Wednesday Apr 02, 2008

Web Prototyping with NetBeans

For the best Ajax-ready environment to support rapid development, its got to be NetBeans 6.0. I think. I mean, I've not actually used it yet, but I do have a need to build some prototypes for dynamic web frameworks that include little widgets and JSF bits and pieces (probably) to enable me to look cleverer than I actually am, which, unsurprisingly, isn't difficult.

I've not settled on a development environment since I started trying to use them in earnest a good few years ago. Most of the things I've used to try and support rapid prototyping are not really IDEs at all, but applications that just do one thing, meaning I end up using 3 or 4 of them and try to stitch everything together rather unsuccessfully at the end. If I was being really pedantic, which I am, I'd say the best development environment I've ever used for web prototyping, where the web part is actually a web part and not just a photoshop part, was XEmacs. I know some of you reading this are going dewy-eyed at the very mention of it, before you get back to work on Dreamweaver.

The problem with most applications, IDEs, or whatever toolkits I've come across, is that they invariably do at least one thing that constantly irritates me. Not the kind of thing that irritates me that you can turn off in an options screen, but the kind of thing that irritates me because its intrinsically the way the application does what it does, whether its the cumbersome previewing methods, or the sublime adherence to a doctype declaration I didn't specify, or even just having windows with fat, ugly borders. Actually, that last one is the kind of irritant that would bug me the most.

So, I'm hoping that NetBeans will be something I can call my friend. If not, its back to XEmacs, a gin and tonic, and a long night of ctrl-c, ctrl-v and ctrl-bladder, until I've hacked together a product finder that surfaces on not just product gateway pages, but the whole of the moon.

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Listening Post: The Prodigy: Poison

Friday Mar 21, 2008

Project Overlap

I know you just love it when you find out your project overlaps with about 4 other projects doing kind of the same thing, but from a different place. That just happens in large-scale organizations, however we arrange ourselves and whatever processes we try and stick to. So when you gracefully collide with the business teams, the publishing and engineering teams and at least 1 other team you didn't actually know existed until this morning, in a conference call that gathers all the stakeholders, it nice to get a good outcome.

We're currently taking a deep dive, or whatever you call it, into the design framework we need in order to support the content architecture around product lines. In other words, if you happen to be the director in charge of, say, server marketing here at Sun, what is it that sun.com needs to do for you? I mean, we know a bunch of stuff about what people are actually doing when they hit those landing pages (we're calling then category pages, for the record), but what is it that we're wanting them to do, and from where did they enter, and to where are they going? Its all very well me just drawing a fancier looking media panel and assuming that we know what's going to play there, or even if it should be a media panel at all. I can use terms like 'customer channel' as if I know what they mean, but in the end, as designers, we're trying to understand the customer journey, in order for us to determine navigation paths and build a design framework that works for everyone.

Which is where collisions are helpful. As long as you have super efficient people around you to pull those overlapping projects together (designers don't really do that kind of stuff very well), you might just strike it lucky and start the conversation at the point where you're all saying "well, that's kind of what we're trying to do". And that's what happened this week, which made everything fit together way more neatly than it did last week. I finally get to the point where I know what's required, we're engaged with the stakeholders, and we're all talking the same language.

Typically, I'm on vacation all next week, so I'll forgotten it all by the time I get back (only joking).

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Listening Post: The Wombats: Moving To New York

Wednesday Mar 19, 2008

The IA Has Landed

Its been a good long while since Martin left us to ramp up the customer experience over at Cisco, and then our über information architect, Jennifer, jumped ship for a measly directorship. Since then, we've tried to maintain a steady course through the icebergs of web experience design and other shipping analogies that have come our way. Sometimes you can pull in the slack, and share the extra workload between those of you that are left, but its not always been super effective, and, from an IA perspective, we've become slightly rudderless. I mean, we can launch the rescue boats pretty effectively when we're responding to web distress calls, and we've always been pretty good navigators, but there's not really been anyone up in the IA bridge for a while, playing a strong captain's role.

