Archive for the 'Design' Category


Google Docs formatting

That idea I had of keeping my resume in Google Docs so I wouldn’t have to go digging for it when the time came, and so I could version it more easily? Yeah. Nifty. Sensible. Until it came time to actually produce a copy that I can hand someone. Then the formatting went all to hell. I don’t do a lot of fancy formatting on my resumes, so having to clean up as much as I did was unexpected.

On the other hand, I knew exactly where it was.

Books, Design, Open Source

Blender Book

There’s a Blender book! It’s published by No Starch, no less. Good people.

I haven’t done much with Blender, but I’ve been slowly moving toward doing so — more on that later, hopefully — so I am excited to see the book.

Blender is professional grade open source 3D content creation software. Perhaps you’ve seen Elephant’s Dream? Done with Blender. (Haven’t seen it? Do.) And the mark of professional grade software? A steep learning curve. :-) I doubt very much that I’ll ever have reason to become expert, but should I myself thrashing around in Blender not knowing what the heck I’m doing, the book will be welcome.

Design, Usability

No, they cannot print

Over the past year at work, we’ve been moving our colleges to an updated version of our student and faculty online services “portal.” At first it’s just a look-and-feel update, letting colleges and universities provide their own style sheets so that instead of looking like this, a classic mid-90’s design:

old MnSCU e-services design
it can look like this:

MnSCU eservices site with MSCTC look & feel


MnSCU eservices site with MCTC look & feel


MnSCU eservices site with Saint Paul College look & feel

Considering that we released the base design and markup before I thought it was ready, some of the colleges have really outdone themselves in their designs. Bravo. But that’s not what this post is about.

While overhauling the markup, I wasn’t at liberty to remove things like the unbelievably verbose login instructions that you see in those screen shots. As useless as it is, that text is politically charged. College presidents have been involved in writing it. Seriously. We’ll be stripping it down before terribly long, but for the first release it had to stay.

I could, however, make changes like remove the “print this page” icon at the bottom of nearly every page.

Print this page icon

Two problems with it. First, all it did was call JavaScript’s window.print() function, with an unfortunate use of <a href=”javascript:window.print()”> that’s been bugging me for years. I’m trying very hard and with mixed success to make our use of JavaScript as unobtrusive as possible. If JavaScript is required to perform some functionality, then the JavaScript should inject itself into the page, layered onto the markup instead of tightly mangled into it.
Second, I asked around when I was visiting campuses and didn’t find anyone who used it. If they needed to print, they used File > Print or the print icon in their browser’s toolbar. I talked with a few campus webmasters, and they all had the same reaction: “uh, File > Print?” Since we don’t have a separate printable page (we use CSS to hide navigation and such) and since the print icon was apparently not used, I pulled it from the design.

I felt very comfortable with this decision.

Boy, was I wrong.

The new design was out in production for months before I heard any comments from campuses, but by then I had come to the realization that people don’t know how to print.

I figured, “hey, it’s exactly the same as every other application you use.” But here’s the thing: lots and lots of people don’t know about File > Print. Watch what people do in Word or Excel: they use the print icon in the toolbar. Internet Explorer has a print icon in the toolbar by default, and people use it — it’s even more noticeable in IE7. Take away the icon, and people don’t know how to print.

Okay, I thought, folks can just continue to do what they do to print every other page on the web and use the icon in IE’s toolbar. Those who use other browsers seem to manage just fine.

Then the complaints started rolling in. People just did not know how to print their schedules, their transcripts, their lists of advisees…

So yes, we’ll be adding a “print this page” icon back. It will be in a different place and won’t be the same image, and we’ll be using unobtrusive JavaScript, but we’ll be putting it back.

Live and learn.

Architecture, Climate, Design, Environment

Sustainable Architecture and Design

I’m listening to one of my favorite episodes of Tech Nation, Dr. Moira Gunn’s interview with Michelle Kaufmann about her work with sustainable architecture. Her architecture firm focuses on modular, sustainable design using green materials and processes.

I find this fascinating and even a little exciting on more than one level. First, I am enchanted (although not surprised) to hear architects thinking about these things. Kaufmann’s firm carefully chooses renewable, sustainable materials like bamboo instead of hardwood floors because it grows back so fast. Dual-flush toilets to save water (brilliant! why doesn’t everyone have these?). They build modular components in a controlled factory environment, which allows for efficiencies like precision cuts for less waste, and reduced energy consumption. She likens a site-built house to building a car in your driveway. :)

They’ve published a book about their process, choosing Blurb because just-in-time publishing lets them keep the book up to date without waste. It reminds me of how Flickr chose parters/vendors based on their API because APIs are important to Flickr.

The role of the architect in their work is interesting, as well. Too often writing software is likened to building, well, buildings (why can’t it just be like building a bridge?). In conversations about waterfall methodologies, the analogy is close: an architect throws a design over the wall and the construction engineers take the design and turn it in a building. Writing software doesn’t work like that, of course, so I was glad to hear in the interview that Kauffman stresses the importance of the building contractors getting involved much earlier in the process, and the architect staying involved much longer. It works well for them.

Good show.

Design, Time Management

Piler. No question.

Anne Zelenka asks: are you a filer or a piler?

As I’ve gotten better at using search and as search has itself gotten better, I find myself relying less and less on folders or on Gmail’s labels. Filing just takes too much thought and work without a payoff later for me. Besides, it seems a holdover from our physical desktops.

My desktop is feeling Gmail’s impact. After almost three years of dumping email into an heaped archive, knowing that I’ll find it later, I’ve noticed that I’ve taken the same approach to my physical filing system. At least at work, I no longer obsess over carefully putting project documents into the correct folder. Nope. Everything just gets added to a pile on my desk. Granted, the pile is separated into several stacks, but there’s no organization to them. Some things still get sorted. Documents relevant to annual performance reviews. At home, I still have special folders for taxes and such. But they don’t touch my daily life.

It works. I can find what I need quickly enough, and I feel better not spending time in needless sorting. I’ve spent a lot of my life engaged in devising careful taxonomies that I end up never using. This carried more stress than I cared to admit.

So what do I think about the new Google Docs interface? I don’t mind the folders, but I won’t use them. I preferred labels, even though I don’t use them either.

I do miss the less-used documents being hidden when I first log in. Now I see docs that I’d rather not be reminded of every day. Chapters of an abandoned book. Proposals for projects that went nowhere. I want to be able to get those when I need them, but I prefer that they be hidden otherwise.

CSS, Design, JavaScript, Personal

24 Ways

In all my excitement about the return of the Perl Advent Calendar, and the LugRadio Advent Calendar (!), I completely forgot to check to see whether there would be a new 24 Ways this year. There is, chock full of all your web design goodness this advent season. Entries from the likes of Drew McLellan, Andy Budd, Rachel Andrew, Christian Heilmann… go check it out. (via)