor feudal official feels able to lord it over those whom he feels have no status and so no power to oppose or object to him.  So the story goes.

This scenario might seem unjustly coloured – and it has been presented in high-definition so that the essence of the stereotypical bad client is distilled for to be seen in a concentrated form.  And further, developers are not alone in being slighted and dismissed in their worths by the consumerist tinpot would-be dictators being produced by our blasé over consuming, over-producing instant and easy access to everything head in the sand societies. But they are in the front line of vulnerability.

It is developers who are too often subject to uninformed anger and disdain, to non payment for services supplied, to abuse and incomprehension when the moon the client is informed is not available this side of Paradise.  They suffer from such clients attempts to tell them what to do and how to do it; that claim that the impossible is available and just get it from off the shelf.  They are hard pressed to contain the burgeoning of late additions and alterations flooding in and claimed as being in the original requirement by a client, having to tread a fine line between politeness and refusal, and explanation without apology.

As for the client who has sacked or else lost his initial developer – the upshot is the same – there has been reached an impasse – either the initial relationship has failed or else the developer has been unable to deliver – and the client having to seek out another developer in order to complete entails inherently in its history a decisive breach in relations having occurred previously. Thus the prognosis for a happy ending for the newly-hired subsequent developer is not the best.

Indeed there is nothing so difficult to defend oneself against, let alone to try to break down, as entrenched ignorance coupled with an assured self-confident complacency. These are qualities of character being nurtured and encouraged far too much, far too widely. Their owners can sustain their character because such people are able to survive and by doing so send harmful concatenations of reverberations around in their societies.

They are able to survive and to continue because of the great and ponderous gulf in our societies set between consumers and their consumption, and manufacture and development, whereupon the consumer thinks he is king because he holds the purse strings’; but in fact the technocrat holds the aces because he has the knowledge and therefore the power to withhold or supply the gadgets and gewgaws our lives have become crucially dependent upon.

The consumer has been or has allowed himself to have been removed, separated, from the wellsprings of his existential essences.  (For instance, many city children in developed societies have not experienced seeing the commonplace farm animals in the flesh.  Food is commonly shrink wrapped and packaged up, offered without blemishes, irradiated in inert atmospheres, pre-peeled, maybe with added chemical adulteration, all being presented as pristine, untouched by  human hand, almost as if ‘official, rubberstamped-good’ food, and as far away from a slurry tank or a muckspreader as human imagination is able to conjure)

The result is loss: the loss of an awareness of authenticity, and so of good judgement.

The consequence is belief that the technocrat is able to/will be able to supply the moon and anything more that the consumer stipulates; and that he is obliged to, will be coerced to do so by consumer demand.  The disbelief, anger and fear aroused when this closed bubble of fantasy occasionally bursts, and reliant antibiotics fail to cure, or when systems go down and crash, are usually directed at the technocrats and are accompanied by a widespread and genuine sense of staggering helplessness in which consumers understand themselves to be ‘victims’.

Like the typical client with his project on its second or third developer, they are indeed victims, but for the most part in consequence of their own renunciation of commitment, engagement, curiosity, generosity, and humility, in the face of an easy and comfortable, listless superabundance requiring seemingly no accountability.

Designing for Content: Part Two

In the first article part of this topic we laid out some fairly basic “dos and don’ts” with recommendations and reasons, concerning Web Designing in relation to Website Content.  There is considerably more to say on the subject, and this first of two follow-on articles aims to amplify further as a general overview of how to, and where to, use your design skills so as to make the most of your website content.

Groupings (“albums”) of photos or videos are typically arranged in a grid fashion so as to allow a browsing user to be able quickly to scroll through them as a set.  Try to avoid thumbnails so as give each of your video ‘still’ previews a large enough size so as to be able to convey something significant about its content (such as its title or a fitting image that explains its subject-matter well). Nothing is more frustrating and a bigger deterrent than having to open up each item in a video thumbnail grid layout so as to get a broader awareness of their content.  People will quickly give up when a video cannot be found by them reasonably quickly and they go somewhere else.