So, hurrah! then, for the arrival, this week, of our new Lead Information Architect (and for a paragraph devoid of nautical wordery nonsense). Holly started on Monday and will, I'm sure, do a great job in her new role. I'm already putting her name next to a number of projects that desperately require the attention of someone who actually knows what they are talking about, and I'm looking forward to seeing some much-needed IA focus back on our projects. Welcome Holly. I've got this web feedback task taxonomy that needs a bit of work if you're available. Oh, and the product categories could use some direction. And the gateways of course. And what about that home page stuff? etc...

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Listening Post: Robyn Hitchcock: Surgery

IETab for XHTML Traps

You'd think I would check. First rule of web design and all that. I mean, we extensively test our web design components against all the platform and browser combinations out there, and Andrew and Greg are constantly redefining CSS elements so that we maintain a consistent style, whatever you're using to connect to us.

But that can't save me from being a lazy arse. I like to put images in blog posts to illustrate points, or just to make myself less uninteresting than I am. I also like to have them aligned left or, usually, right, with text wrapping around them. This is from the HTML 1.0 handbook, right? So I was rightly ashamed of myself when I installed the IETab add-on for Firefox the other day and took a look at some blog postings. Initially, I'd installed IETab to try and sync up PicLens with a thumbnail folder view of an enormous image directory as presented as a windows explorer view. That didn't work, but I thought IETab was kind of interesting, so I duly went away and 'IETabbed' my bookmarks.

Oops. seems that that old align=right hspace=8 vspace=8 ain't what it used to be, and probably hasn't been since about 2003 or something. For blog templates written in HTML 4 (of which there are tons out there I've used or written), this old syntax is just fine, even if it's like the 'Hello World' of web design, but, you know, if it ain't broke. Except it is broke. In XHTML 1.0 (correct me if I'm wrong, but only in your head), those handy attributes are deprecated, so if your doctype declaration contains the XHTML 1.0 string (like this blog template), the page rendering is undefined. No problem, then, if you've been using Firefox since forever, because Firefox just understands that some people out there can't code for toffee and gracefully deprecates on your behalf. Internet Explorer, however, throws its toys right out of the pram. Because we always gave IE a hard time in the past for being rotten with supporting web standards, it gets all fussy if you make mistakes these days. At least, mistakes in the way IE wants to implement XHTML.

Suffice to say, align=right translates to something like align=centerwithnowrapanddoitrightnexttimeidiot. Meaning this whole blog has looked a right old mess on IE since I started. My fault really. I should have checked. How authoritative I must have appeared, spouting on about web design standards, customer experience journeys, usability and everything, when the very page I was writing looked like someone has thrown up a flickr photostream at random in between the passages of pompous rambling prose like this.

Anyway, you're probably reading this, if anyone is, through google reader or something, so it really doesn't matter. A new class in the CSS for those images fixed everything pretty quick. In case you're using FireFox, and you're now thinking "oh, I might just take a look at my blog to see what it looks like but I can't be bothered to start Internet Explorer which I can't anyway because I'm on Solaris and I don't happen to have a virtual version of XP running somewhere", then try IETab. It eats memory like children eat cakes at a birthday party, but its worth it.

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Listening Post: Sleater-Kinney: The Fox

Friday Mar 14, 2008

Creative Suite: Au Revoir, Bonjour

As all good designers know these, you need lots and lots and lots and lots of hardware and software to do your job properly. I first started using Adobe Photoshop professionally at version 2.5, which I guess was about mid-nineties. Sun being Sun of course, back then, a Mac or a Windows PC was anathema, no, worse, the antichrist or something, so the version of 2.5 we had was actually the port that ran on Solaris. which was probably also version 2.5. Actually, that port was pretty good, I thought. Especially as you could run it on a Sun box. I think we had it installed on a few Ultra 2s with 1GB of memory, which was immense in those days, and so everything moved along very nicely. Mind you, without layers, there was only so much you could do at a time. You just needed a huge filesystem to hold those 50 saved versions of each file. Luckily, everything was networked to the nth and so that wasn't a problem either.

