Show 78: POSH?

This week on Boagworld: Paul redesigns the way clients and designers interact, Marcus asks if you really need a content management system, and Garrett Dimon sharings his experiences of information architecture.

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News and events

When Jakob Nielsen speaks the world listens. This week he has come out with the shocking revelation that Breadcrumbs are good. Okay, so this doesn’t come as a surprise to most of us, but its still an interesting read. Apparently more and more people have come to rely on this secondary navigation tool and notice if it isn’t there. Jakob believes that breadcrumbs never cause problems in user testing (although sometimes they are not seen) and provide a wealth of benefits to visitors that do use them. Finally, he goes on to talk about the fact that breadcrumbs should always show a sites hierarchy rather than the path a user has taken through a site.

Techcrunch drool over Silverlight

So the guys over at Techcrunch have spent the last week at MIX07 and seem to have been brainwashed by the nice fellows at Microsoft. They are positively drooling over Silverlight, Microsoft’s challenge to Flash. In one post they say:

“It makes Flash/Flex look like an absolute toy… without exaggeration, Ajax looks like a bicycle next to a Ferrari when compared to Silverlight”

Personally, I haven’t had a chance to look at Silverlight yet so cannot express much of an opinion. However, I find it hard to believe that Silverlight will topple Flashes dominance before Adobe responds with something equally impressive.

Although competition can never be a bad thing, it strikes me that this is yet another plugin for people to download and another platform we have to worry about developing for.

RSS in plain english

RSS can be a difficult concept to get your head around the first time you encounter it. Its still a good idea to explain what RSS is on your site for those that don’t know. Obviously you can create a page yourself explaining or sometimes I link to the BBC website which provides an excellent description. Of course if you want something a little more exciting you might want to link to this superb video that explains exactly what RSS is and how it works. Its just a shame they don’t offer the option to embed it directly into your own site.

How POSH are you?

I have to say I was very cynical about this news story when I first encountered it but after hearing Jeremy Keith’s argument on the last .net podcast I have to say I am coming around. POSH is yet another another “catchy” web acronym. It stands for “plain old semantic HTML”. So why do we need yet another acronym? Well the argument goes that nobody is getting excited about semantic HTML these days. Its just not cool. Instead we are obsessed with Microformats or AJAX, things that are perceived as being “in” and “trendy”. The POSH acronym is designed to get us talking about semantic HTML again. The idea is that we start blogging about how we mark stuff up and sharing ideas with one another. The example Jeremy gave on the show was; what is the best way to mark up a conservation in HTML? He suggested that it was simply an ordered list of blockquotes. Do you put that much thought into your code? I can’t say I always do.

So with that in mind I have opened a new section on the Boagworld forum where you can post your examples of good code. You can ask questions like; what is the best way to markup… or simply post how you choose to markup different elements. Whatever the case lets start sharing our good practice in HTML.

Client corner: Do you really need a CMS

Apart from a few ‘design only’ projects we get involved in, every tender that comes through the door includes the words “control over content is a must have”… or words to that effect.

But thinking about all the ‘full’ CMS based projects we have delivered, is that really what the client wanted/needed?

So what types of CMS solutions are there? Here’s a quick summary:

Limited CMS (non-structural) e.g.
  • News
  • Events
  • Popular a few years ago when ‘full’ CMS was a much more expensive.
  • Pros – simple to understand (and build)
  • Cons – clients tend to request more and more areas of the site become CMS controlled and you can end up with a bit of a mess and the cost of replacing can be prohibitive.
Blogging tools
  • Article based
  • With commenting
Full CMS
  • Control over structure: move pages, edit pages, create news pages (and sections) and the front end navigation updates automatically
  • Usually modular: news, events, downloads, forms (dynamic), lists, newsletter, etc
  • User management: Roles, permissions, preview, workflow
  • Licensed or bespoke?

You need to ask yourself a couple of fundamental questions:

Even if I have these tools, will I have time to use them? All websites need to have an owner or editor. Someone who’s job it is to manage all content sources and keep the site up to date. We have been asked many times to carry out work content population work on a CMS that we built…

How much of my content needs updating more than monthly and how often do I need to add new pages to my site? It seems that having the ability to extend a site is often seen as a ‘must have’ when in reality new pages are only added, say, quarterly at most. Added to that, the only content that changes regularly is, for example, news, events and case studies. Employing an agency to add new pages and manage site structure/navigation is not a big job (though some seem to charge extortionate rates). Added to that, clients who do not use a CMS very often tend to forget how to use it and then go back to the agency simply because of that.

To summarise, think very carefully about your requirements in this area and talk to prospective agencies about what they recommend. You could end up making a costly mistake.

Ask the expert: Garrett Dimon on Information Architecture

I am a huge fan of Garrett Dimon’s work and so I am really excited to have him on the show this week. Garrett’s job title is “information architect” and so unsuprisingly he joins us to share some of his experiences on working with information architecture. His advice includes:

  • Embrace constraints
  • Know when to challenge the constraints
  • Explore lots of ideas
  • Work in conjunction with clients
  • Don’t use your computer
  • Throw away more than you keep
  • Don’t worry about the details until later on
  • Simplify and cut back on details
  • Communicating is more important than documentation
  • Make your IA deliverables visual as they are easier to understand

Agony uncle: The wish list brief

This week I am back on Agony Uncle duty with an email from Dan in Swansea:

I am increasingly frustrated by the briefs I am getting through from potential clients. They read more like wishlists than real briefs. They lack focus and often ask for functionality they just don’t need. How do you respond to briefs like that?

Its a great question and set me thinking a lot about the web design process. In fact it was the primary motivation for a recent blog post on the subject which we talk about on the show. I think the key to this question is to not be afraid to go back to the client and challenge them. Perhaps propose a rough costing based on some of the items in their list but suggest that the first step (if you are taken on) would be to define and price a more accurate brief. I think most clients will respect you for suggesting an alternative and more effective strategy. In many ways its like the speculative design argument, it may feel scary to challenge the client before anything is signed but in my experience clients respond positively to a carefully thought through argument.

Review: Spoken Text

A while back I asked people to submit their own reviews. I didn’t specify that people couldn’t review their own product and so I recently received a review from Mark promoting Spoken Text. Now, I don’t want to open the flood gates to shameless self promotion but I like spoken text so much that I want to include it on the show. It is basically a free, text to speech system that allows you to convert multiple file types into audio files.

Mark shares four great reasons why he thinks we might be interested in it as web designers:

  • Use spoken text to provide alternative audio versions of the content on your website
  • Allow users to record and save any content from your website they want
  • Create a podcast of your websites content
  • Create your own podcast of other people’s content that you want to listen to while on the go

There are two things that excite me most about this service (beyond the fact that it is free). First is the accessibility benefits it could bring for visually impaired users and secondly the ability to make instant podcasts of new stories from your site without the complication of finding somebody to present it.

This isn’t a service that is useful to everyone but I think in certain circumstances this could be a killer app.

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