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330 An Explanation of Ems Ems are so-called because they are thought to approximate the size of an uppercase letter M (and so are pronounced emm), although 1em is actually significantly larger than this. The typographer Robert Bringhurst describes the em thus: The em is a sliding measure. One em is a distance equal to the type size. In 6 point type, an em is 6 points; in 12 point type an em is 12 points and in 60 point type an em is 60 points. Thus a one em space is proportionately the same in any size. To illustrate this principle in terms of CSS, consider these styles: #box1 { font-size: 12px; width: 1em; height: 1em; border:1px solid black; } #box2 { font-size: 60px; width: 1em; height: 1em; border: 1px solid black; } These styles will render like: M and M Note that both boxes have a height and width of 1em but because they have different font sizes, one box is bigger than the other. Box 1 has a font-size of 12px so its width and height is also 12px; similarly the text of box 2 is set to 60px and so its width and height are also 60px. 2005 Richard Rutter richardrutter 2005-12-02T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/an-explanation-of-ems/ design
318 Auto-Selecting Navigation In the article Centered Tabs with CSS Ethan laid out a tabbed navigation system which can be centred on the page. A frequent requirement for any tab-based navigation is to be able to visually represent the currently selected tab in some way. If you’re using a server-side language such as PHP, it’s quite easy to write something like class="selected" into your markup, but it can be even simpler than that. Let’s take the navigation div from Ethan’s article as an example. <div id="navigation"> <ul> <li><a href="#"><span>Home</span></a></li> <li><a href="#"><span>About</span></a></li> <li><a href="#"><span>Our Work</span></a></li> <li><a href="#"><span>Products</span></a></li> <li class="last"><a href="#"><span>Contact Us</span></a></li> </ul> </div> As you can see we have a standard unordered list which is then styled with CSS to look like tabs. By giving each tab a class which describes it’s logical section of the site, if we were to then apply a class to the body tag of each page showing the same, we could write a clever CSS selector to highlight the correct tab on any given page. Sound complicated? Well, it’s not a trivial concept, but actually applying it is dead simple. Modifying the markup First thing is to place a class name on each li in the list: <div id="navigation"> <ul> <li class="home"><a href="#"><span>Home</span></a></li> <li class="about"><a href="#"><span>About</span></a></li> <li class="work"><a href="#"><span>Our Work</span></a></li> <li class="products"><a href="#"><span>Products</span></a></li> <li class="last contact"><a href="#"><span>Contact Us</span></a></li> </ul> </div> Then, on each page of your site, apply the a matching class to the body tag to indicate which section of the site that page is in. For example, on your About page: <body class="about">...</body> Writing the CSS selector You can now write a single CSS rule to match the selected tab on any given page. The logic is that you want to match the ‘about’ tab on the ‘about’ page and the ‘products’ tab on the ‘products’ page, so the selector looks like this: body.home #navigation li.home, body.about #navigation li.about, body.work #navigation li.work, body.products #navigation li.products, body.contact #navigation li.contact{ ... whatever styles you need to show the tab selected ... } So all you need to do when you create a new page in your site is to apply a class to the body tag to say which section it’s in. The CSS will do the rest for you – without any server-side help. 2005 Drew McLellan drewmclellan 2005-12-10T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/auto-selecting-navigation/ code
319 Avoiding CSS Hacks for Internet Explorer Back in October, IEBlog issued a call to action, asking developers to clean up their CSS hacks for IE7 testing. Needless to say, a lot of hubbub ensued… both on IEBlog and elsewhere. My contribution to all of the noise was to suggest that developers review their code and use good CSS hacks. But what makes a good hack? Tantek Çelik, the Godfather of CSS hacks, gave us the answer by explaining how CSS hacks should be designed. In short, they should (1) be valid, (2) target only old/frozen/abandoned user-agents/browsers, and (3) be ugly. Tantek also went on to explain that using a feature of CSS is not a hack. Now, I’m not a frequent user of CSS hacks, but Tantek’s post made sense to me. In particular, I felt it gave developers direction on how we should be coding to accommodate that sometimes troublesome browser, Internet Explorer. But what I’ve found, through my work with other developers, is that there is still much confusion over the use of CSS hacks and IE. Using examples from the code I’ve seen recently, allow me to demonstrate how to clean up some IE-specific CSS hacks. The two hacks that I’ve found most often in the code I’ve seen and worked with are the star html bug and the underscore hack. We know these are both IE-specific by checking Kevin Smith’s CSS Filters chart. Let’s look at each of these hacks and see how we can replace them with the same CSS feature-based solution. The star html bug This hack violates Tantek’s second rule as it targets current (and future) UAs. I’ve seen this both as a stand alone rule, as well as an override to some other rule in a style sheet. Here are some code samples: * html div#header {margin-top:-3px;} .promo h3 {min-height:21px;} * html .promo h3 {height:21px;} The underscore hack This hack violates Tantek’s first two rules: it’s invalid (according to the W3C CSS Validator) and it targets current UAs. Here’s an example: ol {padding:0; _padding-left:5px;} Using child selectors We can use the child selector to replace both the star html bug and underscore hack. Here’s how: Write rules with selectors that would be successfully applied to all browsers. This may mean starting with no declarations in your rule! div#header {} .promo h3 {} ol {padding:0;} To these rules, add the IE-specific declarations. div#header {margin-top:-3px;} .promo h3 {height:21px;} ol {padding:0 0 0 5px;} After each rule, add a second rule. The selector of the second rule must use a child selector. In this new rule, correct any IE-specific declarations previously made. div#header {margin-top:-3px;} body > div#header {margin-top:0;} .promo h3 {height:21px;} .promo > h3 {height:auto; min-height:21px;} ol {padding:0 0 0 5px;} html > body ol {padding:0;} Voilà – no more hacks! There are a few caveats to this that I won’t go into… but assuming you’re operating in strict mode and barring any really complicated stuff you’re doing in your code, your CSS will still render perfectly across browsers. And while this may make your CSS slightly heftier in size, it should future-proof it for IE7 (or so I hope). Happy holidays! 2005 Kimberly Blessing kimberlyblessing 2005-12-17T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/avoiding-css-hacks-for-internet-explorer/ code
329 Broader Border Corners A note from the editors: Since this article was written the CSS border-radius property has become widely supported in browsers. It should be preferred to this image technique. A quick and easy recipe for turning those single-pixel borders that the kids love so much into into something a little less right-angled. Here’s the principle: We have a box with a one-pixel wide border around it. Inside that box is another box that has a little rounded-corner background image sitting snugly in one of its corners. The inner-box is then nudged out a bit so that it’s actually sitting on top of the outer box. If it’s all done properly, that little background image can mask the hard right angle of the default border of the outer-box, giving the impression that it actually has a rounded corner. Take An Image, Finely Chopped Add A Sprinkle of Markup <div id="content"> <p>Lorem ipsum etc. etc. etc.</p> </div> Throw In A Dollop of CSS #content { border: 1px solid #c03; } #content p { background: url(corner.gif) top left no-repeat; position: relative; left: -1px; top: -1px; padding: 1em; margin: 0; } Bubblin’ Hot The content div has a one-pixel wide red border around it. The paragraph is given a single instance of the background image, created to look like a one-pixel wide arc. The paragraph is shunted outside of the box – back one pixel and up one pixel – so that it is sitting over the div’s border. The white area of the image covers up that part of the border’s corner, and the arc meets up with the top and left border. Because, in this example, we’re applying a background image to a paragraph, its top margin needs to be zeroed so that it starts at the top of its container. Et voilà. Bon appétit. Extra Toppings If you want to apply a curve to each one of the corners and you run out of meaningful markup to hook the background images on to, throw some spans or divs in the mix (there’s nothing wrong with this if that’s the effect you truly want – they don’t hurt anybody) or use some nifty DOM Scripting to put the scaffolding in for you. Note that if you’ve got more than one of these relative corners, you will need to compensate for the starting position of each box which is nested in an already nudged parent. You’re not limited to one pixel wide, rounded corners – the same principles apply to thicker borders, or corners with different shapes. 2005 Patrick Griffiths patrickgriffiths 2005-12-14T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/broader-border-corners/ design
313 Centered Tabs with CSS Doug Bowman’s Sliding Doors is pretty much the de facto way to build tabbed navigation with CSS, and rightfully so – it is, as they say, rockin’ like Dokken. But since it relies heavily on floats for the positioning of its tabs, we’re constrained to either left- or right-hand navigation. But what if we need a bit more flexibility? What if we need to place our navigation in the center? Styling the li as a floated block does give us a great deal of control over margin, padding, and other presentational styles. However, we should learn to love the inline box – with it, we can create a flexible, centered alternative to floated navigation lists. Humble Beginnings Do an extra shot of ‘nog, because you know what’s coming next. That’s right, a simple unordered list: <div id="navigation"> <ul> <li><a href="#"><span>Home</span></a></li> <li><a href="#"><span>About</span></a></li> <li><a href="#"><span>Our Work</span></a></li> <li><a href="#"><span>Products</span></a></li> <li class="last"><a href="#"><span>Contact Us</span></a></li> </ul> </div> If we were wedded to using floats to style our list, we could easily fix the width of our ul, and trick it out with some margin: 0 auto; love to center it accordingly. But this wouldn’t net us much flexibility: if we ever changed the number of navigation items, or if the user increased her browser’s font size, our design could easily break. Instead of worrying about floats, let’s take the most basic approach possible: let’s turn our list items into inline elements, and simply use text-align to center them within the ul: #navigation ul, #navigation ul li { list-style: none; margin: 0; padding: 0; } #navigation ul { text-align: center; } #navigation ul li { display: inline; margin-right: .75em; } #navigation ul li.last { margin-right: 0; } Our first step is sexy, no? Well, okay, not really – but it gives us a good starting point. We’ve tamed our list by removing its default styles, set the list items to display: inline, and centered the lot. Adding a background color to the links shows us exactly how the different elements are positioned. Now the fun stuff. Inline Elements, Padding, and You So how do we give our links some dimensions? Well, as the CSS specification tells us, the height property isn’t an option for inline elements such as our anchors. However, what if we add some padding to them? #navigation li a { padding: 5px 1em; } I just love leading questions. Things are looking good, but something’s amiss: as you can see, the padded anchors seem to be escaping their containing list. Thankfully, it’s easy to get things back in line. Our anchors have 5 pixels of padding on their top and bottom edges, right? Well, by applying the same vertical padding to the list, our list will finally “contain” its child elements once again. ’Tis the Season for Tabbing Now, we’re finally able to follow the “Sliding Doors” model, and tack on some graphics: #navigation ul li a { background: url("tab-right.gif") no-repeat 100% 0; color: #06C; padding: 5px 0; text-decoration: none; } #navigation ul li a span { background: url("tab-left.gif") no-repeat; padding: 5px 1em; } #navigation ul li a:hover span { color: #69C; text-decoration: underline; } Finally, our navigation’s looking appropriately sexy. By placing an equal amount of padding on the top and bottom of the ul, our tabs are properly “contained”, and we can subsequently style the links within them. But what if we want them to bleed over the bottom-most border? Easy: we can simply decrease the bottom padding on the list by one pixel, like so. A Special Note for Special Browsers The Mac IE5 users in the audience are likely hopping up and down by now: as they’ve discovered, our centered navigation behaves rather annoyingly in their browser. As Philippe Wittenbergh has reported, Mac IE5 is known to create “phantom links” in a block-level element when text-align is set to any value but the default value of left. Thankfully, Philippe has documented a workaround that gets that [censored] venerable browser to behave. Simply place the following code into your CSS, and the links will be restored to their appropriate width: /**//*/ #navigation ul li a { display: inline-block; white-space: nowrap; width: 1px; } /**/ IE for Windows, however, displays an extra kind of crazy. The padding I’ve placed on my anchors is offsetting the spans that contain the left curve of my tabs; thankfully, these shenanigans are easily straightened out: /**/ * html #navigation ul li a { padding: 0; } /**/ And with that, we’re finally finished. All set. And that’s it. With your centered navigation in hand, you can finally enjoy those holiday toddies and uncomfortable conversations with your skeevy Uncle Eustace. 2005 Ethan Marcotte ethanmarcotte 2005-12-08T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/centered-tabs-with-css/ code
332 CSS Layout Starting Points I build a lot of CSS layouts, some incredibly simple, others that cause sleepless nights and remind me of the torturous puzzle books that were given to me at Christmas by aunties concerned for my education. However, most of the time these layouts fit quite comfortably into one of a very few standard formats. For example: Liquid, multiple column with no footer Liquid, multiple column with footer Fixed width, centred Rather than starting out with blank CSS and (X)HTML documents every time you need to build a layout, you can fairly quickly create a bunch of layout starting points, that will give you a solid basis for creating the rest of the design and mean that you don’t have to remember how a three column layout with a footer is best achieved every time you come across one! These starting points can be really basic, in fact that’s exactly what you want as the final design, the fonts, the colours and so on will be different every time. It’s just the main sections we want to be able to quickly get into place. For example, here is a basic starting point CSS and XHTML document for a fixed width, centred layout with a footer. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> <html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"> <head> <title>Fixed Width and Centred starting point document</title> <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="fixed-width-centred.css" /> <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" /> </head> <body> <div id="wrapper"> <div id="side"> <div class="inner"> <p>Sidebar content here</p> </div> </div> <div id="content"> <div class="inner"> <p>Your main content goes here.</p> </div> </div> <div id="footer"> <div class="inner"> <p>Ho Ho Ho!</p> </div> </div> </div> </body> </html> body { text-align: center; min-width: 740px; padding: 0; margin: 0; } #wrapper { text-align: left; width: 740px; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto; padding: 0; } #content { margin: 0 200px 0 0; } #content .inner { padding-top: 1px; margin: 0 10px 10px 10px; } #side { float: right; width: 180px; margin: 0; } #side .inner { padding-top: 1px; margin: 0 10px 10px 10px; } #footer { margin-top: 10px; clear: both; } #footer .inner { margin: 10px; } 9 times out of 10, after figuring out exactly what main elements I have in a layout, I can quickly grab the ‘one I prepared earlier’, mark-up the relevant sections within the ready-made divs, and from that point on, I only need to worry about the contents of those different areas. The actual layout is tried and tested, one that I know works well in different browsers and that is unlikely to throw me any nasty surprises later on. In addition, considering how the layout is going to work first prevents the problem of developing a layout, then realising you need to put a footer on it, and needing to redevelop the layout as the method you have chosen won’t work well with a footer. While enjoying your mince pies and mulled wine during the ‘quiet time’ between Christmas and New Year, why not create some starting point layouts of your own? The css-discuss Wiki, CSS layouts section is a great place to find examples that you can try out and find your favourite method of creating the various layout types. 2005 Rachel Andrew rachelandrew 2005-12-04T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/css-layout-starting-points/ code
324 Debugging CSS with the DOM Inspector An Inspector Calls The larger your site and your CSS becomes, the more likely that you will run into bizarre, inexplicable problems. Why does that heading have all that extra padding? Why is my text the wrong colour? Why does my navigation have a large moose dressed as Noel Coward on top of all the links? Perhaps you work in a collaborative environment, where developers and other designers are adding code? In which case, the likelihood of CSS strangeness is higher. You need to debug. You need Firefox’s wise-guy know-it-all, the DOM Inspector. The DOM Inspector knows where everything is in your layout, and more importantly, what causes it to look the way it does. So without further ado, load up any css based site in your copy of Firefox (or Flock for that matter), and launch the DOM Inspector from the Tools menu. The inspector uses two main panels – the left to show the DOM tree of the page, and the right to show you detail: The Inspector will look at whatever site is in the front-most window or tab, but you can also use it without another window. Type in a URL at the top (A), press ‘Inspect’ (B) and a third panel appears at the bottom, with the browser view. I find this layout handier than looking at a window behind the DOM Inspector. Step 1 – find your node! Each element on your page – be it a HTML tag or a piece of text, is called a ‘node’ of the DOM tree. These nodes are all listed in the left hand panel, with any ID or CLASS attribute values next to them. When you first look at a page, you won’t see all those yet. Nested HTML elements (such as a link inside a paragraph) have a reveal triangle next to their name, clicking this takes you one level further down. This can be fine for finding the node you want to look at, but there are easier ways. Say you have a complex rounded box technique that involves 6 nested DIVs? You’d soon get tired of clicking all those triangles to find the element you want to inspect. Click the top left icon © – “Find a node to inspect by clicking on it” and then select the area you want to inspect. Boom! All that drilling down the DOM tree has been done for you! Huzzah! If you’re looking for an element that you know has an ID (such as <ul id="navigation">), or a specific HTML tag or attribute, click the binoculars icon (D) for “Finds a node to inspect by ID, tag or attribute” (You can also use Ctrl-F or Apple-F to do this if the DOM Inspector is the frontmost window) : Type in the name and Bam! You’re there! Pressing F3 will take you to any other instances. Notice also, that when you click on a node in the inspector, it highlights where it is in the browser view with a flashing red border! Now that we’ve found the troublesome node on the page, we can find out what’s up with it… Step 2 – Debug that node! Once the node is selected, we move over to the right hand panel. Choose ‘CSS Style Rules’ from the document menu (E), and all the CSS rules that apply to that node are revealed, in the order that they load: You’ll notice that right at the top, there is a CSS file you might not recognise, with a file path beginning with “resource://”. This is the browsers default CSS, that creates the basic rendering. You can mostly ignore this, especially if use the star selector method of resetting default browser styles. Your style sheets come next. See how helpful it is? It even tells you the line number where to find the related CSS rules! If you use CSS shorthand, you’ll notice that the values are split up (e.g margin-left, margin-right etc.). Now that you can see all the style rules affecting that node, the rest is up to you! Happy debugging! 2005 Jon Hicks jonhicks 2005-12-22T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/debugging-css-with-the-dom-inspector/ process