Fast forward to 2008 then, as I sit in my home office, on a slightly creaky Windows PC, and I'm hitting some problems with my design tools. I'm still with Photoshop, of course, except now its part of Creative Suite 3 Design Premium, and all the good stuff that comes with that. What I also still have, though, after 4 years in this room, is a single-core processor, 1 disk, and only 2GB of memory. Doesn't sound too bad? Ever run Adobe Bridge? Anyway, since installing CS3 a while back, things have not run smoothly. Most recently, I've had nasty problems with failure to boot or shutdown, and my suspicions have been aroused by the network activity icons blinking away in the corner as everything else fails to start.

As most good designers know, poking around in the innards of your operating system is never really a good idea, but some self-diagnosis was definitely in order. After an afternoon of software removal and starting and stopping of services, I, not surprisingly, could not find a cure. How serendipitous, then, that I should receive and email from Adobe, inviting me to join their user-to-user ("this is NOT adobe support you MORON") forums, to share and collaborate with my designer community. I thought I might see if anyone was sharing my 'Adobe Bridge 3 CPU 100% hang crash metadata read' problems, when I stumbled upon multiple threads about something called the 'bonjour service'. I had seen that in the services manager in XP and thought it was something to do with XP ordering croissants for me. I mean, its in Program Files, not under Adobe or (as it turns out it might well should be) Apple.

It seem that the bonjour service is installed as part of CS3 and is responsible for initiating network connections to Adobe Version Cue servers. Bonjour is Apple software and is also part of the iTunes installation, by the look of it, which is why it appears to be installed as a standalone product. This might be very helpful is you are actually using Version Cue, especially in a large organization with distributed servers for DAM. Its not particularly helpful if you're not using Version Cue. Its spectacularly unhelpful if its actually hanging your computer and using shedloads of resource when its up and running. There are a number of ways to stop bonjour, if its causing problems. I found the most effective thing was to actually remove it. Since I have done so, I've had no problems with hanging startups or resource draining. I'm yet to try and use iTunes (which I hate anyway), to see what problems might lie there, but for now, I don't really care. I can get on with crafting comps for category pages. Oh, and writing huge, sprawling blogs.

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Listening Post: Bloc Party: Flux (Rev Terry's Drone On You Flux-uating Diamond Mix)

Wednesday Mar 12, 2008

Unified Web Feedback

If you really want to let us know what you think, there's any number of ways you can let us know, but these days, we should expect you to chose the web as your primary channel. In other words, we should support you pretty well on Sun's multiple web venues if you want to provide feedback on our products, services, or simply to let us know that the x4100 page has an apostrophe in the wrong place (which was probably something Iv'e done).

The truth is rather more sobering, as it is for many large-scale web sites. That's not to say we score badly. Its just that there is room for improvement. In the last year, there has been a team at Sun dedicated to resolving all our customer interaction issues, whether it be from first contact on a sales phone line, or a click on an email link, or even when you get your hands on a piece of Sun hardware and open the box. They're even looking at the box. One of the key components of that work is understanding the customer journey from first contact through to resolution. That might be manifest as a phone tree, or telesales lifecycle, or as a web feedback system.

One of our biggest tasks in understanding how to design a web infrastructure to support the wide range of web feedback we receive at Sun, is to map the customer journey from first contact, through task filtering and into an internal feedback system. Broadly speaking, this customer interaction can be categorized in three distinct phases; invitation, submission, confirmation. Within those phases, there are a number of related subtasks and subsystems that actually make the thing run (technical term there), but from a design perspective, we're really considering how to seamlessly manage the transition between phases and ensure a satisfactory conclusion for our customers. In addition, of course, the whole experience should be simple, consistent and concise.

Its a challenging task, and we're trying to accommodate multiple feedback types across multiple venues, and, naturally, tight project deadlines (which means I should probably be building wireframes instead of writing this). Where we're focusing our efforts right now is on just how far we can go with contextually-driven feedback. If we're able to categorize the invitation in terms of the customer task and the current context, we should, in theory, be able to cut a swathe through a task filtering navigation path and drive straight to the submission phase, where any options or forms are specific to the task. However, we can't be completely confident that our invitations will always be contextually clean. We'll often use a global navigation component to host a persistent link, and it wouldn't be enough to simply assume that because a customer clicked on a link labeled 'feedback' in a footer on a product page that they are necessarily wanting to provide feedback on that product. They might just want to tell us the site is very slow today. It may also be true that even though they may have accepted an invitation to feed back on a particular product, what they really want to say is that we've actually speelled the product incorructly, which we might call a 'typo', which as everyone knows, goes straight to the jitterbug queue labeled 'null'. Only joking.

