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.

You can find this article at our Steemit blog: https://steemit.com/designing/@matthew.raymer/designing-for-content-part-two

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)

Advertisements

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.

You can also find this article at our Steemit blog: https://steemit.com/designing/@matthew.raymer/designing-for-content-part-one

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.

Metanomalies publication The Future of Internet Piracy Storage

We’re proud to announce this new article in our Future of Piracy series on our Metanomalies community portal.  We explore new technologies (such as storj) which are capable of being leveraged for piracy as well as normal file storage.

[The point of this series is to emphasize that small creative owners (as well as large corporate ones) need to carefully consider the strength of communities to monetize their works rather than (or in addition) to traditional intellectual property.]

Introduction to Professional Web Design

When I originally set out to write this article, the question as I had it in my mind was “How long should it take to design a web site?”  After some reflection, I decided that while this question is a burning one for clients, it would be more comprehensive for me to ask what issues necessarily must be considered when doing design for the web?  What I’ll be doing in this article here is laying out some general areas for consideration, into which we shall delve further in detail in later articles. Continue reading Introduction to Professional Web Design