109. Rissington?

Paul Boag

On Show 109. IE8 divides the web design community, Anton Peck talks about imagery, and the Rissington Podcast crew stand in for Marcus.

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News and events | Anton Peck on imagery | Listener emails

Unfortunately Marcus is not yet back on active duty but does thank you all for your kind support. However, do not fret. You do not have to endure another show of me waffling on by myself. Stepping into Marcus’ still warm shoes are two giants in the world of web design and podcasting. From the infamous Rissington Podcast we have Jon Hicks and John Oxton.

News and events

Microsoft to automatically roll out IE7

First up I was sent an article by several listeners which seems to indicate Microsoft is intending to do an auto-update of Internet explorer on the 12th February.

When IE7 was initially released Microsoft made the decision to make the upgrade to their latest browser optional. So even though a user had requested automatic updates they would not receive IE7 unless they specifically approved it. This decision not to force users to update frustrated those in the web design community who wanted to wave goodbye to the evils of IE6.

However, it would now appear Microsoft has decided to take the plunge and will be rolling out IE7 as part of the automatic update. Not all users are signed up to receive these updates but those who are will be using IE7 from February 12th (if they are not already).

Expect to see a significant decline in IE6 users to your site very soon. Perhaps it will not be long before IE6 follows IE5.

IE8 divides the standards community

Talking of Microsoft and Internet Explorer, probably the biggest story of the week is Microsoft’s plans for IE8.

IE8 promises to be a huge step forward in standards support and has been significantly rebuilt in order to enable this. However, such dramatic changes in their rendering engine comes at a cost. They fear that by becoming more standards compliant they will break many websites which are not built with standards in mind.

The way they have dealt with this problem is to introduce a small piece of code that you drop into your pages which can be used to specify what version of IE your site is designed to work with. The browser then renders the webpage as if it was that version of the browser. So for example you could specify that a page was designed for IE7 and a person viewing the page in IE8 would see the page as if it was rendered in IE7.

If no browser is specified then it defaults to rendering the page in IE7 that way no matter what changes Microsoft make in future browsers legacy sites are still rendered correctly.

What on the face of it seems like a very sensible plan has caused uproar in the web design community. A List Apart and Eric Meyer seem to be generally supporting the principle while many others including the likes of Jeremy Keith strongly object.

One of the main sticking point seems to be that this approach breaks progressive enhancement. In other words I may choose to implement a piece of functionality on my site knowing that it wont currently work in IE7 but does work in other more compliant browsers such as Firefox. If i don’t add this special code when IE8 comes along it will look at my page see the code is absent and so render it as IE7. That means even if IE8 supports the functionality now it wont use it because it is rendering my site as IE7.

Its a complex issue with good arguments on both sides. In next week’s show Eric Meyer and myself will discuss it in more depth.

HTML 5 is coming

Still on the subject of the future of web design we now turn to HTML 5 which has just been released in draft format. Sitepoint provides a nice little summary of what is in and what’s out. There is also a summary of the differences between HTML 4 and 5 which is very useful as well.

I cannot claim to have read the entire specification yet but I have to say what I have seen contains some exciting stuff. Having HTML tags to define common areas like headers, footers and navigation offers some interesting possibilities and its good to see built in support for video and audio.

The big shame is that practical application of this is still a long way off but its nice to know that there is potential there.

Career advice for web designers

Of course all these upcoming technologies wont matter to you if my predications of a couple of weeks ago come true and we all find ourselves without a job! This week I was pleased to discover I was not the only one with a pessimistic attitude towards the coming year. Robert Scoble has posted a entry entitled “what to do if you are laid off in 2008 recession“, which I thought was a particularly cheery title.

Actually it is a really good post with some excellent advice. What I like most about it is that the advice applies as much to a student trying to break into web design for the first time as it does to a out of work professional.

In fact if you are considering a career change of any kind (or have had one forced upon you) then this is a good read.

Advice includes…

  • Spend at least 30% of your day job hunting
  • Start a blog
  • Share your knowledge with the world
  • Demonstrate your skills on youtube
  • Networking
  • Contact web start ups because they are hiring.
  • Volunteer
  • Prioritise friends and family

The list goes on and is definitely worth reading.

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Expert interview: Anton Peck on imagery

Paul: So joining me today, as I said at the start of the show, is Anton Peck. How are you Anton?

Anton Peck: I’m doing great Paul. Thank you.

Paul: It’s good to have you on the show.

Anton Peck: I know. It’s about time isn’t it? *laughs*

Paul: It seems like it’s been a while. We haven’t actually had you on BoagWorld before have we?