Why is it unified web feedback? Well, feedback systems evolve, much like web sites evolve. In fact, feedback and venue, in a multi-venue operation such as we have at Sun, are inextricably linked, so we've nurtured distinctly different feedback systems on venues such as sun.com, developer.sun.com, java.sun.com and others. As we try to align operations across venues and increase efficiency for our customers, we're just trying to get to a place where we can synchronize activities more effectively. As far as design goes, unification, even though I''m cursorily referring to it here, is a sizeable problem, so I'm hoping nobody notices that I haven't cracked that nut yet.

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Listening Post: Aphex Twin: Flaphead

Wednesday Feb 20, 2008

Get Fed

Its sometimes the small additions to a web design framework that make a difference. Well, to me they do. As I went through the weekly process of trying out the latest feed readers the other day, just to say that I'd tried out the latest feed readers and decided to stick with google reader after all, again, I took some time to revisit the feeds & subscriptions (yes, they're the same thing, but it depends who you talk to) that are available across sun.com, blogs.sun.com, developer, bigadmin, java.net and all those lovely places we call home.

Its thanks to folks like Lou and others that we've done such a good job of getting our subscriptions embedded all over our web venues - and there are a ton of them to choose from now. Sure, there are the occasional dead ends in the subscription paths, but in general, there's a whole range of rss/atom/xml links out there for you to pick and choose from, whether you're a java developer, a press analyst, a system administrator, or even all of those things and more. You might even just want to get a regular feed of the blogs here at Sun, notwithstanding the drivel like this that you might have to wade through to get to the NetBeans or Glassfish entries.

The fact that there are so many can be a challenge, however. From a web experience perspective, we want to be as consistent as possible in terms of the presentation of these available feeds and their context, so that when you're at the place where it's relevant, its an obvious and trivial exercise to to move from content consumer to content subscriber. Now, obviously, as web designers, we hate it when we spend 6 months on a design framework and then you just go and suck out all the content and read it in an application something akin to notepad on acid, but, if you're gonna do that, we want to make even that customer experience a good one. We're so good to you.

Which leads me on to the teeny tiny feed icon. If you snoop around sun.com or our developer site, you might have already noticed it. Its not big, but it is clever. It's driven by metadata attached to the content, and the drop-down menu of available feeds is built dynamically as the page is rendered, so its always current and context-driven, rather than a 'global' subscription list. I mean, we have one of those, but you're not targeting anyone by including that on every page. Check it out yourself on the top right area next to the social bookmark icons on the developer site or the sun.com download page. Simple, but nice.

By the way, as Andrew and Greg aren't around at this time of day, I had to work all that technical stuff out by myself, so I'll go and lie down now...

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Listening Post: Beatles: Hello Goodbye

Friday Feb 15, 2008

Design Specification Roadmap

There is always something nice about creating milestones and to-do lists in Basecamp, when you're not quite sure what to do next with the incoming design specifications. In truth, of course, defining what I am expected to do next is a neat way of putting off what I'm supposed to do next, but at least I know in what order I'm not getting around to things.

I do find that, even though the end result can be reasonably consistent, the way I set up each project is usually markedly different. This is normally because I'm putting milestones in the order that someone else's project plan has them laid out, and then I'm building the to-do lists to align with those milestones. In actual fact, this is probably the best way for me to work, as I am a completely hopeless project manager. I've done a course and everything, but I fear it's application to the task that makes a good PM. Thankfully, I'm able to bank on the support of any number of project managers around here who are scarily efficient, so I've not yet dropped the ball completely.

Needless to say, as I'm writing this, I'm supposed to be checking a box marked "complete audit of user stories & user flows", but this is multitasking. Well, its multitasking as I know it, which is doing multiple tasks, but not necessarily at the same time. Or in the correct order. Or today.