320 DOM Scripting Your Way to Better Blockquotes Block quotes are great. I don’t mean they’re great for indenting content – that would be an abuse of the browser’s default styling. I mean they’re great for semantically marking up a chunk of text that is being quoted verbatim. They’re especially useful in blog posts. <blockquote> <p>Progressive Enhancement, as a label for a strategy for Web design, was coined by Steven Champeon in a series of articles and presentations for Webmonkey and the SxSW Interactive conference.</p> </blockquote> Notice that you can’t just put the quoted text directly between the <blockquote> tags. In order for your markup to be valid, block quotes may only contain block-level elements such as paragraphs. There is an optional cite attribute that you can place in the opening <blockquote> tag. This should contain a URL containing the original text you are quoting: <blockquote cite="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Enhancement"> <p>Progressive Enhancement, as a label for a strategy for Web design, was coined by Steven Champeon in a series of articles and presentations for Webmonkey and the SxSW Interactive conference.</p> </blockquote> Great! Except… the default behavior in most browsers is to completely ignore the cite attribute. Even though it contains important and useful information, the URL in the cite attribute is hidden. You could simply duplicate the information with a hyperlink at the end of the quoted text: <blockquote cite="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Enhancement"> <p>Progressive Enhancement, as a label for a strategy for Web design, was coined by Steven Champeon in a series of articles and presentations for Webmonkey and the SxSW Interactive conference.</p> <p class="attribution"> <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Enhancement">source</a> </p> </blockquote> But somehow it feels wrong to have to write out the same URL twice every time you want to quote something. It could also get very tedious if you have a lot of quotes. Well, “tedious” is no problem to a programming language, so why not use a sprinkling of DOM Scripting? Here’s a plan for generating an attribution link for every block quote with a cite attribute: Write a function called prepareBlockquotes. Begin by making sure the browser understands the methods you will be using. Get all the blockquote elements in the document. Start looping through each one. Get the value of the cite attribute. If the value is empty, continue on to the next iteration of the loop. Create a paragraph. Create a link. Give the paragraph a class of “attribution”. Give the link an href attribute with the value from the cite attribute. Place the text “source” inside the link. Place the link inside the paragraph. Place the paragraph inside the block quote. Close the for loop. Close the function. Here’s how that translates to JavaScript: function prepareBlockquotes() { if (!document.getElementsByTagName || !document.createElement || !document.appendChild) return; var quotes = document.getElementsByTagName("blockquote"); for (var i=0; i<quotes.length; i++) { var source = quotes[i].getAttribute("cite"); if (!source) continue; var para = document.createElement("p"); var link = document.createElement("a"); para.className = "attribution"; link.setAttribute("href",source); link.appendChild(document.createTextNode("source")); para.appendChild(link); quotes[i].appendChild(para); } } Now all you need to do is trigger that function when the document has loaded: window.onload = prepareBlockquotes; Better yet, use Simon Willison’s handy addLoadEvent function to queue this function up with any others you might want to execute when the page loads. That’s it. All you need to do is save this function in a JavaScript file and reference that file from the head of your document using <script> tags. You can style the attribution link using CSS. It might look good aligned to the right with a smaller font size. If you’re looking for something to do to keep you busy this Christmas, I’m sure that this function could be greatly improved. Here are a few ideas to get you started: Should the text inside the generated link be the URL itself? If the block quote has a title attribute, how would you take its value and use it as the text inside the generated link? Should the attribution paragraph be placed outside the block quote? If so, how would you that (remember, there is an insertBefore method but no insertAfter)? Can you think of other instances of useful information that’s locked away inside attributes? Access keys? Abbreviations? 2005 Jeremy Keith jeremykeith 2005-12-05T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/dom-scripting-your-way-to-better-blockquotes/ code
326 Don't be eval() JavaScript is an interpreted language, and like so many of its peers it includes the all powerful eval() function. eval() takes a string and executes it as if it were regular JavaScript code. It’s incredibly powerful and incredibly easy to abuse in ways that make your code slower and harder to maintain. As a general rule, if you’re using eval() there’s probably something wrong with your design. Common mistakes Here’s the classic misuse of eval(). You have a JavaScript object, foo, and you want to access a property on it – but you don’t know the name of the property until runtime. Here’s how NOT to do it: var property = 'bar'; var value = eval('foo.' + property); Yes it will work, but every time that piece of code runs JavaScript will have to kick back in to interpreter mode, slowing down your app. It’s also dirt ugly. Here’s the right way of doing the above: var property = 'bar'; var value = foo[property]; In JavaScript, square brackets act as an alternative to lookups using a dot. The only difference is that square bracket syntax expects a string. Security issues In any programming language you should be extremely cautious of executing code from an untrusted source. The same is true for JavaScript – you should be extremely cautious of running eval() against any code that may have been tampered with – for example, strings taken from the page query string. Executing untrusted code can leave you vulnerable to cross-site scripting attacks. What’s it good for? Some programmers say that eval() is B.A.D. – Broken As Designed – and should be removed from the language. However, there are some places in which it can dramatically simplify your code. A great example is for use with XMLHttpRequest, a component of the set of tools more popularly known as Ajax. XMLHttpRequest lets you make a call back to the server from JavaScript without refreshing the whole page. A simple way of using this is to have the server return JavaScript code which is then passed to eval(). Here is a simple function for doing exactly that – it takes the URL to some JavaScript code (or a server-side script that produces JavaScript) and loads and executes that code using XMLHttpRequest and eval(). function evalRequest(url) { var xmlhttp = new XMLHttpRequest(); xmlhttp.onreadystatechange = function() { if (xmlhttp.readyState==4 && xmlhttp.status==200) { eval(xmlhttp.responseText); } } xmlhttp.open("GET", url, true); xmlhttp.send(null); } If you want this to work with Internet Explorer you’ll need to include this compatibility patch. 2005 Simon Willison simonwillison 2005-12-07T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/dont-be-eval/ code
314 Easy Ajax with Prototype There’s little more impressive on the web today than a appropriate touch of Ajax. Used well, Ajax brings a web interface much closer to the experience of a desktop app, and can turn a bear of an task into a pleasurable activity. But it’s really hard, right? It involves all the nasty JavaScript that no one ever does often enough to get really good at, and the browser support is patchy, and urgh it’s just so much damn effort. Well, the good news is that – ta-da – it doesn’t have to be a headache. But man does it still look impressive. Here’s how to amaze your friends. Introducing prototype.js Prototype is a JavaScript framework by Sam Stephenson designed to help make developing dynamic web apps a whole lot easier. In basic terms, it’s a JavaScript file which you link into your page that then enables you to do cool stuff. There’s loads of capability built in, a portion of which covers our beloved Ajax. The whole thing is freely distributable under an MIT-style license, so it’s good to go. What a nice man that Mr Stephenson is – friends, let us raise a hearty cup of mulled wine to his good name. Cheers! sluurrrrp. First step is to download the latest Prototype and put it somewhere safe. I suggest underneath the Christmas tree. Cutting to the chase Before I go on and set up an example of how to use this, let’s just get to the crux. Here’s how Prototype enables you to make a simple Ajax call and dump the results back to the page: var url = 'myscript.php'; var pars = 'foo=bar'; var target = 'output-div'; var myAjax = new Ajax.Updater(target, url, {method: 'get', parameters: pars}); This snippet of JavaScript does a GET to myscript.php, with the parameter foo=bar, and when a result is returned, it places it inside the element with the ID output-div on your page. Knocking up a basic example So to get this show on the road, there are three files we need to set up in our site alongside prototype.js. Obviously we need a basic HTML page with prototype.js linked in. This is the page the user interacts with. Secondly, we need our own JavaScript file for the glue between the interface and the stuff Prototype is doing. Lastly, we need the page (a PHP script in my case) that the Ajax is going to make its call too. So, to that basic HTML page for the user to interact with. Here’s one I found whilst out carol singing: <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> <html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> <head> <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8"/> <title>Easy Ajax</title> <script type="text/javascript" src="prototype.js"></script> <script type="text/javascript" src="ajax.js"></script> </head> <body> <form method="get" action="greeting.php" id="greeting-form"> <div> <label for="greeting-name">Enter your name:</label> <input id="greeting-name" type="text" /> <input id="greeting-submit" type="submit" value="Greet me!" /> </div> <div id="greeting"></div> </form> </body> </html> As you can see, I’ve linked in prototype.js, and also a file called ajax.js, which is where we’ll be putting our glue. (Careful where you leave your glue, kids.) Our basic example is just going to take a name and then echo it back in the form of a seasonal greeting. There’s a form with an input field for a name, and crucially a DIV (greeting) for the result of our call. You’ll also notice that the form has a submit button – this is so that it can function as a regular form when no JavaScript is available. It’s important not to get carried away and forget the basics of accessibility. Meanwhile, back at the server So we need a script at the server which is going to take input from the Ajax call and return some output. This is normally where you’d hook into a database and do whatever transaction you need to before returning a result. To keep this as simple as possible, all this example here will do is take the name the user has given and add it to a greeting message. Not exactly Web 2-point-HoHoHo, but there you have it. Here’s a quick PHP script – greeting.php – that Santa brought me early. <?php $the_name = htmlspecialchars($_GET['greeting-name']); echo "<p>Season's Greetings, $the_name!</p>"; ?> You’ll perhaps want to do something a little more complex within your own projects. Just sayin’. Gluing it all together Inside our ajax.js file, we need to hook this all together. We’re going to take advantage of some of the handy listener routines and such that Prototype also makes available. The first task is to attach a listener to set the scene once the window has loaded. He’s how we attach an onload event to the window object and get it to call a function named init(): Event.observe(window, 'load', init, false); Now we create our init() function to do our evil bidding. Its first job of the day is to hide the submit button for those with JavaScript enabled. After that, it attaches a listener to watch for the user typing in the name field. function init(){ $('greeting-submit').style.display = 'none'; Event.observe('greeting-name', 'keyup', greet, false); } As you can see, this is going to make a call to a function called greet() onkeyup in the greeting-name field. That function looks like this: function greet(){ var url = 'greeting.php'; var pars = 'greeting-name='+escape($F('greeting-name')); var target = 'greeting'; var myAjax = new Ajax.Updater(target, url, {method: 'get', parameters: pars}); } The key points to note here are that any user input needs to be escaped before putting into the parameters so that it’s URL-ready. The target is the ID of the element on the page (a DIV in our case) which will be the recipient of the output from the Ajax call. That’s it No, seriously. That’s everything. Try the example. Amaze your friends with your 1337 Ajax sk1llz. 2005 Drew McLellan drewmclellan 2005-12-01T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/easy-ajax-with-prototype/ code
315 Edit-in-Place with Ajax Back on day one we looked at using the Prototype library to take all the hard work out of making a simple Ajax call. While that was fun and all, it didn’t go that far towards implementing something really practical. We dipped our toes in, but haven’t learned to swim yet. So here is swimming lesson number one. Anyone who’s used Flickr to publish their photos will be familiar with the edit-in-place system used for quickly amending titles and descriptions on photographs. Hovering over an item turns its background yellow to indicate it is editable. A simple click loads the text into an edit box, right there on the page. Prototype includes all sorts of useful methods to help reproduce something like this for our own projects. As well as the simple Ajax GETs we learned how to do last time, we can also do POSTs (which we’ll need here) and a whole bunch of manipulations to the user interface – all through simple library calls. Here’s what we’re building, so let’s do it. Getting Started There are two major components to this process; the user interface manipulation and the Ajax call itself. Our set-up is much the same as last time (you may wish to read the first article if you’ve not already done so). We have a basic HTML page which links in the prototype.js file and our own editinplace.js. Here’s what Santa dropped down my chimney: <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> <html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> <head> <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8"/> <title>Edit-in-Place with Ajax</title> <link href="editinplace.css" rel="Stylesheet" type="text/css" /> <script src="prototype.js" type="text/javascript"></script> <script src="editinplace.js" type="text/javascript"></script> </head> <body> <h1>Edit-in-place</h1> <p id="desc">Dashing through the snow on a one horse open sleigh.</p> </body> </html> So that’s our page. The editable item is going to be the <p> called desc. The process goes something like this: Highlight the area onMouseOver Clear the highlight onMouseOut If the user clicks, hide the area and replace with a <textarea> and buttons Remove all of the above if the user cancels the operation When the Save button is clicked, make an Ajax POST and show that something’s happening When the Ajax call comes back, update the page with the new content Events and Highlighting The first step is to offer feedback to the user that the item is editable. This is done by shading the background colour when the user mouses over. Of course, the CSS :hover pseudo class is a straightforward way to do this, but for three reasons, I’m using JavaScript to switch class names. :hover isn’t supported on many elements in Internet Explorer for Windows I want to keep control over when the highlight switches off after an update, regardless of mouse position If JavaScript isn’t available we don’t want to end up with the CSS suggesting it might be With this in mind, here’s how editinplace.js starts: Event.observe(window, 'load', init, false); function init(){ makeEditable('desc'); } function makeEditable(id){ Event.observe(id, 'click', function(){edit($(id))}, false); Event.observe(id, 'mouseover', function(){showAsEditable($(id))}, false); Event.observe(id, 'mouseout', function(){showAsEditable($(id), true)}, false); } function showAsEditable(obj, clear){ if (!clear){ Element.addClassName(obj, 'editable'); }else{ Element.removeClassName(obj, 'editable'); } } The first line attaches an onLoad event to the window, so that the function init() gets called once the page has loaded. In turn, init() sets up all the items on the page that we want to make editable. In this example I’ve just got one, but you can add as many as you like. The function madeEditable() attaches the mouseover, mouseout and click events to the item we’re making editable. All showAsEditable does is add and remove the class name editable from the object. This uses the particularly cunning methods Element.addClassName() and Element.removeClassName() which enable you to cleanly add and remove effects without affecting any styling the object may otherwise have. Oh, remember to add a rule for .editable to your style sheet: .editable{ color: #000; background-color: #ffffd3; } The Switch As you can see above, when the user clicks on an editable item, a call is made to the function edit(). This is where we switch out the static item for a nice editable textarea. Here’s how that function looks. function edit(obj){ Element.hide(obj); var textarea ='<div id="' + obj.id + '_editor"> <textarea id="' + obj.id + '_edit" name="' + obj.id + '" rows="4" cols="60">' + obj.innerHTML + '</textarea>'; var button = '<input id="' + obj.id + '_save" type="button" value="SAVE" /> OR <input id="' + obj.id + '_cancel" type="button" value="CANCEL" /></div>'; new Insertion.After(obj, textarea+button); Event.observe(obj.id+'_save', 'click', function(){saveChanges(obj)}, false); Event.observe(obj.id+'_cancel', 'click', function(){cleanUp(obj)}, false); } The first thing to do is to hide the object. Prototype comes to the rescue with Element.hide() (and of course, Element.show() too). Following that, we build up the textarea and buttons as a string, and then use Insertion.After() to place our new editor underneath the (now hidden) editable object. The last thing to do before we leave the user to edit is it attach listeners to the Save and Cancel buttons to call either the saveChanges() function, or to cleanUp() after a cancel. In the event of a cancel, we can clean up behind ourselves like so: function cleanUp(obj, keepEditable){ Element.remove(obj.id+'_editor'); Element.show(obj); if (!keepEditable) showAsEditable(obj, true); } Saving the Changes This is where all the Ajax fun occurs. Whilst the previous article introduced Ajax.Updater() for simple Ajax calls, in this case we need a little bit more control over what happens once the response is received. For this purpose, Ajax.Request() is perfect. We can use the onSuccess and onFailure parameters to register functions to handle the response. function saveChanges(obj){ var new_content = escape($F(obj.id+'_edit')); obj.innerHTML = "Saving..."; cleanUp(obj, true); var success = function(t){editComplete(t, obj);} var failure = function(t){editFailed(t, obj);} var url = 'edit.php'; var pars = 'id=' + obj.id + '&content=' + new_content; var myAjax = new Ajax.Request(url, {method:'post', postBody:pars, onSuccess:success, onFailure:failure}); } function editComplete(t, obj){ obj.innerHTML = t.responseText; showAsEditable(obj, true); } function editFailed(t, obj){ obj.innerHTML = 'Sorry, the update failed.'; cleanUp(obj); } As you can see, we first grab in the contents of the textarea into the variable new_content. We then remove the editor, set the content of the original object to “Saving…” to show that an update is occurring, and make the Ajax POST. If the Ajax fails, editFailed() sets the contents of the object to “Sorry, the update failed.” Admittedly, that’s not a very helpful way to handle the error but I have to limit the scope of this article somewhere. It might be a good idea to stow away the original contents of the object (obj.preUpdate = obj.innerHTML) for later retrieval before setting the content to “Saving…”. No one likes a failure – especially a messy one. If the Ajax call is successful, the server-side script returns the edited content, which we then place back inside the object from editComplete, and tidy up. Meanwhile, back at the server The missing piece of the puzzle is the server-side script for committing the changes to your database. Obviously, any solution I provide here is not going to fit your particular application. For the purposes of getting a functional demo going, here’s what I have in PHP. <?php $id = $_POST['id']; $content = $_POST['content']; echo htmlspecialchars($content); ?> Not exactly rocket science is it? I’m just catching the content item from the POST and echoing it back. For your application to be useful, however, you’ll need to know exactly which record you should be updating. I’m passing in the ID of my <div>, which is not a fat lot of use. You can modify saveChanges() to post back whatever information your app needs to know in order to process the update. You should also check the user’s credentials to make sure they have permission to edit whatever it is they’re editing. Basically the same rules apply as with any script in your application. Limitations There are a few bits and bobs that in an ideal world I would tidy up. The first is the error handling, as I’ve already mentioned. The second is that from an idealistic standpoint, I’d rather not be using innerHTML. However, the reality is that it’s presently the most efficient way of making large changes to the document. If you’re serving as XML, remember that you’ll need to replace these with proper DOM nodes. It’s also important to note that it’s quite difficult to make something like this universally accessible. Whenever you start updating large chunks of a document based on user interaction, a lot of non-traditional devices don’t cope well. The benefit of this technique, though, is that if JavaScript is unavailable none of the functionality gets implemented at all – it fails silently. It is for this reason that this shouldn’t be used as a complete replacement for a traditional, universally accessible edit form. It’s a great time-saver for those with the ability to use it, but it’s no replacement. See it in action I’ve put together an example page using the inert PHP script above. That is to say, your edits aren’t committed to a database, so the example is reset when the page is reloaded. 2005 Drew McLellan drewmclellan 2005-12-23T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/edit-in-place-with-ajax/ code
