On this week’s show: Paul and Marcus are joined by Matt Curry who shares some advanced Google Analytics techniques. We have a review of Fancy Form Design by Jina Bolton and Paul goes on endlessly about the Website Owners Manual.
Design interactive prototypes – Fast!
With websites and web applications becoming increasingly complex it is often hard to visualise them before build. Photoshops comps fail miserably and static wireframes are little better. The only way of truly communicating how a site is going to work is to build an interactive prototype. Unfortunately building prototypes can be time consuming and expensive. Although clients need to understand how their site will work, they are rarely willing to pay for a prototype. One solution is IxEdit, an ‘interaction design tool.’ This tool has to be seen to be believed, but essentially allows designers to build jQuery driven prototypes without writing a single line of code.
With IxEdit you can build everything from the automatic insertion of HTML to accordion effects. In fact you seem to be able to build most of the elements and effects supported by jQuery. Of course the quality of code is not going to be as good as something written by hand. That is why the product is billed as ideal for prototyping. However, for better or worse, I am sure a lot of web designers will use this tool for live sites too.
Making passwords more usable?
Usability suffers when users type in passwords and the only feedback they get is a row of bullets. [It] costs you business due to login failures. Password masking has become common for no reasons other than (a) it’s easy to do, and (b) it was the default in the Web’s early days.
There have been a few solutions doing the rounds. The simplest of which is to add a checkbox allowing users to keep their password entry hidden. However another popular approach is the one adopted by the iPhone. Instead of revealing the entire password it shows only the last letter entered. These two approaches have now been combined and made simple to implement using a sprinkling of jQuery. Delayed Password Masking couldn’t be easier to setup and helps go someway to improving usability.
How to be more transparent
In my post “The 10 Harsh Truths About Corporate Blogging” I wrote:
People don’t like interacting with organisations, corporations or machines. People like conversing with people. People don’t like, trust or want to work with corporations. We associated those feelings with individuals, not companies.
In other words, if you want to make a connection with your users you need to be open, transparent and show the people within your organisation. However, knowing this and doing it, are two different things. That is where a recent UX Booth post comes in. The title of the post is “Transparency: Benefits and Best Practice.” Personally, I think this is a misleading title. It doesn’t really explain in any depth why transparency is important and fails to provide much in the way of ‘best practice’ (I can see I will have to write something on this subject). What the post does do well is give you some cracking examples of sites that communicate the personalities and people behind their organisations. It certainly has inspired me to look again at the Headscape website, and I hope it will inspire you to become more open as an organisation.
In other news – Google and Microsoft talk about stuff
Normally I like to keep the content of this section of the show focused on the here and now. I see little point in reporting what might affect you ‘one day’ in the future. That said, there are two stories that have come out this week, which I simply couldn’t ignore despite the fact neither will have an impact on you today.
Google to add site speed to search algorithm
This week when talking about the importance of website speed Matt Cutts from Google said:
Historically, we haven’t had to use it in our search rankings, but a lot of people within Google think that the Web should be fast. It should be a good experience, and so it’s sort of fair to say that if you’re a fast site, maybe you should get a little bit of a bonus. If you really have an awfully slow site, then maybe users don’t want that as much.
If Google follow through on this thinking the consequences could be massive. In particular this could further undermine the already shaky rankings of flash heavy websites. It could also provide a real advantage to those with the financial resources to throw more server and bandwidth capabilities at slow websites. That said, on the upside it would refocus website owners on the importance of performance and help to speed up the web for everybody. It will also encourage better coding practices maybe push legacy tables based websites down the rankings. Of course all of this could be redundant. We have no way of knowing whether Google will implement this change, and even if they do, how great a priority they will place on speed.
Microsoft talks about IE9
The other news that might shape the future of the web comes from Microsoft. With Windows 7 complete it would seem they are turning their attention to Internet Explorer 9. Apparently the new browser is only in very early stages of development. However, Microsoft are making it clear what their priorities for the browser are. These include:
- A desire to provide better HTML5 support
- Improved CSS support
- Better use of hardware acceleration
All music to my ears. However, I was sad to read that according to Mashable they have only been working on the new browser for 3 weeks!
Interview: Matt Curry on Getting more from Google Analytics
Listeners book review: Fancy Form Design by Jina Bolton
What is it?
This book, in Jina’s own words, is aimed at anyone who’s involved with any part of the creation of an online form. Split into 5 sections, it covers the Planning, Designing, Structure, Styling and Enhancing of forms used on the internet Written in a format that is more about advising and guiding rather than teaching, this book will appeal to people who are used to the Sitepoint way of writing, and want to really understand the thinking behind creating a successful web form. It’s not one of those “learn in 24 hour” type books, but is more written as if you’re at a workshop run by Jina. This is not a hardcore reference manual that covers absolutely every permeation of a web form, but will have you more confident and eager to apply what you learn to forms you build from now on.
With this book, Jina has tackled a subject that frustrates many a web designer. Forms are often too time consuming, too technical, or too stubborn to spend time getting right. Resources on the internet fall usually into 2 categories, not enough info, or too bloated and confusing. What Jina has managed to do is get straight to the point, without the bloat.
A form is just a form. Isn’t it?
Straight from the 1st chapter Jina had me thinking differently about forms. Before reading this book, I would not have said things like sliders, colour pickers, or drag and drop items are elements of form design, but when you look at where they are used, it’s obvious they are. I’m already more excited about forms than I was before. And I think that’s what this book does really well. It takes the process of form creation, and says “yeah, I know, a form is a form. But look, you can do this with it…”. Jina shows you how a form is very much like a website design. You need to think about typography used, colours & imagery, how the form is going to be structured and how it will affect how it used.
Good practices make perfect
Throughout the book, Jina runs through some processes for creating perfect forms. It starts with how to research and find inspiration. Many people who have built forms in the past would probably not have used the processes talked about in the book. It’s an eye-opener to best practice, and to how investing time in tried and tested techniques at the beginning will save you time further down the line. Many of the practices Jina talks about are transferable techniques, that can be adapted and implemented on web design, brochure design, database design etc. What I really liked is the way the book doesn’t force you to follow the practices, but is more like a friend giving you some tips.
Get your hands dirty
In a nutshell