Show 77: A dream?

Paul Boag

On this week’s show: Paul talks about how a client’s work is never done, Marcus looks at dealing with scope creep and we review Dreamweaver CS3 (is it really worth upgrading?).

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News and events

The web design survey

A List Apart are trying to build up a picture of the web design community by launching their web design survey. In my opinion this is an incredibly valuable project because there is so little statistical data on our profession. We have next to no information on salary levels, job titles, location, type of work done or even educational background. Its a strange situation for what is now a mature industry. Perhaps, as Jeffrey Zeldman suggests, it is largely due to the fact that we work in a hidden profession where the practitioners have meaningless job titles that bear little resemblance to the work we do.

Coding for content

If you listened to the SXSW special we did a while back you may remember me interviewing Garrett Dimon about the recent redesign of his blog. In that interview he talked a lot about his desire to focus on content and that the design should exist only to support that. The results of this effort are truly phenomenal and he has produced one of the most refreshing sites I have seen in ages. It is clean, easy to use and really succeeds in bringing the content to the fore. Well, this week he wrote an article that follows up on previous comments he made about his design approach by talking about how he coded the site. Its a great article and really shows off the fact that an attention to detail and methodical thought process can really generate some amazing results.

Don’t be a hero: Giving up is good

How often have you heard me drone on about return on investment? Well, now you can hear the guys at 37 Signals talk about the same thing but from a slightly different angle. In their post “Don’t be a hero: Giving up is good” they talk about the fact that developers don’t like to be beaten and will continue grappling with a problem long after it ceased to be profitable. The article argues that it is important to know when you cut your loses and drop functionality if it is simply taking too long to implement.

Working with tables and CSS

It’s amazing how many problems you have with tables even after you have moved across to CSS based design. One common problem I see a lot is the data in tables pushing out the tables width which in turn often breaks the design (see an example). Fortunately this week I found a post that seemed to solve the problem. It uses the table-layout property in CSS along with overflow:hidden. Its a useful little technique that is definitely work checking out.

Client corner: A client’s work is never done

In last week’s client corner section I talked about the role of the client and how in many cases it is very poorly defined. This started me thinking in more depth about how clients perceive web projects and how they often fail to grasp the enormity of the undertaking. In this weeks show I explore the ongoing commitment that clients have to make to their websites and look at what exactly they will find themselves doing on a day-to-day basis. As with last week’s client corner, this is a subject I have recently blogged about and so if you want to refresh your memory on what I said in the show check out my blog post on the subject.

Agony uncle: Dealing with scope creep

This week we will be reviewing a question from Bob in Iceland – “How should I deal with clients that keep changing the spec throughout a project?”

I guess the first thing to say is that the spec will change, they always do. Often it is perfectly understandable because people see a new design or piece of functionality and think ‘hey, we could do X or Y as well’.

But… and I have been as guilty of this as anyone… often the scope will creep as the client learns about the web development process as the project goes along. This is avoidable. It can often be seen as pedantic, or possibly even negative, to spell out exactly what a client is getting. For example, design iterations or template styles. Ask yourself when writing the spec – would a layman understand this? If not, then add notes to explain.

So, what to do when the first request outside scope comes in? As with most things, use your brain regarding how to respond!

If it is a 5 minute job then just do it, but make sure that client is aware that it is outside scope so a) you can earn some points with them and b) let them know that you are keeping a tight eye on the scope of the project.

Anything over that, you need to respond in writing (email is fine) stating that the work is outside scope and you estimate it will take X hours to complete… please confirm that you wish us to go ahead with the work. This puts the onus back on the client and makes them think about whether they really do want the work done.

It is good practice to have a change control procedure written into any statement of work. These can sometimes be over the top, demanding contract extensions in writing and the like (which probably is appropriate for a large new piece of work) but usually something like –

As and when issues arise, it is the project manager’s responsibility to raise these with the client and agree any actions to be taken.

If any rescheduling is required, the project manager will be responsible for ensuring that acceptable changes to the schedule are agreed with the client and documented.
The project manager will maintain an issue log and ensure that issues are either closed following discussion with the client or result in an agreed change to the project plan, with associated change documentation including price change where required.

Basically, this is saying ‘use your head’ and make sure you write down whatever is agreed.

Sometimes, however, it is wise to carry out additional work as a gesture of good will. This is usually appropriate if you ‘owe’ the client a ‘favour’ of some sort, for example if you had charged 5 days to produce a design and it took 1 because they signed it off immediately. You don’t necessarily actually owe them anything (assuming a fixed price contract) but they will be aware that you didn’t put in as much effort and probably won’t take a kind view to your charging them for an extra half an hour’s work at the end of the project.

Review: Dreamweaver CS3

I finally got my hands on a copy of Dreamweaver CS3 this week and although I am still taking it all in I thought I would share some of initial thoughts.

I guess the question you want answer is whether it is worth upgrading or not. As normal the answer isn’t black and white. If you are a a strong standards based designer who has worked with things like DOM Scripting or AJAX then this upgrade probably isn’t for you. However if you are still finding your feet with CSS and don’t want to learn Javascript then this upgrade is definitely worth considering.

Obviously Adobe is trying to pursued us that Dreamweaver offers a huge range of reasons to upgrades such as better Photoshop integration and improved browser testing. However, when it comes down to it, I believe it only offers two killer features.

CSS Layout made easy

If you are new to CSS this feature might be useful. It basically allows you to select from a series of CSS layout templates to get you started. Now, this never replaces hand coding it from scratch, however if you are anything like me you find it easier to learn from example and this certainly helps with that.

Spry framework

If you have tried and failed to get your head around DOM Scripting and AJAX then I would suggest you start off by buying “DOM Scripting: Web Design with JavaScript and the Document Object Model” (J. Keith) or “Bulletproof Ajax (Voices That Matter)” (Jeremy Keith). However, if even that fails then you might want to take a look at the Javascript framework now built into Dreamweaver CS3. As with CSS layout I should stress this isn’t as good as hand coding because:

  • you are stuffed if you want to add or amend functionality not offered from within the framework.
  • the code is bloated in places meaning it will make the page take longer to download.

However, that said, the functionality offered in Dreamweaver is very impressive. You can achieve all of the following without touching a line of code:

  • Work with XML datasets (like RSS feeds)
  • Expand and collapse content areas
  • Make accordion menus
  • Validate forms

The code isn’t great but at least from what I have seen it degrades reasonably and isn’t too intrusive.

If you are a confident CSS and DOM Scripting coder then the upgrade offers considerably less. Personally the best thing I saw was the ability to sort my CSS files in a drag and drop approach. Beyond that and copy and paste straight from Photoshop, there really isn’t much to get excited about.

The question is; has Adobe done enough with Dreamweaver CS3 to keep themselves ahead of Microsoft’s Expression Web which reports say is very impressive. Personally the lack of mac support in Expression Web could well be the deciding factor in what otherwise are very equally matched products.

“Adobe Dreamweaver CS3 (PC)” on Amazon

“Microsoft Expression Web (PC)” on Amazon