Category: news

The New, Convoluted Life Cycle Of A Newspaper Story

Great piece from 10,000 Words on the natural growth of news.

Having done a ton of thinking about this over the last year, this resonates so much with my thoughts and conclusions. This particularly struck me:

Unlike a blog like TechCrunch, for example, a newspaper is publishing to multiple platforms. TechCrunch has one platform, one story type: blog posts. Newspapers are the only type of publishing company to have the distinct differentiation of “print stories” (which are posted to the web) vs. “blog posts” vs. “web updates” (to the print stories). The different platforms, web CMS and print CMS, have different workflows associated with them.

So many news publishers are hand-tied by their own mental-models of perfectly manicured journalism similar to TV or Print. One to many, final-state publishing. The web's different, but what's crucial is how we show the change of the story for the user. How do we do that?

A Practical Guide to Web App Success

I'm very pleased to announce that, yesterday, Five Simple Steps launched A Practical Guide to Web App Success from Dan Zambonini. You can buy it now in DRM-free ePub, PDF and mobi formats bundle for just £15.

A Practical Guide to Web App Success by Dan Zambonini

Like our other Practical Guide books, Dan's book is very useful. It's about taking that might seem overwhelming, complex or just plain big, and breaking it down into manageable, empowering chunks. For almost anyone working on the web, but particularly for designers and developers wanting to take an idea to market, this book is a great place to get an understanding of what's involved; starting from a scratchy beginning of a side project to a full-time venture.

Personally, what I got from Dan's book was enough breadth to make me believe I could do the same. Not only that, but that it might just be a success.

Of course, it looks great. Our designer Nick, and particularly our new apprentice at Mark Boulton Design, Colin, have spent many weeks crafting a beautiful experience.

.Net magazine have published a sample chapter on 'Prototypes and User Tests', and of course, you could download the sample from the Five Simple Steps website if you wanted to see what it's all about.

We're thrilled to bits with it. If you pick a copy up, please let us know what you think @fivesimplesteps.

Wanted: Web Designer

It's funny to think that 5 years ago, I left the BBC to pursue a freelance career and have, quite literally, spent every day since scared to death. Today, Mark Boulton Design is going from strength to strength. Thankfully.

We've built a great team, a great working environment and approach to our work. We're also incredibly lucky to be working with some amazing clients: from global news organisations, to pan-European scientific organisations, to open source communities and a global sports brand. The work is varied, and we think – in our small way – we're making a difference. But, most importantly perhaps, we love what we do. Ok, enough gushing; you get the picture.

Today, we announced we're looking for another Web Designer to join our team. I can promise interesting work, smart clients, talented colleagues and the option of drinking your own body weight in tea or coffee daily.

Interested?

The Icon Handbook by Jon Hicks

It is with great pleasure that, today, after much discussion, I can announce that Five Simple Steps will be publishing The Icon Handbook by Jon Hicks later this year.

Icon design is hard. I find it one of the most challenging aspects of our craft. It's a complex process with a fair degree of magic involved. But with all Five Simple Steps titles, our aim is to break down the 'magic' and complexity into something that is practical. Something you can do today, even if it's just a simple technique.

Jon's work is everywhere in my dock. The Firefox logo, Shopify, Silverback, Thunderbird, Mailchimp. The list goes on. I couldn't think of anyone more suitable to explain to us all how he creates such beautiful and distinctive work. We know this book means a lot to him. He's thought a lot about it for many years now, and finally, he's at a place where he wants to write it and we're thrilled he's chosen us to help him create a beautifully designed and produced book.

More details will be forthcoming on when it will be available and what will be covered, please follow Five Simple Steps on Twitter to keep up to date with where we're up to.

Excited? I can barely contain myself!

Want to be our Apprentice?

Today, the small design agency I run announced our plans to hire a Web Design Apprentice. It's something that has been in my mind for ages now, but we've finally had the time to work out exactly what the role will be, how this person will work with us, and how, after 2 years we can make you into a web designer.

Why an Apprentice?

Internships are the norm in our industry. I did it, and it was mostly great. But the thing is; it didn't pay well and I was only there for a few months. At which point, I was only just learning the ropes and finding my feet in the company. Then it was time to move on.

As is natural in a busy studio environment, dedicating the time to an intern is challenging. They're there to learn, sure, but there is typically no program of learning with an outcome. You're there to soak it up. Whatever it is.

An Apprentice is something completely different. It's a commitment to teach and nurture you over a given period of time. You'll also be earning as you learn. It's providing web design education in a way that is supportive and fair, but most of all: industry-relevant.

Are you our Apprentice?

If you're reading this thinking 'I'd love to do that', then I want to hear from you. Pop over to the page on Mark Boulton Design and read the application details very carefully.

The 24 Ways 2010 Annual

24 Ways (to impress your friends) is something us webby types look forward to every year. This web advent calendar, as they say in TV and Radio, is an 'appointment to view'. This year is no different, but, together with Five Simple Steps, Drew and Brian have been working on something that'll keep you entertained for just that little bit longer.

At dConstruct in September this year, I sat down with Brian, Drew and Rachel and we hatched a little idea of doing something special this year for 24 ways. Making something permanent. An opportunity to make some money for charity too. Today sees the launch of The 24 Ways Annual 2010. A limited edition, beautiful printed annual with all proceeds of sales going to UNICEF *.

What I love about this is that we have a genuine opportunity to do some good in the world. We're aiming to sell 5000 copies of this. If we do, and we manage to snag a sponsor who is willing to foot the bill for the print costs, that means we donate £37,500 to UNICEF (that's about $58,000). That's enough to do some serious good for children across the world who are a lot less fortunate than ours.

The Annual is only going to be on sale throughout December. We stop selling it on the last day of December. Then we print the copies we've sold. That's it. No more. It's strictly limited edition. So, what can you expect? Well...

  • 24 Superb articles, beautifully designed and typeset.
  • Superb cover and supporting illustrations by Migy.
  • Bespoke packaging.
  • About 80 pages printed full colour on uncoated recycled paper.
  • A nice warm glow as you contribute to UNICEF.
  • We begin shipping late January 2011

We're so thrilled to be involved in this with the guys at 24 Ways. We thrilled to part of the 24 Ways annual rollercoaster and, for us, today is only the start. But, oh, we're looking forward to it.

  • All the proceeds will go to UNICEF if we secure sponsorship for the print run and additional costs. If you're reading this and want to know more, then head over to Five Simple Steps and download the sponsorship pack.

The book I wish I'd read ten years ago

A few weeks ago, Five Simple Steps - the small, indi publisher I'm a co-founder of - released our second title; A Practical Guide to Information Architecture by Donna Spencer. Derek Featherstone, who wrote a wonderful foreword for Donna, summarised his feelings in one closing sentence:

This is the book that I needed 10 years ago.

I completely agree with him. And here's why: this book makes you feel like an information architect. It makes you feel empowered with a sense of clarity and purpose that you can bring to your projects. No other IA book I've read made me feel like that.

I think I first came across the term IA in about 1999. I'd just started working for Agency.com in London and was partnered with a guy (sorry, I forget his name now), who 'used to be a designer', but was now an 'IA'. I really did learn a lot from him directly. I learnt that Information Architecture can be a slow, tedious practice. It's often about making hard decisions and arming yourself with the facts before you do. I learnt that it was vital in a project, but perhaps most importantly, I learnt that good IA is not a quest for perfection. It's about getting in there, making mistakes and then iterating.

Getting your hands dirty

Every year in the UK, there is a horticultural show in Chelsea; the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The BBC, as always, does a stirling job at covering the event over the course of about a week. As you'd expect, there are a bunch of well-known faces presenting the proceedings, my favourite being Christine Walkden - an energetic, passionate gardener with a wonderful turn of phrase. This year - whilst sitting on a park bench, discussing the difference between garden designers and gardeners with Alan Titchmarsh - she said something that will stick with me a long while:

You have to spend some time with grit under your fingernails

This phrase really stuck with me. There really is no substitute for getting stuck in, making mistakes, learning from them and then trying it all again. To get stuck in, you need to have the confidence to do so. And that's what Donna's book will give you; the confidence to spend some time with grit under your fingernails.

A Practical Guide to Information Architecture is available to buy now as a downloadable PDF, ePub and preorder paperback from Five Simple Steps from as little as £12.

Announcing Project Verity

As you may know, Leisa Reichelt and I have been working for the past year or so with the Drupal community; first on the redesign of Drupal.org, then the User Experience project for Drupal 7. Since then, I've been using Drupal more and more. My company has hired two Drupal developers, we use Drupal 6 every day to build new sites and applications for ourselves and for our clients. Throughout all of this work, there is one thing lacking: Drupal does not do a great job at providing an admin for content creators.

During the D7UX project, we defined two personas: Verity and Jeremy. Let's focus on Verity for a moment. Verity is a content creator. She's not a developer. She doesn't care how Drupal works, she doesn't need to know Drupal terminology. All she needs to do is manage her content. Then she leaves work and goes home to do other things. Verity needs the admin of Drupal to help her do her daily job. Currently, Drupal doesn't do a great job of that. That's where Project Verity comes in.