A hover over with the Title or Subject of the video in it is useful.  As is also plenty of space between items in the grid. This might seem like ‘wasted space’ at first thought but space equals a sense of freedom psychologically and lack of space equals a sense of confinement; and so of oppression. So always aim for the feel good factor for your readership and viewership.

Grouping your images and/or videos in some kind of reasonable and easy to grasp classification system (like by topic or chronologically or by author/creator alphabetically etc) is a useful and a welcome thing to a browsing user of your site.  She will recommend you to others and will recognise a will on your part to be hospitable and that you are trying to anticipate helpful aids for your readers/viewers. Add to your image titles a basic search facility too.

Once again, and it cannot really be overstressed, the general principle here, and in all web design is that one must imaginatively and sympathetically put yourself in your web visitors’ shoes, and ask oneself once in them: ‘What would I like to see here? What can  help me see it? What helps are in place to help me find what I want. And even, is the site owner/admin a good guy who cares about his visitors enough to put herself in their shoes?  And always learn from your visitors’ comments and implement what is by popular demand wanted.

Systematised Data (like race or game venus and fixtures and results, league tables, car#eer histories etc) always benefits from being arranged in rows and columns usually displayed as tables.  This type of data in quantity can be tricky to manage its display well.  Remember again, give your viewers lots of visual space. Again: space is freedom from oppressive feelings of a cramped perception.  As clear and plain a font as you can get too. Try not to embolden or italicise overmuch; and if you do use these keep them in whole columns or whole rows, which adds a sense of arrangement and so of order to the view of the page.  Be consistent in your formats you use – including usage of colours and fonts and table dimensions and line thicknesses.

Colour indeed can help or hinder a lot with Systematised data display.  Some colours are hard on the eye – and some colours kill the text they are background to.  Text must always be readable and easily so.  Choose your colours with care; make sure they don’t clash badly and make sure they add clarity and are not in fact obfuscating your intended communication.  A personal preference is for soft colours – pastels and lighter shades – which are able quietly, almost unconsciously,  to differentiate data types and make simple plain demarcations.  Perhaps too much colour and colour in much force is too much like shouting at a browsing user, or maybe like forcing your attention down his throat??

Taking time out for thought beforehand is always the best choice for you; so as to plan out the best arrangement of your data in tables, charts etc. There are books and web pages that discuss presenting statistics to view, and which look at various layouts for the same materials according to their client consumers’ likely uses and purposes.

Sometimes small pictorial icons can be used to effect – like those that  link to a Chart or to a Graphical representation of stats – but maybe keep such links to other pages either to the base of a page or maybe placed altogether on separate page – so that you stay lucid and inviting to the view.

Highly-Interactive Interfaces

Communication-type content (such as for instance: comments in forums and on social media; or web-based chat) normally are arranged in a (descending) chronological order. This arrangement allows users easily to follow the flow of a conversation (as in a forum thread) or train of thought (as in a person’s social media “wall” or “feed”) from its origins through its development and to any conclusions that might have arisen. In other words the whole history is presented in a form that is best for its digestion by a visitor who has no prior knowledge of its contents..

Often you will want to make very clear each comment or message that is associated with any single online identity (maybe via use of a user name or handle, or maybe sometimes using a profile photo or avatar, or another identity or data tag).  There is usually also a time stamp beside each entry to give context to its message. Such a context may be crucial for determining when something was put down in writing; and this knowledge can settle arguments or else remind people of facts and appointments; all context is very useful and in certain instances can be absolutely vital to have and to know.

There are furthermore some advanced layout techniques which have been created in the belief that they are able to enhance conversations like those in social media and forums, techniques such as the indenting a comment to signify “replying to a reply”, or sometimes specially marking comments so as to indicate the importance of the person commenting (usual in employment situations).

Sometimes a highlight is placed on the user identity who started a forum thread, and the highlight runs throughout the thread whenever she re-comments; or else the same highlighting idea but used for tagging a comment come from an administrative-level user of the website, and so on.