316 Have Your DOM and Script It Too When working with the XMLHttpRequest object it appears you can only go one of three ways: You can stay true to the colorful moniker du jour and stick strictly to the responseXML property You can play with proprietary – yet widely supported – fire and inject the value of responseText property into the innerHTML of an element of your choosing Or you can be eval() and parse JSON or arbitrary JavaScript delivered via responseText But did you know that there’s a fourth option giving you the best of the latter two worlds? Mint uses this unmentioned approach to grab fresh HTML and run arbitrary JavaScript simultaneously. Without relying on eval(). “But wait-”, you might say, “when would I need to do this?” Besides the example below this technique is handy for things like tab groups that need initialization onload but miss the main onload event handler by a mile thanks to asynchronous scripting. Consider the problem Originally Mint used option 2 to refresh or load new tabs into individual Pepper panes without requiring a full roundtrip to the server. This was all well and good until I introduced the new Client Mode which when enabled allows anyone to view a Mint installation without being logged in. If voyeurs are afoot as Client Mode is disabled, the next time they refresh a pane the entire login page is inserted into the current document. That’s not very helpful so I needed a way to redirect the current document to the login page. Enter the solution Wouldn’t it be cool if browsers interpreted the contents of script tags crammed into innerHTML? Sure, but unfortunately, that just wasn’t meant to be. However like the body element, image elements have an onload event handler. When the image has fully loaded the handler runs the code applied to it. See where I’m going with this? By tacking a tiny image (think single pixel, transparent spacer gif – shudder) onto the end of the HTML returned by our Ajax call, we can smuggle our arbitrary JavaScript into the existing document. The image is added to the DOM, and our stowaway can go to town. <p>This is the results of our Ajax call.</p> <img src="../images/loaded.gif" alt="" onload="alert('Now that I have your attention...');" /> Please be neat So we’ve just jammed some meaningless cruft into our DOM. If our script does anything with images this addition could have some unexpected side effects. (Remember The Fly?) So in order to save that poor, unsuspecting element whose innerHTML we just swapped out from sharing Jeff Goldblum’s terrible fate we should tidy up after ourselves. And by using the removeChild method we do just that. <p>This is the results of our Ajax call.</p> <img src="../images/loaded.gif" alt="" onload="alert('Now that I have your attention...');this.parentNode.removeChild(this);" /> 2005 Shaun Inman shauninman 2005-12-24T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/have-your-dom-and-script-it-too/ code
327 Improving Form Accessibility with DOM Scripting The form label element is an incredibly useful little element – it lets you link the form field unquestionably with the descriptive label text that sits alongside or above it. This is a very useful feature for people using screen readers, but there are some problems with this element. What happens if you have one piece of data that, for various reasons (validation, the way your data is collected/stored etc), needs to be collected using several form elements? The classic example is date of birth – ideally, you’ll ask for the date of birth once but you may have three inputs, one each for day, month and year, that you also need to provide hints about the format required. The problem is that to be truly accessible you need to label each field. So you end up needing something to say “this is a date of birth”, “this is the day field”, “this is the month field” and “this is the day field”. Seems like overkill, doesn’t it? And it can uglify a form no end. There are various ways that you can approach it (and I think I’ve seen them all). Some people omit the label and rely on the title attribute to help the user through; others put text in a label but make the text 1 pixel high and merging in to the background so that screen readers can still get that information. The most common method, though, is simply to set the label to not display at all using the CSS display:none property/value pairing (a technique which, for the time being, seems to work on most screen readers). But perhaps we can do more with this? The technique I am suggesting as another alternative is as follows (here comes the pseudo-code): Start with a totally valid and accessible form Ensure that each form input has a label that is linked to its related form control Apply a class to any label that you don’t want to be visible (for example superfluous) Then, through the magic of unobtrusive JavaScript/the DOM, manipulate the page as follows once the page has loaded: Find all the label elements that are marked as superfluous and hide them Find out what input element each of these label elements is related to Then apply a hint about formatting required for input (gleaned from the original, now-hidden label text) – add it to the form input as default text Finally, add in a behaviour that clears or selects the default text (as you choose) So, here’s the theory put into practice – a date of birth, grouped using a fieldset, and with the behaviours added in using DOM, and here’s the JavaScript that does the heavy lifting. But why not just use display:none? As demonstrated at Juicy Studio, display:none seems to work quite well for hiding label elements. So why use a sledge hammer to crack a nut? In all honesty, this is something of an experiment, but consider the following: Using the DOM, you can add extra levels of help, potentially across a whole form – or even range of forms – without necessarily increasing your markup (it goes beyond simply hiding labels) Screen readers today may identify a label that is set not to display, but they may not in the future – this might provide a way around By expanding this technique above, it might be possible to visually change the parent container that groups these items – in this case, a fieldset and legend, which are notoriously difficult to style consistently across different browsers – while still retaining the underlying semantic/logical structure Well, it’s an idea to think about at least. How is it for you? How else might you use DOM scripting to improve the accessiblity or usability of your forms? 2005 Ian Lloyd ianlloyd 2005-12-03T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/improving-form-accessibility-with-dom-scripting/ code
323 Introducing UDASSS! Okay. What’s that mean? Unobtrusive Degradable Ajax Style Sheet Switcher! Boy are you in for treat today ‘cause we’re gonna have a whole lotta Ajaxifida Unobtrucitosity CSS swappin’ Fun! Okay are you really kidding? Nope. I’ve even impressed myself on this one. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time to tell you the ins and outs of what I actually did to get this to work. We’re talking JavaScript, CSS, PHP…Ajax. But don’t worry about that. I’ve always believed that a good A.P.I. is an invisible A.P.I… and this I felt I achieved. The only thing you need to know is how it works and what to do. A Quick Introduction Anyway… First of all, the idea is very simple. I wanted something just like what Paul Sowden put together in Alternative Style: Working With Alternate Style Sheets from Alistapart Magazine EXCEPT a few minor (not-so-minor actually) differences which I’ve listed briefly below: Allow users to switch styles without JavaScript enabled (degradable) Preventing the F.O.U.C. before the window ‘load’ when getting preferred styles Keep the JavaScript entirely off our markup (no onclick’s or onload’s) Make it very very easy to implement (ok, Paul did that too) What I did to achieve this was used server-side cookies instead of JavaScript cookies. Hence, PHP. However this isn’t a “PHP style switcher” – which is where Ajax comes in. For the extreme technical folks, no, there is no xml involved here, or even a callback response. I only say Ajax because everyone knows what ‘it’ means. With that said, it’s the Ajax that sets the cookies ‘on the fly’. Got it? Awesome! What you need Luckily, I’ve done the work for you. It’s all packaged up in a nice zip file (at the end…keep reading for now) – so from here on out, just follow these instructions As I’ve mentioned, one of the things we’ll be working with is PHP. So, first things first, open up a file called index and save it with a ‘.php’ extension. Next, place the following text at the top of your document (even above your DOCTYPE) <?php require_once('utils/style-switcher.php'); // style sheet path[, media, title, bool(set as alternate)] $styleSheet = new AlternateStyles(); $styleSheet->add('css/global.css','screen,projection'); // [Global Styles] $styleSheet->add('css/preferred.css','screen,projection','Wog Standard'); // [Preferred Styles] $styleSheet->add('css/alternate.css','screen,projection','Tiny Fonts',true); // [Alternate Styles] $styleSheet->add('css/alternate2.css','screen,projection','Big O Fonts',true); // // [Alternate Styles] $styleSheet->getPreferredStyles(); ?> The way this works is REALLY EASY. Pay attention closely. Notice in the first line we’ve included our style-switcher.php file. Next we instantiate a PHP class called AlternateStyles() which will allow us to configure our style sheets. So for kicks, let’s just call our object $styleSheet As part of the AlternateStyles object, there lies a public method called add. So naturally with our $styleSheet object, we can call it to (da – da-da-da!) Add Style Sheets! How the add() method works The add method takes in a possible four arguments, only one is required. However, you’ll want to add some… since the whole point is working with alternate style sheets. $path can simply be a uri, absolute, or relative path to your style sheet. $media adds a media attribute to your style sheets. $title gives a name to your style sheets (via title attribute).$alternate (which shows boolean) simply tells us that these are the alternate style sheets. add() Tips For all global style sheets (meaning the ones that will always be seen and will not be swapped out), simply use the add method as shown next to // [Global Styles]. To add preferred styles, do the same, but add a ‘title’. To add the alternate styles, do the same as what we’ve done to add preferred styles, but add the extra boolean and set it to true. Note following when adding style sheets Multiple global style sheets are allowed You can only have one preferred style sheet (That’s a browser rule) Feel free to add as many alternate style sheets as you like Moving on Simply add the following snippet to the <head> of your web document: <script type="text/javascript" src="js/prototype.js"></script> <script type="text/javascript" src="js/common.js"></script> <script type="text/javascript" src="js/alternateStyles.js"></script> <?php $styleSheet->drop(); ?> Nothing much to explain here. Just use your copy & paste powers. How to Switch Styles Whether you knew it or not, this baby already has the built in ‘ubobtrusive’ functionality that lets you switch styles by the drop of any link with a class name of ‘altCss‘. Just drop them where ever you like in your document as follows: <a class="altCss" href="index.php?css=Bog_Standard">Bog Standard</a> <a class="altCss" href="index.php?css=Really_Small_Fonts">Small Fonts</a> <a class="altCss" href="index.php?css=Large_Fonts">Large Fonts</a> Take special note where the file is linking to. Yep. Just linking right back to the page we’re on. The only extra parameters we pass in is a variable called ‘css’ – and within that we append the names of our style sheets. Also take very special note on the names of the style sheets have an under_score to take place of any spaces we might have. Go ahead… play around and change the style sheet on the example page. Try disabling JavaScript and refreshing your browser. Still works! Cool eh? Well, I put this together in one night so it’s still a work in progress and very beta. If you’d like to hear more about it and its future development, be sure stop on by my site where I’ll definitely be maintaining it. Download the beta anyway Well this wouldn’t be fun if there was nothing to download. So we’re hooking you up so you don’t go home (or logoff) unhappy Download U.D.A.S.S.S | V0.8 Merry Christmas! Thanks for listening and I hope U.D.A.S.S.S. has been well worth your time and will bring many years of Ajaxy Style Switchin’ Fun! Many Blessings, Merry Christmas and have a great new year! 2005 Dustin Diaz dustindiaz 2005-12-18T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/introducing-udasss/ code
322 Introduction to Scriptaculous Effects Gather around kids, because this year, much like in that James Bond movie with Denise Richards, Christmas is coming early… in the shape of scrumptuous smooth javascript driven effects at your every whim. Now what I’m going to do, is take things down a notch. Which is to say, you don’t need to know much beyond how to open a text file and edit it to follow this article. Personally, I for instance can’t code to save my life. Well, strictly speaking, that’s not entirely true. If my life was on the line, and the code needed was really simple and I wasn’t under any time constraints, then yeah maybe I could hack my way out of it But my point is this: I’m not a programmer in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, what I do best, is scrounge code off of other people, take it apart and then put it back together with duct tape, chewing gum and dumb blind luck. No, don’t run! That happens to be a good thing in this case. You see, we’re going to be implementing some really snazzy effects (which are considerably more relevant than most people are willing to admit) on your site, and we’re going to do it with the aid of Thomas Fuchs’ amazing Script.aculo.us library. And it will be like stealing candy from a child. What Are We Doing? I’m going to show you the very basics of implementing the Script.aculo.us javascript library’s Combination Effects. These allow you to fade elements on your site in or out, slide them up and down and so on. Why Use Effects at All? Before get started though, let me just take a moment to explain how I came to see smooth transitions as something more than smoke and mirror-like effects included for with little more motive than to dazzle and make parents go ‘uuh, snazzy’. Earlier this year, I had the good fortune of meeting the kind, gentle and quite knowledgable Matt Webb at a conference here in Copenhagen where we were both speaking (though I will be the first to admit my little talk on Open Source Design was vastly inferior to Matt’s talk). Matt held a talk called Fixing Broken Windows (based on the Broken Windows theory), which really made an impression on me, and which I have since then referred back to several times. You can listen to it yourself, as it’s available from Archive.org. Though since Matt’s session uses many visual examples, you’ll have to rely on your imagination for some of the examples he runs through during it. Also, I think it looses audio for a few seconds every once in a while. Anyway, one of the things Matt talked a lot about, was how our eyes are wired to react to movement. The world doesn’t flickr. It doesn’t disappear or suddenly change and force us to look for the change. Things move smoothly in the real world. They do not pop up. How it Works Once the necessary files have been included, you trigger an effect by pointing it at the ID of an element. Simple as that. Implementing the Effects So now you know why I believe these effects have a place in your site, and that’s half the battle. Because you see, actually getting these effects up and running, is deceptively simple. First, go and download the latest version of the library (as of this writing, it’s version 1.5 rc5). Unzip itand open it up. Now we’re going to bypass the instructions in the readme file. Script.aculo.us can do a bunch of quite advanced things, but all we really want from it is its effects. And by sidestepping the rest of the features, we can shave off roughly 80KB of unnecessary javascript, which is well worth it if you ask me. As with Drew’s article on Easy Ajax with Prototype, script.aculo.us also uses the Prototype framework by Sam Stephenson. But contrary to Drew’s article, you don’t have to download Prototype, as a version comes bundled with script.aculo.us (though feel free to upgrade to the latest version if you so please). So in the unzipped folder, containing the script.aculo.us files and folder, go into ‘lib’ and grab the ‘prototype.js’ file. Move it to whereever you want to store the javascript files. Then fetch the ‘effects.js’ file from the ‘src’ folder and put it in the same place. To make things even easier for you to get this up and running, I have prepared a small javascript snippet which does some checking to see what you’re trying to do. The script.aculo.us effects are all either ‘turn this off’ or ‘turn this on’. What this snippet does, is check to see what state the target currently has (is it on or off?) and then use the necessary effect. You can either skip to the end and download the example code, or copy and paste this code into a file manually (I’ll refer to that file as combo.js): Effect.OpenUp = function(element) { element = $(element); new Effect.BlindDown(element, arguments[1] || {}); } Effect.CloseDown = function(element) { element = $(element); new Effect.BlindUp(element, arguments[1] || {}); } Effect.Combo = function(element) { element = $(element); if(element.style.display == 'none') { new Effect.OpenUp(element, arguments[1] || {}); }else { new Effect.CloseDown(element, arguments[1] || {}); } } Currently, this code uses the BlindUp and BlindDown code, which I personally like, but there’s nothing wrong with you changing the effect-type into one of the other effects available. Now, include the three files in the header of your code, like so: <script src="prototype.js" type="text/javascript"></script> <script src="effects.js" type="text/javascript"></script> <script src="combo.js" type="text/javascript"></script> Now insert the element you want to use the effect on, like so: <div id="content" style="display: none;">Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet.</div> The above element will start out invisible, and when triggered will be revealed. If you want it to start visible, simply remove the style parameter. And now for the trigger <a href="javascript:Effect.Combo('content');">Click Here</a> And that, is pretty much it. Clicking the link should unfold the DIV targeted by the effect, in this case ‘content’. Effect Options Now, it gets a bit long-haired though. The documentation for script.aculo.us is next to non-existing, and because of that you’ll have to do some digging yourself to appreciate the full potentialof these effects. First of all, what kind of effects are available? Well you can go to the demo page and check them out, or you can open the ‘effects.js’ file and have a look around, something I recommend doing regardlessly, to gain an overview of what exactly you’re dealing with. If you dissect it for long enough, you can even distill some of the options available for the various effects. In the case of the BlindUp and BlindDown effect, which we’re using in our example (as triggered from combo.js), one of the things that would be interesting to play with would be the duration of the effect. If it’s too long, it will feel slow and unresponsive. Too fast and it will be imperceptible. You set the options like so: <a href="javascript:Effect.Combo('content', {duration: .2});">Click Here</a> The change from the previous link being the inclusion of , {duration: .2}. In this case, I have lowered the duration to 0.2 second, to really make it feel snappy. You can also go all-out and turn on all the bells and whistles of the Blind effect like so (slowed down to a duration of three seconds so you can see what’s going on): <a href="javascript:Effect.Combo('content', {duration: 3, scaleX: true, scaleContent: true});">Click Here</a> Conclusion And that’s pretty much it. The rest is a matter of getting to know the rest of the effects and their options as well as finding out just when and where to use them. Remember the ancient Chinese saying: Less is more. Download Example I have prepared a very basic example, which you can download and use as a reference point. 2005 Michael Heilemann michaelheilemann 2005-12-12T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/introduction-to-scriptaculous-effects/ code
335 Naughty or Nice? CSS Background Images Web Standards based development involves many things – using semantically sound HTML to provide structure to our documents or web applications, using CSS for presentation and layout, using JavaScript responsibly, and of course, ensuring that all that we do is accessible and interoperable to as many people and user agents as we can. This we understand to be good. And it is good. Except when we don’t clearly think through the full implications of using those techniques. Which often happens when time is short and we need to get things done. Here are some naughty examples of CSS background images with their nicer, more accessible counterparts. Transaction related messages I’m as guilty of this as others (or, perhaps, I’m the only one that has done this, in which case this can serve as my holiday season confessional) We use lovely little icons to show status messages for a transaction to indicate if the action was successful, or was there a warning or error? For example: “Your postal/zip code was not in the correct format.” Notice that we place a nice little icon there, and use background colours and borders to convey a specific message: there was a problem that needs to be fixed. Notice that all of this visual information is now contained in the CSS rules for that div: <div class="error"> <p>Your postal/zip code was not in the correct format.</p> </div> div.error { background: #ffcccc url(../images/error_small.png) no-repeat 5px 4px; color: #900; border-top: 1px solid #c00; border-bottom: 1px solid #c00; padding: 0.25em 0.5em 0.25em 2.5em; font-weight: bold; } Using this approach also makes it very easy to create a div.success and div.warning CSS rules meaning we have less to change in our HTML. Nice, right? No. Naughty. Visual design communicates The CSS is being used to convey very specific information. The choice of icon, the choice of background colour and borders tell us visually that there is something wrong. With the icon as a background image – there is no way to specify any alt text for the icon, and significant meaning is lost. A screen reader user, for example, misses the fact that it is an “error.” The solution? Ask yourself: what is the bare minimum needed to indicate there was an error? Currently in the absence of CSS there will be no icon – which (I’m hoping you agree) is critical to communicating there was an error. The icon should be considered content and not simply presentational. The borders and background colour are certainly much less critical – they belong in the CSS. Lets change the code to place the image directly in the HTML and using appropriate alt text to better communicate the meaning of the icon to all users: <div class="bettererror"> <img src="images/error_small.png" alt="Error" /> <p>Your postal/zip code was not in the correct format.</p> </div> div.bettererror { background-color: #ffcccc; color: #900; border-top: 1px solid #c00; border-bottom: 1px solid #c00; padding: 0.25em 0.5em 0.25em 2.5em; font-weight: bold; position: relative; min-height: 1.25em; } div.bettererror img { display: block; position: absolute; left: 0.25em; top: 0.25em; padding: 0; margin: 0; } div.bettererror p { position: absolute; left: 2.5em; padding: 0; margin: 0; } Compare these two examples of transactional messages Status of a Record This example is pretty straightforward. Consider the following: a real estate listing on a web site. There are three “states” for a listing: new, normal, and sold. Here’s how they look: Example of a New Listing Example of A Sold Listing If we (forgive the pun) blindly apply the “use a CSS background image” technique we clearly run into problems with the new and sold images – they actually contain content with no way to specify an alternative when placed in the CSS. In this case of the “new” image, we can use the same strategy as we used in the first example (the transaction result). The “new” image should be considered content and is placed in the HTML as part of the <h2>...</h2> that identifies the listing. However when considering the “sold” listing, there are less changes to be made to keep the same look by leaving the “SOLD” image as a background image and providing the equivalent information elsewhere in the listing – namely, right in the heading. For those that can’t see the background image, the status is communicated clearly and right away. A screen reader user that is navigating by heading or viewing a listing will know right away that a particular property is sold. Of note here is that in both cases (new and sold) placing the status near the beginning of the record helps with a zoom layout as well. Better Example of A Sold Listing Summary Remember: in the holiday season, its what you give that counts!! Using CSS background images is easy and saves time for you but think of the children. And everyone else for that matter… CSS background images should only be used for presentational images, not for those that contain content (unless that content is already represented and readily available elsewhere). 2005 Derek Featherstone derekfeatherstone 2005-12-20T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/naughty-or-nice-css-background-images/ code