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Listening Post: Shelby Lynne: Where I'm From

Wednesday Feb 13, 2008

Rolling Over & Dying

We just recently resolved an implementation issue that had been going back and forth between Greg, Andrew and me for a good few weeks. It wasn't a big thing, but sometimes the simplest things push the boundaries when I try to do it myself.

For a long time, we've had invitations to talk directly with sales advisors on sun.com, whether you want to chat, call, email or even have sun call you back directly. These invitations have been reasonably prominent in the right-hand navigation of specific pages. More recently, we've been able to embed these invitations by deploying inline rollovers, at the point where customers commit to a call-to-action, making the invitation much more relevant and immediate. You can see the current deployment on some of our promotions, like the Uniboard Upgrade Promotion (until April 1st, which happens to be my birthday, by the way). As you rollover the 'Start Saving Now' call-to-action, our rollover appears, with all the options you might need.

Nice as this is, its actually a pretty cumbersome implementation. When I say cumbersome, I mean, its elegant code (as all our web components are), but the way in which we had to deploy it in the short term left a bit to be desired. Our ever-patient publishing team reluctantly agreed to hard-code the components into specific pages, knowing that that was a huge backwards step, and a potential maintenance disaster - they know we'll change our mind about what's in the component and expect them to find and update it in all the places we asked them to deploy it but never actually kept a record of ourselves. What we all really wanted was a separate source file for the component itself, which could be referenced by a standard piece of code that would be provided to content owners to use as they require.

This, unfortunately, is where I, as usual, said "I can do that, don't worry".

I do know my way around html, CSS, javascript and most other basic web technologies (I expect someone will now point out that it should be HTML, as its an acronym, and JavaScript, or something, just to prove, before I even get to where I'm going, that once being a developer, doesn't mean always being a developer, and in terms of knowledge assimilation once you gravitate to marketing, all your code is belong to us), but sometimes, when you put them all together, and then call it 'Ajax', then I start to lose the plot. What I actually needed to accomplish was quite simple, from an abstract view. I have a self-contained web component (snippet of sun.com source), that exists in 1 source file, say, source.html, and I have a parent page, say, parent.html that contains a reference to that source file as part of an Ajax call which renders the component code so that it can then be referenced by a CSS-implemented rollover and magic fairy dust scatters over the page and the share price goes up or something. If you're still with me, and super-interested, I was actually trying to include a K02v1 DHTML Popup Component, saved as source.html), by calling it from a G32v0 Onload Ajax Include (in parent.html) and then invoke the Popup by using the Popup div id as a class attribute of the invoking anchor in parent.html.

Needless to say, despite my best efforts, I simply could not arrange 10 lines of code and a couple of hash references in the correct order, and ultimately I prostrate myself at the altar of the web design church for forgiveness. Happily, for me, they couldn't either (for about 10 seconds), but eventually resolved the issue with a flourish of staged content, and I took their code and stuck it into my development site. Of course, it didn't work when I tried it, but another couple of hours (and a few gin and tonics by now) later, everything was as we wanted it to be.

The trouble is, it took me so long that Neal probably doesn't even want the rollover any more, but, you know, its useful to 'keep your hand in' with this stuff (not for the developers and publishers who have to clean your mess up, naturally, before they point that out).

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Listening Post: Outlaw: Nothing Else To Say

Wednesday Feb 06, 2008

Where Designers Go

As Jen McGinn relates, there's something going on at the Santa Clara campus, at least, there was, for the last couple of days. I know this, because everyone I work with has disappeared, including my management chain and at least 5 other people I was thinking about working with (well, I say working with, I mean checking their Facebook status). It was the annual Design Summit at Sun and there was a healthy focus on our online presence and a key note from Curtis. I believe there's another summit going on somewhere, so it's all pretty summitastic right now.

I'm not there, however, so I'll miss out on those conversations about design tools, publishing processes, community engagement, calls-to-action, component sets ("no, we use this one, it's a bit like your one, but it's not the same, even if it looks like an application, which its not, its a web venue, even if it does do kind of application-like things, yes I know its a thin line"), and suchlike. I find those conversations are usually the most enlightening few hours you can have with people gathered together in a room for once a year. You might even get to see what some people look like, which is often enlightening in its own way ("your org chart picture must be really old" etc.), which, in itself, is a design consideration I agonize for hours over every morning.

