Welcome!

Welcome to my new home! My goal for this blog is to offer whatever knowledge I can to who ever wants to listen! For a slight change from the past, I will likely add tutorials occasionally if I come across a topic I feel needs some better hand-on explanation. Over time the look of this blog will be changing so I ask that you bear with me while I get everything set exactly how I want it! I also plan to start updating more often so be on the look out for new stuff!


The Internet, It isn’t just for your computer anymore

The Internet isn’t just for your computer anymore. Web connected devices are being found in more and more devices each day. Today you can find the Internet in cars, appliances and even in medical devices! According to a study done by IMS Research it is estimated that there will be 22 billion web-connected devices in the world by 2020. Another interesting fact is that machines are outnumbering humans in new subscribers for AT&T and Verizon.

Uses for web connected devices in your home

There are several uses for Internet enabled devices in your home. Imagine if you could be notified that your refrigerator was using more energy than normal? This could help you recognize an issue with your refrigerator before it costs you a small fortune! The can also be technology to allow you to know when you ran out of milk. The Internet, combined with electronic scales can let you know when the place you keep your milk is too light, signaling that you need some more milk. In your car, you can have the Internet help you not only with navigation but with things such as communication.

Web connected devices are also making their way into the healthcare industry. A new concept that is arising is the Body Area Network. This BAN is a network of computer devices that are “wearable” and can provide information on a patients vitals. This could be especially helpful for patients who may be in a high risk category or who have a medical condition which requires constant monitoring, such as diabetes.

Will the Internet ever go too far? Are there some places that the Internet just shouldn’t go?


Innovating the User Experience on the Web

In the SpoolCast from UIE (User Interface Engineering) on October 7th, 2010, Jared Spool interviews Luke Wroblewski. In this SpoolCast, Jared and Luke discuss Google’s new instant search feature. While Luke was working with Yahoo, he had a chance to work with the same concept called “Live Search”. For Yahoo, this ultimately never made it to market.

The Google Instant has brings up the question if forms in general will begin to change due to these types of concepts. If you stop and think about it though, a lot of forms on the web offer this instant gratification. Sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn both offer a way for you to search that provides instant results.

Well that’s all great but what’s the catch?

Not everybody who implements these instant searches has the ability to take out the distracting results. For example, when you type something into the Google Instant, after the first letter is entered search results are returned, however, Google has no way of knowing what my entire search string is going to be. Google appears to use my recent and common searches and puts those at the top of the list. As Luke and Jared discuss though, not every company will have the resources to implement something quite this well.

Inline Processes

Another topic that Jared and Luke discuss is an in line approach to input. I know your probably thinking, input is already inline in a form, I don’t have to go somewhere else to fill out the form. But stop and think about that. Many times you actually DO have to go somewhere else to fill out a form. Luke brings up the example of Quora for a site that makes good use of inline input. On this site much of the interaction actually occurs through quick pop-up windows instead of taking you to a whole new page. Luke also discusses the Comcast site where he encountered a sign up process that was done entirely in a pop-up window. Inline input is good, but sometimes it just isn’t appropriate. In the case of Comcast, Luke felt it was inappropriate for the sign up process to be in line, rather than in its own page.

This has just been a very brief recap and explanation of the topics discussed by Jared and Luke. Beyond what I have discussed here, Jared and Luke go on to discuss topics such as Apple’s Ping network and reusing information you have already loaded onto another site such as Facebook.


>Navigating the Maze that is the Web

>

Even the most experienced users of the web come across difficult web sites from time to time.  Navigating the web can quite literally be a maze.  Check out this mouse maze to experience the frustration that comes from inconsistent navigation.  Navigation schemes differ from site to site, and even some times within the same site!  Why do we encounter sites such as those?  Quite simply because the people who create them probably never knew much about web usability.  Now, I’m not trying to knock anyone’s website but let’s face it, not every site on the web is usable.


Tips for increasing web usability….

