About this site's lack of design: Yes, it's supposed to look this way — I'm helping create a new sandbox theme for WordPress (see it on GitHub).

Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Suffering from chronic idiocy since 1977

Archive for December, 2003

Design and Usability: Part 1

Wednesday, December 24th, 2003

Not surprisingly, as a designer I value aesthetics highly. However at a certain
point aesthetics clash with functionality – or more specifically usability.
Sometimes I wish I were a painter. No constraints, no font size issues, no low
contrast color combination problems, no accessibility or usability concerns
and no angry users to face. You either like my work or not, no strings attached.
But I’m not a painter, I design websites.

The difference between a painting and a website will be obvious to most. A
painting does not require interaction, at least not on a functional level. I
can not use a painting. I can nevertheless enjoy or dislike
a painting (the same analogy is to some extend applicable
to motion pictures
). A website, on the contrary, has a function that carries
beyond its visual attractiveness. Websites generally require (functional) interaction
of some form. The most feared and tenacious embodiment of interaction being
the homo interneticus.

You know what? Humans are nasty mammals. Humans developed to perfection their
aptitude to bitch, whine, moan, complain, nitpick, nag, criticize, grumble,
protest and disapprove. Ironically though, without users (thus interaction) my job
is rather useless. Designing websites is (unfortunately?) not exclusively about
visually pleasing users, it is also about limiting interference to effectively
deliver content and enable efficient interaction. The latter is of course a
simplified statement; the process is more complex and constituted of more factors
and elements.

In “Design and Usability: Part 2” I will dig a
little deeper and try to discern some of the factors and elements related to
usability and functionality. Last but not least, providentially, humans can
also adore, cherish, care, appreciate, value, understand, realize and love.
It is with these thoughts that I leave you and wish you a Merry Christmas and
a Happy New Year. See you in 2004!

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The Art of Navigation

Thursday, December 18th, 2003

When building a website there’s an inevitable moment when it is required you think hard about navigational elements. I’m not talking about information architecture here. Information architecture usually helps answering the question: “How will this function?” (among others). Nope. I’m trying to answer the question “How will this look?” – purely from a graphic design perspective.

The above mentioned stage of the design process is one that I spend a considerable amount of time on and particularly enjoy within any project. In this post I want to share my latest experiment on navigation design.

CSS based navigation!In my quest for elegant, clever and nice navigation design I decided to let go of certain requirements. In this case I decided to ignore a few usability (and accessibility) best practices (note: this should of course be avoided in real life implementation).

However, I’ve set myself a few constraints which make perfect sense, even in an experiment. This design should of course be constructed using the sounder XHTML and CSS combination, as opposed to tables. Furthermore, once CSS is disabled, a nice unordered list should remain. Other than that the sky is the limit.

The main purpose of this design experiment is to see how far we can push CSS. Is it possible to create the most complex navigation (in terms of graphic design) and have it marked-up as an unordered list? The answer of course is “Yes!”. And there are a few designers who elegantly proved this point in the past.

As said and proved by many before – CSS can handle your wildest dreams. Unfortunately we are currently only limited by the pace of web standards implementation in modern browsers (specifically one browser, no names of course). This small experiment should work in most modern browsers, but your mileage may vary. Comments are more than welcome, but keep in mind that this is only a trial in design, not in practical implementation as such.

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And Now…This

Thursday, December 18th, 2003

It’s interesting to note that, though an individual might spend 18 hours a day tied to a computer screen, they can neglect to spend a few minutes writing something intelligent (or not) to post to their public, somewhat oft-viewed weblog. As I finally read all the emails I’ve been getting from loyal readers asking if I’m alive (or in a coma, or other variations on that theme), I come to realize the importance of spending the time to write something on a regular basis, so my readers do not lose interest and never come back.

The truth is, I have been working 18 hour days (weekends too) for more than a month now (so has Alex), and while there is a lot of exciting news on the horizon, and potential work in the near future, my schedule of late has been exhausting to say the least; frustrating at times, often exhilarating, and always interesting (for better or worse).

I’ve been hinting over the last few months at a new direction in the works for Webgraph, and there’s been less time to work on our new company than we had hoped (yes, that’s correct: we will soon be co-launching a new company, a new brand, with new people), but I can at least make a partial announcement: Webgraph is joining forces (we’ve already co-produced a number of projects) with Didier Hilhorst (aka Nundroo), a fantastic designer and xHTML/CSS guru from the Netherlands. If you are a fan of the CSS Zen Garden, you have seen his brilliant contribution Release One, the most-copied design to date of all the submissions to the Garden.

Nundroo and Webgraph are forming a new, international agency, and we are building a network of freelancers and other small firms to expand our team on a project-by-project basis. This will allow us to work with other top-notch individuals, such as Dan Benjamin (and his dynamite team at AutomaticLabs), Dave Shea, and others yet to be approached, on what will hopefully be larger, more involved projects, so we can continue to expand our global reach (sorry, I couldn’t help myself — the idea of world domination is too good to pass up ;-)

Our focus will not be on web/interactive design alone: branding, print (and perhaps other mediums), usability, UI consulting, user testing — it’s a list that is yet to be set in stone, but it will surely encompass more areas than we have thus far.

A few projects are currently in-progress, with the fruits of our labor ripening around mid-January (and over the next few months). Other prospects are always being discussed, and we’re also looking forward to working as design partners with technology firms, and technology partners with design firms (so if you’re in need of an expanded team, drop us a line).

On the SuperfluousBanter front, that redesign I mentioned a few months ago is slowly working its way up the to-do list, and will hopefully be unveiled sometime in January. The Photoshop work is finished, so it’s just a matter of completing the conversion to a working layout, and then adding the MovableType hooks.

Also on the to-do list are a few articles, the most-requested of which will focus on how to produce a web site from start to finish on an insanely short schedule and small budget. I would have written about the pros and cons of fixed-width layouts (version 1.0 of this site used a fluid layout, while the current version 2.0 has always been fixed), but some more important folks recently beat me to the punch. There are a few others, which will be written as time permits (not the most confidence-inspiring phrase based on my recent track record).

And finally, just to change the pace a bit (which has, admittedly, been slower-than-a-snail’s of late), Didier will be posting to SB now and then, adding a different point of view, and hopefully a more regular posting schedule on average. His first post is in the works, and should make its debut here soon.

Thanks for checking in, and staying faithful — time for a New Year’s resolution regarding blog posting…

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