181. Interview or death

Paul Boag

On this week’s show: how to avoid design by committee, why you shouldn’t bother submitting to Digg and how to specialise in being a generalist.

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Housekeeping: .net awards

Boagworld has once again been nominated for the ‘Best Podcast of the Year’ in the .net Awards. In case you did not know the .net Awards celebrate the best in web design and development, and are brought to you by the world’s best-selling magazine for web builders – .net.

The winner of the .net awards is chosen by a panel of judges and a public vote. I would therefore very much appreciate it if you would take the time for vote for our podcast.

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The 7 deadly sins of blogging

I few weeks back I wrote a post entitled “10 Harsh Truths About Corporate Blogging“. The idea was to highlight bad practice in the way many organisations approach blogging. This week sees the release of a similar article entitled “The 7 Deadly Sins of Blogging“. Interestingly even though both articles tackle very similar subjects in a similar way, both of posts raise very different issues.

According to the article on Copy Blogger the 7 deadly sins of blogging are:

  • Selfishness – Focusing on what you want from your readers rather than what you can give them.
  • Sloth – Not being willing to put in the work that is required to run a successful blog.
  • Impatience – Expecting to see instant returns on the time invested in blogging.
  • Lameness – Producing poor quality uninteresting content.
  • Identicality – Copying the blogging styles of others rather than finding your own voice.
  • Irrelevance – Writing about something nobody is interested in.
  • Boorishness – Being that guy who just won’t shut up about his pet subject.
Its a good list and one that really makes you think about the way you approach blogging. However, ultimately I think it all comes down to the authors first point, selfishness. As she puts it – if you want to run a successful blog you need to:
Give. And then tomorrow, you give some more. And the next day, you give more.

UX Design – Myths and consistency

There are two user experience posts that I particularly want to mention this week.

The first deals with the lack of consistency users experience online. The post asks “Should There Be a United Set of Styles For Web Interfaces?” The author argues that operating systems encourage a degree of consistency by providing standard interface elements that can be easily utilised by third party developers. Generally speaking most mac apps use the OS interface elements and the same is true for windows.

The author goes on to propose that CSS 3 provides an opportunity to standardise the rendering of form elements across browsers so that whether you are viewing that element in Firefox or Safari it will look the same.

Although I like the concept it falls down on a number of levels…

  • CSS3 is not supported by IE6 at all.
  • Even in other browsers CSS3 support varies, meaning that the elements wouldn’t be consistent anyway.
  • In my mind using different browsers is like using different operating systems. You tend to only use one at a time and so consistency is not a high priority.
That said consistency is important. However, I think getting consistency across a single site is a more pressing aim, and one that many website fail miserably at.
The second post on user experience is far more practical and frankly useful. Entitled “Top 10 UX Myths” it blasts apart many of the common misconceptions about UX design. My personal favourites are:
  • People don’t change – Just because users didn’t scroll in 1994 doesn’t mean they don’t now!
  • Design to avoid clicks – Sometimes it is better to ask a user to click more than overwhelm them with too many options.
  • People know what they like – You cannot blindly give people what they ask for. Often there is a difference between what they think they want and what they actually like.

If you are a website owner I highly recommend you read this. If you are a UX designer than check it out. It will make you smile!

Typography – Stats, facts and sizing

There continues to be a lot of buzz around web typography this week with 3 posts/sites I would like to quickly mention.

Typographic Design Patterns and Best Practices

This is a Smashing Magazine post that researches 13 web typography questions. It addresses issues such as most frequently used fonts, the average size of body copy and how often links are underlined.

Although it is always interesting to see what others are doing, it is important to remember that just because a lot of people are doing something that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good idea.

CSS Font-Sizing: a Definitive Guide

This Sitepoint post tries to bring clarity to the confusing world of CSS font sizing. As anybody who has worked with CSS knows, setting font sizes is not as straightforward as it should be. This post lays out the various options and then recommends an approach.

Obviously there are no absolute answer when it comes to this subject. However, this post does recommend some good practice and helps you understand the problems surrounding font sizing.


This newly launched site  is essentially Wikipedia for type. This shared encyclopedia for type attempts to classify, categorise and connect fonts.

