151. Budget

On this week’s show: Paul shares 5 tips for when your website budget gets slashed. We have a review of Dropbox and discuss ways to improve the typography on your site.

Download this show.

Launch our podcast player

Housekeeping

Two pieces of housekeeping this week. 

WCAG2 Video

A couple of weeks ago I did an internal presentation to the guys at Headscape about WCAG2. The idea was to bring them up to speed on the new accessibility guidelines and also to put accessibility back at the centre of our processes.

At the last minute I made the decision to record the session and put the video online. Although the audio is awful (hence not using it in the show) it maybe useful if you have not read up on WCAG2 yet. There is also a transcript if the audio becomes too much.

You can watch my Introduction to WCAG2 here.

Win a copy of ‘A Practical Guide to Designing for the Web’

Mark Boulton has just released a book that covers the underlying principles of all good design. Whether it be online or in print, good design is governed by certain best practices. This book introduces the reader to these principles, including subjects such as…

  • How to start the design process
  • Research and ideas
  • An introduction to typography
  • The basics of colour theory
  • The rules of good layout

The book is unsurprisingly beautifully designed. However it is also well written and engaging. I can highly recommend it.

You could go and purchase a copy right now for only £12 (and I would encourage you to do so). Alternatively you could win one of three free copies by entering our twitter competition.

For your chance to win a copy of this inspiring book, twitter your top design tip using the hash tag #designTip. For example your tip might be…

#designTip – If you wish to draw attention to a design element surround it with whitespace.

The closing date for this competition is Friday 27th February, so get your tips in before then.

The winners will be chosen by Mark and we will direct message them shortly after the 27th. To ensure we can do so please subscribe to the Boagworld Twitter feed.

The winners will also be announced over twitter and on the boagworld podcast.

See the excellent tips that have already been submitted here

News and events

IE8 Cometh!

The big news this week is that IE8 has taken one step closer to being officially released by announcing their first release candidate.

Screenshot of the IE8 Readiness toolkit

According to the IE blog:

The IE8 product is effectively complete and done. Our next step, after listening to feedback from the final testing feedback from the community, is releasing the final product.

Although they do not provide a release date it is fair to say that it will not be long now.

Whenever I talk about IE8 people immediately ask if they can stop supporting IE6. My recent article on graded browser support should make my opinion on that clear.

However, the more important question is are you ready for IE8? Do you know what CSS properties it supports and have you tested your websites in it?

Microsoft provide a handy table of CSS selectors and properties that IE8 and indeed all other versions of IE support.

Once you have looked at that check out the IE8 readiness guide for developers. This has loads of information about IE8 support for CSS, Javascript and various proprietary features.

It also has a small piece of code you can fall back on if you are experiencing serious rendering issues on existing websites. By inserting this code into the head of your HTML document it forces IE8 to render in the same way as IE7. I am sure this will be a useful stop gap measure for website owners unwilling to pay for updates to their sites.

15 Tips for Freelancers Starting Their Own Business

Next up some great advice for web design freelancers. Think Vitamin have published a post entitled ‘15 Tips for Freelancers Starting Their Own Business‘.

In actual fact the advice applies to all freelancers, not just those starting out.

It is a fairly arbitrary list, but it has some good stuff in there. Just a few of what has been included are…

  • Move Out of Your Back Bedroom
  • Don’t be Afraid to Pass
  • Work on your Sales Technique
  • Learn About Personality Types
  • Maintain a Verbal/Email Relationship

If you are a freelancer looking for advice I can also highly recommend FreelanceSwitch.com, which is an entire site dedicated entirely to helping freelancers. Check it out.

Facts and Figures

This last week seems to have been a week of facts and figures.

The first figure that caught my eye was that Adobe AIR has been installed 100 million times. That is an impressive figure, even if it is being overstated as some believe.

BBC iPlayer

Moving web applications to the desktop is an area I find particularly exciting. I am not sure it is always necessary. However, platforms like AIR make it scaringly easy, as we discovered when we did a proof of concept recently at Headscape.

The same announcement from Adobe also stated that Flash 10 has a 55% market penetration on Internet connected computers and they expect that number to rise to 80% by Q2 2009. This is an improvement on the adoption speeds of previous versions.

Other facts and figures to appear this week came from the "state of the web" survey carried out by Web Directions South. This is a survey of professional web designers and developers. Some interesting figures pulled out of the survey by Roger Johansson included:

  • The number of Mac and Windows users are almost equal – both are used by 46.8 % of respondents
  • As many as 4.7 % use some version of Internet Explorer as their primary browser
  • Only 29.5 % test their sites in IE 8
  • Many more use XHTML than HTML
  • Over 10 % still use tables for layout
  • Almost 70 % still use presentational markup
  • Only 69 % create print stylesheets

Not sure these figures are particularly useful, but interesting none the less :)

Sprite Optimization

Finally today, I
would like to draw your attention to an interesting post by Dave Shea on ‘Sprite Optimisation‘.

Let me briefly explain what CSS sprites are in case you are not aware. Let’s say you have a button with three states – unvisited, visited and hover. Instead of having one image for each state of button you can use a single image containing all three states. You then use CSS to position the image in such a way that it only shows the current state.

In fact Dave Shea wrote an excellent article on ‘CSS sprites‘ back in 2004.

Dave’s new post demonstrates that this technique is now being taken to the extreme with sites like Amazon, Google and Apple cramming large numbers of sprites into a single image.

