Weekly Reflection – Week 10

Week 10 was my first real look at usability and accessibility. These are both principles of web design. Usability looks at the experience of the user, is the website easy to navigate, can you find what you need quickly. Accessibility is very similar to usability, as it also focuses on whether a site is easy to use but in a different way. Does it use colours that are friendly to people who are visually impaired,  is it possible to navigate without the use of a mouse. So to more clearly define the two, a website is considered to have good usability if a person using that site can achieve what they set out to do quickly and with minimal effort. A site is said to be accessible if a user with disabilities can use and interpret the information.

I had never really considered accessibility when thinking about websites before. Usability is an obvious thing to think about when using the web because there is nothing worse than trying to work your way through a poorly design website. I had mentioned in an earlier post that direct.gov was one of the worse site to navigate because the information you wanted was buried under a mountain of other information and had not clear links to the things you needed. To my delight though, I have just found out that direct.gov no longer exists and has been replaced with gov.uk, which at a quick glance seem to be a lot better. When it comes to accessibility thought, it’s never crossed my mind that a site may be difficult to navigate because of personal disabilities rather than the site under achieving a basic design principle. Now its been brought to my attention thought its kind of opened my eyes. Its made me look at website in a different way and question some of the design choices. I’ve seen a lot of website with white backgrounds and grey text, in fact my blog has just that and so does a lot of WordPress. Its made me question, is that easy to read? For me its fine but I have good vision, for someone with bad eyes is it easy for them? After thinking about it, I’m actually not too sure it would be. The colours blend together and gives a poor contrast. So I’ve taken the decision that from here on my text will be in solid black. This should give better contrast and make it much easier to read for all. I’ve also made the decision to make my own WordPress theme which will hopefully provide better contrast overall. 

I’m going to be using this tutorial to help me do it, The ThemeShaper WordPress Theme Tutorial: 2nd Edition. The tutorial teaches you CSS and PHP, CSS I’m pretty new too and PHP I don’t really know at all, so this should be good for me and hopefully help me to learn something new. 

Update: After publishing this post I sat back as far away from my computer as I could and tried to read what I had wrote. In comparison to my older posts, I found that the black text made it far easier to read. It may sound silly sitting away from your computer trying to read the screen but by doing this I proved that better contrast means better accessibility.

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Weekly Reflection – Week 9

Week 9 saw the introduction to web prototyping. Prototyping a website is the process of putting down you initial ideas quickly in a very rough format. This allows you to make changes easily and without much effort.

We devised mock up using the website moqups.com. Its a website that allows you to create visual web page mock ups quickly, using a simple drag and drop function. A series of pre-made objects, such as buttons and text input areas, allow you to apply different elements to you mock up. Although a simple tool, you can build a web page quickly and with little effort.

Although I found moqups.com easy to use I don’t think I’ll use it again. I felt as though it was actually hindering me rather then helping me. All the objects of the age are pre-made and so this restricted my imagination. For me just drawing by hand is much better because I’m not limited to what I can do and it allows me to go annotate my work. I can even write the code on the paper or make changes easily.

I understand the importance of prototypes. By doing one it gives you the opportunity to showcase an idea to someone or quickly get down what you’re thinking. They are certainly something I’m going to use because it will help me to identify the code I’m going to use and how to organise it. I still haven’t mastered coding from scratch so learning how to effectively prototype  has been beneficial to me

Weekly Reflection – Week 8

The devil himself could not make a more evil and frustrating website

This week we looked at making the web functional. I used to work for a bowling alley as part of the sales and marketing team. At the time of joining the team the website they had was terrible! Customers couldn’t find the information they needed and I would get tons of calls from people who always had the same very simple questions. All the information was on the website, they just couldn’t find it. Not long after joining that team the company got a new director and I convinced him to get us a new website. Throughout my brief to the designer I constantly emphasized one sentence, “make it functional”. I wanted users to be able to find the information they needed, without have to endlessly search the site and get frustrated in the process. The website turned out pretty good, the repetitive phone calls stopped, people could find what they wanted and it was all designed from my original brief. You can look at it here. So I understand the importance of a functional website and how frustrating it can be when you can find the information you want. Even as a user myself, I hate going on the direct.gov website for anything. Its cluttered with so much jargon and crap that its really hard to find what you want. You get to the point where you can’t find what you need so you end up spending 20 minutes looking for a phone number to ring, only to find yourself speaking to a robot… Very frustrating! The same can be said for the DVLA website too. Pure evil manifested into code. My advice, avoid at all cost!

There was something that I learnt this week that I found interesting. Studies have found that if we as users don’t find what we are after in 3 clicks then we look elsewhere. I like the idea of everything being reachable in 3 clicks. All websites should be designed with this concept in mind. Of course that may not work for every websites but its a great philosophy to follow.

Looking back at the past 8 weeks I think I’ve come along way in terms of my development. At the start of my course I knew nothing of CSS, now I can use basic code to style web pages. Something I couldn’t do before was create web sites using HTML, I can now. I’ve learnt about the incarnation of the world wide web and its founders. I’ve learnt about things that you may not immediately associate with the web like, colour theory and typography. So far I feel like I’m learning at a bit of a slow pace and I’m only taking baby steps but its all in the right direction and that’s what matters. I think I’m taking the Neil Armstrong approach, its one small step for me, one giant leap for my career.

So far I have enjoyed my uni course. I work almost everyday I’m off from uni just to pay my bills, which can be a bit of a strain, but if I keep positive and look at the end goal of getting a degree and a job I’m happy with then that’s all the motivation I need.

Opera is Music to Belarusians Ears

Ever hear of the browser Opera? One of the four biggest web browser out there with over 270 million users worldwide. No? Well the people of Belarus have and they bloody love it!

