Changes are now!

It is time that we engage in a broader conversation, through our blogs, google+, twitter and other collaborative tools you may add to the process. Web design has been changing over the last year or so, and today we find ourselves with better languages (html5, css3 at least) and better concepts for our frameworks and support apps such as Less (lesscss.org), Sass (sass-lang.com), Twitter’s Bootstrap (twitter.github.com.bootstrap) and support files in html5 Boilerplate (html5boilerplate.com) and Andy Clarke’s 320 And Up (stuffandnonsense.co.uk/320andup). We also need to pay full attention to Responsive Web Design ( http://alistapart.com/articles/responsive-web-design ), which is rapidly becoming the best practice of the era of numberless devices that web designers must include whenever we design a new interactive project.

Where to begin is not easy to figure out. Perhaps the best place to begin is to get a more collaborative and focused conversation started between students and instructors, students and students, all of us and others in the broader global community of web designers.

This blog is about to become more active, actually a new version of Webstuff2, perhaps Webstuff3 to indicate a next level. It is not easy to write regularly, but there is too much going on to simply hold on to it, or try to slip it into a curriculum that is becoming somewhat stifled. I firmly believe that a curriculum is more than what happens in the classroom however, and it is time to find out how much we can grow, just because we want to learn more, and be the best at what we are doing.

This intro to the “webstuff3 era” will be followed with an article about Responsive web design, as well as a list of resources that everyone should be reading. More soon.

Is the web design market changing?

Have you ever considered that new technologies may in fact be shrinking our market for “web design”? And what of the rise of frameworks and libraries and a growing use of content management systems such as WordPress by professional developers? Robert Capps “The Good enuf rvlutn” in Wired’s September ’09 issue is a must read that may find us discussing these types of issues on the forefront of the information and communication technologies challenge.

I have personally felt for some time now that we needed to bring mobile design into our program, and as I researched it I found a rich and exciting new type of opportunity. While mobile applications – the sophisticated games and location aware apps and all the unique tools that you can’t live without get all the attention, there is also a world of integration between standard web sites and mobile websites. There is much that can be developed with XHTML/CSS/Javascript given the outstanding tools that Apple provides for the iPhone development process. These development tools are now available to our students through our Developer status with Apple. But I also realize that if we eventually are primarily designing for mobile sites rather than desktops, what will that mean for our industry? What effect will “good enough” have in the process?

The Capps article describes how “entire markets have been transformed by products that trade power or fidelity for low price, flexibility, and convenience”. Pure Digital, makers of the Flip video camera, made the discovery that good enough tech that is cheap, fast, and simple works every time. (The Flip just got challenged with Apple’s new Nano, as another example). And everyone knows that mp3 recordings are poor quality compared to CD’s, but the added advantage of take it with you everywhere cheaply and conveniently has become more important than fidelity.

Clay Shirkey, quoted in the article, sums up with “there comes a point at which improving upon the thing that was important in the past is a bad move”. Other examples of this concept in the article bring the point home and causes one to stop and ponder. What is the real purpose of our projects and where is web/mobile based communication heading? Or we may see these changes and discover the new types of opportunities that we will be privileged to develop!

Ugrade your WordPress now!

There was a “worm” reported over the weekend that is seriously affecting older versions of WordPress that are located on private hosting environments. WordPress.com sites are not affected as they are automatically updated to the latest versions as they are released.

It is serious, and not very visible unless you know what you are looking for. Please read the following articles to get the details:
From Matt Mullenweg: http://wordpress.org/development/2009/09/keep-wordpress-secure/
and from WordPress.org on how to upgrade: http://codex.wordpress.org/upgrading_wordpress/
and if you have problems: http://smackdown.blogsblogsblogs.com/2008/06/24/how-to- completely-clean-your-hacked-Wordpress-installation/

It is not panic time, but it is serious and you should upgrade quickly to avoid any problems.