Project Verity launched today. Leisa and the team at Mark Boulton Design are teaming up to design a paid/premium admin theme for Drupal 6 designed to make you look good and your clients feel great. From the Project Verity site:

The Verity Theme (a paid/premium admin theme for Drupal 6) will allow you to hand over a website backend that you can feel proud of, that has a great User Experience and that continues the great design experience you’ve created for the front end through to your clients experience of managing the website. You develop the site in whatever theme you like, then when you’re done developing, switch to the Verity theme to create a user experience specifically designed for content creators like Verity.

I'm very excited about this little project.

We're designing in the open -- as we did with the two other previous Drupal related projects. We're doing this at the blog at Project Verity, and you can keep up to date by following the Twitter account: http://twitter.com/projectverity

For more information about Verity, read today's announcement and find out if Project Verity is for you.

Drupal 7 Redesign

DrupalLast week, I flew to Boston, MA, to have a meeting with those fine folks at Acquia about a project they wanted my small design studio to look at. Today, Dries Buytaert, the founder of Drupal, announced that, together with Leisa Reichelt, we’re going to be working on improving the user experience of Drupal 7. Needless to say, we’re very, very excited to be part of this project.

From what we learned on the Drupal.org project, both in terms of process, but also some of the stumbling blocks that Drupal has, we’re confident we can make some changes that will make it easier to use for people who are new to Drupal, but also experienced users.

Leisa and I are going to be at DrupalCon DC in March. We’ll be kick-starting our research, presenting on the redesign of drupal.org, and doing a lot of listening. if you’re going please tap me on the shoulder and say hi.

A couple of books

A couple of books coming up which may be of interest. Firstly, Web Standards Creativity is up on Amazon for pre-order. It’s a sumptuous full-colour paperback covering topics like Typography, PNG transparency techniques and Grid Design from the likes of Ethan Marcotte, Simon Collison, Cameron Adams, Aaron Gustafson, Jeff Croft, Derek Featherstone, Dan Rubin, Andy Budd, Ian Lloyd, Rob Weychert, Andy Clarke, and me.

Secondly, Five Simple Steps: Designing for the Web is nearing completion. It’s not quite finished yet, and yes I’m going to miss the January deadline, but it will be worth the wait. To keep you going until then, here’s a few tasters…

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Above. Example spreads from Chapter Two: Typography.

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Above. Example spreads from Chapter Two and Three: Typography and Colour.

Self-publishing your own book is tough. I was naive to think I would get this finished by Christmas and ambitious to think it would be finished this month. These things take time, especially if you consider I’m writing, art-directing and designing and publishing this book. That said, it’s only a little overdue and I’m sure it’ll be worth it.

Thanks to everyone who has already signed up for the launch discount. There will also be a bulk licence available for £25 for five copies for you and your collegues. There is still time to sign up for the discount too if you haven’t done already.

Right, that’s enough talk, I’ve got a book to finish.

Flow: A money manager for freelancers and small businesses

Flow: A money organiser for freelancers and small businessesA few weeks ago, I wrote about my difficulty managing an increasing amount of requests for work and creating and tracking the paperwork associated with this process. I decided to build something in Expression Engine to solve my needs, but it was far from perfect. In fact, there was so much missing from my prototype, that it made sense to develop it further.

So, without further ado, let me introduce you to Flow; a money organiser for freelancers and small businesses.

So, a couple of weeks ago when I posted up the details about this little application thing I’d developed using Expression Engine, a friend of mine Keeran, who is a Director at the Cardiff based software development company Beanlogic Ltd, emailed me about something he was developing which was very similar and maybe we should go for coffee and have a chat about it. We did, and Flow was born.

So, what is Flow?

Without giving too much away at this point, it’s similar to what I developed, but includes a whole load of other stuff in there to help your workflow if you’re a freelancer or the owner of a small business. It’s about estimates, invoices and cash-flow. That’s it. Simple.

Go on, sign up!

We’ve been working on the application for a number of weeks now, and hope to launch in the next couple of months (if all goes to plan). Currently the landing page is a sign up for a launch invite, but a new site outlining the features and benefits of Flow, along with screenshots and a blog, will be along the next couple of weeks.

Parting company from 9rules

{title}Yesterday, 9rules and I parted company. It was a good relationship while it lasted, but an increased workload and the subsequent tipping of scales has meant that I can't give back to the Network what I once could. 9rules deserves more than I could give it, so I'm bowing out.

Thanks to Paul and all the 9rules members for a creating a cracking community.

SXSW: Traditional Design and New Technology

{title}Three weeks today, I'll be landing in Austin, Texas for SXSW. I cannot tell you how excited I am about going to this event again.

Two years ago, A collegue and I attended to what I thought was just going to be another industry do. How wrong I was. The inspiration fuelled my creativity and design direction for about six months. Little did I know then that in two years time I would be sitting on one of the panels. Nervous? Me?

A star-studded panel

I'll be sharing the big, long table at the front with some very distinguished designers:

As you can see, quite a list. I'm utterly in awe of some of the work these guys produce so it's going to be fantastic to sit up there and have a discussion with them on a topic I hold so dearly. It will be passionate for sure.

So, what are we going to be talking about?

Traditional Design and New Technology

{title}I'm not going to give much away (or what would be the point coming?). I will say that I believe it will be quite a different panel in terms of the content matter; not the usual SXSW material. It's going to appeal to designers and developers alike and If you're a project manager, then no worries, I'm sure you'll enjoy it too.

Get there early

Now here's the thing, and partly the reason for this post, get there early.

Our panel starts at 10am on Saturday. That's right, we're pretty much first up. So, no excuses. Jetlag, hangovers, no sleep, too much dodgy mexican food the previous night; they're all weak excuses.

Once you finished with our panel, at 11.30am is our very own (I'm talking in terms of the Britpack and the UK here) Andy Budd and Andy Clark with their, bound to be superb, panel; How to Be A Web Design Superhero.

The ExpressionEngine $15,000 shootout!

pMachine have just announced The ExpressionEngine $15,000 shootout, a competition in to find the best, new EE–based sites. I'll be a judge on the competition along with Colly, Jason, Molly, Scrivs,Cameron, Narayan, Emily Chang, Jesse, Max and Om Malik.

Contest entries can be Commercial, Personal, and Core licensed sites so anybody with an EE powered site can enter.

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p>So, what can you win? Well, there are 10 winners for each category: Commercial, Personal and Core. There will be $5000 worth of prizes to be won per category, in addition to EE licenses, with the winner taking home $1000 (and the glory!). Each entry will be judged on innovation, excellence of design, usability, and content.

If you've got a project coming up and been meaning to give EE a go, now is your chance to do that and possibly earn yourself some cash and plenty of back–slapping in the process. Pop over to pMachine and get yourself the free Core version of EE.

Emigr? calls it a day

{title}This morning I received some sad news in my Inbox. After 21 years of being published, Emigr? magazine is finally calling it a day.

I don't really know where to begin when describing the effect Emigr? has on my path to become a designer. I'm sure I speak for a lot of designers when I say Emigr? deeply influenced my work throughout university - Not just in terms of how the magazine was designed, and the beautiful typography, but by the articles themselves.

Emigr? has attracted, over the years, some influential and intelligent contributors. It is these people, through this medium, that are challenging design at a fundamental level. Now that's gone, what's left?

Well, there's Eye, which is ok, although I've always felt that Emigr? had a broader editorial remit and therefore actually made it less of an industry journal and more of, well, a good read. Being a member, I also recieve the International Society of Typographic Designers journal, TypoGraphic, every quarter or so. Typographic is a bloody good read, especially focussing on the craft side of typographic design. It can be a little old skool at times, but if you get the chance, pick a copy up and judge for yourself.

So, there we have it, damn shame if you ask me. Better snap up those back issues quick. Where's my credit card....

Here, there and everywhere

Looks like the next six months is looking very busy for me - from conferences to holidays.

{title}In November I'm off to the Carson Workshop one day workshop, "CSS for Designers" in London. It promises to be an excellent day with Molly and Andy at the helm covering topics such as 'demystifying structure' and 'CSS: Managing Design Process and Alternative Device Design', which is of particular interest to me.

They've just added a new date on the 17th with limited places available, so what are you waiting for? Book a place.

So, after a couple of holidays in between I'm off to SXSW for the second time. I'm so looking forward to this and this time round I get to sit on a panel with, amongst others, Khoi, which is a bit of a daunting prospect but one I'm really looking forward to.

I can't quite believe the hype with SXSW, it seems to get bigger and bigger every year. Can't wait.

Then, me and Mrs Boulton are off to Perth, Australia (for the second time) to attend a good friends wedding. I love Australia, I really do. Several years ago Emma and I lived in Manly, Sydney for 6 months and it's quite possibly the happiest six months of my life. The Australian's have just got it sorted in my opinion, from the bbq's to the surfing. The whole zest for life they have going on is wonderful - I hope I pick a bit of it up whilst I'm there.