The site has a powerful search facility that allows you to search for fonts by foundry, typeface, designer and more. It also helps you better understand typography and has growing little community where you can discuss type (among other things).

If you are a typography geek, this is definitely worth checking out.

Volume does not equal success

Are you desperate to get on the homepage of Digg? Do you crave to be number one on Google? Do you monitor your visitor stats and page views continuously? If so, then I recommend you read Gerry McGovern’s latest post “Volume is the wrong way to measure web success .”

Gerry says you are looking in the wrong place if you want to measure the success of your website. He argues that it is not the number of visitors that matter, but whether you are providing users with what they need. In fact he even argues that an obsession with volume can be damaging to a site:

Measuring success based on volume encourages bad practice. The search engine optimization industry is often a prime culprit of such bad practice. A search expert I met once refused to remove out of date and clearly wrong and misleading pages from the site he was involved with because it would reduce search traffic volume.

For too long we have belonged to the Cult of Volume when it comes to measuring whether a website is successful or not. For an increasing number of websites, high volume traffic reflects the website’s failure to help customers quickly complete the tasks they came to complete.

Perhaps it is time to stop looking at volume as a measure of success and look instead to the completion of calls to action. Did users complete your contact form, signup for your newsletter or buy your product. In other words, did your website meet your business objectives and the needs of your users?

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Feature: Hold stakeholder interviews now or pay later

Committees are the kiss of death to any web project. Give the kiss of life to your dying project with some one-to-one interviews.

Read ‘Hold stakeholder interviews now or pay later’

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Listeners feedback:

Specialise in being a generalist

Colin writes: I’m a former web design company owner – I worked initially as a freelancer, the business grew quite quickly, I took on staff, and then gave it all up. The reason was because I couldn’t decide what role to focus on and ended up doing the vast majority of the work.

Web design and development seems to be a seemingly endless list of skills – but how do you decide which direction to go down, and how do you stay up on technology?

What if like me, i’m a jack of all trades, but master of none? What can I do to help me decide where to focus my efforts?

There is certainly a big push towards specialising. This is especially true if you are a freelancer looking to stand out from the crowd. However, I do not agree it is always true. It certainly hasn’t been for me.

I was once in a very similar position to Colin. When we started Headscape I was responsible for all the design and development we did. We began to grow by simply taking on more generalists like myself. However, the point came when we started to employ specialists. As the roles started to fragment I felt the need to make a decision. Just like Colin I asked what role I should adopt.

In the end I made the decision to specialise in being a generalist. With so many of the top level designers and developers specialising I saw an opportunity to maintain a broad overview. We had specialists within the company and so there was little need for me to personally specialise. By remaining a generalist I had the opportunity to improve internal communication, identify new areas worth exploring and have enough knowledge to speak intelligently to our clients on most issues.

My level of knowledge in any particular area varies depending on my personal interest. For example, I know only a little about flash development or server side coding. However, I know enough to get by and identify any potential problems.

I understand the need to specialise if you are a freelancer. However, if you are running a small agency who are employed to provide the complete solution to clients, then I think there is a need for you to be a generalist.

Sites like Digg are not worth your time

Mike asks: Should blogmasters submit their posts to digg and stumbleupon, or should we let our users submit them for us?

I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this question. However, personally I leave it to users to submit for me. The reason why? – I don’t think social sites like digg or stumbleupon provide much in the way of valuable traffic to my blog. They are simply not worth my time and attention.

It is actually not that easy to drive a lot of traffic to your blog through these sites. Sure, we have all heard about the Digg effect. However, getting highly ranked is hard. It is the submissions of a few prominent Diggers that dominate the homepage. The chances of your post getting picked up are relatively slim unless you happen to post silly videos or breaking news.

Even if your post is fortunate enough to gain a high profile on these site, the quality of traffic is low. The users visiting your site are interested in only one thing – the particular post. They are not interested in who posted it or the site it is hosted on. The chances of them turning into regular readers is almost zero. The chances of them completing a call to action even lower.

In my opinion it is better to take the time you would have spent submitting your post and invest it in making that post really stand out from the crowd. If your content is outstanding it will naturally attract an audience.

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