In the third and final part of this series on Designing for Content we will look at the basic rules for creating facility in Navigation, with a short summary recapitulation of the entire subject to close on.

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Designing for Content: Part One

In our introductory article we gave an overview of the more important aspects of professional web design.  Now, in the article that follows, we are attempting more depth looking at web design in its relation to various commonly-used types of content.

The most common types of Web Content

Text: which normally holds

  1. general information,
  2. paragraphs of prose,
  3. organized data, etc.

Multimedia: which commonly includes

  1. images,
  2. videos,
  3. audio,
  4. animation.

These types of of content are usually found intermixed on most websites . Very few websites are exclusively Text (e.g. Index of sporting fixtures and/or results might be) or exclusively Multimedia (e.g Google Images pages are thus)


When one is considering placing within the website pages advertisements which offer goods and services, one should generally bear in mind these few tips:

  • Be aware of the size and shape of any boxes within which ads are to be set. Place the boxes according to what appears most aesthetically acceptable – such as with wider ads these usually look best placed within a main content column, or else can sometimes be placed at the head of a page; whereas narrower, taller ads sit better within sidebars or maybe within narrower columns. And in addition fitting your ads at their correct size whilst taking into account one’s standard column widths is something a good designer needs to consider with care and attention.
  • The style and design of any ads placed on your site will always look better when they are able to sit comfortably with the larger style and design of the site itself. There is a difficulty arises sometimes here however: in making the ads clearly showing to be ads and so in essence extraneous to the main matter of the site, but at the same time not making ads look glaringly inappropriate design-wise.Integration of ads into a website theme then may not always be easy without ‘losing’ any impact the ad itself as advertisement ought to have upon persons viewing. Perhaps a use of a set of fixed standard conventions in one’s ads and their placement is desirable? One which utilises basic colorings and font configurations, which evoke some separational distinctiveness for advertising from the website subject matter itself, but which at the same time do not obviously clash with and look incongruous with your website’s general look and feel?
  • There are certain Ad service guidelines which should help you in the distribution of ads throughout your site. The chief ones may be:
  • Stay below a maximum recommended number of ad placements per page (AdSense limits this to (I believe?) 3 placements,)
  • There are certain placement no-nos (for instance it doesn’t make good sense to place, say, text ads – especially those with linking units – near to site menus. To do so is a recipe for user confusion and encourages them in making annoying and accidental clicks away from your business)
  • You should not shrink the size of an ad so as to get it to fit the space you have available especially not mobile ads or those ads with responsive layouts.  This shrinking down tends to be seen as cheating by the ad client. Besides respecting the original size and resolution of the image ad means it doesn’t display smaller than intended. This in turn means that click aways and links to other sites remain able to be made with facility by persons interested who are browsing the ad)
  • Interstitial ads are ads that display as superimposed over a web page proper. (These are a certain kind of ‘pop-up’).  Many web surfers view these images that suddenly hijack the page they want as intensely annoying and so maybe they are best avoided? You don’t just alienate the surfer from the product being advertised, but from using your site itself.  (BTW There may be copyright issues also arising sometimes when these interstitial ‘pop-ups’ carry materials that have been directly imported from other sites)

How Arrangements of Content Types Affect Layout

Articles of Text (or similar forms of long-text content like tables of figures) are better viewed laid out with minimal distractions surrounding them, so that there is minimal clutter and maximum clarity. In these instances one generally uses clean one-column layouts, with generous font sizes, line heights and lots of breathing room, so that the experience of a reader becomes similar to, as close as possible to, a real-world book page reader.

One should avoid ‘glare’ in the wrong places, such as the effect given by a clash of colours or bright colours which act to distract from the task of reading and digesting the text. Likewise flashing images and other annoyances can cause a reader just to ‘give up’ on a site, even though the content itself might be excellent and exactly what he was after. Perhaps the message here is: don’t try to be smart and keep it simple.