336 Practical Microformats with hCard You’ve probably heard about microformats over the last few months. You may have even read the easily digestible introduction at Digital Web Magazine, but perhaps you’ve not found time to actually implement much yet. That’s understandable, as it can sometimes be difficult to see exactly what you’re adding by applying a microformat to a page. Sure, you’re semantically enhancing the information you’re marking up, and the Semantic Web is a great idea and all, but what benefit is it right now, today? Well, the answer to that question is simple: you’re adding lots of information that can be and is being used on the web here and now. The big ongoing battle amongst the big web companies if one of territory over information. Everyone’s grasping for as much data as possible. Some of that information many of us are cautious to give away, but a lot of is happy to be freely available. Of the data you’re giving away, it makes sense to give it as much meaning as possible, thus enabling anyone from your friends and family to the giant search company down the road to make the most of it. Ok, enough of the waffle, let’s get working. Introducing hCard You may have come across hCard. It’s a microformat for describing contact information (or really address book information) from within your HTML. It’s based on the vCard format, which is the format the contacts/address book program on your computer uses. All the usual fields are available – name, address, town, website, email, you name it. If you’re running Firefox and Greasemonkey (or if you can, just to try this out), install this user script. What it does is look for instances of the hCard microformat in a page, and then add in a link to pass any hCards it finds to a web service which will convert it to a vCard. Take a look at the About the author box at the bottom of this article. It’s a hCard, so you should be able to click the icon the user script inserts and add me to your Outlook contacts or OS X Address Book with just a click. So microformats are useful after all. Free microformats all round! Implementing hCard This is the really easy bit. All the hCard microformat is, is a bunch of predefined class names that you apply to the markup you’ve probably already got around your contact information. Let’s take the example of the About the author box from this article. Here’s how the markup looks without hCard: <div class="bio"> <h3>About the author</h3> <p>Drew McLellan is a web developer, author and no-good swindler from just outside London, England. At the <a href="http://www.webstandards.org/">Web Standards Project</a> he works on press, strategy and tools. Drew keeps a <a href="http://www.allinthehead.com/">personal weblog</a> covering web development issues and themes.</p> </div> This is a really simple example because there’s only two key bits of address book information here:- my name and my website address. Let’s push it a little and say that the Web Standards Project is the organisation I work for – that gives us Name, Company and URL. To kick off an hCard, you need a containing object with a class of vcard. The div I already have with a class of bio is perfect for this – all it needs to do is contain the rest of the contact information. The next thing to identify is my name. hCard uses a class of fn (meaning Full Name) to identify a name. As is this case there’s no element surrounding my name, we can just use a span. These changes give us: <div class="bio vcard"> <h3>About the author</h3> <p><span class="fn">Drew McLellan</span> is a web developer... The two remaining items are my URL and the organisation I belong to. The class names designated for those are url and org respectively. As both of those items are links in this case, I can apply the classes to those links. So here’s the finished hCard. <div class="bio vcard"> <h3>About the author</h3> <p><span class="fn">Drew McLellan</span> is a web developer, author and no-good swindler from just outside London, England. At the <a class="org" href="http://www.webstandards.org/">Web Standards Project</a> he works on press, strategy and tools. Drew keeps a <a class="url" href="http://www.allinthehead.com/">personal weblog</a> covering web development issues and themes.</p> </div> OK, that was easy. By just applying a few easy class names to the HTML I was already publishing, I’ve implemented an hCard that right now anyone with Greasemonkey can click to add to their address book, that Google and Yahoo! and whoever else can index and work out important things like which websites are associated with my name if they so choose (and boy, will they so choose), and in the future who knows what. In terms of effort, practically nil. Where next? So that was a trivial example, but to be honest it doesn’t really get much more complex even with the most pernickety permutations. Because hCard is based on vCard (a mature and well thought-out standard), it’s all tried and tested. Here’s some good next steps. Play with the hCard Creator Take a deep breath and read the spec Start implementing hCard as you go on your own projects – it takes very little time hCard is just one of an ever-increasing number of microformats. If this tickled your fancy, I suggest subscribing to the microformats site in your RSS reader to keep in touch with new developments. What’s the take-away? The take-away is this. They may sound like just more Web 2-point-HoHoHo hype, but microformats are a well thought-out, and easy to implement way of adding greater depth to the information you publish online. They have some nice benefits right away – certainly at geek-level – but in the longer term they become much more significant. We’ve been at this long enough to know that the web has a long, long memory and that what you publish today will likely be around for years. But putting the extra depth of meaning into your documents now you can help guard that they’ll continue to be useful in the future, and not just a bunch of flat ASCII. 2005 Drew McLellan drewmclellan 2005-12-06T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/practical-microformats-with-hcard/ code
317 Putting the World into "World Wide Web" Despite the fact that the Web has been international in scope from its inception, the predominant mass of Web sites are written in English or another left-to-right language. Sites are typically designed visually for Western culture, and rely on an enormous body of practices for usability, information architecture and interaction design that are by and large centric to the Western world. There are certainly many reasons this is true, but as more and more Web sites realize the benefits of bringing their products and services to diverse, global markets, the more demand there will be on Web designers and developers to understand how to put the World into World Wide Web. Internationalization According to the W3C, Internationalization is: “…the design and development of a product, application or document content that enables easy localization for target audiences that vary in culture, region, or language.” Many Web designers and developers have at least heard, if not read, about Internationalization. We understand that the Web is in fact worldwide, but many of us never have the opportunity to work with Internationalization. Or, when we do, think of it in purely technical terms, such as “which character set do I use?” At first glance, it might seem to many that Internationalization is the act of making Web sites available to international audiences. And while that is in fact true, this isn’t done by broad-stroking techniques and technologies. Instead, it involves a far more narrow understanding of geographical, cultural and linguistic differences in specific areas of the world. This is referred to as localization and is the act of making a Web site make sense in the context of the region, culture and language(s) the people using the site are most familiar with. Internationalization itself includes the following technical tasks: Ensuring no barrier exists to the localization of sites. Of critical importance in the planning stages of a site for Internationalized audiences, the role of the developer is to ensure that no barrier exists. This means being able to perform such tasks as enabling Unicode and making sure legacy character encodings are properly handled. Preparing markup and CSS with Internationalization in mind. The earlier in the site development process this occurs, the better. Issues such as ensuring that you can support bidirectional text, identifying language, and using CSS to support non-Latin typographic features. Enabling code to support local, regional, language or culturally related references. Examples in this category would include time/date formats, localization of calendars, numbering systems, sorting of lists and managing international forms of addresses. Empowering the user. Sites must be architected so the user can easily choose or implement the localized alternative most appropriate to them. Localization According to the W3C, Localization is the: …adaptation of a product, application or document content to meet the language, cultural and other requirements of a specific target market (a “locale”). So here’s where we get down to thinking about the more sociological and anthropological concerns. Some of the primary localization issues are: Numeric formats. Different languages and cultures use numbering systems unlike ours. So, any time we need to use numbers, such as in an ordered list, we have to have a means of representing the accurate numbering system for the locale in question. Money, honey! That’s right. I’ve got a pocketful of ugly U.S. dollars (why is U.S. money so unimaginative?). But I also have a drawer full of Japanese Yen, Australian Dollars, and Great British Pounds. Currency, how it’s calculated and how it’s represented is always a consideration when dealing with localization. Using symbols, icons and colors properly. Using certain symbols or icons on sites where they might offend or confuse is certainly not in the best interest of a site that wants to sell or promote a product, service or information type. Moreover, the colors we use are surprisingly persuasive – or detrimental. Think about colors that represent death, for example. In many parts of Asia, white is the color of death. In most of the Western world, black represents death. For Catholic Europe, shades of purple (especially lavender) have represented Christ on the cross and mourning since at least Victorian times. When Walt Disney World Europe launched an ad campaign using a lot of purple and very glitzy imagery, millions of dollars were lost as a result of this seeming subtle issue. Instead of experiencing joy and celebration at the ads, the European audience, particularly the French, found the marketing to be overly American, aggressive, depressing and basically unappealing. Along with this and other cultural blunders, Disney Europe has become a well-known case study for businesses wishing to become international. By failing to understand localization differences, and how powerful color and imagery act on the human psyche, designers and developers are put to more of a disadvantage when attempting to communicate with a given culture. Choosing appropriate references to objects and ideas. What seems perfectly natural in one culture in terms of visual objects and ideas can get confused in another environment. One of my favorite cases of this has to do with Gerber baby food. In the U.S., the baby food is marketed using a cute baby on the package. Most people in the U.S. culturally do not make an immediate association that what is being represented on the label is what is inside the container. However, when Gerber expanded to Africa, where many people don’t read, and where visual associations are less abstract, people made the inference that a baby on the cover of a jar of food represented what is in fact in the jar. You can imagine how confused and even angry people became. Using such approaches as a marketing ploy in the wrong locale can and will render the marketing a failure. As you can see, the act of localization is one that can have profound impact on the success of a business or organization as it seeks to become available to more and more people across the globe. Rethinking Design in the Context of Culture While well-educated designers and those individuals working specifically for companies that do a lot of localization understand these nuances, most of us don’t get exposed to these ideas. Yet, we begin to see how necessary it becomes to have an awareness of not just the technical aspects of Internationalization, but the socio-cultural ones within localization. What’s more, the bulk of information we have when it comes to designing sites typically comes from studies and work done on sites built in English and promoted to Western culture at large. We’re making a critical mistake by not including diverse languages and cultural issues within our usability and information architecture studies. Consider the following design from the BBC: In this case, we’re dealing with English, which is read left to right. We are also dealing with U.K. cultural norms. Notice the following: Location of of navigation Use of the color red Use of diverse symbols Mix of symbols, icons and photos Location of Search Now look at this design, which is the Arabic version of the BBC News, read right to left, and dealing with cultural norms within the Arabic-speaking world. Notice the following: Location of of navigation (location switches to the right) Use of the color blue (blue is considered the “safest” global color) No use of symbols and icons whatsoever Limitation of imagery to photos In most cases, the photos show people, not objects Location of Search Admittedly, some choices here are more obvious than others in terms of why they were made. But one thing that stands out is that the placement of search is the same for both versions. Is this the result of a specific localization decision, or based on what we believe about usability at large? This is exactly the kind of question that designers working on localization have to seek answers to, instead of relying on popular best practices and belief systems that exist for English-only Web sites. It’s a Wide World Web After All From this brief article on Internationalization, it becomes apparent that the art and science of creating sites for global audiences requires a lot more preparation and planning than one might think at first glance. Developers and designers not working to address these issues specifically due to time or awareness will do well to at least understand the basic process of making sites more culturally savvy, and better prepared for any future global expansion. One thing is certain: We not only are on a dramatic learning curve for designing and developing Web sites as it is, the need to localize sites is going to become more and more a part of the day to day work. Understanding aspects of what makes a site international and local will not only help you expand your skill set and make you more marketable, but it will also expand your understanding of the world and the people within it, how they relate to and use the Web, and how you can help make their experience the best one possible. 2005 Molly Holzschlag mollyholzschlag 2005-12-09T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/putting-the-world-into-world-wide-web/ ux
331 Splintered Striper Back in March 2004, David F. Miller demonstrated a little bit of DOM scripting magic in his A List Apart article Zebra Tables. His script programmatically adds two alternating CSS background colours to table rows, making them more readable and visually pleasing, while saving the document author the tedious task of manually assigning the styling to large static data tables. Although David’s original script performs its duty well, it is nonetheless very specific and limited in its application. It only: works on a single table, identified by its id, with at least a single tbody section assigns a background colour allows two colours for odd and even rows acts on data cells, rather than rows, and then only if they have no class or background colour already defined Taking it further In a recent project I found myself needing to apply a striped effect to a medium sized unordered list. Instead of simply modifying the Zebra Tables code for this particular case, I decided to completely recode the script to make it more generic. Being more general purpose, the function in my splintered striper experiment is necessarily more complex. Where the original script only expected a single parameter (the id of the target table), the new function is called as follows: striper('[parent element tag]','[parent element class or null]','[child element tag]','[comma separated list of classes]') This new, fairly self-explanatory function: targets any type of parent element (and, if specified, only those with a certain class) assigns two or more classes (rather than just two background colours) to the child elements inside the parent preserves any existing classes already assigned to the child elements See it in action View the demonstration page for three usage examples. For simplicity’s sake, we’re making the calls to the striper function from the body’s onload attribute. In a real deployment situation, we would look at attaching a behaviour to the onload programmatically — just remember that, as we need to pass variables to the striper function, this would involve creating a wrapper function which would then be attached…something like: function stripe() { striper('tbody','splintered','tr','odd,even'); } window.onload=stripe; A final thought Just because the function is called striper does not mean that it’s limited to purely applying a striped look; as it’s more of a general purpose “alternating class assignment” script, you can achieve a whole variety of effects with it. 2005 Patrick Lauke patricklauke 2005-12-15T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/splintered-striper/ code