So, just thought I'd share all that as - after being quite ill for most of the summer - I'm really enjoying being able to make plans and be excited about design again. Oh, and the sun... and beaches... and Australian fish and chips...

Hitting the ground running - an update

Today was the first day back at work for a month, and it was the hottest day in Cardiff since I've lived here (32C). Not a great day, although brilliant to be interacting with real people rather than deciding if it's going to be 'Trisha' or 'Joy Of Painting' (which is a joy BTW - Bob Ross, what a genius! I miss him already).

As I'm feeling so much better I'm gearing up for quite a hectic few months. No doubt I'll be increasingly busy at the day job and the freelance work is also on the up - which is all good.

Some exciting news, well for me anyway, is a new 12" iBook (probably just as Apple release a new one in a month or so). I've got to say I'm very, very impressed with it so far, although it does get a tad warm. The battery life far exceeds my wife's peecee laptop by a good hour or so. In fact she's taken to using this instead (note to self - stop wife using iBook). And with the new computer addition I've finally sorted out my Aiport Express, and with the new external drive everything is nicely networked now. It's like a well-oiled machine.

Next thing is my digital camera, which is bust. It's a Pentax Optio 430, which had a nice chunky feel to it, but took an age to start up and then take a shot. So, the upshot is I need a new one. It's got to be small, metal (non of this plastic rubbish), start up quickly and have minimal shutter-lag. I was thinking of the Canon Ixus 50, but what do you think I should spend my hard earned cash on?

Update: Decided to go with the Casio EX-z750 following several recommendations here and Mike's great review. As always the UK is more expensive than the US, but I did manage to get it at a knock down price (cheapest I could find in stock in the UK at the moment) at camerabox.co.uk

We’re safe

Following yesterday's atrocities, just a quick note to say Emma and I are fine. Fortunately neither of us had meetings in London yesterday and all of our friends and colleagues and alive and well.

It was surreal watching it all unfold yesterday as I used to work just around the corner from Kings Cross and would be stepping off the tube about that time, it's all very odd. Like a lot of people have said, the UK public have endured terrorist attacks for years but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow. I was unfortunate enough to be in Manchester at the time of the IRA bomb several years ago and if there's one thing that amazed me was the public's strength in coping with an attack such as that, a feeling of determination in the face of terrorism. That was very evident yesterday.

Now with ‘zoom’ layout

It's amazing how productive an afternoon watching a gig can be.

Following Joe Clark's excellent presentation at @media and his equally excellent article at A List Apart, I thought it's about time I did something to address the accessibility options on this site.

So, if you click on 'Accessibility options' on the top left you'll go to a page where you can set a cookie for the new layout.

Just to summarise Joe's points from his presentation in creating a 'zoom' layout (please correct me if this is wrong):

  • Make multicolumn into one column
  • Make small fonts into larger fonts
  • Reorder navigation and content
  • Minimise navigation at the top of the page

I will of course be addressing the point Joe raised in his presentation that low-vision people generally prefer a high contrast (light text on a dark background), which is the version I've added here, but people with certain learning difficulties prefer dark type on a pale background. I will be adding a version of this soon.

Doug Bowman of Stopdesign recently added these two different styles to his site. The zoom layout is available for use and was used as the basis for my high contrast stylesheet.

Also, thanks to Roger Johansson for prompting me to get this done and also providing the code for the cookie.

Like I said, this is very much a 'beta' layout at the moment. There are problems with it and there are problems with the content ordering and stuff, but it's a start and hopefully I'll begin trimming it down over the next few weeks.

Getting a rise out of me

Normally this sort of abuse goes straight from my inbox and into the trash without even touching the sides. On this occasion however it kind of pissed me off.

Here's the full text from mr '[email protected]'. (This is what pissed me off actually - the guys complete lack of nads in not leaving an email address for me to reply to his 'concerns')

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p>So, here we go:

Groan!!!

YOU: "PLEASE SEE THE COLOPHON"

ME: "BUT THERE IS NO APPARENT HYPERLINK TO F***ING COLOPHON!"

I mean "COLOPHON" anyway? Pretentious? Moi?

So utterly typical of self-congratulory, useless, self-serving, so-called "usability" and web-design "experts" that abound now.

You "talk the talk" but, ultimately, always fail to "walk the walk". Just let us guys in the trenches do the real work of webbing-up the world and you useless art-school ponces can wank-off and pontificate as you will.

Nice green and grey website you have!

9rules! Uhghhh! What a joke!

Hmmm. What an angry young man.

What do you make of that?

Actually, from my lofty status, I pity the fool. ;-) He's probably some relic from the dotcom boom festering in his own bitterness at the whole affair five years later.

I mean, 'in the trenches' ... purleese.

Normal service will be resumed shortly

Normally I don’t write about personal stuff on this site - kind of makes me feel weird. But on this occasion I’ll let that little rule slip, just this once.

I feel pretty crappy. Not only for not posting stuff recently (in all honesty, I’ve got loads of things to write but simply can’t be bothered.) but also I’ve been quite ill and following hospital visits, weight loss and chronic tiredness I now have a diagnosis and am on shit loads of drugs to kick it into touch.

So, normal service will be resumed shortly with next in the “Simple Steps” series - Grid Design.

Keep tuned.

Design, CSS and bandwidth theft UPDATE

After a couple of weeks the offending company has removed the CSS from their servers and they gave me a call with the usual 'there was this guy who did this, but he no longer works here...' thing. Do I believe them? Not at all.

But, in the interests of fair play, I've removed the comments from the previous post and hopefully they've suffered enough bad publicity not to do this again.

Am I going soft on them? Probably.

Probably the last to talk about @media

Been rather busy since I got back from London - up to my eyeballs in Persona's and Application flows... But here goes the very short review.

Simon and I headed up to London on Wednesday afternoon and checked into the hotel. It was a relaxing journey right to the hotel door before we headed out for a pint and some scran before crashing early for the somewhat early start the next morning.

So, there we were at 6.30 eating some breakfast before heading down to Waterloo for 8.00am to register. The venue wasn't too difficult to find as there were so many others doing exactly the same thing (we bumped into one poor woman who came down from Skye and had just arrived!). Upon checking in we got the (still smelling of print) programme and a rather retching fetching orange bag emblazend with the @media logo.

I'm not going to go over the presentations but I'll skip through some of my thoughts.

Zeldman was good, although I couldn't hear him very well at the back (the conference as a whole had a bit of a problem with the sound).

Doug Bowman was good as always with both his presentations.

Joe Clark was superb. It's a shame I didn't get to meet him as I've got a few important questions to ask him - maybe I'll just send him an email.

Robin Christopherson was very, very good. I think this was simply because he's blind and it is always refreshing to see a screen reader user using the web.

Andy Budd's, Jeremy's and Ian's presentations were also excellent.

One that really stood out for me was Andy Clarke's presentation. I guess this was because I come from a very similar angle being a designer who happens to use web standards. What I mean by that is WS doesn't define what I do with design and this brings me on to my summary of the whole conference.

The accessibility side of the conference was superb. A real eye opener to get some practical advice on how to design for better accessibility. Joe's presentation, 'Zoom the Web' was very good and I'll be implementing a zoomed layout here shortly. The Web Standards side of things was a little disappointing. Only because I felt, judging by the amount of raised hands at one point, there was a large degree of 'preaching to the converted'. It was the wrong audience to talk about the virtues of Standards based design, and maybe this was reflected in a lot of the questions which were generally very in depth with regards to syntax etc.

Now don't get me wrong, the more Web Standards is used by the community the better it is all round, but don't you think we are close to approaching the point where it's 'just the way it's done'? Then what are we going to be talking about? AJAX? Oh no, we're doing that already.

Here's my two penneth about where this is all heading:

I don't think there will ever be a standard platform for the web, not really. It's simply not possible for the industries big players to sort themselves out because they are big, slow moving er... (tries to think of an animal) cows (?) after feasting on grass for a week (what??). What I mean is, they can't react quickly. But anyway, that's a whole big mess that I'm not even going to get involved on.

We, as designers, are now emerging from a time when you needed to know php, mysql, flash, javascript etc. in order to make a living. I think we're beginning to see a time of going back to core skills. Designer's will begin to be employed for their design skills and hopefully this will rekindle the the craft of design again.

During the @media party Jon Hicks, Simon and myself were sharing a nostalgic moment about Omnicrom and the dark and distant past of print design. There's something about print design which still really appeals. I think it's about the craft, it's about making something with your hands. I wonder in a few years time if we'll be looking back on this period of our careers with the same amount of fondness.

Familiar faces

It was great to finally meet some people whose stuff I've been reading now for a couple of years, so a quick shout out to them. If I appeared a bit subdued after about 9pm at the party this was entirely due to an empty stomach, after 9pm I became entirely focussed on getting some grub!

And a few more people besides (particularly the Uni of Glamorgan lot). If we didn't meet this time, maybe we will next.

Right, I'm off for some lunch!