No elaborate fonts, nor any twirls or fancies: these act to distract or to take away from the reading experience. If a person is at the page and has stayed there longer than 10 seconds he is reading and will not want disturbances, even ones intended to ‘grab’ the casual visitor’s interest or attention.

A general rule is: Look at the display of your pages as if you were the newbie visitor to your website – what would you like to see? How can you make it easy for such a newbie to get that positive and satisfactory experience – and without her having to ‘go around the houses’ to obtain it.

‘Oh, would some god the giftie gie us,
To see ourselves as others see us’

There is considerably more to say on this topic of Designing for Content, and this article is getting overlong as it is. And so we recommend to you the second part of this topic which has been separated off as a discrete article in its own right.  Amongst other things it deals with navigation, and an allowance of ample time to chew over beforehand your projected design.

There will follow this second part a third and final part.

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Project Takeover Blues 2: Addressing the Balance: Keeping an Equal Footing

[This article continues our series on taking over a project from another team or, looking at it from the client’s perspective, switching teams.  This is part 2.  You can read part 1 here.]

This article looks at the essential bias of most client/developer relationships.

This is a world that celebrates wealth and power that rich men and women wield; one in which every Joe and Joanne aspires to this status as an apotheosis of a successful life. For all the talk about God and religion in America the core tenets of Christianity are not in play there where doing business is concerned.  No-one but no-one in America gives his coat along with his shirt when a guy asks a shirt from him.  As for laying up treasure in heaven – guys are too busy laying cash up in bank vaults and in their hearts down here.

In Europe, the bulk of the rest of the developed world, Jesus is a fiction; something dreamed up by inadequates, and cynicism is the best policy for handling people; no open-heart policy there.

A guy I worked with, an OK guy, Steve was his name, a Welshman, who of course played rugby football, as everyone does there.  He told me a story about his team coach. The coach had warned him about lineouts. (In the lineout two opposing teams file in a long line each beside one another as the ball is thrown over above them. The teams jump up together to obtain possession.)  Lineouts are set pieces of the game which are notoriously tough; the bruiser types usually play the man by throwing a punch to the kidneys at their opposite number when the referee is on their blindsides.  The coach had advised Steve for when this happens: ‘Next time you go up; dig him twice as hard back’.

The rationale of this was that the bruiser guy would never leave Steve alone unless Steve at the first opportunity hit him back twice as hard.  At first Steve tried to do without retaliating. After a few fixtures however he had adopted the instant retaliation as policy – as dogma.

Well, in a less physically violent but as jolting a way, verbally and in the business transaction, such a policy or dogma soon evolves among developers towards their clients.  Elsewise the slippery slope towards nervous collapse begins, because many, even most, clients will take up and make use of the bruiser option as their default setting. So they must be curbed at the earliest opportunity by a fierce but measured retaliation from the developer.

Such a retaliation puts an estrangement in place between the two; and such an estrangement is the birthing space within which respect – first towards the developer – thereafter and mutually between each other – is able to enter the world alive and nurture the relationship to thrive.

Of course, just as some guys can give punishment but refuse to take any; you can lose clients this way. Some will walk, offended, even outraged; and go look for some pliable sucker elsewhere to drive into the ground from doing their penurious bidding.   But most clients generally shape up and innately understand the natural justice in the situation. This puts the relationship on a proper footing.

Once a common respect has been established, then the relationship can grow and develop and thereafter even niceties like offering one’s coat along with one’s shirt might be contemplated as possible.

The scenario is unChristian maybe; but so is most of the world, and even more of the business world.  Jesus died for us; but he himself says he came to give life and life in abundance. We are not called to die for him; although perhaps there are instances of men and women who have been called by him to give their lives in his service? But where it avails nothing to be crushed and bled and thrashed by a client who is a natural bruiser, no-one, Christian or not, is making any hay for the Kingdom by lying down and allowing himself to be trampled to death.

An important strategy for use with clients who shape up and share esteem but go quickly into into relapse – the backsliders – is to play the zero-sum game and set them to rights.  The rules are straightforward and you must ALWAYS abide by them and NEVER relent nor ever get spiteful.