Anton Peck: No, no. This is the first time.

Paul: But I’ve known you from… Where did we first meet? Was it South By Southwest?

Anton Peck: Yeah. I think we had sorta done virtual communication before then through email, IM or whatever. But we actually first met at South By Southwest last time.

Paul: Cool. So Anton, tell me and the listeners a little bit about yourself. How do you describe yourself? Do you primarily describe yourself as a web designer or an illustrator?

Anton Peck: That’s a tough call. The illustration is more my fancy, my hobby. It’s where my passion lies but the design is what I’ve been doing for a long time. So it’s sort of my trade of skill.

Paul: I see. So you’re kind of torn between two worlds.

Anton Peck: A little bit.

Paul: But fortunately those two worlds do overlap quite a lot which is why we have you on the show today. We thought it would be good to get Anton in really not to just talk about illustration but to talk about imagery on the web generally as that’s kind of his thing really, amongst many others, because you have a growing reputation. You do art-casts don’t you which are like illustration tutorials? Is that a good way to describe them?

Anton Peck: Yeah, that’s probably a good way to describe them. That is the rumor that I do those isn’t it. I don’t do them as often as I should but I do manage to get them out every once in a while.

Paul: And they are excellent. I have to say, I really do enjoy watching them. So let’s talk a little about imagery on websites and the use of imagery on websites. Let’s start off with a really nebulous and broad question that I guess is pretty impossible to answer but I’m going to ask anyway, which is what makes good imagery for a website? How do you go about picking imagery for a website?

Anton Peck: Well there’s a few things and some of them might seem obvious. First of all the images should complement the content of the website so that the substance isn’t too diluted from its original intent. I know that might seem kinda out there and obvious but it’s probably disappointing and surprising that there’s a lot of website owners that would want to put an image on a website because it’s really pretty or cool.

Paul: I guess it’s important to have imagery that relates to the branding or message you are trying to communicate.

Anton Peck: Right because imagery is meant to support the content rather than take away from it. You don’t want to pull everybody’s focus right away to the images but at the same time you want to support what’s already there. The images should have some interesting quality about them which could mean how well they have been cropped or resized. They should be saved at a pretty decent quality if they are JPEG’s or GIF’s. Not over compressed as they can sometimes diminish the personality of the website. When you go to a website and you see that it’s over compressed it really doesn’t look very good.

Paul: So for a relative newbie, an amateur that’s getting into web design, there’s always this question of GIF vs. JPEG. What do you use and when?

Anton Peck: Well for photographic style images that have a lot of… I would say colours but that’s not quite accurate but more photographic style images I would use JPEG’s. Then for images like logos, things that seem very flat and have a limited palette, maybe go with the GIF’s. Although I tend to do that a little bit less now that PNG’s are finding a little bit more broad support among browsers.

Paul: So do you use PNG’s very much?

Anton Peck: Every so often. They compress nicely especially when you use the adaptive palette which is similar to a GIF format but they can actually get a little bit smaller.

Paul: Cool, yeah. That’s been my experience as well.

Anton Peck: It just gets a little tricky when you are trying to do transparency.

Paul: Yes, exactly.

Anton Peck: That’s a whole other discussion.

Paul: Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to open that can of worms today. So any other tips for selecting good imagery?

Anton Peck: Well I would say it’s got to be appropriate and tasteful of course. So that way you can minimise the risk of offending someone or losing possible business. If you might have a certain sense of humour and want to put something on your website, you might have to watch out for how that might appear to someone else.

Paul: And I guess cultural considerations come in there as well. It’s easy to forget that the worldwide web is worldwide.

Anton Peck: Definitely.

Paul: The next big issue that a lot of people face is this whole kind of stock imagery kind of question. You reach a point where your website’s becoming relatively important to your business or you’re a web designer that’s working for certain clients. At what stage do you say that actually stock imagery isn’t the way to go, perhaps I should be getting something specifically commissioned whether that be commissioned illustrations, commission photography or whatever. It’s a difficult line. What’s your opinion on stock imagery? Is it the devil’s spawn or does it have a place? What do you think?

Anton Peck: No, I think it definitely has a place. It offers a great solution for those trying to find a good quality image when they can’t afford a commissioned photograph.

Paul: So what kinds of site do you use for stock imagery?

Anton Peck: I’ve been a fan of Crestock.com lately.

Paul: Ooo! I haven’t heard of that one.

Anton Peck: Yes and actually they have this huge contest going on where you can win a Mac Pro and all kinds of equipment. It’s a Photoshop contest and I happen to be one of the few judges on that particular site.