Amazon's use of Sprites

Whether this is entirely necessary for the types of sites most of us are involved in is debatable. The technique also has some drawbacks on devices such as the iPhone, where performance can be effected.

That said, it is a way of substantially reducing the number of calls to the server so causing pages to load faster.

If you are suffering from performance problems or have a project that requires lightning download then check out Dave’s post and also a CSS sprite implementation guide he refers to.

Back to top

Feature: 5 options when website budgets get slashed

Your site is in desperate need of a redesign, content is out of date and the technology is archaic. Unfortunately times are tight and your budget has been cut. What do you do? Read More

Back to top

Listeners feedback:

I am very conscious that I have not been encouraging listener contributions and that is slack of me. This is a part of the show I really want to grow. As I have said before, Boagworld is about the community, not just my personal opinion.

With that in mind you can contribute in three ways…

  • Email – I cannot always respond personally but I read everyone.
  • Phone – You can either Skype ‘boagworldshow’ or call 020 8133 5122 and leave a message.
  • Forum – I often take questions from the forum, so make sure you join that too and get involved.

Talking of the forum, both of this week’s listener contributions come from there.

Listener Review of DropBox

From time to time we do listener reviews on the show and there is a section of the forum dedicated to reviews.

This week I have selected a review from the forum by Dave Redfern. He reviews DropBox, which although not strictly a web design tool will be useful to all.

Dropbox homepage

Dave writes:

I came across dropbox last month thanks to the good people over at the mac roundtable podcast. Because i work on several computers from windows and mac machines in the same house, windows machines at work and at uni i am paranoid about making sure my files follow me around.

The basic concept of getdropbox.com is you install the software on each computer you have, then any files you wish to keep synced between them all you drop in this folder. If it is a public machine you can still access your files from their website although it is a little more clunky. You don’t need to set it to upload changes at a certain time or activate it, the software will automatically sync the folders whenever anything is changed.

A nice feature is within the dropbox folder there is a public folder and anything put in here can be accessed by anyone via a website link. the get the link all you need to do is right click on the file and select ‘copy link address’ and then paste it where ever you need. it is great for sending things to friends or showing clients screenshots of mock ups.

Preferences are very limited to limiting the bandwidth used at anyone time and changing the foler (although when i tried this feature i kept crashing my finder!) but simple is good sometimes.

It is free to sign up and you get 2gb of webspace free. you can upgrade to 50gb for $10/month or $100 for the year which seems reasonable.

the software is available for mac, windows and linux so perfect for anyone.

I will give it 3.5/5 at the moment. there is still some work to do on the software but a great start and very promising.

Personally I think 3.5/5 is a bit harsh but I know what he means. I love dropbox and have just paid for the 50gb account, but the web interface could do with some improvement. Also a native iPhone application would be nice.

That said we use it loads at Headscape to share files privately. It is perfect for that and online backup (including versioning) and I would highly recommend it to everyone.

Font Embedding on the Web

There is an interesting thread on the forum about font embedding that I also wanted to mention. Started by Dven he writes:

It’s a pretty popular subject but wanted to raise this to hear what your thoughts are on it all.

Basically a designer in our office found this link: http://www.fontburner.com. Thought that it be a good idea to maybe use in the near future. Now personally, I’m against embedding non-standard web fonts in this way.

The designer’s reaction. "its pretty much the way the design on web is going – limitations in type have always been a problem – not anymore. Its not the best solution, but pretty soon there will be a better one."

Be good to hear your thoughts?

After checking out Font Burner I discovered that it was a quick and easy way of adding sIFR to your site. We have talked about sIFR before on the show. It is a technique that uses flash to replace HTML text with your desired font.

FontBurner homepage

I was pretty impressed by FontBurner but as Laura said…

It’s not the most semantic way to embed different fonts, as it requires <div class="font-name">text</div> if you want to change anything but <h1>.

Later in the thread Dvan went on to say…

These types of solutions are always prone to not working somewhere along the line. Guess I am kind of a very semantic guy and prefer to do things the ‘standard’ way.

Personally I do not feel that strongly. I think techniques like these are sometimes necessary to overcome browser limitations. That said, I do share his concern about these things not always being very reliable.

I actually rarely use sIFR. My preference is to make better use of font-stacks. These can be very powerful if used well. It is basically another variation on progressive enhancement. If the user has the nice font they get it, but if they don’t they get a substitute.

The reason most designers resort to sIFR is because the client insists on a
particular font. I would prefer to educate the client than resort to sIFR. By educating them over this issue you are laying the ground work for conversations about graded browser support and various other progressive enhancement issues.

On the subject of web typography, let me leaving you with a smashing magazine post that has come out this week – 50 Useful Design Tools for Beautiful Web Typography.

Back to top

  • http://pistachiomonkey.com Nick Morss

    Is it not the desktop version of the iPlayer which uses AIR (and not the web based) as per your picture?
    In regards to the Sprite mash, when i worked on an Xbox site many years ago this was the technique they used. IT not only reduces the number of http requests but can also make updating some aspects of the styling (images components) really easy!
    and finally, if its snowing so much in the UK, how come your site lost its Christmas snow, surely its the perfect week to reactivate it…
    Cheers,
    Nick

  • Tony Mosley

    CSS Sprites are good in the sense that in all browsers that have a basic suppport of css2 standards they eliminate any lag from the page calling the mouseover stat. producing a slicker navigation experience free from erratic loading images.
    that said it’s a bit more fiddly… as you have to be spot on with the line height and padding stuff for tight navs. but on the up side you only have to track one image upload.

Headscape

Boagworld