@media time

In two hours time I’m hopping on a train for two hours (that’s taking a train, not hopping on a train - that would be silly) for the trip down to London for the @media conference on Thursday and Friday.

I’m really looking forward to the conference and finally getting round to meeting people who I’ve only emailed or posted on their sites.

If you feel like saying hi, please do. I’ll be the freckly, shaved headed northern bloke with the slight Welsh twang to a rather cultured Mancunian accent. Strange? Me? I don’t think so.

Live search ‘public beta’

Update - I've tried to get this to work with the plugin but it just wasn't happening so I've used the original open source javascript with this and hacked away at it to play ball with EE. I've also managed to get an indication of if a search is taking place (a spinny thing). Next, I've got to sort out the styling and make sure the results functionality is working ok.

I've been trying to improve the search function on this site for a while now and after many a sketch I've now come to a conclusion and I thought I'd open it up for ridicule constructive feedback.

My brief to myself for could be broken down like this:

  1. Incorporate a global search which looks like a global search accessible from the same place on every page.
  2. Use a live search type functionality to display results without going to a result page

One of the major problems with trying to incorporate a search box at the top of this design is there is simply no where to put it without ruining the balance and composition which the design currently has. So, if the search box goes up here it needs to be hidden and toggled on and off. The natural position for this toggle is with the rest of the global 'functional' links on the top right.

Clicking this would reveal the search box, you search and get your results. Easy enough.

Of course I have been inspired by Spotlight, and many other blogs which have implemented this functionality and I can really see the benefit. The trouble I had was mainly integrating it with the design.

The bulk of the backend functionality was handled by a plugin for Expression Engine but as it's in beta, it is a little flaky.

Anyway, enough of the chatter. The reason for this post is to ask a favour. Can you please have a look at it, let me know what you think, tell me if it breaks in all the browsers. This will be far more productive than me trying to test it before I roll it out across the site.

http://www.markboulton.co.uk/contact/index_new2/

Thanks for your help

Life with a ‘Slug’

A couple of days ago I took delivery of my new Linksys NSLU2 which promised to sort out my storage and backup problems.

After a few hiccups, things are looking good.

The 'Slug' was easy enough to set up. Plug in the cables, press on and work your way through the software on a pc (which is only catch btw. You can work through the advanced settings on a mac though). The only trouble I had was that the Slug has a default IP range of 192.168.1 and my router and network is 192.168.0, so that took me a while to fathom out why the new hardware wasn't being detected. Once it was however, it was plain sailing. I plugged in the new Maxtor 250Gb usb drive, which was duly formatted.

I haven't messed with many of the advanced settings yet but did the following:

  1. Setup shares for media, me, the wife, and a general share.
  2. Set up permissions groups and then added them to the shares.
  3. Dumped all my mp3's, fonts, stock photography and video onto the media share. This was a bit of a problem initially because of disallowed characters being in the names of mp3 files. This meant it would get through about 4 gig, then stop. Very annoying.

So still to do is:

  1. Set up retrospect or similar backup solution for the pc laptop and iMac. Unless I can think of a better backup solution which selectively backs files up rather than does whole disk backups.
  2. Maybe work out how to get the Slug running an iTunes and Print server - that would be handy.
  3. Get around to buying a second usb drive to backup the first. Not that i'm paranoid about backups now or anything ;-)
  4. Work on getting Tiger to play ball with my wireless router so my Airport Express can be used.

So, If anyone can recommend some decent, cheaper alternative backup software, that would be good.

Getting geekier by the minute

No kidding, soon I’m going to have my own shed full of gadgets, sitting in amongst them giggling like a schoolgirl.

Or maybe not.

What I have done though is sorted out my backup situation following my external hard drive failure after installing Tiger.

After much research I've opted for buying a Linksys NSLU2 (or 'Slug' as it's also known) and a Lacie 250gb triple interface drive for my backup needs. This saves me a bit of cash overe most of the other all-in-one consumer NAS solutions.

The NSLU2 is actually turning out to be an interesting bit of kit.

It's basically a interface between external hard drives or flash drives (USB2 x 2 ports) and an existing ethernet network (ethernet port x 1). The cool thing is it runs a stripped down version of Linux and has a rather large development community dedicated to hacking the crap out of it.

Some interesting things you can do with this seemingly remarkable bit of hardware:

All of this does require a bit of, or a lot of, unix familiarity (which I am not, at all) so we'll see how thing progess once I get it set up next week.

Now all I have to do is wait for Apple to fix the ongoing wireless problems I've got with the Netgear router.

9Rules Network

{title}I’m proud to announce that markboulton.co.uk is now part of the 9Rules Network, a blog network focussed on content. The 9Rules Network aims to help sites get a wider audience through a “collective” approach with relatively few sites, all of which provide great content.

I’m chuffed that Paul (Scrivens of such sites as Whitespace and CSSVault) and team have accepted my site onto the 9Rules bus for what promises to be a fun ride!

While I’m at it, thanks to everyone who reads and continues to read and comment on this site. I’m hoping as the readership grows, so does the conversation and debate. If you’re new to the site, especially if you’ve come from a 9Rules Network site, then say hi.

Bloody Amazon

I like Amazon. Honestly I do, it’s just sometimes they really screw things up. I’ve had Tiger on pre-order for what seems like weeks now. Then, a day before the launch I was expecting it to be shipped.

After logging in, it was still showing that it hadn’t been dispatched, but the date that was showing for estimated delivery was yesterday! Strange. So, I gave them a call and they said they’d been inundated with orders and their computer systems had screwed up. So?

Surely they should have expected a high level of sales. Surely their systems need to be able to cope with that. Long story short is that it wouldn’t be shipping from Amazon until the week of the 9th, so I cancelled and ordered it from Apple. It’s just not worth the grief for saving a tenner.

So, there’s been lots of discussion on Tiger so far. Some good. Some bad. What are your thoughts?

One thing that has been concerning me is my lack of backup procedure at the moment (looks like i’m not alone either!). I’ve been holding out for Lacie to release their Ethernet Minidisk as it looks like a really handy piece of kit for a home network. Anyhow, I’m hoping Tiger’s Backup and Install feature is robust enough not to screw things up.

We’ll see in a couple of days.

TW05 Web Designer of the year 2005

{title}In Wales we have this annual event called Technology Wales Awards which is hosted every year and brings together most of the IT industry in Wales for a slap up feed and a pint of two.

This year, I’ve been nominated and reached the finals of the Web Designer of the Year category for my work on BBC Wales “/wales” service and BBC Wales Where I Live sites (South East, South West, Mid, North East and North West.)

It’s a small event in the scheme of things, but it’s nice to get the recognition. Wonder what the prizes are…

Design In Flight - Issue 4

{title}Well, here it is. After a few weeks in February, several late nights and a lot of help from my wife and the Design in Flight's Editor Andy, my article "Feeling your way around grids: Making sense of the Golden Section when designing grid systems." has been published in the latest edition of Design In Flight.

Design in Flight is a fantastic PDF magazine and a bargain at just $3 an issue, which is about ?2. There are some superb articles in this issue from the likes of Khoi Vinh, Suw Charman,

Veerle Pieters and Molly E. Holzschlag.

It all started with a post I wrote on Design and the Divine Proportion a few months ago. The post sparked quite a lot of debate and is still amongst the most popular on this site. In the post I touch on the Divine Proportion, or Golden Section, and how it affects design.

In the new article I take that a step further and show how grid systems can be designed based on the Golden Section and how that not only aides the designers process but also increases legibility and usability.

Hope you enjoy it.

Alas, no SXSW for me :-(

Last year I was fortunate enough to go to SXSW representing the BBC. It was a great trip (although the Texans didn’t quite grasp tea - no offense but it really wasn’t good).

As most of you are aware, SXSW Interactive kicks off tomorrow with some fantastic panels. You may detect that i’m a bit gutted i’m not attending this year, and you’d be absolutely right. I am however going to @media in London in June, which does look very promising.

So, now to the real reason for this post, which is:

<

p> Last year there were many of the panelists giving details of slides which were presented and even ram files which would be downloadable after the event. Here’s the questions:

  • Does anyone know of any blogs which are specifically documenting some of the design and CSS panels?
  • Are any of them streamed?
  • Any audio/video at all anywhere?

Do I sound desperate enough? It does give you an indication as to how much I got out of it last year - it’s a very, very good event.

@Media 2005

Finally secured my place at @media 2005 in June. After going to SXSW last year, I thought there may not be monmey in the pot so to speak, but If you don’t ask I guess you don’t get.

Looking forward to meeting a few of you there and after being at Doug Bowman’s various panels last year i’m really looking forward to seeing him speak again. There are of course all the British speakers too… Looks like it’s going to be really good and at ?400, it’s a bargain!

Upcoming downtime

Update: Why is migrating domain names such a pain in the ass? Basically most ISP’s are slow to respond when possibly taking business away from them. Anyway, snooch.org.uk and markboulton.co.uk are on the migration path, so expect imminent downtime (probably a holding page from Easily.co.uk) and then some more downtime for the nameservers to change.