The following tips come from (http://www.humanfactors.com/downloads/10tips.asp)

  1. Motivate users – you need to draw in your users to your site
  2. Define user task flow – your site design needs to match what the users expect
  3. Architecture – it’s 80% of usability.  Navigation needs to be intuitive and obvious to the user.  Remember – if they can’t find it in 3 clicks, they’re gone.  
  4. Affordance means obvious – leave no doubt as to what you mean with everything in your design
  5. Replicate – learn from others and use the resources available to you
  6. Usability test along the way – test early and test often to avoid headaches later in the process
  7. Know the technology limitations – Identify and optimize for target browsers and user hardware.Test HTML, JavaScript, etc for compatibility.  
  8. Know user tolerances – Users are impatient. Design for a 2-10 second maximum download. Reuse header graphics so they can load from cache. Avoid excessive scrolling.  
  9. Multimedia – be discriminating – animation can be great for drawing attention but don’t overdo it
  10. Use a stats package – monitor traffic through your site. Which pages pique user interest? Which pages make users leave? Adjust your site accordingly. 

As you can see there is a lot that goes into designing a usable web site.  What may be usable to you, may not be usable to someone else.  I know from experience that what I find to be usable is many times not usable to others.  I have a tendency to look at web sites from the perspective of the developer of the site and I have to make a conscious effort to place myself in the role of a user of the site I am building.  This is not an easy task to accomplish so I rely on the opinions of others to make sure I am on the right track with a site design.  Hopefully these tips can help you create a more usable site.


    >Web Accessibility – If something is accessible does that mean it is usable?

    >Imagine for a moment that you are a disabled and are no longer able to walk on your own. You must use a wheelchair to go about your everyday life. Sure, it would be a big change and some activities would be significantly more difficult to accomplish. However, you would still be able to get around and do the things you needed to do. There are ramps to help you up a curb, public transportation is able to accommodate you, and there are handicap parking spaces to allow you the extra room you need. 

    Now imagine that all of those accommodations I listed are no longer available. It suddenly is much more difficult to accomplish daily tasks isn’t it? This is what happens for some people when viewing and interacting with websites. Notall websites on the Internet were designed with impaired users in mind. 

    So what exactly is web accessibility? 

    According to Derek Featherstone, author of chapters 22-24 in the InterACT with Web Standard book, web accessibility  
             “refers to the practice of making websites usable by people of all abilities anddisabilities” 

    So how can I begin to make my website more accessible? 

    The first step is to better understand accessibilityissues. There are several different types of impairments that affect a user experience. They can be lumped into four main categories.Visual ImpairmentThis includes many disabilities including: 

    • Total blindness
    • Reduced vision
    • Colorblindness
    • Obstructed vision

    For users who are blind, it is important that a website makes good use of text. This is important not only for the main content on a site, but for all of the images as well. Dealing with colorblindness may be even more difficult than dealing with someone who is blind. There are different types of color blindness and this is what makes it difficult to design a website that won’t have problems with colors being unreadable. 

    Mobility or Dexterity Impairment 

    Not all forms of mobility impairment impact a web experience.  Some of the impairments which do affect it are: 

    • Someone with limited movement in arms
    • Someone who may only have one hand
    • Someone with difficulty controlling fine movements
    • Someone who experiences trouble holding on to a mouse
    • Someone with a tremor or shake in their hand

    These individuals will have specialized hardware and software to help them interact with the website and with the computer itself. It is important that the websitebe able to interact seamlessly with this assistive hardware and software. 

    Auditory Impairment 

    While it may seem that users with physical and/or visual impairments may be the primary concerns when it come to web accessibility, auditory impairment is just as important. There is more to the web than visuals. Try watching some YouTube videos without any sound. They aren’t very useful are they? This can be remedied with solutions such as closed captioning. 

    Cognitive Impairment 

    This type of impairment can be further broken down into different types. These types are: 

    • Memory-related
    • Problem-solving
    • Attention deficits
    • Reading, linguistic, and verbal comprehension
    • Math comprehension
    • Visual comprehension

    It can be a very daunting task to try and meet the needs of each type of cognitive impairment, but a good website will find the right balance to be accessible to the greatest number of people. 