Belarus is a small, landlocked country with the population of around 9 million people.

The big for web browsers

The BIG four

Its a socialist state and the government have the monopoly over its telecoms and internet. An article on theatlantic.com tries to explain why Opera is the most popular browser there. It boils down to something that effects us all, the economy. Internet is expensive in Belarus and the average monthly income is low. As a result of this a lot of people have a slower internet connection. Opera contains certain features that make it great for this kind of user because it can disable things like images and other extras that can cripple bandwidth.

I’ve only briefly touched the surface here, but the article provides interesting insight into things that you may not initially think about when thinking of the web and how and why people use it. Go and give it a read at this link. Let me know what you thought in the comment section. Did you know of Opera already and its benefits to slow internet speed users? Did you know that Chrome is Europe’s number one web browser? Did you know Belarus existed? Tell me in the comments.

Weekly Reflection – Week 7

This we well delved further into CSS. I’m beginning to see how powerful it actually is.

We were given 4 paper website templates that we had to code into HTML and then add CSS elements. I annotated the papers with HTML a few weeks back and this week I wrote the CSS for one of them on the back of the paper. Once that was done I coded the website into Dreamweaver. To be honest even though CSS is still pretty new to me I found that once I started to code it out I could do it with little effort. I had already wrote it down on paper and I think this certainly helped me out. By handwriting it, it helped me to identify where to start and in what order to do things. When I moved on to one of the other templates that I hadn’t annotated with CSS I found it hard to work out a good structure to my code. I was uncertain of where to start and once I had put something down, then what to do next. I think to overcome this I should write it out on paper first. With the template in front of me I can quickly identify what needs to be done. This is something I’m going to do more often going forward. Print the page off and annotate it. Then once I’ve got the hang of how things should be structured then I’m sure I will find it easier to start coding right away.

So far this has been one of my biggest challenges on my course Its not the actual CSS code that I find hard but rather identifying a good working structure. I want my code to be neat and tidy and easy to understand. By keeping it that way it will put me in good practice and my work will be a better standard for it. I know now what I need to do though, write things out by hand before attempting to code them. That’s one positive thing I can take from this weeks learning because I know if I keep it up I will improve.

Weekly Readings – Week 6

This week I’ve read Cascade Effects, a small article by Brian Thomas.

The article Cascade Effects is about how Thomas embraced CSS and how its made his life and job  easier. He starts the article by confessing that he has actually avoid CSS for as long as he can before he started using it. This avoidance got me thinking.

The world wide web is one of the fastest moving technologies there is. So how can you avoid a new advancement as a web developer? I’ve come across this a few times now and it totally baffles me. If you want to stay current and if you want to stay on top of your game surely you should jump on new tech and learn it right away. Being stubborn is not going to benefit you, your client or the wider industry as a whole. Sometimes it takes people to make that push forward to convince everyone else to follow. Take a look at Apple for an example. They have removed the CD drive from most of their computers now. At first I thought this was a sly way to sell more iPods but then the more I thought about it the more it made sense. CD’s are a dying medium, they scratch easily and can’t carry that much data by today’s standards. New and better technologies are here and its about time we moved forward. Imagine if CSS was never embraced at all and we were all still using Netscape or IE2? So why do these developers hinder the development of the very industry they live in? It human nature to fear something new but we shouldn’t. Fire was new once and so was the wheel, think about where we would be if we did take on those ideas. I love new technologies in any form and I am going to make a commitment to myself right now, if a new tech comes along, I’m going to use it right away and help others to benefit from it.

I’m not sure I know the answer why developers put off using new tech but I certainly interested in finding out. Do you know why they do? What do you think of new tech? Should we use it right away and pioneer it or do we let others few trial it for us first and jump on when its established? Let me know what you think in the comment section.

Weekly Readings – Week 5

Before you think it… No I haven’t missed week 4! There just wasn’t any readings for that week. I do however have something for week 5 so here it is!

What the hell does that say?!

This week I read Principles of Typography for User Interface Design by Paul Kahn and Krzysztof (pronounces Crazy Steve) Lenk. Paul and Krzysztof (no suggested spelling) talk about how typography began as a print practice and developed certain principles and evolved into more modern mediums. Emphasis is made by Paul and Krzysztod (did you mean crazy steve?) to highlight how crucial typography is to a graphical user interface or GUI.  I agree with this statement, an interface that’s easy to interact with encourages the user to do just that. If something is hard to read then it can put the user off. I for one hate one particular use of bad typography, but this type is meant to be bad… Yes its the dreaded CAPTCHA form. Those things are awful, just awful. CAPTCHA are those boxes that pop up filled with random and distorted text to test if your human or some sort of evil spam robot sent from the future. I always get them wrong and they seem to be getting worse every time I’m forced to use one. That’s right FORCED! Although I do indeed despise CAPTCHA, they are the perfect example of when something is difficult to read it can frustrate the reader. CAPTCHA may be at the extreme end of the spectrum but I am pretty certain that you don’t like them either. Oh and by the way I found this website showcasing some of the worse CAPTCHA forms out there. Click here to check it out.

A selection of famous logos. Notice the plain text on simple backgrounds

Paul and Krzysztod (type the two words) go quite in-depth about different characteristics of type but one of the more interesting topics they touch on is character recognition. They claim that it’s not actually the black of the text that you read but instead its the white behind the text. The white spaces is what gives the characters recognition. This means that if your background contrasts with your text it will make it difficult to read. I think its is what makes some of the best logos. If you think about some really culturally famous logos they are always set on a plain background with no clutter to distract from the actual logo itself.

How do you find using CAPTCHA forms? Do you think that background is just as important as the front ground in logo design? Let me know in the comment section. Oh and Krzysztod is Polish and actually means Christopher. Not so crazy after all I guess.