It’s only when the domains have been fully migrated can I set up the MySQL databases as they now run off a different server on Dreamhost (who create a subdomain for your database instead of ‘localhost’, hopefully this won’t cause any problems with EE).

So, please bear with me. I expect domain downtime to be a day or so.

Due to a change of host (thanks to everyone who commented on the last post. And the winner was… drum roll… Dreamhost), this site is going to probably be down, or something like that, for a day or so in the next few days whilst I try and get expression engine up and working etc.

Thanks for your patience.

Hosting - which provider?

I’ve been using Bargainhost as a hosting provider for a couple of years now. Their Standard package includes PHP, 5 MySQL databases, 100Mb of space, 3GB of traffic a month and other stuff such as subdomains etc. All for ?51 a year.

I’ve got a couple of projects coming up which, as they’re being built with Expression Engine, require a similar server setup. So, my question is to you, which provider would you recommend that has a similar, or better, spec for the money (or less)?

London and the Vault

In less than an hour i’ll be getting in my car, with my wife, and off to visit friends in London. Really looking forward to it. It’ll be just over three years since i’ve been to London properly after living there for a few years, so visiting old haunts will be nice.

Another note. I’m chuffed to bits that i’ve finally made it into the CSS Vault. Thanks go to Mark for the submission.

On to the London thing again. I am thinking of dragging the wife, and chums, to the Design Museum whilst we’re there as we never really did much of the museums when we lived there. The Tate may be on the cards as well, that kind of depends what exhibitions are on at moment.

Of course there will be a visit to the Apple Store and possibly a purchase (my ears have been complaining of late because of the unforgiving iPod earphones. Some of those squidgy ones may be in order)

So, anyone got any ideas? Where can I go at the weekend? (that is of course assuming the friends, and wife, want to come with me!)

Expression Engine - Designers Questions

Since the launch of this redesign a few weeks ago I’ve had quite a lot of emails asking how I built it using Expression Engine. A large proportion of these emails have been from designers who see, and want, the benefits of a low-cost, flexible content management system for their own portfolio websites. Hopefully I can answer some of the specifics here.

My requirement

<

p> First off, it might be useful if I list some of the requirements I had for a Content Management System before I rebuilt this site using Expression Engine.

  • Free or Low cost
  • PHP/MySQL dynamic environment
  • Custom fields - (This was a big one, see below for more detail)
  • XHTML / CSS template system
  • Easy updating via a web based interface

As I said, Custom Fields wa a big one. one of the major gripes with MovableType was the amount of hacking around I had to do in order to get all of the information in to MT. Originally I used a bunch of PHP variables in the MT Keywords field. This isn’t a bad solution and I know quite a few designers do that (Jon Hicks did before moving to Textpattern, Doug Bowman still does).

The problem with this is it requires you to have the list of variables to hand, which isn’t ideal. Also, from a technical point of view it isn’t good practice to have so much data in a field like that. As I found out, it makes migration to other systems tedious.

Most designers who wrote to me want to build, or rebuild, a portfolio. MT doesn’t make this easy for you, it is afterall nothing more than good blogging software. Expression Engine has it’s roots in blogging, but goes much further. I guess a lot of my requirements would mirror most designers needs - A simple, intuitive piece of software for managing a portfolio online. That’s what it boils down to.

Questions and Answers

Is it worth the money?

Well, this really depends on your budget and what you want to do with it. I think Expression Engine is extremely good value for money, especially considering the Gallery module shipped with version 1.2.

I use Movable type at the moment, how does Expression Engine differ?

In essence, the functionality of any content management is similar - you update content, via an interface, which then gets inputted into templates for display on the web. In terms of functionality Expression Engine is much more flexible than Movable Type. It comes with default custom fields which means you can tailor the data sets for any section you create. There are many differences between the two once you get down to to the detail, I really can’t go into all of them here - best you look at the websites to do your own comparison.

Was it very difficult to set up?

No, Expression Engine is very easy to set up. A simple process of setting up a database, making some changes to a config file and some folder permissions, then running an install wizard. That’s it.

How is the learning curve?

The learning curve isn’t too bad, especially if you’re familiar with a systme like MovableType. I would say this though, you do require a degree of knowledge of HTML and CSS if you wish to customise the sites you produce, Expression Engine isn’t WYSIWYG. There are however plenty of tutorials and templates available to help you out.

How long did it take you to do your site?

From start to finish, probably about 4 days. I did have a lot of the css already written though from the previous version of this site. The way I have the css configured is as separate stylesheets for the colour, structure & typography which means I can apply changes to one without affecting the other. A lot of the grids and structural layout was already done.

Have you used other systems before?

Yeah, loads. I think i’ve dabbled with most of the cms’s on opensourcecms.com! Three versions ago, this site ran on it’s own custom php/mysql based cms I built using dreamweaver and a bunch of other plugins. This was ok, but required a lot of messing around if I wanted to change the design (as it was built using tables etc, and minimal css, shame on me but it was 1999!). The version after that was built using MT 2.6, I then upgraded to MT3 and with it another big redesign.

But I did get tired with MT’s continuing spam attacks, limited flexibility and slow rebuilds. It was time for a change.

How were you able to get rid of the /index.pbp/ in the url

With a little help from the Expression Engine forums and an .htaccess file.

In the root of my server I have an .htaccess file with the following code in it.

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond $1 !^global/.
RewriteCond $1 !^images/.

RewriteCond $1 !^archive/.*


RewriteCond $1 !^expressionengine/.
RewriteCond $1 !^index.php.

RewriteRule ^(.*) index.php/$1 [NC,L]

Basically this code gets rid of the index.php and still allows access to the folders - global, images, archive etc. You need this so your site can use stuff from those folders, if they aren’t in the list it won’t work. Now, I must say, this works for me, on my version of Apache, it may not work for you.

Do you use Expression Engine on any other sites?

Not yet, but there are a couple of sites in the pipeline which I am planning on using EE on. Another one of the reasons for choosing EE is that it’s a system I can invest my time in learning, knowing that I can use it for a wide range of commercial applications as well as my own site. I was getting a little of tired of learning another system everytime I built a site, or having to re-learn how I hacked MT that last time.

This way I can invest my time in learning Expression Engine very well and as it’s PHP based I can also use what PHP knowledge I do have to good effect.

Any more questions?

Feel free to let me know, or comment here, and maybe we build up a list of answers tailored to questions which a designer may ask.

Update: padawan.info has a great article on a MovableType / ExpressionEngine comparison.

What’s missing from DIF?

Finally after months of wondering if it was worth it (yes, yes, I know it’s only ten bucks) i’ve finally subscribed to four issues of DIF. I’ve got to say, so far i’m very impressed.

The content is good and very well positioned to appeal to seasoned industry veterans and novices alike. But, yes there is a but…

I found the content didn’t address some of the core fundamentals of design theory - eg, colour, balance, typography, grids etc. Now maybe DIF isn’t the place for this. But I feel that some solid theoritical articles, especially surrounding a dying practice of correct typography and grid design, were missing from the issues I have.

I’ve been thinking of a number of articles that I might write for submission, and if they’re not accepted then i’ll just leave them posted up here.

So, what do you think should be in DIF? 

Pilots and 404’s

Plastic pilots three star awardJust a quick mention before I post a few things up later today. Plastic Pilots have awarded markboulton.co.uk with a three star award (out of 3!) rating for the new design of this site. Big thanks to them.

Self congratulary back slapping out of the way. I’m noticing quite a few hits on the 404 template on the site. If you get a 404, can you please let me know?You can use the contact form to get in touch. That way I can try and fix it. Thanks.

Update. Thanks to , some of these 404’s should now stop. She spotted there was a dodgy link in the category listing underneath each journal entry. She also spotted an incorrect redirect from the Contact page. Thanks.

Site relaunch

So, here we have it. Version 5.5 of this site. More of a Reversion than a Redesign. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, MovableType was beginning to be difficult to use because of the Spam problems (which they seem to have now fixed) and the increasing problem of stretching the intended useage of MT - ie. to run a portfolio (I know this is possible, as I did it before, it’s just not as easy as i’d like). I moved to using Expression Engine as the software to power the site.

Read on for more about the design ethos behind this site. Why do a redesign and what I discovered about web standards, css, expression engine and mac IE 5.5 on the way.

The design

Why do a redesign? Well, I’d already redesigned a few months ago but already the design was beginning to get on my nerves (as a designer, this tends to happen with your own work.). It seemed to heavy, a bit to ‘state-side’ for my liking.

I wanted the design to really reflect what i’m about as a designer with a typographic background. I set myself a bunch of typographic goals, such as:

  1. Correct usage of heading sizes
  2. Relationships between all typographic elements
  3. A balance between the grid and the typography
  4. An timeless feel, stripped of meaningless decoration
  5. Sympathetic use of colour

The list does go on, but i’ll stop there for now.