328 Swooshy Curly Quotes Without Images The problem Take a quote and render it within blockquote tags, applying big, funky and stylish curly quotes both at the beginning and the end without using any images – at all. The traditional way Feint background images under the text, or an image in the markup housed in a little float. Often designers only use the opening curly quote as it’s just too difficult to float a closing one. Why is the traditional way bad? Well, for a start there are no actual curly quotes in the text (unless you’re doing some nifty image replacement). Thus with CSS disabled you’ll only have default blockquote styling to fall back on. Secondly, images don’t resize, so scaling text will have no affect on your graphic curlies. The solution Use really big text. Then it can be resized by the browser, resized using CSS, and even be restyled with a new font style if you fancy it. It’ll also make sense when CSS is unavailable. The problem Creating “Drop Caps” with CSS has been around for a while (Big Dan Cederholm discusses a neat solution in that first book of his), but drop caps are normal characters – the A to Z or 1 to 10 – and these can all be pulled into a set space and do not serve up a ton of whitespace, unlike punctuation characters. Curly quotes aren’t like traditional characters. Like full stops, commas and hashes they float within the character space and leave lots of dead white space, making it bloody difficult to manipulate them with CSS. Styles generally fit around text, so cutting into that character is tricky indeed. Also, all that extra white space is going to push into the quote text and make it look pretty uneven. This grab highlights the actual character space: See how this is emphasized when we add a normal alphabetical character within the span. This is what we’re dealing with here: Then, there’s size. Call in a curly quote at less than 300% font-size and it ain’t gonna look very big. The white space it creates will be big enough, but the curlies will be way too small. We need more like 700% (as in this example) to make an impression, but that sure makes for a big character space. Prepare the curlies Firstly, remove the opening “ from the quote. Replace it with the opening curly quote character entity “. Then replace the closing “ with the entity reference for that, which is ”. Now at least the curlies will look nice and swooshy. Add the hooks Two reasons why we aren’t using :first-letter pseudo class to manipulate the curlies. Firstly, only CSS2-friendly browsers would get what we’re doing, and secondly we need to affect the last “letter” of our text also – the closing curly quote. So, add a span around the opening curly, and a second span around the closing curly, giving complete control of the characters: <blockquote><span class="bqstart">“</span>Speech marks. Curly quotes. That annoying thing cool people do with their fingers to emphasize a buzzword, shortly before you hit them.<span class="bqend">”</span></blockquote> So far nothing will look any different, aside form the curlies looking a bit nicer. I know we’ve just added extra markup, but the benefits as far as accessibility are concerned are good enough for me, and of course there are no images to download. The CSS OK, easy stuff first. Our first rule .bqstart floats the span left, changes the color, and whacks the font-size up to an exuberant 700%. Our second rule .bqend does the same tricks aside from floating the curly to the right. .bqstart { float: left; font-size: 700%; color: #FF0000; } .bqend { float: right; font-size: 700%; color: #FF0000; } That gives us this, which is rubbish. I’ve highlighted the actual span area with outlines: Note that the curlies don’t even fit inside the span! At this stage on IE 6 PC you won’t even see the quotes, as it only places focus on what it thinks is in the div. Also, the quote text is getting all spangled. Fiddle with margin and padding Think of that span outline box as a window, and that you need to position the curlies within that window in order to see them. By adding some small adjustments to the margin and padding it’s possible to position the curlies exactly where you want them, and remove the excess white space by defining a height: .bqstart { float: left; height: 45px; margin-top: -20px; padding-top: 45px; margin-bottom: -50px; font-size: 700%; color: #FF0000; } .bqend { float: right; height: 25px; margin-top: 0px; padding-top: 45px; font-size: 700%; color: #FF0000; } I wanted the blocks of my curlies to align with the quote text, whereas you may want them to dig in or stick out more. Be aware however that my positioning works for IE PC and Mac, Firefox and Safari. Too much tweaking seems to break the magic in various browsers at various times. Now things are fitting beautifully: I must admit that the heights, margins and spacing don’t make a lot of sense if you analyze them. This was a real trial and error job. Get it working on Safari, and IE would fail. Sort IE, and Firefox would go weird. Finished The final thing looks ace, can be resized, looks cool without styles, and can be edited with CSS at any time. Here’s a real example (note that I’m specifying Lucida Grande and then Verdana for my curlies): “Speech marks. Curly quotes. That annoying thing cool people do with their fingers to emphasize a buzzword, shortly before you hit them.” Browsers happy As I said, too much tweaking of margins and padding can break the effect in some browsers. Even now, Firefox insists on dropping the closing curly by approximately 6 or 7 pixels, and if I adjust the padding for that, it’ll crush it into the text on Safari or IE. Weird. Still, as I close now it seems solid through resizing tests on Safari, Firefox, Camino, Opera and IE PC and Mac. Lovely. It’s probably not perfect, but together we can beat the evil typographic limitations of the web and walk together towards a brighter, more aligned world. Merry Christmas. 2005 Simon Collison simoncollison 2005-12-21T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/swooshy-curly-quotes-without-images/ business
321 Tables with Style It might not seem like it but styling tabular data can be a lot of fun. From a semantic point of view, there are plenty of elements to tie some style into. You have cells, rows, row groups and, of course, the table element itself. Adding CSS to a paragraph just isn’t as exciting. Where do I start? First, if you have some tabular data (you know, like a spreadsheet with rows and columns) that you’d like to spiffy up, pop it into a table — it’s rightful place! To add more semantics to your table — and coincidentally to add more hooks for CSS — break up your table into row groups. There are three types of row groups: the header (thead), the body (tbody) and the footer (tfoot). You can only have one header and one footer but you can have as many table bodies as is appropriate. Sample table example Inspiration Table Striping To improve scanning information within a table, a common technique is to style alternating rows. Also known as zebra tables. Whether you apply it using a class on every other row or turn to JavaScript to accomplish the task, a handy-dandy trick is to use a semi-transparent PNG as your background image. This is especially useful over patterned backgrounds. tbody tr.odd td { background:transparent url(background.png) repeat top left; } * html tbody tr.odd td { background:#C00; filter: progid:DXImageTransform.Microsoft.AlphaImageLoader( src='background.png', sizingMethod='scale'); } We turn off the default background and apply our PNG hack to have this work in Internet Explorer. Styling Columns Did you know you could style a column? That’s right. You can add special column (col) or column group (colgroup) elements. With that you can add border or background styles to the column. <table> <col id="ingredients"> <col id="serve12"> <col id="serve24"> ... Check out the example. Fun with Backgrounds Pop in a tiled background to give your table some character! Internet Explorer’s PNG hack unfortunately only works well when applied to a cell. To figure out which background will appear over another, just remember the hierarchy: (bottom) Table → Column → Row Group → Row → Cell (top) The Future is Bright Once browser-makers start implementing CSS3, we’ll have more power at our disposal. Just with :first-child and :last-child, you can pull off a scalable version of our previous table with rounded corners and all — unfortunately, only Firefox manages to pull this one off successfully. And the selector the masses are clamouring for, nth-child, will make zebra tables easy as eggnog. 2005 Jonathan Snook jonathansnook 2005-12-19T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/tables-with-style/ code
333 The Attribute Selector for Fun and (no ad) Profit If I had a favourite CSS selector, it would undoubtedly be the attribute selector (Ed: You really need to get out more). For those of you not familiar with the attribute selector, it allows you to style an element based on the existence, value or partial value of a specific attribute. At it’s very basic level you could use this selector to style an element with particular attribute, such as a title attribute. <abbr title="Cascading Style Sheets">CSS</abbr> In this example I’m going to make all <abbr> elements with a title attribute grey. I am also going to give them a dotted bottom border that changes to a solid border on hover. Finally, for that extra bit of feedback, I will change the cursor to a question mark on hover as well. abbr[title] { color: #666; border-bottom: 1px dotted #666; } abbr[title]:hover { border-bottom-style: solid; cursor: help; } This provides a nice way to show your site users that <abbr> elements with title tags are special, as they contain extra, hidden information. Most modern browsers such as Firefox, Safari and Opera support the attribute selector. Unfortunately Internet Explorer 6 and below does not support the attribute selector, but that shouldn’t stop you from adding nice usability embellishments to more modern browsers. Internet Explorer 7 looks set to implement this CSS2.1 selector, so expect to see it become more common over the next few years. Styling an element based on the existence of an attribute is all well and good, but it is still pretty limited. Where attribute selectors come into their own is their ability to target the value of an attribute. You can use this for a variety of interesting effects such as styling VoteLinks. VoteWhats? If you haven’t heard of VoteLinks, it is a microformat that allows people to show their approval or disapproval of a links destination by adding a pre-defined keyword to the rev attribute. For instance, if you had a particularly bad meal at a restaurant, you could signify your dissaproval by adding a rev attribute with a value of vote-against. <a href="http://www.mommacherri.co.uk/" rev="vote-against">Momma Cherri's</a> You could then highlight these links by adding an image to the right of these links. a[rev="vote-against"]{ padding-right: 20px; background: url(images/vote-against.png) no-repeat right top; } This is a useful technique, but it will only highlight VoteLinks on sites you control. This is where user stylesheets come into effect. If you create a user stylesheet containing this rule, every site you visit that uses VoteLinks will receive your new style. Cool huh? However my absolute favourite use for attribute selectors is as a lightweight form of ad blocking. Most online adverts conform to industry-defined sizes. So if you wanted to block all banner-ad sized images, you could simply add this line of code to your user stylesheet. img[width="468"][height="60"], img[width="468px"][height="60px"] { display: none !important; } To hide any banner-ad sized element, such as flash movies, applets or iFrames, simply apply the above rule to every element using the universal selector. *[width="468"][height="60"], *[width="468px"][height="60px"] { display: none !important; } Just bare in mind when using this technique that you may accidentally hide something that isn’t actually an advert; it just happens to be the same size. The Interactive Advertising Bureau lists a number of common ad sizes. Using these dimensions, you can create stylesheet that blocks all the popular ad formats. Apply this as a user stylesheet and you never need to suffer another advert again. Here’s wishing you a Merry, ad-free Christmas. 2005 Andy Budd andybudd 2005-12-11T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/the-attribute-selector-for-fun-and-no-ad-profit/ code
334 Transitional vs. Strict Markup When promoting web standards, standardistas often talk about XHTML as being more strict than HTML. In a sense it is, since it requires that all elements are properly closed and that attribute values are quoted. But there are two flavours of XHTML 1.0 (three if you count the Frameset DOCTYPE, which is outside the scope of this article), defined by the Transitional and Strict DOCTYPEs. And HTML 4.01 also comes in those flavours. The names reveal what they are about: Transitional DOCTYPEs are meant for those making the transition from older markup to modern ways. Strict DOCTYPEs are actually the default – the way HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.0 were constructed to be used. A Transitional DOCTYPE may be used when you have a lot of legacy markup that cannot easily be converted to comply with a Strict DOCTYPE. But Strict is what you should be aiming for. It encourages, and in some cases enforces, the separation of structure and presentation, moving the presentational aspects from markup to CSS. From the HTML 4 Document Type Definition: This is HTML 4.01 Strict DTD, which excludes the presentation attributes and elements that W3C expects to phase out as support for style sheets matures. Authors should use the Strict DTD when possible, but may use the Transitional DTD when support for presentation attribute and elements is required. An additional benefit of using a Strict DOCTYPE is that doing so will ensure that browsers use their strictest, most standards compliant rendering modes. Tommy Olsson provides a good summary of the benefits of using Strict over Transitional in Ten questions for Tommy Olsson at Web Standards Group: In my opinion, using a Strict DTD, either HTML 4.01 Strict or XHTML 1.0 Strict, is far more important for the quality of the future web than whether or not there is an X in front of the name. The Strict DTD promotes a separation of structure and presentation, which makes a site so much easier to maintain. For those looking to start using web standards and valid, semantic markup, it is important to understand the difference between Transitional and Strict DOCTYPEs. For complete listings of the differences between Transitional and Strict DOCTYPEs, see XHTML: Differences between Strict & Transitional, Comparison of Strict and Transitional XHTML, and XHTML1.0 Element Attributes by DTD. Some of the differences are more likely than others to cause problems for developers moving from a Transitional DOCTYPE to a Strict one, and I’d like to mention a few of those. Elements that are not allowed in Strict DOCTYPEs center font iframe strike u Attributes not allowed in Strict DOCTYPEs align (allowed on elements related to tables: col, colgroup, tbody, td, tfoot, th, thead, and tr) language background bgcolor border (allowed on table) height (allowed on img and object) hspace name (allowed in HTML 4.01 Strict, not allowed on form and img in XHTML 1.0 Strict) noshade nowrap target text, link, vlink, and alink vspace width (allowed on img, object, table, col, and colgroup) Content model differences An element type’s content model describes what may be contained by an instance of the element type. The most important difference in content models between Transitional and Strict is that blockquote, body, and form elements may only contain block level elements. A few examples: text and images are not allowed immediately inside the body element, and need to be contained in a block level element like p or div input elements must not be direct descendants of a form element text in blockquote elements must be wrapped in a block level element like p or div Go Strict and move all presentation to CSS Something that can be helpful when doing the transition from Transitional to Strict DOCTYPEs is to focus on what each element of the page you are working on is instead of how you want it to look. Worry about looks later and get the structure and semantics right first. 2005 Roger Johansson rogerjohansson 2005-12-13T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/transitional-vs-strict-markup/ code
325 "Z's not dead baby, Z's not dead" While Mr. Moll and Mr. Budd have pipped me to the post with their predictions for 2006, I’m sure they won’t mind if I sneak in another. The use of positioning together with z-index will be one of next year’s hot techniques Both has been a little out of favour recently. For many, positioned layouts made way for the flexibility of floats. Developers I speak to often associate z-index with Dreamweaver’s layers feature. But in combination with alpha transparency support for PNG images in IE7 and full implementation of position property values, the stacking of elements with z-index is going to be big. I’m going to cover the basics of z-index and how it can be used to create designs which ‘break out of the box’. No positioning? No Z! Remember geometry? The x axis represents the horizontal, the y axis represents the vertical. The z axis, which is where we get the z-index, represents /depth/. Elements which are stacked using z-index are stacked from front to back and z-index is only applied to elements which have their position property set to relative or absolute. No positioning, no z-index. Z-index values can be either negative or positive and it is the element with the highest z-index value appears closest to the viewer, regardless of its order in the source. Furthermore, if more than one element are given the same z-index, the element which comes last in source order comes out top of the pile. Let’s take three <div>s. <div id="one"></div> <div id="two"></div> <div id="three"></div> #one { position: relative; z-index: 3; } #two { position: relative; z-index: 1; } #three { position: relative; z-index: 2; } As you can see, the <div> with the z-index of 3 will appear closest, even though it comes before its siblings in the source order. As these three <div>s have no defined positioning context in the form of a positioned parent such as a <div>, their stacking order is defined from the root element <html>. Simple stuff, but these building blocks are the basis on which we can create interesting interfaces (particularly when used in combination with image replacement and transparent PNGs). Brand building Now let’s take three more basic elements, an <h1>, <blockquote> and <p>, all inside a branding <div> which acts a new positioning context. By enclosing them inside a positioned parent, we establish a new stacking order which is independent of either the root element or other positioning contexts on the page. <div id="branding"> <h1>Worrysome.com</h1> <blockquote><p>Don' worry 'bout a thing...</p></blockquote> <p>Take the weight of the world off your shoulders.</p> </div> Applying a little positioning and z-index magic we can both set the position of these elements inside their positioning context and their stacking order. As we are going to use background images made from transparent PNGs, each element will allow another further down the stacking order to show through. This makes for some novel effects, particularly in liquid layouts. (Ed: We’re using n below to represent whatever values you require for your specific design.) #branding { position: relative; width: n; height: n; background-image: url(n); } #branding>h1 { position: absolute; left: n; top: n; width: n; height: n; background-image: url(h1.png); text-indent: n; } #branding>blockquote { position: absolute; left: n; top: n; width: n; height: n; background-image: url(bq.png); text-indent: n; } #branding>p { position: absolute; right: n; top: n; width: n; height: n; background-image: url(p.png); text-indent: n; } Next we can begin to see how the three elements build upon each other. 1. Elements outlined 2. Positioned elements overlayed to show context 3. Our final result Multiple stacking orders Not only can elements within a positioning context be given a z-index, but those positioning contexts themselves can also be stacked. Two positioning contexts, each with their own stacking order Interestingly each stacking order is independent of that of either the root element or its siblings and we can exploit this to make complex layouts from just a few semantic elements. This technique was used heavily on my recent redesign of Karova.com. Dissecting part of Karova.com First the XHTML. The default template markup used for the site places <div id="nav_main"> and <div id="content"> as siblings inside their container. <div id="container"> <div id="content"> <h2></h2> <p></p> </div> <div id="nav_main"></div> </div> By giving the navigation <div> a lower z-index than the content <div> we can ensure that the positioned content elements will always appear closest to the viewer, despite the fact that the navigation comes after the content in the source. #content { position: relative; z-index: 2; } #nav_main { position: absolute; z-index: 1; } Now applying absolute positioning with a negative top value to the <h2> and a higher z-index value than the following <p> ensures that the header sits not only on top of the navigation but also the styled paragraph which follows it. h2 { position: absolute; z-index: 200; top: -n; } h2+p { position: absolute; z-index: 100; margin-top: -n; padding-top: n; } Dissecting part of Karova.com You can see the full effect in the wild on the Karova.com site. Have a great holiday season! 2005 Andy Clarke andyclarke 2005-12-16T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2005/zs-not-dead-baby-zs-not-dead/ design
135 A Scripting Carol We all know the stories of the Ghost of Scripting Past – a time when the web was young and littered with nefarious scripting, designed to bestow ultimate control upon the developer, to pollute markup with event handler after event handler, and to entrench advertising in the minds of all that gazed upon her. And so it came to be that JavaScript became a dirty word, thrown out of solutions by many a Scrooge without regard to the enhancements that JavaScript could bring to any web page. JavaScript, as it was, was dead as a door-nail. With the arrival of our core philosophy that all standardistas hold to be true: “separate your concerns – content, presentation and behaviour,” we are in a new era of responsible development the Web Standards Way™. Or are we? Have we learned from the Ghosts of Scripting Past? Or are we now faced with new problems that come with new ways of implementing our solutions? The Ghost of Scripting Past If the Ghost of Scripting Past were with us it would probably say: You must remember your roots and where you came from, and realize the misguided nature of your early attempts for control. That person you see down there, is real and they are the reason you exist in the first place… without them, you are nothing. In many ways we’ve moved beyond the era of control and we do take into account the user, or at least much more so than we used to. Sadly – there is one advantage that old school inline event handlers had where we assigned and reassigned CSS style property values on the fly – we knew that if JavaScript wasn’t supported, the styles wouldn’t be added because we ended up doing them at the same time. If anything, we need to have learned from the past that just because it works for us doesn’t mean it is going to work for anyone else – we need to test more scenarios than ever to observe the multitude of browsing arrangements we’ll observe: CSS on with JavaScript off, CSS off/overridden with JavaScript on, both on, both off/not supported. It is a situation that is ripe for conflict. This may shock some of you, but there was a time when testing was actually easier: back in the day when Netscape 4 was king. Yes, that’s right. I actually kind of enjoyed Netscape 4 (hear me out, please). With NS4’s CSS implementation known as JavaScript Style Sheets, you knew that if JavaScript was off the styles were off too. The Ghost of Scripting Present With current best practice – we keep our CSS and JavaScript separate from each other. So what happens when some of our fancy, unobtrusive DOM Scripting doesn’t play nicely with our wonderfully defined style rules? Lets look at one example of a collapsing and expanding menu to illustrate where we are now: Simple Collapsing/Expanding Menu Example We’re using some simple JavaScript (I’m using jquery in this case) to toggle between a CSS state for expanded and not expanded: JavaScript $(document).ready(function(){ TWOFOURWAYS.enableTree(); }); var TWOFOURWAYS = new Object(); TWOFOURWAYS.enableTree = function () { $("ul li a").toggle(function(){ $(this.parentNode).addClass("expanded"); }, function() { $(this.parentNode).removeClass("expanded"); }); return false; } CSS ul li ul { display: none; } ul li.expanded ul { display: block; } At this point we’ve separated our presentation from our content and behaviour, and all is well, right? Not quite. Here’s where I typically see failures in the assessment work that I do on web sites and applications (Yes, call me Scrooge – I don’t care!). We know our page needs to work with or without scripting, and we know it needs to work with or without CSS. All too often the testing scenarios don’t take into account combinations. Testing it out So what happens when we test this? Make sure you test with: CSS off JavaScript off Use the simple example again. With CSS off, we revert to a simple nested list of links and all functionality is maintained. With JavaScript off, however, we run into a problem – we have now removed the ability to expand the menu using the JavaScript triggered CSS change. Hopefully you see the problem – we have a JavaScript and CSS dependency that is critical to the functionality of the page. Unobtrusive scripting and binary on/off tests aren’t enough. We need more. This Ghost of Scripting Present sighting is seen all too often. Lets examine the JavaScript off scenario a bit further – if we require JavaScript to expand/show the branch of the tree we should use JavaScript to hide them in the first place. That way we guarantee functionality in all scenarios, and have achieved our baseline level of interoperability. To revise this then, we’ll start with the sub items expanded, use JavaScript to collapse them, and then use the same JavaScript to expand them. HTML <ul> <li><a href="#">Main Item</a> <ul class="collapseme"> <li><a href="#">Sub item 1</a></li> <li><a href="#">Sub item 2</a></li> <li><a href="#">Sub item 3</a></li> </ul> </li> </ul> CSS /* initial style is expanded */ ul li ul.collapseme { display: block; } JavaScript // remove the class collapseme after the page loads $("ul ul.collapseme").removeClass("collapseme"); And there you have it – a revised example with better interoperability. This isn’t rocket surgery by any means. It is a simple solution to a ghostly problem that is too easily overlooked (and often is). The Ghost of Scripting Future Well, I’m not so sure about this one, but I’m guessing that in a few years’ time, we’ll all have seen a few more apparitions and have a few more tales to tell. And hopefully we’ll be able to share them on 24 ways. Thanks to Drew for the invitation to contribute and thanks to everyone else out there for making this a great (and haunting) year on the web! 2006 Derek Featherstone derekfeatherstone 2006-12-21T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/a-scripting-carol/ code
