127. Context

Paul Boag

In this week’s show we discuss taking context into consideration when designing websites and we answer your questions about video for an elderly audience and the most influential books in the industry. 

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News and events

Working from home

The first post this week appears on A List Apart and applies to a growing number of people in the web design business. That is because it is tackling the subject of home working.

According to the home business report (PDF) published in October 2007, home based business account for 28% of all employment and have a combined UK turnover in excess of £364 billion.

No doubt that percentage is even higher among web designers. Therefore it comes as no surprise that this subject is being increasingly written about in web design circles.

This particular post is written from the perspective of a home working mother. However, her advice applies to anybody consider working from home. This advice includes:

  • How to draw the line between work and home
  • How to isolate yourself from the rest of the family while working
  • How to explain to your client the screaming child in the background of a conference call
  • How to win clients that are understanding of your situation

If you are already a home worker, I am not sure this article tells you anything you wont have already learnt the hard way. However, if you are considering making the switch for whatever reason this is definitely a worthwhile read.

British Standard for accessibility

Some time ago the British Standards Institute and the Disability Right Commission teamed up to release the first formal guide for business on website accessibility entitled PAS 78.

PAS 78 was intended to be a web accessibility guide, aimed at website owners rather than web designers . Personally I found the result somewhat disappointing. Although the advice was solid the language was hard going and it referred too often to the WAI guidelines. Although these guidelines are superb they are too technical for most website owners.

However, despite my personal opinion the document has proved very popular and is now being converted into a full British Standard. A British Standard is a common standard used across a variety of products produced in the UK. Although anybody can claim to meet these standards without external review, it is possible to be officially certified. Once certified you can display a BSI Kite Mark. This is a symbol of quality universally recognised in the UK.

Personally, I think this is a much better route for web accessibility to take. The alternative is legislation and that carries with it numerous problems. The team working on the standard is excellent and I look forward to seeing the result.

Growing your business through twitter

The next post solves an embarrassing problem I have. When sitting in the pubs with my mates, they occasionally catch me twittering. It is particularly embarrassing because I cannot really explain why I do it. Fortunately now I can thanks to a post from Tiffini Jones at Blue Flavor.

Actually the truth be told, Tiffini’s post refers heavily to another by Elliot J Stocks a few months earlier. He suggests that twitter is:

  • An ice-breaker
  • A purveyor of "ambient intimacy"
  • A broadcasting / marketing tool
  • A fount of knowledge
  • A social network

Both posts communicate well the power of social networks if used wisely. This has certainly been my experienced and without tools like Twitter this site and podcast would have been nowhere near as successful.

I know a lot of people look down their nose at twitter. They claim it is a time waster, unprofessional and dull. However, I think they are missing the potential. I believe that networking tools like Twitter will in time diminish the role of search engines. Increasingly people will turn to online contacts for recommendations about products, services and information, rather than relying on the algorithms of Google.

Smart CSS aint always sexy

My final article today, demonstrates a sea change in the web standards community. It is a controversial article on the Digital Web Magazine entitled Smart CSS aint always sexy CSS.

The article challenges some of the basic arguments of standards zealots. For example is it so bad to name a class ‘red’? Do we need to pursue semantics at all cost, even when it compromises performance or maintainability?

This seems to be representative of a growing group of designers calling for a more pragmatic approach to web standards. Increasingly I am seeing little examples of rebellion against the more extreme supporters of standards. Whether it is the posts of Jeff Croft or the twitterings of Andy Clarke, it would appear there is the beginning of a more grown up approach.

Does this mean we can throw away good practice? Not at all. It simply means we are mature enough in our knowledge to bend the rule sometimes. Before you can paint like Jackson Pollock, you first need to know how to paint traditionally.

The morale of the story is that if you are new to standards then you should stick to the rules. However, if you are more experienced, there is nothing wrong with making compromises from time to time.

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Feature: Content is dead, long live context

No, content is not dead. Yes content is important, but there can only be one king and I am beginning to wonder if it is context in this weeks feature.

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Listeners feedback:

Video and an elderly audience

Steven writes: I am currently working on a website that is going to be targeted toward an older demographic. There seems to be a large disagreement on whether video should be included on the site. The site is quite in depth and video explanation could be crucial. The main argument seems to be that people might not have the flash player and in turn not be able to view the video. On the other hand the Adobe site says that market penetration on flash player is over 99%!? Is flash video a usability issue?

One of the largest clients Headscape works with is trying to reach an elderly audience and so I have put some thought into this issue already. Unfortunately as with all of life, it is not a straight yes or no answer.

I see no reason why you cannot use video on your site. Although I do not believe Adobe when they claim flash has 99% penetration, I do believe the vast majority of your audience will have it installed. In my experience those who do not have flash are those behind a corporate firewall.

Although you can expect the vast majority to have flash I don’t believe you can design solely for it. The elderly develop visual, physical and cognitive c
onditions that can make it hard to interact with flash in some circumstances. Although a well designed application can minimise these problems, it will still affect a significant number of users.

I am afraid that although you can use flash, you will have to also provide an alternative. This could either be in the form of a transcript or captions (depending on the nature of the video), but additional work is required.

Most influential books

Teifion asks: What are the two most influential books you have read. Not just for web design but work and life in general.

I think this is possibly the hardest question I have ever had to answer. Choosing just two books has been horribly difficult. In an attempt to cheat slightly I have changed the rules to reflect BBC Radio 4s Desert Island Discs. This means I get the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare for free! My choices are therefore…

  • Getting things done by David Allen – I know I have spoken endlessly about this book before but that is because it has had such a profound impact on me. It is an easy book to dismiss with statements like "I don’t need to read it because I am already organised" or "it just tells you to write lists". In fact it is about a lot more than that. Getting things done has made me radically rethink my life and what I spend my time doing. It has made me question my priorities and change what I spend my life doing. Yes, I do write a lot of lists now and yes I am more organised but that is not what I got from this book. It taught me to take control of my life and decide what I want to achieve.
  • Designing with Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman – I bought this book entirely by accident and yet it set my entire career in a new direction. Before reading this book I was feeling uninspired and stagnant in my career. I was bored with web design and felt that I had gone as far as I could. Reading this completely re-inspired me and introduced me to the web standards community. Without this book I doubt I would still be doing web design and certainly wouldn’t be doing this podcast or speaking around the world. Thanks Jeffrey!