When a guy cooperates give him a reward; like when he allows a just but unwelcome correction, give him a compliment and praise him for allowing it.

When a guy is deliberately hostile or reluctant give him a punishment – that is – go back to the original line-out scenario.

These two simple rules when always applied may not be an absolute guarantee for rescue of a situation and relationship; but they are your very best strategy for getting reinstatement of good order and due respect.

In our societies a tendency, which many people understand to be natural, but which if allowed to be natural gives humanity no hope for a better world, is for those with a power to hire and fire, to pay or not pay, to demand but not be demanded of, to take up the higher ground from which to lay it on the guy who is to be hired or fired, paid or not paid, demanded of but not demanding.  This kind of relationship is widely accepted as the general norm between employer and employee, boss and bossed, master and servant.  Jesus says there is another way.

And Jesus is no numbskull; nor is he a soft touch nor wimpish loser type.  ‘He did not rely on the approbation of men because he knew men and knew what was in men.’  And ‘he was no respecter of persons’ i.e of position status sway. In his unique way he was tough. He gave it out where it was right to give it out; and he took it where it was appropriate to his appointed task to take it.

We are called to follow him; not just in an abstract spiritual affiliation but in his toughness; to dish it out where it does well to do so; and to take it on the chest when things get tough.  Sometimes not easy, but always productive.

So a guy like you who is being knocked from pillar to post by his heavy clients and their imperious demands; he can sort the show out and be working to do good in the world as part and parcel of sorting things out.

You are doing no favours to the guy who wants to push you around by allowing him to do so. The first steps to a better place to live in and to do business in are in helping level out the ground and so prepare it for a lasting and beautiful ‘house of many mansions’ to be erected where humanity fitly might dwell.

The Project Takeover Blues: 1 – The Client jumps ship – or was he pushed?

What I’d like to spell out in this series are the ins and outs of taking over a project from another technical team.  Spelling out the issues that tend to arise in this area needs to be viewed not only from a perspective of one development team taking over another’s work, but also from the perspective of commissioner-funders the project. How they might see their replacing an existing team.

There is a whole host of angles and fractal views from which to take up this topic. This then is the first of another series of articles – this series looks at Project Takeovers – and this opening article is a broad-brush attempt to sketch what are to be their chief themes.

Discussing projects part-finished that are handed over to you for completion puts me in mind of George Orwell talking about Hitler’s stormtroopers goose-stepping through Berlin and Nuremberg: “It would be laughable if it wasn’t so terrifying”.

Looking from the outside inwards there are plenty of belly-laughs to be had from this topic; and taking-over Projects might even make a good TV sitcom format; but sometimes even Hell looks inviting from a distance?

Reason number one is the lack of history you get along with the part-complete work.  At best it’s a one-sided story, the commissioning client’s Authorised Version (no Apocrypha).  Given that there has normally to have been a rupture followed by a total breakdown between client and former developer, this one sided story will always be pretty colourful, but in heavy shades of dark and light.

Another George Orwell item comes to mind, the Party Line dogma of ‘Four legs good; two legs bad’. In short- the other developer guy is always the villain of the piece.  Sometimes even the client forgets that you yourself are a developer and he begins drawing generalities from his bad experience and starts unheedingly to tar your trade and all its practitioners with the same brush.  Depending on how desperate you are for work, you might turn a deaf ear or else plead a fully-filled work schedule.

Of course, we are all human and so are all errant sinners, and so he might have a solid case against the former developer (developers are human too, in case you are not sure!). Nonetheless, to receive a doctored version of events is usual whether or not whose fault caused the break-up, and this is at best difficult for the new developer. Very few people can bear too much self-examination. (‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality’ T S Eliot)

The former developer will likely be ill-disposed towards the client, and so a very crucial source and route for obtaining valuable information to help you complete the task is sometimes cut off; although allowing for camaraderie amongst developers there might sometimes be some slack cut for you by him? Especially if he has a story to tell with grievances he might be just too pleased to get off his chest to ‘someone who understands’. So first points to note:

Approach the Former Developer to get:

  1. His side of the dispute; and
  2. Any technical background and advice he is happy to offer you.
  3. To get a bead on the client himself
  4. To assess in as far as you have opportunity the objective situation of the breach
  5. To find out whether the client is a decent payer (on time and without quibble?)