125 Accessible Dynamic Links Although hyperlinks are the soul of the World Wide Web, it’s worth using them in moderation. Too many links becomes a barrier for visitors navigating their way through a page. This difficulty is multiplied when the visitor is using assistive technology, or is using a keyboard; being able to skip over a block of links doesn’t make the task of finding a specific link any easier. In an effort to make sites easier to use, various user interfaces based on the hiding and showing of links have been crafted. From drop-down menus to expose the deeper structure of a website, to a decluttering of skip links so as not to impact design considerations. Both are well intentioned with the aim of preserving a good usability experience for the majority of a website’s audience; hiding the real complexity of a page until the visitor interacts with the element. When JavaScript is not available The modern dynamic link techniques rely on JavaScript and CSS, but regardless of whether scripting and styles are enabled or not, we should consider the accessibility implications, particularly for screen-reader users, and people who rely on keyboard access. In typical web standards-based drop-down navigation implementations, the rough consensus is that the navigation should be structured as nested lists so when JavaScript is not available the entire navigation map is available to the visitor. This creates a situation where a visitor is faced with potentially well over 50 links on every page of the website. Keyboard access to such structures is frustrating, there’s far too many options, and the method of serially tabbing through each link looking for a specific one is tedious. Instead of offering the visitor an indigestible chunk of links when JavaScript is not available, consider instead having the minimum number of links on a page, and when JavaScript is available bringing in the extra links dynamically. Santa Chris Heilmann offers an excellent proof of concept in making Ajax navigation optional. When JavaScript is enabled, we need to decide how to hide links. One technique offers a means of comprehensively hiding links from keyboard users and assistive technology users. Another technique allows keyboard and screen-reader users to access links while they are hidden, and making them visible when reached. Hiding the links In JavaScript enhanced pages whether a link displays on screen depends on a certain event happening first. For example, a visitor needs to click a top-level navigation link that makes a set of sub-navigation links appear. In these cases, we need to ensure that these links are not available to any user until that event has happened. The typical way of hiding links is to style the anchor elements, or its parent nodes with display: none. This has the advantage of taking the links out of the tab order, so they are not focusable. It’s useful in reducing the number of links presented to a screen-reader or keyboard user to a minimum. Although the links are still in the document (they can be referenced and manipulated using DOM Scripting), they are not directly triggerable by a visitor. Once the necessary event has happened, like our visitor has clicked on a top-level navigation link which shows our hidden set of links, then we can display the links to the visitor and make them triggerable. This is done simply by undoing the display: none, perhaps by setting the display back to block for block level elements, or inline for inline elements. For as long as this display style remains, the links are in the tab order, focusable by keyboard, and triggerable. A common mistake in this situation is to use visibility: hidden, text-indent: -999em, or position: absolute with left: -999em to position these links off-screen. But all of these links remain accessible via keyboard tabbing even though the links remain hidden from screen view. In some ways this is a good idea, but for hiding sub-navigation links, it presents the screen-reader user and keyboard user with too many links to be of practical use. Moving the links out of sight If you want a set of text links accessible to screen-readers and keyboard users, but don’t want them cluttering up space on the screen, then style the links with position: absolute; left: -999em. Links styled this way remain in the tab order, and are accessible via keyboard. (The position: absolute is added as a style to the link, not to a parent node of the link – this will give us a useful hook to solve the next problem). a.helper { position: absolute; left: -999em; } One important requirement when displaying links off-screen is that they are visible to a keyboard user when they receive focus. Tabbing on a link that is not visible is a usability mudpit, since the visitor has no visible cue as to what a focused link will do, or where it will go. The simple answer is to restyle the link so that it appears on the screen when the hidden link receives focus. The anchor’s :focus pseudo-class is a logical hook to use, and with the following style repositions the link onscreen when it receives the focus: a.helper:focus, a.helper.focus { top: 0; left: 0; } This technique is useful for hiding skip links, and options you want screen-reader and keyboard users to use, but don’t want cluttering up the page. Unfortunately Internet Explorer 6 and 7 don’t support the focus pseudo-class, which is why there’s a second CSS selector a.helper.focus so we can use some JavaScript to help out. When the page loads, we look for all links that have a class of helper and add in onfocus and onblur event handlers: if (anchor.className == "helper") { anchor.onfocus = function() { this.className = 'helper focus'; } anchor.onblur = function() { this.className = 'helper'; } } Since we are using JavaScript to cover up for deficiencies in Internet Explorer, it makes sense to use JavaScript initially to place the links off-screen. That way an Internet Explorer user with JavaScript disabled can still use the skip link functionality. It is vital that the number of links rendered in this way is kept to a minimum. Every link you offer needs to be tabbed through, and gets read out in a screen reader. Offer these off-screen links that directly benefit these types of visitor. Andy Clarke and Kimberly Blessing use a similar technique in the Web Standards Project‘s latest design, but their technique involves hiding the skip link in plain sight and making it visible when it receives focus. Navigate the page using just the tab key to see the accessibility-related links appear when they receive focus. This technique is also a good way of hiding image replaced text. That way the screen-readers still get the actual text, and the website still gets its designed look. Which way? If the links are not meant to be reachable until a certain event has occurred, then the display: none technique is the preferred approach. If you want the links accessible but out of the way until they receive focus, then the off-screen positioning (or Andy’s hiding in plain sight technique) is the way to go. 2006 Mike Davies mikedavies 2006-12-05T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/accessible-dynamic-links/ ux
136 Making XML Beautiful Again: Introducing Client-Side XSL Remember that first time you saw XML and got it? When you really understood what was possible and the deep meaning each element could carry? Now when you see XML, it looks ugly, especially when you navigate to a page of XML in a browser. Well, with every modern browser now supporting XSL 1.0, I’m going to show you how you can turn something as simple as an ATOM feed into a customised page using a browser, Notepad and some XSL. What on earth is this XSL? XSL is a family of recommendations for defining XML document transformation and presentation. It consists of three parts: XSLT 1.0 – Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation, a language for transforming XML XPath 1.0 – XML Path Language, an expression language used by XSLT to access or refer to parts of an XML document. (XPath is also used by the XML Linking specification) XSL-FO 1.0 – Extensible Stylesheet Language Formatting Objects, an XML vocabulary for specifying formatting semantics XSL transformations are usually a one-to-one transformation, but with newer versions (XSL 1.1 and XSL 2.0) its possible to create many-to-many transformations too. So now you have an overview of XSL, on with the show… So what do I need? So to get going you need a browser an supports client-side XSL transformations such as Firefox, Safari, Opera or Internet Explorer. Second, you need a source XML file – for this we’re going to use an ATOM feed from Flickr.com. And lastly, you need an editor of some kind. I find Notepad++ quick for short XSLs, while I tend to use XMLSpy or Oxygen for complex XSL work. Because we’re doing a client-side transformation, we need to modify the XML file to tell it where to find our yet-to-be-written XSL file. Take a look at the source XML file, which originates from my Flickr photos tagged sky, in ATOM format. The top of the ATOM file now has an additional <?xml-stylesheet /> instruction, as can been seen on Line 2 below. This instructs the browser to use the XSL file to transform the document. <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" standalone="yes"?> <?xml-stylesheet type="text/xsl" href="flickr_transform.xsl"?> <feed xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2005/Atom" xmlns:dc="http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/"> Your first transformation Your first XSL will look something like this: <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?> <xsl:stylesheet version="1.0" xmlns:xsl="http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform" xmlns:atom="http://www.w3.org/2005/Atom" xmlns:dc="http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/"> <xsl:output method="html" encoding="utf-8"/> </xsl:stylesheet> This is pretty much the starting point for most XSL files. You will notice the standard XML processing instruction at the top of the file (line 1). We then switch into XSL mode using the XSL namespace on all XSL elements (line 2). In this case, we have added namespaces for ATOM (line 4) and Dublin Core (line 5). This means the XSL can now read and understand those elements from the source XML. After we define all the namespaces, we then move onto the xsl:output element (line 6). This enables you to define the final method of output. Here we’re specifying html, but you could equally use XML or Text, for example. The encoding attributes on each element do what they say on the tin. As with all XML, of course, we close every element including the root. The next stage is to add a template, in this case an <xsl:template /> as can be seen below: <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?> <xsl:stylesheet version="1.0" xmlns:xsl="http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform" xmlns:atom="http://www.w3.org/2005/Atom" xmlns:dc="http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/"> <xsl:output method="html" encoding="utf-8"/> <xsl:template match="/"> <html> <head> <title>Making XML beautiful again : Transforming ATOM</title> </head> <body> <xsl:apply-templates select="/atom:feed"/> </body> </html> </xsl:template> </xsl:stylesheet> The beautiful thing about XSL is its English syntax, if you say it out loud it tends to make sense. The / value for the match attribute on line 8 is our first example of XPath syntax. The expression / matches any element – so this <xsl:template/> will match against any element in the document. As the first element in any XML document is the root element, this will be the one matched and processed first. Once we get past our standard start of a HTML document, the only instruction remaining in this <xsl:template/> is to look for and match all <atom:feed/> elements using the <xsl:apply-templates/> in line 14, above. <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?> <xsl:stylesheet version="1.0" xmlns:xsl="http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform" xmlns:atom="http://www.w3.org/2005/Atom" xmlns:dc="http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/"> <xsl:output method="html" encoding="utf-8"/> <xsl:template match="/"> <xsl:apply-templates select="/atom:feed"/> </xsl:template> <xsl:template match="/atom:feed"> <div id="content"> <h1> <xsl:value-of select="atom:title"/> </h1> <p> <xsl:value-of select="atom:subtitle"/> </p> <ul id="entries"> <xsl:apply-templates select="atom:entry"/> </ul> </div> </xsl:template> </xsl:stylesheet> This new template (line 12, above) matches <feed/> and starts to write the new HTML elements out to the output stream. The <xsl:value-of/> does exactly what you’d expect – it finds the value of the item specifed in its select attribute. With XPath you can select any element or attribute from the source XML. The last part is a repeat of the now familiar <xsl:apply-templates/> from before, but this time we’re using it inside of a called template. Yep, XSL is full of recursion… <xsl:template match="atom:entry"> <li class="entry"> <h2> <a href="{atom:link/@href}"> <xsl:value-of select="atom:title"/> </a> </h2> <p class="date"> (<xsl:value-of select="substring-before(atom:updated,'T')"/>) </p> <p class="content"> <xsl:value-of select="atom:content" disable-output-escaping="yes"/> </p> <xsl:apply-templates select="atom:category"/> </li> </xsl:template> The <xsl:template/> which matches atom:entry (line 1) occurs every time there is a <entry/> element in the source XML file. So in total that is 20 times, this is naturally why XSLT is full of recursion. This <xsl:template/> has been matched and therefore called higher up in the document, so we can start writing list elements directly to the output stream. The first part is simply a <h2/> with a link wrapped within it (lines 3-7). We can select attributes using XPath using @. The second part of this template selects the date, but performs a XPath string function on it. This means that we only get the date and not the time from the string (line 9). This is achieved by getting only the part of the string that exists before the T. Regular Expressions are not part of the XPath 1.0 string functions, although XPath 2.0 does include them. Because of this, in XSL we tend to rely heavily on the available XML output. The third part of the template (line 12) is a <xsl:value-of/> again, but this time we use an attribute of <xsl:value-of/> called disable output escaping to turn escaped characters back into XML. The very last section is another <xsl:apply-template/> call, taking us three templates deep. Do not worry, it is not uncommon to write XSL which go 20 or more templates deep! <xsl:template match="atom:category"> <xsl:for-each select="."> <xsl:element name="a"> <xsl:attribute name="rel"> <xsl:text>tag</xsl:text> </xsl:attribute> <xsl:attribute name="href"> <xsl:value-of select="concat(@scheme, @term)"/> </xsl:attribute> <xsl:value-of select="@term"/> </xsl:element> <xsl:text> </xsl:text> </xsl:for-each> </xsl:template> In our final <xsl:template/>, we see a combination of what we have done before with a couple of twists. Once we match atom:category we then count how many elements there are at that same level (line 2). The XPath . means ‘self’, so we count how many category elements are within the <entry/> element. Following that, we start to output a link with a rel attribute of the predefined text, tag (lines 4-6). In XSL you can just type text, but results can end up with strange whitespace if you do (although there are ways to simply remove all whitespace). The only new XPath function in this example is concat(), which simply combines what XPaths or text there might be in the brackets. We end the output for this tag with an actual tag name (line 10) and we add a space afterwards (line 12) so it won’t touch the next tag. (There are better ways to do this in XSL using the last() XPath function). After that, we go back to the <xsl:for-each/> element again if there is another category element, otherwise we end the <xsl:for-each/> loop and end this <xsl:template/>. A touch of style Because we’re using recursion through our templates, you will find this is the end of the templates and the rest of the XML will be ignored by the parser. Finally, we can add our CSS to finish up. (I have created one for Flickr and another for News feeds) <style type="text/css" media="screen">@import "flickr_overview.css?v=001";</style> So we end up with a nice simple to understand but also quick to write XSL which can be used on ATOM Flickr feeds and ATOM News feeds. With a little playing around with XSL, you can make XML beautiful again. All the files can be found in the zip file (14k) 2006 Ian Forrester ianforrester 2006-12-07T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/beautiful-xml-with-xsl/ code
128 Boost Your Hyperlink Power There are HTML elements and attributes that we use every day. Headings, paragraphs, lists and images are the mainstay of every Web developer’s toolbox. Perhaps the most common tool of all is the anchor. The humble a element is what joins documents together to create the gloriously chaotic collection we call the World Wide Web. Anatomy of an Anchor The power of the anchor element lies in the href attribute, short for hypertext reference. This creates a one-way link to another resource, usually another page on the Web: <a href="http://allinthehead.com/"> The href attribute sits in the opening a tag and some descriptive text sits between the opening and closing tags: <a href="http://allinthehead.com/">Drew McLellan</a> “Whoop-dee-freakin’-doo,” I hear you say, “this is pretty basic stuff” – and you’re quite right. But there’s more to the anchor element than just the href attribute. The Theory of relativity You might be familiar with the rel attribute from the link element. I bet you’ve got something like this in the head of your documents: <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" media="screen" href="styles.css" /> The rel attribute describes the relationship between the linked document and the current document. In this case, the value of rel is “stylesheet”. This means that the linked document is the stylesheet for the current document: that’s its relationship. Here’s another common use of rel: <link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="my RSS feed" href="index.xml" /> This describes the relationship of the linked file – an RSS feed – as “alternate”: an alternate view of the current document. Both of those examples use the link element but you are free to use the rel attribute in regular hyperlinks. Suppose you’re linking to your RSS feed in the body of your page: Subscribe to <a href="index.xml">my RSS feed</a>. You can add extra information to this anchor using the rel attribute: Subscribe to <a href="index.xml" rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml">my RSS feed</a>. There’s no prescribed list of values for the rel attribute so you can use whatever you decide is semantically meaningful. Let’s say you’ve got a complex e-commerce application that includes a link to a help file. You can explicitly declare the relationship of the linked file as being “help”: <a href="help.html" rel="help">need help?</a> Elemental Microformats Although it’s completely up to you what values you use for the rel attribute, some consensus is emerging in the form of microformats. Some of the simplest microformats make good use of rel. For example, if you are linking to a license that covers the current document, use the rel-license microformat: Licensed under a <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/" rel="license">Creative Commons attribution license</a> That describes the relationship of the linked document as “license.” The rel-tag microformat goes a little further. It uses rel to describe the final part of the URL of the linked file as a “tag” for the current document: Learn more about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microformats" rel="tag">semantic markup</a> This states that the current document is being tagged with the value “Microformats.” XFN, which stands for XHTML Friends Network, is a way of describing relationships between people: <a href="http://allinthehead.com/" rel="friend">Drew McLellan</a> This microformat makes use of a very powerful property of the rel attribute. Like the class attribute, rel can take multiple values, separated by spaces: <a href="http://allinthehead.com/" rel="friend met colleague">Drew McLellan</a> Here I’m describing Drew as being a friend, someone I’ve met, and a colleague (because we’re both Web monkies). You Say You Want a revolution While rel describes the relationship of the linked resource to the current document, the rev attribute describes the reverse relationship: it describes the relationship of the current document to the linked resource. Here’s an example of a link that might appear on help.html: <a href="shoppingcart.html" rev="help">continue shopping</a> The rev attribute declares that the current document is “help” for the linked file. The vote-links microformat makes use of the rev attribute to allow you to qualify your links. By using the value “vote-for” you can describe your document as being an endorsement of the linked resource: I agree with <a href="http://richarddawkins.net/home" rev="vote-for">Richard Dawkins</a>. There’s a corresponding vote-against value. This means that you can link to a document but explicitly state that you don’t agree with it. I agree with <a href="http://richarddawkins.net/home" rev="vote-for">Richard Dawkins</a> about those <a href="http://www.icr.org/" rev="vote-against">creationists</a>. Of course there’s nothing to stop you using both rel and rev on the same hyperlink: <a href="http://richarddawkins.net/home" rev="vote-for" rel="muse">Richard Dawkins</a> The Wisdom of Crowds The simplicity of rel and rev belies their power. They allow you to easily add extra semantic richness to your hyperlinks. This creates a bounty that can be harvested by search engines, aggregators and browsers. Make it your New Year’s resolution to make friends with these attributes and extend the power of hypertext. 2006 Jeremy Keith jeremykeith 2006-12-18T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/boost-your-hyperlink-power/ code