I'm hoping Marilyn and Chris come back all enthused with some tangental web design direction and exciting feedback, but there's always a danger that they'll simply come back saying "they're trying to do exactly what we're trying to do" or something. Perhaps they'll have seen this, and just decide we should all lie down in a dark room for a while.

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Listening Post: Aimee Mann: Goodbye Caroline

Friday Jan 11, 2008

There's a Package For You

I just opted in to our design documentation standard, to do the right thing. I mean, we always do the right thing, but we've not really defined the 'right thing' very well up to this point. However, we're just getting our design process rationalized across the team, including the technology we use to interface with other teams, vendors, agencies etc. We've always had the super web design component standards out there, which I'm sure you've all seen, but internally, well, it probably isn't a surprise to anybody out there who is part of a reasonably sized design team to know that there's always been a number of different ways in which we initiate, manage and deliver our design projects.

Not any more. No sirree. The few good people here that have been tasked with coordinating our activities are just starting to cement some of the pieces in place. These are not new ideas. We've talked about the need to do this for about 10 years, and in that time, the size of the organization has grown many times its original small, lithe, sexy size. Now, more than ever, we need to be able to track and tune projects on a predictable path, to set expectations, engage the multiple teams you need to engage with these days, and even just understand what the project we're currently working on actually is (surprising how often you stop in the middle and realize you have no idea what it is you're supposed to be delivering. That's not just me is it?. Oops.).

Which brings me to documentation. I've always been the kind of rapid prototyping kind of person. If you want to see what the web pages will look like, I'll write them, and then you can tell me what you think. Context, you see. So what if it takes a bit of work to do the initial set up and a few frantic nights of html hacking to make it look like it will fit seamlessly into the Solutions section, when you know really that it won't actually look like that because that section is actually implemented on a hack of a content management platform and none of those components will really sit together like that? At least you see it in context. Trouble is, you can't, as I often found, take that development site to the publishing and engineering teams and just say "I want that one". They want to know things like "what happens when I click this", "how many of those can you have", "has this been reviewed?". How unreasonable. Its just a mockup, its not supposed to actually work, you know.

Which is where the new documentation standards come in. Some sickeningly efficient folks in our team have been doing this kind of thing the right way for years. You know, they're the ones who have actually qualified somehow to be a designer. People like me, however, just have never had a clue. So, how serendipitous it is that Creative Suite 3 finally gets delivered to me (after protracted supplier delays), and I get my hands on InDesign, for that is the tool of choice. Our friends at Eight Shapes did a grand job, a while back, of working on a design documentation framework that supports our component set and incorporates "mapping & annotation standards, artifact modularization, and tricks of the trade learned over years of experience" (their words, but they're the right words). What this means in practice, is that I can now develop fully annotated design specifications, with consistent wireframes, nomenclature, and interaction definitions, which are understood by clients, designers, publishers and engineers alike. This is nothing short of a revelation to me. I mean, it doesn't actually do the designing for me, so I can still get that hopelessly wrong, but its a huge change for the better on the project and process management front, and its a self-documenting exercise. I also get to learn a new application, which is nice. Oh, and, of course, I get new friends on Facebook, so I now know what Nathan's Star Wars character is, which is always useful.

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Listening Post: White Stripes: Bone Broke

Tuesday Jan 01, 2008

Small Design Nicety

I only wonder how uncontrollably out of shape I am when I'm looking for a new pair of Levis. In the UK they have a few ranges that I like and then they discontinue them without warning. When I'm out in the US, I look for cheaper versions of the same ranges only to find that they don't do that range, but they do a 5xx boot cut which may be like that, but I really don't know, sir, I've never heard of a 5xx. I usually come away with 17 pairs of 501s and a spare new suitcase, but they don't quite fit right. The 501s, not the suitcases. Actually, the suitcases aren't too bad a fit right now.