It’s about solving needs

The economic crisis our nation and the world is struggling with has caused projects to be delayed, and in some cases people not hired, or let go because the employer has loss a major client. Richard Florida describes the “Uneven effects in the crisis” as it relates to jobs. He states that the intangible sector and creative sector jobs – arts, design, and entertainment, among others, are starting to register losses.

In this type of environment designers have to be clear about the difference between “treating a website like a commodity” (Andy Budd) and putting more thought and research into projects and making sure you are meeting the needs of users.

When we describe the need to create projects in courses that are “real world”, we are referring to issues that employers can identify with as the types of issues they work on daily. It is near impossible to identify such issues, without research and planning. It is simply not good enough to make a website that is better than one for a similar product. It is not about creating a site that “beats out” the competitors sites. Users are seeking to meet their needs, and unless you take the time and effort to see problems from the users perspective, you will find difficulty in satisfying today’s users. Students of Web Design and Interactive media, as well as other design disciplines, need deeper skills at learning to understand the user before going with the first good idea that comes along. You really can’t afford to wait until you graduate to develop these skills. You will need them as you hit the ground running.

References to further this post:
Uneven Effects of the Crisis, by Richard Florida
Don’t treat your website like a commodity, by Andy Budd
How the crash will reshape America, in The Atlantic, by Richard Florida

WordPress Theme Frameworks

For web designers who may want to use WordPress as a robust content management system, might want to review some of the newer WordPress theme frameworks that are available.

Theme frameworks are not particularily new as the Sandbox theme has been a standard for taking the basics of a WordPress page and then adding theme information (CSS) to the basic structure.

But some recent frameworks are more sophisticated and aimed at making the CMS features of WordPress easier to work with when there is a lot of development to do or a designer is responsible for creating a lot of WordPress sites for customers.

As in other programming and markup environments (JavaScript, CSS, AJax, etc.) a framework is a completely coded theme that can serve as the base for many projects. Often the framework can be added to (as with several WP theme frameworks) with child themes – a way of changing the look and function of the base framework, yet using its many resources. (Justin Tadlock)

Tadlock’s article “Why I created a WordPress theme framework“, provides a good understanding of WordPress theme frameworks. Of the theme frameworks I have reviewed [Thematic, Vanilla, Hybrid, and Carrington] I think there are some creative uses of these products. I particularly like the Carrington framework, even though I have not completed a child theme with it. But if you need to save time, but also have time to learn the framework, these could be valuable assets in creating solid WP based websites.

Links to each of the frameworks mentioned and others are located on the WordPress Theme Frameworks link stated above. By the way, I forgot to mention that these frameworks are free – as in open source. Thematic does offer commercial versions but it freely offers the base framework.

Open Source Social Networking & a little bit of history

An article on Techcrunch recently, describes “9 Ways to Build Your own Social Network“. One of the open source products described in the article is Ning, a project of Marc Andreessen (of the original Netscape fame). Later I found an article in my aggregator that led me to an interesting story about Ning, and Marc Andreessen’s response to the funding article, and some recent successes they had enjoyed. Another well known innovator, Marc Canter, the founder of a little company named Macromedia, also read of Ning’s new funding and decided write a letter to Mr. Andreessen to suggest what he could do with all that money! You may not remember these famous personages that helped shape our interactive world, but read on to learn about what they are doing with their time these days, and some interesting news along the way. I think you’ll find it interesting!

The original feed that started all this was:
http://openacademic.org/news/feed feed for OpenAcademic and DrupalEd .

Welcome to WebStuff 2.0!

Welcome to Webstuff2, a site that focuses on web technologies and learning. This site is intended to be a resource for students at AID and will focus on the web scripting languages, design of interactive media, web tools that make creating web environments more efficient, and everything social networking including weblogs, aggregators, social bookmarking, and group publishing wikis. Your comments are welcome, and your suggestions for additional content will be honored when possible!

Note: This current site is a collection of three different Webstuff sites spanning several years. Note the archive dates to see older material.