I’ve approached the design of this site as I would the design of a good book. You don’t notice the design, if you do, the design is bad. You shouldn’t notice good design. (as one of my lecturers at University used to tell me. At the time I thought he was mad, but i’m beginning to see his point.)

I will talk a little bit more about this design shortly.

Web Standards

I didn’t learn too much more about Web Standards redesigning this site. I trimmed the markup, went Strict with the XHTML and separated the colour into a different stylesheet.

Expression Engine

Expression Engine surpassed my expectations in almost every way. It’s an extremely quick platform on which to develop and it’s ‘out-of-the-box’ functionality is second-to-none. Not really the time to delve into this at the mo, but I will shortly.

So, in summary i’m very pleased with the reversioning of this site, pleased with the overall design. What’s most important is it’s a solid base on which to build. I’m sure over the coming months there will be plenty for me to add, so expect a certain amount of spit and polish being applied!

If you do spot any errors (most likely caused by the migration from MT), please let me know. Cheers.

Spam, eggs and chips

Without the eggs or chips. Rubbish. MT Blacklist is just not working well for me. I came in this morning to over 800 comments on the system, true Blacklist caught about 700 of these but still the hit on the server can’t be good.

Life with EE is looking good so far, although I haven’t delved too much into it yet. I discovered some problems with posting comments behind our firewall in work, which is a bit odd.

There’s going to be a new look here at markboulton.co.uk, probably in the new year, once I get EE up and running. It’s going to be a lighter, fresher design and with ditching MT i’m able to go XHTML Strict with the code. It also looks like i’ll be saving about 20% in page weight as well with the new design. The portfolio section has been reworked which such make it a bit more usable. It’s also taking advantage of EE’s excellent category management system with category specific pages now, which are lacking at the moment.

I’ll be posting more about EE as I go along.

Content Management Rethink

I’ve been getting slowly frustrated with MovableType (as you do). First off, there’s Comment Spam. Horrible. Last weekend I ended up with over 1000 comments which I had to delete manually. I shouldn’t have to do that. I also shouldn’t have to impose registering restrictions for the people who want to comment to the site.

But that’s not the main thing.

Update: I’ve made the plunge, more to follow once i’ve fathomed out Expression Engine a little more. Thanks to Simon at Collylogic for his advice.

I’m a designer. This is a designers website. As you’d expect, there’s a portfolio. The thing is, MT makes it pretty difficult to do what I want to do with the portfolio in terms of content and stuff. Also if I want to use some kind of content management for clients of mine I’d like to invest the time in becoming familiar with one CMS platform. Now, MT is blogging software, which isn’t suitable for everything. But, I may have found a solution.

Expression Engine is a commercial product, and at $199, it’s cheap but not free. (although pMachine are offering a $99 offer for people who have been running other publishing solutions for more that six months.)

The great thing about Expression Engine is it seems a lot more flexible. I won’t go into all the details here, but here’s a few which struck a chord with me.

  1. It’s PHP and Dynamic - not flat files
  2. Its template system is XHTML and fully valid allowing CSS to do the layout
  3. It has unlimited custom fields for the data modelling. This is great. It allows completely custom content types.
  4. Customisable backend control panel (a great one for the clients)

So, it all looks very good. I’ve downloaded a demo and working my way through the system. I’m a little bothered that i’ve just invested the time in building this site with MT and by and large it’s working fine. But my main concern is building sites for others, which aren’t blogs. Surely a single framework to do this is the best option?

I’ll let you know how I get on.

PC to Mac. Outlook & Entourage to Thunderbird

It’s enough to make anyone go dizzy.

Tonight I finally got all my old email from Outlook on a pc, and my old mail on Entourage on the Mac over to One application - Thunderbird. It was a bit of a nightmare.

First off I had to export my Outlook folder’s into one Outlook Express to get it’s head round (this is on the PC), then export from OE on the PC to a format which could be read by an application called MailNavigator, this then exported all the mail as an mbox format which could be dropped in the library folder of Thunderbird on the Mac. Entourage was pretty simple in comparison, all I had to do was drag the folders from Entourage on to the desktop then move them into the library folder. Was it all worth it? Well, at least I know have all the email in one place, whereas before it was in two places on two different machines and two different platforms.

Designed Christmas Cards

Christmas card design for this year

Last year we spent a fortune on generally crappy cards. So this year I thought i’d do them myself and after a very reasonable quote from a printer I realised we’d actually be saving ourselves quite a bit of cash. Following on from Andy Budd’s idea, it’d be nice to see any designery Christmas Cards you may be producing. Post the url to the image on your server in the comments.

Crisp, sunny days in December

After spending the morning, and most of the afternoon, taking photographs for one of the sites i’m working at work I came to the conclusion that I like Winter, pre Christmas that is. Winter after Christmas is rubbish.

It’s not often I get out with a camera, which is a shame because I should do it a lot more. Driving round this morning was great until I realised I must be missing so much being in a car, so I abandoned the car and set out on foot. I was right, I was missing a lot. Three hours and over two hundred shots later I was back in front of my new iMac sorting through the shots. I’d forgotten how long it takes to edit a shoot - ages! Still haven’t finished!

Podcasting

Now here’s an idea. (yes, probably an old one as things go but it’s one that i’ve just come across.) Podcasting is basically like RSS and Blogging, but audio instead of text and you download mp3’s to your iPod for consumption at your leisure.

The very cool thing about this is the blogging aspect (and of course the commercial implications, especially for broadcasters.) What we have here is another perfect vehicle for homemade content. In fact anyone can now produce an Audio blog in the form of an mp3 and have it available for download, all you need is an iPod (or similar device) and some software. You choose your feeds, just like an RSS application, which are stored on your iPod.

There was an interesting article in The Times about his on the 6th November.

Gmail anyone?

A little late with this one, but if anyone wants a Gmail account, I have six invites to give away.

Oh, to be spammed!

I’ve never been so badly spammed as the past three days. thankfully MTBlacklist caught most of them - over 2000 in three days! Nightmare. So, if you see the odd comment by Gay Hentai Porn, you can safely say one has escaped me.

New Apple Store opens Saturday 20th November in London

Apple opens it’s new store tomorrow Sat 20th Nov on Regent Street in the heart of London. This is one of the downside’s of not living in London, you can’t just pop down to see what it’s all about. The store looks good and there’s some cool opening day offers (such as the Lucky Bag).

Update: See title. Oops.

Update 19th November: Silly people camping outside the shop!

Apple green is *so* the new black

I am just a sucker for Apple green at the moment. In case you hadn’t noticed, it is everywhere! So, on the weekend I bought an apple green t-shirt and here’s a nice apple green website for company called Forty Media, nice design, nice christmassy look about it at the moment. The tone of voice is just right as well.

Cardiff Screen Festival - Focus on Interactive zzzz

Having just attended the morning sessions at this annual event (my first time btw) I just had to get something down here before I forget.

The thing about these kind of events is that most people want to get at least something out of it, personally as well as professionally. You might want to find out, as a designer, what is happening in Wales at the moment in terms of New Media. You might, as a client, want to see what the possibilities are for your product or service. Invariably events like this fail to deliver on these simple wants and needs.

I went to SXSW in Austin, TX in March of this year and was expecting the same old boring excuses to plug a book, a service, a product of some kind. but I was pleased to see that it only happened a couple of times. SXSW speakers (generally) were superb, eloquent, passionate professionals who inspired the audience.

Now, surely i’m not expecting Cardiff Screen Festival to be the same? Well, why the hell not? Why do all these events in this country, Wales especially, degrade into political rants about public service organisations or just simply bore the audience to tears with manicured, predictable presentations delivered as if you’re presenting to your grandmother? (you get the impression I wasn’t too impressed?)

Now, there were some interesting points that were made, some interesting products (although don’t get me started on the usability of a pda as a broadband wireless exhibition/location guide - that really is stretching the technology model.) but the emphasis was on products or services being sold in the guise of a ‘case study’. There was no honest debate, up to point when I left. There was no discussion on ROI, no discussion on market, in fact no discussion. It was all one way.

It was very difficult to sit through. Let’s hope they get it better next year.

BBC Vocab offical launch

Today marks the official launch of BBC Vocab at the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff.

This smart application highlights words on a welsh language web page with the pressing of a button. When the user then hovers over these words a translation and definition for that word (including mutations) is available for the welsh learner with links to the BBC Learn Welsh site

I was involved in the design implementation and branding of this translation application. for more details, have a look at the Vocab case study in the portfolio section.

Update: BBC Vocab featured on The Register today.

Wrap up warm

If, like me, you do stuff outdoors, then you like to know what the weather is going to be like. Usually I rely on the BBC’s weather service in conjunction with the Met Office but I was reading the BBC news this lunchtime and noticed an article about the predictions of a harsh, cold winter by a company called Metcheck. If you rely on the weather, or are interested enough in it. Have a look at their site.

A new iMac - the story so far

Mark recounts his experiences of buying, opening and starting a new 1.8GHz G5 iMac. For those who are interested…

As promised here’s the story so far with the new iMac. As mentioned in a previous post it all started with a phone call from the Apple centre in Cardiff telling me new iMac had come in five days early.