When I find myself drawn to the Levi store in the mall, when I really should be buying a battery for a dead submarine or something, the only thing that really foxes me (apart from how old I seem in there), is trying to remember what size I'm looking for. I mean, I know it's 2 sizes bigger than it really should be, but I don't know quite what state my protruding guts and stubby bow legs are in, and so when someone half my age asks me what size I'm looking for, I can't say. Most embarrassingly (for them), I end up asking them to look at the label on the pair I'm wearing to see what size I need, as I can't actually rotate my head around far enough to read the feet and inches, upside down at the bottom of the label.

It seems that Levis have been following enough old forgetful fat people with wonky heads around to realize that this is a problem. When I was looking around at my own backside to see what I'd sat in on the picnic bench at the Marsh Larder at Holkham the other day, I happened to notice that at the top right of the label on my Levis (518s) are the W and L measurements that I so often am looking for. Nothing unusual there maybe, but they are now printed upside down. Which means that I can now look over my shoulder and read the label to see exactly what my waist size and leg measurements are (and then cry a little bit, obviously). This is genius. It's like when, as a child, you first realize that they've printed ECNELUBMA like that on purpose, so you can see it in your rear-view mirror. Even my hairdresser does it on their gowns now, so that when you're looking at your woeful lack of hair in the mirror, you can also see 'Croppers. Since 1974' in there as well, because it's printed backwards on the unreflected version.

Its only a small design update, and they might have done it ages ago, but I only just noticed it, and it made my day (sadly). I'll buy another pair of Levis as a result. After I've been to the gym a bit. Well, a lot.

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Listening Post: XTC: Respectable Street

Wednesday Dec 19, 2007

Select/Deselect

Or maybe that's Unselect, although that's obviously not a real word, but when does that stop us? As I try and complete a design specification for a product finder, only interrupted by my writing about trying to complete a design specification for a product finder, I notice that its the subtle nuances that really take the time to figure out. I know what a table looks like. I also know what a drop-down list of comparable subcategory products looks like. I even know what a Products By Category: Subcategory Listing: Filtered: Single Attribute product list item looks like. But I don't know whether the 508 label for a button that allows you to uncheck a range of checkboxes should say 'Unselect All' or 'Deselect All'.

Actually, I do know that its 'Deselect All', but I only know that because somebody told me. I'm sure someone here who can quote the style and editorial guides complete with page references and footnotes off the top of their head would have been able to point out to me the grammatical and semantic reasoning behind that decision, notwithstanding the fact that unselect isn't actually a word, even though I thought it might be, because my vocabulary necessarily contains a mixture of English, US English, and web terms, which means I'm never quite sure these days when I write an email or comp a blurb that I'm making any sense at all. Much like as I'm writing this.

The thing is, however long I agonize/agonise over the relative placement of a product image and whether the attribute listings should be bulleted or repeat the attribute names, or what labels we give to information architecture in context with other category pages, the thing that will take 20 minutes to resolve, in a meeting where you've got 15 minutes to present the design specification, of which that component appears on 2 pages which should take 2 minutes to cover, will be the annoying label for the widget. So I'm sorting that out right now. I've probably missed an entire interaction flow as a result, but that label is now correct, right?

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Listening Post: Teenage Fanclub: Commercial Alternative

Monday Dec 17, 2007

The Secret Is Out

There's no magic bullet for design, no one-size fits all, or cross-market, cross-audience component set that captures unique customer needs across your entire audience. But there is some cream.

It's worth investing 7 minutes of your life watching the video to discover what you probably already knew - customers really do know best when it comes to design. Designers are just here to do exactly what you say.

In noting this approach to making your design customers instantly happy, I'm considering making a purchase. As we wind down to the holiday season, we're winding up on deliverables on a few design projects that should see the light of day early in 2008. I could really do with some Information Architecturizer Spray to instantly organize some category page frameworks. If anyone knows where I can get some by Wednesday, that would be great.

But seriously. No, hang on, that was seriously.

p.s. Happy birthday, Martin

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Listening Post: Iggy Pop: Nightclubbing

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The Sun Web Experience Design team is a group of user experience professionals committed to making the online experience with Sun the best it can be.

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