    Whew! That was a lot! 

    Web accessibility is a large and complicated part of website design. There is a lot to keep up with and it isn’t always an easy task to do. Actually to be quite honest, it is quite a difficult task to do! I hope that I have helped you in your understanding of web accessibility and how to help your website become more accessible. Below I have provided a list of resources to provide further knowledge on the subject. This is by no means an exhaustive list so please add any resources you have found to be helpful! 

    Resources 

    The Web Accessibility Initiative – http://www.w3.org/WAI/ 
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_accessibility 
    Web AIM – http://webaim.org/ 
    Section 508 – http://www.section508.gov/


    >Web Typography

    >When you visit a website what is the most important thing?  Normally it is the content and many times, text is an important part of the content.  The typography on a site communicates the tone an impact of the content.  Web typography is the art of arrangement, style, appearance, and printing of type.  Web typography has come along way since the web’s inception when we were limited to a handful of fonts which could be used.

    Understanding the basics

    Web typography is anything but easy.  There is a lot more that goes into it other than choosing a font.  The image below, originally found here, shows various typographic definitions.

    Confusing isn’t it?  As you can imagine, it can be quite frustrating to keep up with all of that.

    And that’s not all!

    There is also, typographic scale, CSS, vertical rhythm, browser design, the list goes on and on!  Web typography is important to remember when designing a site and not every one will have a natural ability for it.  It can be easy to just focus on the content of the site and over look the text itself but you need to make sure you pay some much needed attention to the text itself.
    I would by no means consider myself to be an expert in web typography.  However, I can recognize its importance.  How a website looks on a first impression can make or break your site.  Whether you realize it or not typography can have a significant impact on the look and feel of the site.  Being that I work in web development I understand what it means for a site to “feel good” to the users but I’m not always good at making it that way and I will be the first to admit it, I many times will overlook the typography in sites I design.

    There’s always room for improvement

    There is always something you can learn when it comes to web design.  My advice is to make sure you know when to ask for help and don’t be ashamed to ask for help.  We all have our strengths and weakness and we should lean on each other and make the Internet a better place for us all.  Below I have listed some resources I have found to be useful on web typography.  Please feel free to make your own additions to my list.

    Typography for the Web
    6 Ways to Improve Your Web Typography
    The Elements of Typographical Style Applied to the Web
    50 Useful Design Tools for Beautiful Web Typography
    10 Web Typography Rules Every Designer Should Know 


    >Web Standards and Why You Should Use Them

    >Web Standards…Just what exactly does that mean?
     
    It is generally thought of as guidelines and specifications to follow when developing for the World Wide Web.  These guidelines are issued by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and will help to create websites which will be consistently available on most any browser or internet-enabled device.  Web standards help to improve the maintainability of a site and the overall development process as a whole.


    So why doesn’t everybody follow web standards?

     
    The obvious answer is that some people simply aren’t aware of web standards.  There is no qualification criterion that must be met before someone can create a web site.  Unfortunately, because of that fact, there are a lot of bad web sites created by people who just don’t know any better. 


    However, from my personal experience, I have found that some people are aware of web standards but just don’t care to take the time to learn about them and implement them.  And I’m not talking strictly about personal web sites; I’m talking about large web sites that are created to be the face of an organization.  Getting this particular group to see the importance of web standards is a tall order to fill. 


    Well if they don’t do it, why should I?

     
    Because you are better than them.  Plain and simple, a good developer will use web standards and will encourage others to do the same.  I’m not saying that a site can’t be created without web standards, but if you want a site that will be accessible, web standards have to have their place.  Even if your are 100% standards compliant there will still be some minor differences between browsers and devices but your site will be accessible in the largest number of browsers and devices possible.  Unless your goal is to annoy users and drive traffic to competitors, you want your site to work in a variety of environments and web standards will help to get you there.


    Still not convinced?

     
    Check out these resources for some compelling reasons to use web standards:
    http://www.webstandards.org/
    http://www.w3.org/standards/about.html
    http://webstandardsgroup.org/standards/