137 Cheating Color Have you ever been strapped to use specific colors outlined in a branding guide? Felt restricted because those colors ended up being too light or dark for the way you want to use them? Here’s the solution: throw out your brand guide. gasp! OK, don’t throw it out. Just put it in a drawer for a few minutes. Branding Guides be Damned When dealing with color on screen, it’s easy to get caught up in literal values from hex colors, you can cheat colors ever so slightly to achieve the right optical value. This is especially prevalent when trying to bring a company’s identity colors to a screen design. Because the most important idea behind a brand guide is to help a company maintain the visual integrity of their business, consider hex numbers to be guidelines rather than law. Once you are familiar enough with the colors your company uses, you can start to flex them a bit, and take a few liberties. This is a quick method for cheating to get the color you really want. With a little sleight of design, we can swap a color that might be part of your identity guidelines, with one that works better optically, and no one will be the wiser! Color is a Wily Beast This might be hard: You might have to break out of the idea that a color can only be made using one method. Color is fluid. It interacts and changes based on its surroundings. Some colors can appear lighter or darker based on what color they appear on or next to. The RGB gamut is additive color, and as such, has a tendency to push contrast in the direction that objects may already be leaning—increasing the contrast of light colors on dark colors and decreasing the contrast of light on light. Obviously, because we are talking about monitors here, these aren’t hard and fast rules. Cheat and Feel Good About It On a light background, when you have a large element of a light color, a small element of the same color will appear lighter. Enter our fake company: Double Dagger. They manufacture footnotes. Take a look at Fig. 1 below. The logo (Double Dagger), rule, and small text are all #6699CC. Because the logo so large, we get a good sense of the light blue color. Unfortunately, the rule and small text beneath it feel much lighter because we can’t create enough contrast with such small shapes in that color. Now take a look at Fig. 2. Our logo is still #6699CC, but now the rule and smaller text have been cheated to #4477BB, effectively giving us the same optical color that we used in the logo. You will find that we get a better sense of the light blue, and the added benefit of more contrast for our text. Doesn’t that feel good? Conversely, when you have a large element of a dark color, a small element of the same color will appear darker. Let’s look at Fig. 3 below. Double Dagger has decided to change its identity colors from blue to red. In Fig. 3, our logo, rule, and small text are all #330000, a very dark red. If you look at the rule and small text below the logo, you will notice that they seem dark enough to be confused with black. The dark red can’t be sustained by the smaller shapes. Now let’s look at Fig. 4. The logo is still #33000, but we’ve now cheated the rule and smaller text to #550000. This gives us a better sense of a red, but preserves the dark and moody direction the company has taken. But we’ve only touched on color against a white background. For colors against a darker background, you may find lighter colors work fine, but darker colors need to be cheated a bit to the lighter side in order to reach a good optical equivalent. Take a look below at Fig. 5 and Fig. 6. Both use the same exact corresponding colors as Fig. 1 and Fig. 2 above, but now they are set against a dark background. Where the blue used in Fig. 1 above was too light for the smaller elements, we find it is just right for them in Fig. 5, and the darker blue we used in Fig. 2 has now proven too dark for a dark background, as evidenced in Fig. 6. Your mileage may vary, and this may not be applicable in all situations, but consider it to be just another tool on your utility belt for dealing with color problems. 2006 Jason Santa Maria jasonsantamaria 2006-12-23T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/cheating-color/ design
141 Compose to a Vertical Rhythm “Space in typography is like time in music. It is infinitely divisible, but a few proportional intervals can be much more useful than a limitless choice of arbitrary quantities.” So says the typographer Robert Bringhurst, and just as regular use of time provides rhythm in music, so regular use of space provides rhythm in typography, and without rhythm the listener, or the reader, becomes disorientated and lost. On the Web, vertical rhythm – the spacing and arrangement of text as the reader descends the page – is contributed to by three factors: font size, line height and margin or padding. All of these factors must calculated with care in order that the rhythm is maintained. The basic unit of vertical space is line height. Establishing a suitable line height that can be applied to all text on the page, be it heading, body copy or sidenote, is the key to a solid dependable vertical rhythm, which will engage and guide the reader down the page. To see this in action, I’ve created an example with headings, footnotes and sidenotes. Establishing a suitable line height The easiest place to begin determining a basic line height unit is with the font size of the body copy. For the example I’ve chosen 12px. To ensure readability the body text will almost certainly need some leading, that is to say spacing between the lines. A line-height of 1.5em would give 6px spacing between the lines of body copy. This will create a total line height of 18px, which becomes our basic unit. Here’s the CSS to get us to this point: body { font-size: 75%; } html>body { font-size: 12px; } p { line-height 1.5em; } There are many ways to size text in CSS and the above approach provides and accessible method of achieving the pixel-precision solid typography requires. By way of explanation, the first font-size reduces the body text from the 16px default (common to most browsers and OS set-ups) down to the 12px we require. This rule is primarily there for Internet Explorer 6 and below on Windows: the percentage value means that the text will scale predictably should a user bump the text size up or down. The second font-size sets the text size specifically and is ignored by IE6, but used by Firefox, Safari, IE7, Opera and other modern browsers which allow users to resize text sized in pixels. Spacing between paragraphs With our rhythmic unit set at 18px we need to ensure that it is maintained throughout the body copy. A common place to lose the rhythm is the gaps set between margins. The default treatment by web browsers of paragraphs is to insert a top- and bottom-margin of 1em. In our case this would give a spacing between the paragraphs of 12px and hence throw the text out of rhythm. If the rhythm of the page is to be maintained, the spacing of paragraphs should be related to the basic line height unit. This is achieved simply by setting top- and bottom-margins equal to the line height. In order that typographic integrity is maintained when text is resized by the user we must use ems for all our vertical measurements, including line-height, padding and margins. p { font-size:1em; margin-top: 1.5em; margin-bottom: 1.5em; } Browsers set margins on all block-level elements (such as headings, lists and blockquotes) so a way of ensuring that typographic attention is paid to all such elements is to reset the margins at the beginning of your style sheet. You could use a rule such as: body,div,dl,dt,dd,ul,ol,li,h1,h2,h3,h4,h5,h6,pre,form,fieldset,p,blockquote,th,td { margin:0; padding:0; } Alternatively you could look into using the Yahoo! UI Reset style sheet which removes most default styling, so providing a solid foundation upon which you can explicitly declare your design intentions. Variations in text size When there is a change in text size, perhaps with a heading or sidenotes, the differing text should also take up a multiple of the basic leading. This means that, in our example, every diversion from the basic text size should take up multiples of 18px. This can be accomplished by adjusting the line-height and margin accordingly, as described following. Headings Subheadings in the example page are set to 14px. In order that the height of each line is 18px, the line-height should be set to 18 ÷ 14 = 1.286. Similarly the margins above and below the heading must be adjusted to fit. The temptation is to set heading margins to a simple 1em, but in order to maintain the rhythm, the top and bottom margins should be set at 1.286em so that the spacing is equal to the full 18px unit. h2 { font-size:1.1667em; line-height: 1.286em; margin-top: 1.286em; margin-bottom: 1.286em; } One can also set asymmetrical margins for headings, provided the margins combine to be multiples of the basic line height. In our example, a top margin of 1½ lines is combined with a bottom margin of half a line as follows: h2 { font-size:1.1667em; line-height: 1.286em; margin-top: 1.929em; margin-bottom: 0.643em; } Also in our example, the main heading is given a text size of 18px, therefore the line-height has been set to 1em, as has the margin: h1 { font-size:1.5em; line-height: 1em; margin-top: 0; margin-bottom: 1em; } Sidenotes Sidenotes (and other supplementary material) are often set at a smaller size to the basic text. To keep the rhythm, this smaller text should still line up with body copy, so a calculation similar to that for headings is required. In our example, the sidenotes are set at 10px and so their line-height must be increased to 18 ÷ 10 = 1.8. .sidenote { font-size:0.8333em; line-height:1.8em; } Borders One additional point where vertical rhythm is often lost is with the introduction of horizontal borders. These effectively act as shims pushing the subsequent text downwards, so a two pixel horizontal border will throw out the vertical rhythm by two pixels. A way around this is to specify horizontal lines using background images or, as in our example, specify the width of the border in ems and adjust the padding to take up the slack. The design of the footnote in our example requires a 1px horizontal border. The footnote contains 12px text, so 1px in ems is 1 ÷ 12 = 0.0833. I have added a margin of 1½ lines above the border (1.5 × 18 ÷ 12 = 2.5ems), so to maintain the rhythm the border + padding must equal a ½ (9px). We know the border is set to 1px, so the padding must be set to 8px. To specify this in ems we use the familiar calculation: 8 ÷ 12 = 0.667. Hit me with your rhythm stick Composing to a vertical rhythm helps engage and guide the reader down the page, but it takes typographic discipline to do so. It may seem like a lot of fiddly maths is involved (a few divisions and multiplications never hurt anyone) but good type setting is all about numbers, and it is this attention to detail which is the key to success. 2006 Richard Rutter richardrutter 2006-12-12T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/compose-to-a-vertical-rhythm/ design
122 A Message To You, Rudy - CSS Production Notes When more than one designer or developer work together on coding an XHTML/CSS template, there are several ways to make collaboration effective. Some prefer to comment their code, leaving a trail of bread-crumbs for their co-workers to follow. Others use accompanying files that contain their working notes or communicate via Basecamp. For this year’s 24ways I wanted to share a technique that I has been effective at Stuff and Nonsense; one that unfortunately did not make it into the final draft of Transcending CSS. This technique, CSS production notes, places your page production notes in one convenient place within an XHTML document and uses nothing more than meaningful markup and CSS. Let’s start with the basics; a conversation between a group of people. In the absence of notes or conversation elements in XHTML you need to make an XHTML compound that will effectively add meaning to the conversation between designers and developers. As each person speaks, you have two elements right there to describe what has been said and who has spoken: <blockquote> and its cite attribute. <blockquote cite="andy"> <p>This project will use XHTML1.0 Strict, CSS2.1 and all that malarkey.</p> </blockquote> With more than one person speaking, you need to establish a temporal order for the conversation. Once again, the element to do just that is already there in XHTML; the humble ordered list. <ol id="notes"> <li> <blockquote cite="andy"> <p>This project will use XHTML1.0 Strict, CSS2.1 and all that malarkey.</p> </blockquote> </li> <li> <blockquote cite="dan"> <p>Those bits are simple and bulletproof.</p> </blockquote> </li> </ol> Adding a new note is as simple as adding a new item to list, and if you prefer to add more information to each note, such as the date or time that the note was written, go right ahead. Place your note list at the bottom of the source order of your document, right before the closing <body> tag. One advantage of this approach over using conventional comments in your code is that all the notes are unobtrusive and are grouped together in one place, rather than being spread throughout your document. Basic CSS styling For the first stage you are going to add some basic styling to the notes area, starting with the ordered list. For this design I am basing the look and feel on an instant messenger window. ol#notes { width : 300px; height : 320px; padding : .5em 0; background : url(im.png) repeat; border : 1px solid #333; border-bottom-width : 2px; -moz-border-radius : 6px; /* Will not validate */ color : #000; overflow : auto; } ol#notes li { margin : .5em; padding : 10px 0 5px; background-color : #fff; border : 1px solid #666; -moz-border-radius : 6px; /* Will not validate */ } ol#notes blockquote { margin : 0; padding : 0; } ol#notes p { margin : 0 20px .75em; padding : 0; } ol#notes p.date { font-size : 92%; color : #666; text-transform : uppercase; } Take a gander at the first example. You could stop right there, but without seeing who has left the note, there is little context. So next, extract the name of the commenter from the <blockquote>’s cite attribute and display it before each note by using generated content. ol#notes blockquote:before { content : " "attr(cite)" said: "; margin-left : 20px; font-weight : bold; } Fun with more detailed styling Now, with all of the information and basic styling in place, it’s time to have some fun with some more detailed styling to spruce up your notes. Let’s start by adding an icon for each person, once again based on their cite. First, all of the first paragraphs of a <blockquote>’s that includes a cite attribute are given common styles. ol#notes blockquote[cite] p:first-child { min-height : 34px; padding-left : 40px; } Followed by an individual background-image. ol#notes blockquote[cite="Andy"] p:first-child { background : url(malarkey.png) no-repeat 5px 5px; } If you prefer a little more interactivity, add a :hover state to each <blockquote> and perhaps highlight the most recent comment. ol#notes blockquote:hover { background-color : #faf8eb; border-top : 1px solid #fff; border-bottom : 1px solid #333; } ol#notes li:last-child blockquote { background-color : #f1efe2; } You could also adjust the style for each comment based on the department that the person works in, for example: <li> <blockquote cite="andy" class="designer"> <p>This project will use XHTML1.0 Strict, CSS2.1 and all that malarkey.</p> </blockquote> </li> <li> <blockquote cite="dan"> <p>Those bits are simple and bulletproof.</p> </blockquote> </li> ol#notes blockquote.designer { border-color : #600; } Take a look at the results of the second stage. Show and hide the notes using CSS positioning With your notes now dressed in their finest, it is time to tuck them away above the top of your working XHTML/CSS prototype so that you can reveal them when you need them, no JavaScript required. Start by moving the ordered list of notes off the top of the viewport leaving only a few pixels in view. It is also a good idea to make them semi-transparent by using the opacity property for browsers that have implemented it. ol#notes { position : absolute; opacity : .25; z-index : 2000; top : -305px; left : 20px; } Your last step is to add :hover and :focus dynamic pseudo-classes to reposition the list at the top of the viewport and restore full opacity to display them in their full glory when needed. ol#notes:hover, ol#notes:focus { top : 0; opacity : 1; } Now it’s time to sit back, pour yourself a long drink and bask in the glory of the final result. Your notes are all stored in one handy place at the bottom of your document rather than being spread around your code. When your templates are complete, simply dive straight to the bottom and pull out the notes. A Message To You, Rudy Thank-you to everybody for making this a really great year for web standards. Have a wonderful holiday season. Buy Andy Clarke’s book Transcending CSS from Amazon.com 2006 Andy Clarke andyclarke 2006-12-15T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/css-production-notes/ process
123 Fast and Simple Usability Testing Everyone knows by now that they should test the usability of their applications, but still hardly anybody actually does it. In this article I’ll share some tips I’ve picked up for doing usability tests quickly and effectively. Relatively recent tools like Django and Ruby on Rails allow us to develop projects faster and to make significant changes later in the project timeline. Usability testing methods should now be adapted to fit this modern approach to development. When to test In an ideal world usability tests would be carried out frequently from an early stage of the project. Time and budget constraints lead this to be impractical; usability is often the first thing to get dropped from the project plan. If you can only test at one stage in the project, whatever the size, the most valuable time is before your first public beta — leaving long enough to fix issues and not so late that you can’t rethink your scope. There are three main categories of usability test: Testing design mockups Testing a new working application Testing established applications Each category requires a slightly different approach. For small modern web projects you are most likely to be testing a new working application. You will of course have already done functional tests so you won’t be worried about the user breaking things. The main differences between the categories apply in how you word The Script. Testing an established application is the most fun in my opinion. Humans are remarkably adaptable and rapidly develop coping strategies to work around usability issues in software they are forced to use. Uncovering these strategies may lead you to understand previously unspoken needs of your users. Often small changes to the application will have a dramatic affect on their everyday lives. Who to test When you have built a project to scratch your own itch, your intended audience will be people just like you. Test subjects in this case should be easy to find – friends, co-workers etc. This is not always the case; your users may not be like you at all. When they are not, it’s all the more important to run usability tests. Testing on friends, family and co-workers is better than not doing usability tests at all, but it can’t be compared to testing on actual samples of your intended audience. People who would use the system will provide more genuine feedback and deeper insight. Never let your test subjects put themselves in the shoes of your ‘actual’ users. For example, you should discourage comments like “Well, I would do this BUT if I was a bus driver I’d do that”. Users are not qualified to put themselves in the position of others. Inaccurate data is often worse than no data. Aim for five or six test subjects: any more and you probably won’t learn anything new; any less and you’re likely to be overwhelmed by issues stemming from people’s individual personalities. The Script The Script is a single side of A4 (or letter) paper, consisting of questions for your testers and reminders for yourself. Have a balance of task-based questions and expectation analysis. This helps maintain consistency across tests. Expectation analysis is more important for testing designs and new applications: “Where would you find X?”, “What would you expect to happen if you clicked on Y?”