So, I patiently waited until lunchtime then drove up there picked the new machine up.

The first thing I noticed was what a tiny, lightweight box in comparison with all my other computers from Apple (this is now my fourth, the other were: 1994 - 1997 LC630, 1997 - 1999 Performa 6400, 1999 - 2004 B&W G3) True, the other computers I had came with a large monitor as well and all but one were tower cases.

The slightly annoying thing is that I couldn’t set the machine up properly until the Sunday evening as I had friends staying for the weekend and it would have seemed a little rude of me to hide away playing with my new toy.

Heading - packaging

The design of the box is typically Apple (as shown in the image below), the experience of removing the machine from the packaging was also pretty good apart from there’s no obvious place to get hold of the machine, kind of like the G4 iMac really. For years now Apple has sold us the concept of handles on our computers. Then suddenly it’s dawned on them that people don’t actually move them around that much and therefore they probably don’t need one. Good move. Still, it took me a while to work out that grabbing it on either side of the screen is ok.

box.jpg

The machine itself, keyboard and mouse were covered in a removable plastic film which is the sort of thing I don’t like taking off. It’s not a pleasurable experience. It’s like the moment of no return, the beginning of your new computer being tarnished. Or maybe that’s just me?

Designless

Setting up the machine, I mean, putting 3 cables in because that’s all you need to do, was very easy indeed. Even my mum could do it. The first thing was trying to locate the on button. It’s located on the back of the machine is is the only thing to be slightly raised and feel like a button. Very nice. I push it and the familiar chimes ring out as the machine kicks into gear.

The Setup program has been tweaked slightly from a UI point of view and it is now more aligned with some of the fancy UI stuff that OS X can do. The different screens of the setup proceedure no rotate as if on the sides of a cube, similar to the fast using switching in OS X. I’m such a sucker for things like this. Looks nice, very tactile, and makes filling out forms a little more interesting.

welcome.jpg

Once that was complete the familiar desktop appeared and that was the end of my first experience with my new machine. All in all a good one.

Now a few things about design. The appearance of the G5 iMac is one of understated elegance. It does this very well indeed. There is no unessential visual clutter around the screen, no buttons you hardly ever use, no lights, nothing other than a big grey Apple logo (even this logo should belong on the back if you ask me). All the controls, ports, sockets etc are on the back out of sight.

The CD drive is located on the side and is just a slot for you to shove the CD into. I had my reservations about this design because I thought you may have to look where you were putting the disk, but actually you just run it along from the back until you find the slot then push the disk in.

On the back of the iMac, it’s obvious you’re looking at an iMac, from the rather large word!

imac_back.jpg

After thinking about this, this simple attention to detail is what sets Apple apart from the rest of the competition. Apple have realised the backs of their computers are important. Not only are they where all the ports go and things like that but they’re also on display. Most reception desks, a lot of offices, expose the backs of the computers to be on full view of anyone who walks by. This is Apple’s latest attempt at making looking at the back of a computer a little more enjoyable.


Dispelling the rumours

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There are many potential hurdles which the new G5 iMac has had to jump over. Processor speed, and associated generated heat being one of them.

One of the USP’s of many of the previous iMac models has been the ‘lack of fan’, the ‘quietness’ of the running machine. The iMac G5 is no different. Apple touts the noise of this machine being less than a whisper in an empty room. Not the whole truth.

If all you want to do on your new iMac is write email, surf the web, use Word, then you aren’t going to have a problem with noise. End of story. But, if you want to play games, use Photoshop, edit video or do anything else which requires the processor or graphics card then the fans begin to kick in.

The G5 iMac comes with 3 fans, all of which are controlled to come on when needed, to slow down when and speed up when required. The fans are distributed around the machine and ensure a cooling airflow. The ‘thermal chimney’ (as the Apple rep put it) is vital to this airflow. Along the base, beneath the screen, is a perforated area where air is sucked in (it also allows sound to come out from the speakers) by the fans and then blown out of a ridge on the back of the machine. The great thing is, this ventilation is so well integrated into the design they are unnoticable, completely.


Summing it up

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I’ve only been using the machine now for a couple of days and so far it’s managed to dispel all of my preconceptions. It’s fast, ergonomic & quiet. I couldn’t ask for more for a home computer. I even wouldn’t want switch to twenty inch version, this one’s just fine!

Once again, i’m shocked

Just when I thought I was about to get gazumped next Tuesday when my new iMac was supposed to be in, I get a call from the Apple centre telling me my iMac is in!

I was pleased to say the least. Anyway, i’ve got it and i’ll be setting it up on Sunday probably as i’ve got friends round for the weekend. As promised i’ll try and document the whole thing for those who are interested.

I’ve only gone and done it

1.8GHz 17-inch iMac

Superdrive

1GB Ram

After justifying it to myself, wife, friends and colleagues, i’ve ordered a new iMac.

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Update 2 - 7th oct, 10.10am: Apparently one has been allocated from stock for me and it should be in next Tuesday. Thing is, as always, it’s down to me to badger the shop to give me an indication of progress, not the other way round. I still think they’re not quite telling the truth though.

Update - 7th oct, 9.15am: And so it begins. After ordering the iMac yesterday I was assured the items would now be on order and shipped if they were in stock (which they were). After ringing to pay this morning, they are now saying “let’s get it in the shop first, and we’ll take it from there”. I asked how long that would take, the bloke said it could be three weeks! Now, this is where it begins going wrong.

A word of advice for anybody who has customers - Don’t lie to secure a sale then fail to deliver, it sucks.

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During lunchtime I thought i’d pop up to the local Apple Centre in Cardiff to see what the new iMac looked like. I have to say they are nice. Very nice.

After hearing about Apple’s shipping difficulties in the UK I was resigned to them not being available for weeks and weeks. However, the conversation with the salesmen went something like this…

“Hi, can I help at all?” said the saleman (who’s name was Dave)

“Hello, i’m interested in having a look at these” I said, pointing at the new iMacs on display

“Ah, aren’t they great?”

“Yep, very nice. Shame Apple can’t build them fast enough. what’s the wait on these now, two months?” I said, resigned to a long, long wait.

“No, not at all, we have, or rather had, 40 in stock. Let me ring head office...”

Dave returns

“We have two 17 inch 1.8 gig models left. If you were to order one now, you could have it here by Tuesday”

“I’ll take one”

That was it. So, i overheard the conversation with head office and they did in fact have two left. He processed the order and kept saying I should have it here by Tuesday next week. Thing is, I don’t know if I believe him. Having been let down by deliveries and ordering so, so many times now, i’m resigned to it all screwing up and taking weeks and weeks.

We’ll see.

Phew

Lots to look at this wet Monday morning.

Web Essentials in Sydney has drawn to a close. Great write up from Doug Bowman as always. Doug also has both his presentations available now at his site. They do make good reading and make sense, to a degree, out of context. Incidently, Doug archives all his presentation’s here, if you have a spare couple of hours, and are that way inclined, give them a read.

Another one bites the dust, Yahoo is moving to CSS. Good write up at Whitespace

Stylegala has launched a forum. Some good topics of conversation already.

Returning from holiday is rubbish

Everything about returning from holiday is rubbish. From the packing to the checking in. No matter how quick your flight it always seems to take at least six hours travel time (in Europe anyway). Why is that?

Portugal was great however. I read 2 fantastic books whilst away. The first one I should have read a long time ago, it will certainly change the way I design and maybe even change the way I view the world. Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday things, is simply superb. Read it. The other book was Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything which stopped me being scared of Black Holes but made me scared of Neutrinos instead.

A few things of interest

Doug Bowman, of Stopdesign has gone back to the coloured version of his site (personally I liked liquid bleach). He’s added a Style-switcher, but he’s done it in a better way than those obscure, unlabelled buttons you see floating around. He’s added a preferences page where the user can choose their layout of choice and the results are cookied. Also, which is rather nice, the base text size is also cookied.

Firefox PR1.0 is out. Firefox was already a good browser in it’s beta stages. This release is simply the best browser on the mac at the moment. Very quick, stable and packed with useful functionality. This release see’s RSS being present now as Live Bookmarks, cool idea and stops me having to open my rss application to go through my feeds. If a site has RSS, a little icon appears, I bookmark it from there and that’s it!

The Relaunch

Update: Slight changes to the design, some problems with the old design. Mac Ie stylesheet deleted until I can get it to work properly.

Here it is, my new site.

As you can see a lot of changes have happened. In fact a (near) complete redesign has taken place. Only the journal remains pretty much intact (data wise). Everything else you see is brand spanking new. In fact I can’t quite believe it myself.

A year in the planning and designing and two months in the making. It’s been a great learning experience, even if it’s one I wont be repeating the near future.

I still have tons to do, such as populating the portfolio with old and new work. In the meantime you can still look at the old portfolio here .

A more detailed post will follow this shortly regarding the redesign. Until then, feel free to have a look around.