Paul: Ahh. So what’s this website again?

Anton Peck: It’s Crestock.com.

Paul: OK. I’ll check that out. Sounds good. So does that do both illustration and photography or…

Anton Peck: Yeah. They have a wide range of different material. They have background textures and you can search for pretty much anything there. A lot of it is user supported so if you even feel that you are a good photographer you can submit your work and see if you can even sell it and make a little bit of money off of it.

Paul: Oh cool. So when selecting stock photography, what should you look for? What should you avoid? The trouble with stock photography is a lot of it can look really similar to one another. What advice would you give about selecting stock imagery?

Anton Peck: Well there’s no real secret to it. There’s not a lot of advice either other than just go through a lot of it. Don’t try to find the very first searches you come across as that would be a higher chance it would be used somewhere else. You want to get a unique image, something that’s probably not as commonly found. It’s always a little disconcerting when you come across a new image that you see on 13 different sites like, “Oh that’s the same image used there”.

Paul: Yeah. It becomes obvious that it’s stock imagery.

Anton Peck: Right. So you want to find that unique image.

Paul: Yeah, couldn’t agree more.

Anton Peck: And the only way to find the perfect, unique image is to just go through a lot of it.

Paul: Yes! Which does take time doesn’t it.

Anton Peck: Certainly.

Paul: When it comes to commissioning stuff is there any particular advice you would give there in regards to briefing the photographer or the illustrator? I mean when somebody commissions you to do a piece of work, what kind of information are you after from them?

Anton Peck: Since they would commission me as an illustrator rather than an actual photographer, I’d mainly look at what they are trying to achieve for their website and how they expect it to support what they’ve done. One of the things that I was gong to talk about for commission photography, even though I’m not one, was the benefits for the websites because you can have a one of a kind image that fits exactly what is needed for the page. A photographer can come out to the business and take photos of the staff and location which is obviously something you can’t do with stock photos.

Paul: Yeah, which obviously makes a huge difference. I think often at times people actually want to see that kind of stuff because on the web you’ve got no way of judging what the company behind the website is really like. So to be able to see real imagery of real people and real locations does add some credibility and trustworthiness to a company. It’s not just somebody working out their back bedroom or whatever.

Anton Peck: Exactly what I was thinking, yes.

Paul: OK so you have a budget. How much difference does it make actually commissioning imagery rather than getting stock imagery. Is there really a difference? Is it really worth going out and getting stuff specifically commissioned?

Anton Peck: I would say if you are looking to get high exposure and if you were a big enough business I would definitely say do it.

Paul: So why is that? What difference does it make?

Anton Peck: Well that’s exactly what I mentioned earlier. It’s the one image that you are going to own or the website is going to own and it’s not going to be found anywhere else. Completely unique.

Paul: You do feel that when you go through these thousands and thousands of stock images that “Well, it’s pretty much unique. Who else is going to use it?” but it’s amazing how often images turn up. I’ve got a little program that changes my desktop image on a regular basis and I’ve had this really nice one that I loved and kept for a while which was a cityscape of London that had been made all futuristic and I thought “Wow! What a great image”. And then I’m going on the tube and there’s the same image plastered across the wall. It’s amazing how often they do turn up again.

Anton Peck: Yeah it’s takes away a little bit doesn’t it?

Paul: Yeah definitely. Definitely. You’re an illustrator, let’s get onto the role of illustration. What advances or disadvantages do you think that illustration has over photography. When should you be using photography, when should you be using illustration?

Anton Peck: Illustration’s gonna provide a whole different type of personality to a website that you can never find in a photo. You can create situations, objects, environments that would either be too expensive to reproduce or they just don’t exist in the real world. Things that you just can’t do with a photograph. Again, that’s going to have to be through the interview of the illustrator trying to describe whether the job is appropriate or not. Actually that would be up to the art director trying to commission to decide whether they need an illustrator or a photographer. But custom website illustrations are so unique right now. When you do have a custom illustration it stands out a great deal more than a photograph. I think one of the greatest examples that stands out on the top of my mind would be Andy Clark’s website with Kevin Cornell’s image that he did of that scooterboy, the guy on the scooter.

Paul: Yeah, it looks superb. That’s stuffandnonense.com, if I remember.

Anton Peck: .co.uk

Paul: Oh .co.uk. Well check that out.

Anton Peck: Just try to imagine if Andy would have reproduced that with a photograph. It wouldn’t have the same personality I don’t think. He wouldn’t have been able to pull it off.