This final point e) is probably the most important item for you to find out.  A person can put up with a lot of frustrations if the pay packet arrives in full and on time.

Regardless of the answers had from a former developer be prepared for a lot of deconstructional work on what has been achieved so far in the Project.  Whether the client or developer has been the one who is inept or inexpert the net result is often the same: the software you inherit will almost certainly need unravelling, beginning again if not at square one then at a point far back before things began to fall apart administratively.

This is because at whatever entry point in a Project, and from whatever angle, comes into it a feed of chaos, in the shape of too many changed minds, overmangaging of minutiae, unscientific expectations, the quart in the pint pot (“feature creep” is the trade term), and so on: like a good leaven it will propagate through the whole batch and raise the loaves of consternation within it.

In all this there is another general rule arises, that:

The software build and the technical side of things will go far more smoothly and be a lot easier than the handling of the human aspects of Projects and of their interested parties.  A psychiatrist friend of mine once quipped to me that ‘a neurosis shared is a neurosis squared’ – one might say much the same for the human relations management involved in taken-over projects. Unless one has a foreknowledge of experience in these things you might not be fully prepared for the upgraded bagatelle game involved.

There is likely to be enjoyed a ‘honeymoon period’ between you and the client but his bad experience that led to you getting the half-formed app or build to finish has made him more wary and skeptical about developers and their ways, and he will be more on guard than he had been previously and sometimes will be looking for ‘unconformities’.  It is hard to say whether a non technical client is better or worse than a technical one.

Alexander Pope once said: ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ and perhaps half-knowledge is the very worst state for a client to be in.  The client ignorant of technical things is the kind most likely not to accept being told by a techie he is asking for too much or the wrong sort of thing and so on. This is because he cannot appreciate the limitations of IT science.  For a client who knows a lot about techie things one always asks ‘Why isn’t he building it himself?’.  Sometimes this is naively asked at face-value; sometimes it is asked rhetorically with some sarcasm when he is the kind who is looking over your shoulder every moment of the day.

But the client with half-knowledge can be truly awful. He can insist it ‘can be done’ and that he ‘can tell you how’; that he knows the budget is sufficient. He of all kinds of clients is the one most liable to seek for mission-creep and to pile up add-ons and extras, and to suggest inarticulate tinkerings.  You lose either way – do as he demands and the app is crap – do as you believe in and he refuses to sign off.

Considering these conflicts arising between Clients and Developers it is not surprising that so many projects are handed on to the next firm half complete; and it is surprising that so many projects see it through to completion.

To say a word in favour of clients, so that there is some balance to this article, it is true that developers often can be not the most forgiving of people, and can be abrasive, and from the perspective of clients, ‘difficult’ because they too have had a history and experience of tangled relations just as clients have had.  They too feel they are ‘once-bitten’ and so they are now ‘twice shy’, and so they are very defensive right from the off.  If developers were good at human relations they would not be developers; they would be in conflict management where the money is.

The scientific mind is one that is least liable to ‘suffer fools gladly’; because perhaps the precision of methodology into which it has been trained heightens its sensitivity to loose thinking and approximated accuracy. These however are the norm for more or less ‘ordinary’ kinds of people.  Such a heightened sensitivity cannot bear these casual outlooks which it sees as being ‘slapdash’ and it finds them an enormous source of frustration and annoyance.  Yet what is more necessary for handling people well than a certain ‘easygoingness’ and a broad ‘willingness to tolerate human foibles’?

The two outlooks are thus ‘chalk and cheese’; so is it any wonder that after the marital arts, the second place for exercise of mutual self defence goes to techie-client relationships? Like an old married couple.