Hot in Malaysia

Well here I am, sitting at an iMac, it’s 6.45pm and still 80 degrees. Malaysia is very nice indeed or should I say this hotel is very nice indeed.

The wedding was great, the reception was great, and no doubt the presents will be great when we get back from a great honeymoon. The new Snooch site has been bubbling away in the background and this time away has helped me cement a few ideas.

Stopdesign has been redesigned and it’s funny how similar Dougs redesign, I mean the core message and IA, mirrors my ideas for Snooch - Ie, less importance on Blog and more importance on Portfolio. Also Articles and Speaking dates feature highly too. Not sure what the graphic design will be just yet, but I want this to be the last redesign I do for a while as i’ve got loads of content to plugh into MovableType so it’s in a form I can use in the future. Hopefully the winning plugin in the MT plugin competition will take the form of a easy way to add fields to an entry. We’ll see.

Anyhow, i’m alive and well in Malaysia. Enjoying the sun and being a Husband.

Couple of interesting things

Doug Bowman is in the process of redesign. I say process because he hasn’t quite finished yet. Interesting debate about design and redesign has started as a result.

Pixel Perfect Digital is a site with loyalty free imagery available for download at pretty high resolutions. Nicely categorised, although the images are your typical stock variety.

A gigs worth of music for $10

Allofmp3.com are offering a gigs worth or music downloads for $10. You can specify codec & bit-rate from a HUGE collection of music. I’m going to update all my vinyl and tape collection so I can get it all on my ipod. Very, very nice indeed.

What do you use to blog?

A simple, but extremely useful, breakdown of the latest blogging software. It includes free and expensive software, from MT to Expression Engine.

Monday morning CSS goodness

A few new CSS things to look at this fine morning (all courtesy of email being down - I like monday mornings like this one)

http://www.webstandardsawards.com/
Some nice new sites, some of which are minging though. I really don’t get the whole rich, wallpaper background image, looks like the smoking room in ‘The Butchers’, design thing. It’s not big or clever. I’m talking about http://www.alazanto.org/

It turns out CSS Vault is either a. Not going to be here soon or b. Going to be run by people outside of the 9rules network. Shame. Although I can see his point.

Version 2 is a great idea. I think after the wedding i’m going to enter this competition, I think i’d have a good chance of getting somewhere.

http://www.cssbeauty.com/
Similar to CSS Vault. highlights for me - http://www.instablog.org/. This is great. Purely typographic. Design like a newspaper. I bit down and dirty with the CSS, with a few bugs, but otherwise really nice.

Nine out of Ten - honestly!

Who’s the daddy? Helvetica/Arial quiz.

Snooch goes MT3.0d

Just finished upgrading Snooch to use the Developer Version of Movabletype. There’s ben a lot of discussion on many blog sites I frequent regarding the licencing. Six Apart have now started charging for versions of MT, dependent upon the author base and the amount of blogs. There is still a free version available, which i’m currently using, but all other versions have to be paid for, which is fair enough if you ask me.

MT is cheap as chips compared to other CMS based software. This new version has transended the underground ‘bloggey’ world and into a more mainstream, serious content management system which can be used for commercial applications as well.

A lot of mainstream CMS are trying to catch up with MT in terms of the valid XHTML it produces. A few are getting there (Drupal, Mambo etc) but they are still built around a fairly rigid, object based model. This is the strength of MT. You can make the objects yourself (they are after all just chunks of code.) Because of the new API Six Apart has implemented in this version of MT, the scope for much better plugins is a reality. In fact Six Apart have launched a plug-in competition. Hopefully we’ll see some kind of photo-gallery plugin come out of that rather on relying on rather tedious hacks.

As when I get more news on this, i’ll post it up.

Blogger & Ecto

I’ve just bought Ecto and i’ve just had a good look at the new Blogger design. I’m testing Ecto at the moment but once it’s working ok, i’ll review it here. Also i’m going to be going into the new Blogger design in some detail.

Blogger has been “Bowmaned” (and Adaptive Pathed)

Yesterday saw the relaunch of Blogger. All the “Web Standards” blogs out there were thick with praise for this redesign (I guess most of them don’t actually see beyond Doug’s great design and the Standards implementation). Doug has documented the process which has some great insights into this new launch.

I think the real success here is the Usability work done (and Dougs interpretation of the required “Ease-of-use"). The work Adaptive Path have done is fantastically elegant.

Good design shouldn’t be noticed. A very well design book, or newspaper, just works. The design doesn;t get in the way of the message. The new Blogger site is a wonderful example of this. Ease of use was of upmost importance, Jeff Veen points out that the Blogger wanted to be able to set up a blog, in three steps, in less than five minutes. Quite an undertaking.

The registration process is superb, one of the best i’ve used. Ever. It’s so simple even my mother could use it (and that’s saying something). Here’s some grabs of the process. What’s nice to see is contextual help links next to items that you may want help with.

blogger registration panelblogger registration panel 2blogger registration done screen

The new Blogger logo is a good step on from the previous version and it ties in very well to the overall “curved” look of the site. I’m not over familiar with the original version of the logo, but I do know it was square, orange and blue. It’s a great logotype though. It carries a lot of the brand values - ease of use, approachable etc.

blogger template selection screen

There are plenty of new templates available with the new Blogger, and all of them configurable from within the Blogger web-based interface.

The templates can be seen in full here. Some great designs from Zeldman, Bowman and Dan Cederhome (although there are a couple of lemons in there too, but maybe that’s just me).All of the templates are XHTML, with CSS driven presentation (as you’d expect from authors like this).

Hey, Hey 16K

Genius. www2.b3ta.com/heyhey16k/

Gush

Gush. Nice looking app (IM and News aggregator), even nicer looking site.

I’m beginning to really warm to typography like this. I don’t know if we’ll end up getting sick of it though, in the same way I was sick of Verdana a couple of years ago, and Helvetica light a good few years before that. A fad, but a nice one at that.

Well, it had to happen sooner or later…

I’ve been comment spammed. Some delights about Viagra, which is nice. I’ve deleted them and hopefully Movable Type 3 will be released soon along with the much talked about TypeKey.

For the latest and greatest in Web Standards design

Have a look at the Web Standards Awards. Nice looking site in itself but previews some really good standards compliant sites globally.

Laptops mmmm

Well, off to texas next week for 7 days to the SXSW conference which should be good. I’ve been thinking of exploiting the weak dollar by buying a laptop over there (and possibly an ipod if I can wangle it.). True, can’t really afford it at the moment but the way i’m looking at it is it’s about long term saving and we were going to buy one towards the end of the year anyway.

The model i’m looking at, the Compaq X1230US costs $1,699.99 from Circuit City in the US (kind of like Dixons) which is £932.18 and the same computer, funnily enough in Dixons in this country costs £1529.99 . That’s a difference of £597. Which is pretty good really. That extra money will come in handy!

Good resource for Movable Type

Having just made some tweaks to the way MT works with this site, i’d thought i’d mention where I got the good advice from. The Girlie Matters is a great site for lots of MT tips, hacks and tricks.

Cardiff Camera Centre website goes live

Camera Centre Cardiff
The Camera Centre website is a complete design and build project. I was asked to develop the site from scratch, both design and programming, to incorporate ecommerce functionality - this was the only requirement from the client.

The site also need to be updated by the client. They needed to be able to add products and manage the online catalogue. It was decided early on to develop the site using PHP/MySQL to enable the client to do this.

The first thing that was done was the designs, which were signed off almost straight away. Then, a prototype catalogue and content management system was built. This sytem allowed the client to add categories, add products and relate them to a particular category. This prototype then formed the basic structure of the site. The shopping cart and payment system was decided upon - IntelliCART MX (by Tim Green, http://www.rawveg.org) - a PHP shopping cart management system, and also SecureTrading would handle the credit card validation. And so begun, two months on integration and an uphill struggle on a rather steep learning curve.

Finally after integrating the shopping cart (and I must thank Tim Green for his help) it became apparent that the management of the shopping cart was much more sophisticated than I’d first thought. The problem was that the shopping cart items where not integrated to the credit card validation and therefore there had to be a way of linking all the steps in the process together. This was done in the following way:

When a customer buys a product they are added to a database and cross referenced with their order, which is given a unique id number. This number is used throughout all correspondence with the merchant and the customer. The order is then emailed to the merchant, and confirmation is emailed to the customer. Once the credit card has been accepted the merchant is emailed by Secure Trading, the merchant then has to approve the transaction, Once this is done the items are shipped to the customer along with an email.

Next steps for this system is a stock control system and also a semi automatic customer confirmation email once the goods are shipped. I’d like to also try and integrate the adding customer and cart to database functionality to the credit card page that way it’s a one step process rather than two - which is what it is at the moment.

The good thing about this system is that now it’s been developed I can basically reskin it and resell it to other clients.

The site was developed primarily using Dreamweaver MX, utilising the PHP/MySQL server model. Adobe Photoshop 7, Adobe Illustrator 10, Macromedia Homesite on a Mac running OS 10.2 and a PC running Windows 98. 

www.cameracentrecardiff.co.uk

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