Paul: So do you think that photography has less personality generally or is it just the stock photography that has less personality?

Anton Peck: I wouldn’t call it a more or less personality thing as much it would be a different type of personality. It depends on what you’ve going for.

Paul: Do you think there’s some situations where illustration just isn’t appropriate because it would create the wrong kind of personality or is illustration flexible enough to be able to work in most situations?

Anton Peck: No I think illustration is not appropriate for everything. I think there’s probably a time and a place where an illustration is not going to do the job of a photograph. The photograph tends to look a little bit more… I was going to say professional but I don’t think that’s the word for it. There’s a sort of business approach… I don’t know. Illustration is very personal. It’s one of a kind. It seems that if you have a corporation maybe an illustration isn’t going to work unless it’s a certain kind of illustration.

Paul: Yeah I kind of know what you mean. There’s something… A photograph has a kind of… trustworthiness isn’t the right word but a realism to it perhaps that lends itself to certain circumstances.

Anton Peck: Definitely. It’s really hard to distinguish between the two. It would really boil down to the specific case that it was going to be used.

Paul: Tell us a little bit about some of the different types of illustration and why you would pick when. Obviously every kind of illustrator has very different styles but are they any kinds of broad categories you would recommend in certain circumstances?

Anton Peck: Well, let me think off the top of my head. It seems like you have a real nice vector, flowery styles with flat colours like Veerle. Her work is fabulous and it’s all Illustrator. Her style is just so unique. Then I think of Kevin Cornell. His style is so organic and painted. Then there’s styles like my own. I tend to learn for more photorealism in some cases. My own personal gallery doesn’t lean that way too much. There’s a few different styles out there and it’s hard to say when it’s going to be used properly.

Paul: Do you think that some styles date more quickly than others? You talked about that flowery style where you see a lot of art deco type shapes being used on the web at the moment. Do you think that illustration goes through more fashion trends than photograph does?

Anton Peck: I would venture to say yes and in a way. However like all fashion trends, it always comes back. Right now the big popular thing is artwork that looks like it’s straight from the 70’s. The muted brown colours and the nice organic curves, swirls and circles, things like that. Those are going over quite well I think.

Paul: It’s interesting isn’t it. I think there some sites that need to be fashion conscious and on the cutting edge of what’s going on and there are others that need to be generic and long lasting. It very depends on what kind of industry you are in as whether you should follow these trends or not I guess.

Anton Peck: Right. Or then if it seems to expire then you can just change it out and get a new one.

Paul: The glory of CSS, the separation of content from design.

Anton Peck: Absolutely.

Paul: OK Anton. Thank you very much for coming on the show. It’s really interesting that we haven’t tackled the discussion of imagery before.

Anton Peck: I did have one real quick public service announce if you’ll let me have another minute.

Paul: Yeah, go for it.

Anton Peck: For your listeners I’m wanted to just bring up that they shouldn’t take images, and I know it’s kind of obvious, take images from fountain sites or Flickr or Google Image search. That’s just bad practice and they are normally just going to get found out and it’s not a very nice thing to do. If they find images on sites that they like, they can contact the owner to obtain permission.

Paul: And it’s surprising. Often the owners are very happy and flexible to accommodate that. If you take the time to contact them they are often very flattered that you asked. Good piece of advice. OK thank you very much Anton and we’ll get you back on the show again in the future. Good to talk to you.

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Listeners email:

Textmate reviewed

Teifion shares his thoughts on Textmate for the mac, an incredibly powerful text editor with a sophisticated plug-in architecture.

I have to confess that I have only opened Textmate once and found myself unsure where to begin. I do know however that Teifion and many other web developers rate it extremely highly and use it as their primary development tool. In the show I pick Mr Hicks and Oxton’s collective brains about its benefits and whether I should make the effort to learn it properly.

Javascript or JQuery

The second listener contribution comes from Will who writes…

I was listening to your last one and you said it would be important to learn javascript for 2008. I know bits of javascript but don’t particularly like it and don’t know ajax yet, however, I have been playing with jQuery and find it much simpler. Do you think it’s a good alternative to learning all of javascript and have you used it at all?

Personally I think it is important to learn a language from scratch and that relying too heavily on libraries can cause problems in the long run. Although there is nothing wrong with you learning jQuery I would suggest it should be an addition to learning Javascript rather than a replacement.

If you want to know if Mr Oxton and Hicks disagree with me you will have to listen to the show :)

To leave an audio comment for the show skype “boagworldshow” or call +44 20 8133 5122.