Posts tagged: Design

Building A Website

Most people would think that building a good website is straightforward and it was. A few years ago, when the web was still relatively new, it was easy enough to put together a designer and a developer and you could get a reasonable website as the end product.

However, in the modern age of websites, this kind of a websites simply does not cut the mustard. It is of course adequate, but simply feels a little lacking.

There are several websites that I have recently come across that excel in design – they have fantastic design but when it falls down when it comes to usability or functionality. The websites of some graphic design agencies are prime examples of this.

On the other hands, we have highly functional websites with a wide range of features and functionality. The website might even be attractive but fails terribly in terms of usability. sourceforge is a very good example of this. I used to use it a lot a few years ago but its usability has gotten worse in the last few years, not to mention the fact that it seems to have slowed to a crawl. I still use sourceforge now and again to look up pieces of software but I don’t look forward to it.

Then you have the rare gems, that are exceptionally usable and functional. Google is an excellent example of this. Note however, that the design of google in minimal.

Having worked in the web for numerous years and having used more websites than I could possibly count, I strongly feel that the medium that is the web is heavily under-utilised.

Facebook is a good example of some of the good things you can do with web. Things just feel a lot more natural. If you take the news feed, you can hover over an item to see the menu at the top right that lets you set your preferences for that particular item.

Same with your wall, hover over an item on your wall, and you see a menu option, click on it and you get relevant options.

This is a simple and minor thing. However, this brings in the concept of context and I think that context is largely ignored in all applications. However, it should be easier and much more useful to have context sensitive commands / functionality within websites.

Now, If facebook was to take it one step further and allow you to right click anywhere on a news item and then choose one of the options, that would be even better – save me from moving the mouse to the menu.

Another excellent thing Facebook has done is provide the ability to comment on most things that someone does. Social interaction can take a website from zero to hero in an instant. How can you allow your customers / visitors to interact with each other. Even better – Can your website integrate with Facebook and allow your visitors / customers to use the interaction capabilities of Facebook to drive your site further?

Font Fun

The first time I saw the selection of fonts available for use, I went through most or all of them to pick one I liked. I probably did that another two or three times but after that I got bored. I believe that font choice should be an invisible interface decision based on semantics of the text. At the very least, the semantics of the text (i.e. is it a letter, an article, a proposal, a blog, a creative page, love letter etc.) should narrow down the font selection to half a dozen at the most.

I left it at that for several years and just chose the default font or got someone else to pick a font so I didn’t have to worry about it.

Nathan’s post on fonts and frustrations got me to thinking about the fonts on the different operating systems / devices. Fonts are such a basic “service” that it should be be simplified, genericised and unformly distributable.

There are about four formats of fonts according to Wikipedia. I have to ask – why? Going back to the KISS(Keep It Simple Stupid) concept – do we really need four formats for fonts.

For something as simple as fonts, what warrants it to be so complicated to understand. Why can we not just choose a format that provides all the features needed – lets even throw in the ability to add DRM (Digital Rights Management) for good measure and deprecate all the other formats.

Let’s then write an cross platform application to manage all the fonts and get rid of everything proprietary. Let’s stop with the hacks and half-measure solutions.

In all honesty, while I was aware of complications with the “fonts sector”, it never bothered me since the operating systems have been helpful enough to take care of it all automagically. However, Nathan’s post brought something to light for me. If you want to use a specific font, which may not be available on a platform, there is no easy, uniform way to distribute it.

If I created a font, there is not easy way to distribute it. In the modern computing world. This is not acceptable – especially for something as simple (but important) as fonts.

Design

Admitting to being a techie – I have often overlooked design. In fact, I have often explained to (potential) clients, using the analogy of a ferrari that we make the engine and everything else work while somebody else makes it look gorgeous. For me, how something looks was largely irrelevant – as long as it worked well.

This explains why, for a long time, I used a fairly bland desktop environment. My desktop itself was just pure black with no wallpaper. Ironically, I would remove all the icons, so it would be pure black and nothing else.

This should have tipped me off on my own desire for design. I thought my desire for black stemmed from the “good old” days of DOS when the screen was black and my love for the linux terminal. As an aside, I used to reconfigure the terminal windows in X to have a white on black background as well – so much better for the eyes. In fact, I still don’t understand why everyone uses a white background for terminals and such like. Paper was white because that was easier. There is really no reason for the screen to be white too…

Now, this was before I bumped into Enlightenment (at this time, it was E16) and to put it bluntly, I was captivated. This this was absolutely gorgeous. Fairly unusable since I was used to GNOME and of course Microsoft Windows. I thoroughly enjoyed this until it became more of a distraction…

I ended up reconfiguring GNOME to be prettier – in fact, I had the Mac OS X theme for a while which I enjoyed.

I then dabbled with E17 and it was absolutely gorgeous – E16 paled in comparison. I ran into a bug where some java applications would jump a few pixels when changing the decorations. This was a real pain since I was developing a Java application at the time. I spent an entire day trying to “fix” this before I realised that it was E17 screwing it up and not my code… :-(

More recently, I thoroughly enjoyed Compiz with the shaky windows and such like – I just always wished that I could actually throw a window and watch the momentum carry it that extra distance.

Nevertheless, this bridged the gap enough to E17 to keep me happy for a little while.

Last week, I dabbled with E17 again to see if the issue with Java was resolved. To my surprise E17 had changed more or less completely – it was bridging the gap between a window manager and a full fledged Desktop environment.

However, there was a problem. It looked like I couldn’t get it back to its old glory of absolutely fantastic graphics without some effort in configuration. One other issue I ran into was that maximising a screen would fill it up across both my monitors. Another thing I could configure but then, it all seemed like too much effort.

E17 gives me the feeling that this is where user interfaces will end up – it automates so many of the things that makes it quicker to do anything. However, it still lacks some of the “basics”.

E17 is a very good example of a UI that tries to conform to what I call the “Invisible Interface” which I will be writing about later.

To bring it all back to now, I found it a hassle to go through all the available themes for WordPress for the Company Blog as well as my own.

I used to take great pleasure in going through dozens or hundreds of themes and picking ones that I liked but after doing it a few times (for Firefox, Thunderbird, my phone, GNOME, GDM and my flat), it gets a bit repetitous.

Now, for a wish. A website that pulls in all the different themes for all over the world for everything. A one-stop-theme shop. Here, I could go through and pick a general theme that I liked and download it for all the applications, my phone(s), mp3 players (and of course, taking it to the next level, all the gadgets at my flat).

That gives my life more uniformity. Perhaps this is something that Designers could take on… Say Hugo Boss, and design something that even matches your clothes, shoes, hair – everything.

That way, you could have your own unique branding… and while you are at it link it into Gravatars and you are also instantly recognisable

Now for the issue of privacy – I think I best leave that for another day.

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