. In an established system users will probably know where these things are though it can still be illuminating to ask these questions though phrased slightly differently. Task-based questions involve providing a task for the user to complete. If you are testing an established system it is a good idea to ask users to bring in tasks that they would normally perform. This is because the user will be more invested in the outcome of the task and will behave in a more realistic fashion. When designing tasks for new systems and designs ensure you only provide loose task details for the same reason. Don’t tell testers to enter “Chantelle”; have them use their own name instead. Avoid introducing bias with the way questions are phrased. It’s a good idea to ask for users’ first impressions at the beginning of the test, especially when testing design mockups. “What are the main elements on the page?” or “What strikes you first?”. You script should run for a maximum of 45 minutes. 30-35 minutes is better; after this you are likely to lose their attention. Tests on established systems can take longer as there is more to learn from them. When scheduling the test you will need to leave yourself 5 minutes between each one to collate your notes and prepare for the next. Be sure to run through the script beforehand. Your script should be flexible. It is possible that during the test a trend will come to light that opens up whole new avenues of possible questioning. For example, during one initial test of an established system I noticed that the test subject had been printing off items from the application and placing them in a folder in date order (the system ordered alphabetically). I changed the script to ask future participants in that run, if they ever used external tools to help them with tasks within the system. This revealed a number of interesting issues that otherwise would not have been found. Running the tests Treat your test subjects like hedgehogs. Depending on your target audience they probably feel a little nervous and perhaps even scared of you. So make them a little nest out of straw, stroke their prickles and give them some cat food. Alternatively, reassure them that you are testing the system and that they can’t give a wrong answer. Reward them with a doughnut or jam tart at the end. Try to ensure the test environment is relaxed and quiet, but also as close as possible to the situation where they would actually use the system. Have your subjects talk out loud is very important as you can’t read their minds, but it is a very unnatural process. To loosen up your subjects and get them talking in the way you want them to, try the Stapler Trick. Give them a stapler or similar item and ask them to open it, take the staples out, replace them, shut the stapler and staple some paper – talking all the time about what they see, what they expect to happen, what actually happens and how that matches up. Make them laugh at you. Say how long the test will take up front, and tell your subject why you are doing it. After the test has been completed, conclude by thanking them for their time and assuring them that they were very useful. Then give them the sugary treat. What to look for Primarily, you should look out for incidents where the user stops concentrating on her tasks and starts thinking about the tool and how she is going to use it. For example, when you are hammering in a nail you don’t think about how to use a hammer; good software should be the same. Words like ‘it’ and ‘the system’ and are good indications that the test subject has stopped thinking about the task in hand. Note questioning words, especially where testers question their own judgement, “why can’t I find …”, “I expected to see …” etc. as this indicates that the work flow for the task may have broken down. Also keep an eye on occasions where the user completely fails to do a task. They may need some prompting to unstick them, but you should be careful not to bias the test. These should be the highest priority issues for you to fix. If users recover from getting stuck, make a note of how they recovered. Prolonged periods of silence from the test subject may also require prompting as they should be talking all the time. Ask them what they are thinking or looking for but avoid words like ‘try’ (e.g. ‘what are you trying to do?’) as this implies that they are currently failing. Be wary of users’ opinions on aesthetics and be prepared to bring them back to the script if they get side-tracked. Writing it up Even if you are the only developer it’s important to summarise the key issues that emerged during testing: your notes won’t make much sense to you a week or so after the test. If you are writing for other people, include a summary no longer than two pages; this can consist of a list or table of the issues including recommendations and their priorities. Remember to anonymise the users in the report. In team situations, you may be surprised at how many people are interested in the results of the usability test even if it doesn’t relate directly to something that they can fix. To conclude… Some usability testing is better than none at all, even for small projects or those with strict deadlines. Make the most of the time and resources available. Choose your users carefully, make them comfortable, summarise your report and don’t forget to leave a doughnut for yourself! 2006 Natalie Downe nataliedowne 2006-12-16T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/fast-and-simple-usability-testing/ process
130 Faster Development with CSS Constants Anyone even slightly familiar with a programming language will have come across the concept of constants – a fixed value that can be used through your code. For example, in a PHP script I might have a constant which is the email address that all emails generated by my application get sent to. $adminEmail = 'info@example.com'; I could then use $adminEmail in my script whenever I wanted an email to go to that address. The benefit of this is that when the client decides they want the email to go to a different address, I only need change it in one place – the place where I initially set the constant. I could also quite easily make this value user defined and enable the administrator to update the email address. Unfortunately CSS doesn’t support constants. It would be really useful to be able to define certain values initially and then use them throughout a CSS file, so in this article I’m going to take a look at some of the methods we do have available and provide pointers to more in depth commentary on each. If you have a different method, or tip to share please add it to the comments. So what options do we have? One way to get round the lack of constants is to create some definitions at the top of your CSS file in comments, to define ‘constants’. A common use for this is to create a ‘color glossary’. This means that you have a quick reference to the colors used in the site to avoid using alternates by mistake and, if you need to change the colors, you have a quick list to go down and do a search and replace. In the below example, if I decide I want to change the mid grey to #999999, all I need to do is search and replace #666666 with #999999 – assuming I’ve remember to always use that value for things which are mid grey. /* Dark grey (text): #333333 Dark Blue (headings, links) #000066 Mid Blue (header) #333399 Light blue (top navigation) #CCCCFF Mid grey: #666666 */ This is a fairly low-tech method, but if used throughout the development of the CSS files can make changes far simpler and help to ensure consistency in your color scheme. I’ve seen this method used by many designers however Garrett Dimon documents the method, with more ideas in the comments. Going server-side To truly achieve constants you will need to use something other than CSS to process the file before it is sent to the browser. You can use any scripting language – PHP, ASP, ColdFusion etc. to parse a CSS file in which you have entered constants. So that in a constants section of the CSS file you would have: $darkgrey = '#333333'; $darkblue = '#000066'; The rest of the CSS file is as normal except that when you come to use the constant value you would use the constant name instead of adding the color: p { color: $darkgrey; } Your server-side script could then parse the CSS file, replace the constant names with the constant values and serve a valid CSS file to the browser. Christian Heilmann has done just this for PHP however this could be adapted for any language you might have available on your server. Shaun Inman came up with another way of doing this that removes the need to link to a PHP script and also enables the adding of constants using the syntax of at-rules . This method is again using PHP and will require you to edit an .htaccess file. A further method is to generate static CSS files either using a script locally – if the constants are just to enable speed of development – or as part of the web application itself. Storing a template stylesheet with constant names in place of the values you will want to update means that your script can simply open the template, replace the variables and save the result as a new stylesheet file. While CSS constants are a real help to developers, they can also be used to add new functionality to your applications. As with the email address example that I used at the beginning of this article, using a combination of CSS and server-side scripting you could enable a site administrator to select the colours for a new theme to be used on a page of a content managed site. By using constants you need only give them the option to change certain parts of the CSS and not upload a whole different CSS file, which could lead to some interesting results! As we are unlikely to find real CSS constants under the tree this Christmas the above methods are some possibilities for better management of your stylesheets. However if you have better methods, CSS Constant horror stories or any other suggestions, add your comments below. 2006 Rachel Andrew rachelandrew 2006-12-02T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/faster-development-with-css-constants/ process
139 Flickr Photos On Demand with getFlickr In case you don’t know it yet, Flickr is great. It is a lot of fun to upload, tag and caption photos and it is really handy to get a vast network of contacts through it. Using Flickr photos outside of it is a bit of a problem though. There is a Flickr API, and you can get almost every page as an RSS feed, but in general it is a bit tricky to use Flickr photos inside your blog posts or web sites. You might not want to get into the whole API game or use a server side proxy script as you cannot retrieve RSS with Ajax because of the cross-domain security settings. However, Flickr also provides an undocumented JSON output, that can be used to hack your own solutions in JavaScript without having to use a server side script. If you enter the URL http://flickr.com/photos/tags/panda you get to the flickr page with photos tagged “panda”. If you enter the URL http://api.flickr.com/services/feeds/photos_public.gne?tags=panda&format=rss_200 you get the same page as an RSS feed. If you enter the URL http://api.flickr.com/services/feeds/photos_public.gne?tags=panda&format=json you get a JavaScript function called jsonFlickrFeed with a parameter that contains the same data in JSON format You can use this to easily hack together your own output by just providing a function with the same name. I wanted to make it easier for you, which is why I created the helper getFlickr for you to download and use. getFlickr for Non-Scripters Simply include the javascript file getflickr.js and the style getflickr.css in the head of your document: <script type="text/javascript" src="getflickr.js"></script> <link rel="stylesheet" href="getflickr.css" type="text/css"> Once this is done you can add links to Flickr pages anywhere in your document, and when you give them the CSS class getflickrphotos they get turned into gallery links. When a visitor clicks these links they turn into loading messages and show a “popup” gallery with the connected photos once they were loaded. As the JSON returned is very small it won’t take long. You can close the gallery, or click any of the thumbnails to view a photo. Clicking the photo makes it disappear and go back to the thumbnails. Check out the example page and click the different gallery links to see the results. Notice that getFlickr works with Unobtrusive JavaScript as when scripting is disabled the links still get to the photos on Flickr. getFlickr for JavaScript Hackers If you want to use getFlickr with your own JavaScripts you can use its main method leech(): getFlickr.leech(sTag, sCallback); sTag the tag you are looking for sCallback an optional function to call when the data was retrieved. After you called the leech() method you have two strings to use: getFlickr.html[sTag] contains an HTML list (without the outer UL element) of all the images linked to the correct pages at flickr. The images are the medium size, you can easily change that by replacing _m.jpg with _s.jpg for thumbnails. getFlickr.tags[sTag] contains a string of all the other tags flickr users added with the tag you searched for(space separated) You can call getFlickr.leech() several times when the page has loaded to cache several result feeds before the page gets loaded. This’ll make the photos quicker for the end user to show up. If you want to offer a form for people to search for flickr photos and display them immediately you can use the following HTML: <form onsubmit="getFlickr.leech(document.getElementById('tag').value, 'populate');return false"> <label for="tag">Enter Tag</label> <input type="text" id="tag" name="tag" /> <input type="submit" value="energize" /> <h3>Tags:</h3><div id="tags"></div> <h3>Photos:</h3><ul id="photos"></ul> </form> All the JavaScript you’ll need (for a basic display) is this: function populate(){ var tag = document.getElementById('tag').value; document.getElementById('photos').innerHTML = getFlickr.html[tag].replace(/_m\.jpg/g,'_s.jpg'); document.getElementById('tags').innerHTML = getFlickr.tags[tag]; return false; } Easy as pie, enjoy! Check out the example page and try the form to see the results. 2006 Christian Heilmann chrisheilmann 2006-12-03T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/flickr-photos-on-demand/ code
133 Gravity-Defying Page Corners While working on Stikkit, a “page curl” came to be. Not being as crafty as Veerle, you see. I fired up Photoshop to see what could be. “Another copy is running on the network“ … oopsie. With license issues sorted out and a concept in mind I set out to create something flexible and refined. One background image and code that is sure to be lean. A simple solution for lazy people like me. The curl I’ll be showing isn’t a curl at all. It’s simply a gradient that’s 18 pixels tall. With a fade to the left that’s diagonally aligned and a small fade on the right that keeps the illusion defined. Create a selection with the marquee tool (keeping in mind a reasonable minimum width) and drag a gradient (black to transparent) from top to bottom. Now drag a gradient (the background color of the page to transparent) from the bottom left corner to the top right corner. Finally, drag another gradient from the right edge towards the center, about 20 pixels or so. But the top is flat and can be positioned precisely just under the bottom right edge very nicely. And there it will sit, never ever to be busted by varying sizes of text when adjusted. <div id="page"> <div id="page-contents"> <h2>Gravity-Defying!</h2> <p>Lorem ipsum dolor ...</p> </div> </div> Let’s dive into code and in the markup you’ll see “is that an extra div?” … please don’t kill me? The #page div sets the width and bottom padding whose height is equal to the shadow we’re adding. The #page-contents div will set padding in ems to scale with the text size the user intends. The background color will be added here too but not overlapping the shadow where #page’s padding makes room. A simple technique that you may find amusing is to substitute a PNG for the GIF I was using. For that would be crafty and future-proof, too. The page curl could sit on any background hue. I hope you’ve enjoyed this easy little trick. It’s hardly earth-shattering, and arguably slick. But it could come in handy, you just never know. Happy Holidays! And pleasant dreams of web three point oh. 2006 Dan Cederholm dancederholm 2006-12-24T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/gravity-defying-page-corners/ design
121 Hide And Seek in The Head If you want your JavaScript-enhanced pages to remain accessible and understandable to scripted and noscript users alike, you have to think before you code. Which functionalities are required (ie. should work without JavaScript)? Which ones are merely nice-to-have (ie. can be scripted)? You should only start creating the site when you’ve taken these decisions. Special HTML elements Once you have a clear idea of what will work with and without JavaScript, you’ll likely find that you need a few HTML elements for the noscript version only. Take this example: A form has a nifty bit of Ajax that automatically and silently sends a request once the user enters something in a form field. However, in order to preserve accessibility, the user should also be able to submit the form normally. So the form should have a submit button in noscript browsers, but not when the browser supports sufficient JavaScript. Since the button is meant for noscript browsers, it must be hard-coded in the HTML: <input type="submit" value="Submit form" id="noScriptButton" /> When JavaScript is supported, it should be removed: var checkJS = [check JavaScript support]; window.onload = function () { if (!checkJS) return; document.getElementById('noScriptButton').style.display = 'none'; } Problem: the load event Although this will likely work fine in your testing environment, it’s not completely correct. What if a user with a modern, JavaScript-capable browser visits your page, but has to wait for a huge graphic to load? The load event fires only after all assets, including images, have been loaded. So this user will first see a submit button, but then all of a sudden it’s removed. That’s potentially confusing. Fortunately there’s a simple solution: play a bit of hide and seek in the <head>: var checkJS = [check JavaScript support]; if (checkJS) { document.write('<style>#noScriptButton{display: none}</style>'); } First, check if the browser supports enough JavaScript. If it does, document.write an extra <style> element that hides the button. The difference with the previous technique is that the document.write command is outside any function, and is therefore executed while the JavaScript is being parsed. Thus, the #noScriptButton{display: none} rule is written into the document before the actual HTML is received. That’s exactly what we want. If the rule is already present at the moment the HTML for the submit button is received and parsed, the button is hidden immediately. Even if the user (and the load event) have to wait for a huge image, the button is already hidden, and both scripted and noscript users see the interface they need, without any potentially confusing flashes of useless content. In general, if you want to hide content that’s not relevant to scripted users, give the hide command in CSS, and make sure it’s given before the HTML element is loaded and parsed. Alternative Some people won’t like to use document.write. They could also add an empty <link /> element to the <head> and give it an href attribute once the browser’s JavaScript capabilities have been evaluated. The <link /> element is made to refer to a style sheet that contains the crucial #noScriptButton{display: none}, and everything works fine. Important note: The script needs access to the <link />, and the only way to ensure that access is to include the empty <link /> element before your <script> tag. 2006 Peter-Paul Koch ppk 2006-12-06T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/hide-and-seek-in-the-head/ code
126 Intricate Fluid Layouts in Three Easy Steps The Year of the Script may have drawn attention away from CSS but building fluid, multi-column, cross-browser CSS layouts can still be as unpleasant as a lump of coal. Read on for a worry-free approach in three quick steps. The layout system I developed, YUI Grids CSS, has three components. They can be used together as we’ll see, or independently. The Three Easy Steps Choose fluid or fixed layout, and choose the width (in percents or pixels) of the page. Choose the size, orientation, and source-order of the main and secondary blocks of content. Choose the number of columns and how they distribute (for example 50%-50% or 25%-75%), using stackable and nestable grid structures. The Setup There are two prerequisites: We need to normalize the size of an em and opt into the browser rendering engine’s Strict Mode. Ems are a superior unit of measure for our case because they represent the current font size and grow as the user increases their font size setting. This flexibility—the container growing with the user’s wishes—means larger text doesn’t get crammed into an unresponsive container. We’ll use YUI Fonts CSS to set the base size because it provides consistent-yet-adaptive font-sizes while preserving user control. The second prerequisite is to opt into Strict Mode (more info on rendering modes) by declaring a Doctype complete with URI. You can choose XHTML or HTML, and Transitional or Strict. I prefer HTML 4.01 Strict, which looks like this: <!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/strict.dtd"> Including the CSS A single small CSS file powers a nearly-infinite number of layouts thanks to a recursive system and the interplay between the three distinct components. You could prune to a particular layout’s specific needs, but why bother when the complete file weighs scarcely 1.8kb uncompressed? Compressed, YUI Fonts and YUI Grids combine for a miniscule 0.9kb over the wire. You could save an HTTP request by concatenating the two CSS files, or by adding their contents to your own CSS, but I’ll keep them separate for now: <link href="fonts.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css"> <link href="grids.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css"> Example: The Setup Now we’re ready to build some layouts. Step 1: Choose Fluid or Fixed Layout Choose between preset widths of 750px, 950px, and 100% by giving a document-wrapping div an ID of doc, doc2, or doc3. These options cover most use cases, but it’s easy to define a custom fixed width. The fluid 100% grid (doc3) is what I’ve been using almost exclusively since it was introduced in the last YUI released. <body> <div id="doc3"></div> </body> All pages are centered within the viewport, and grow with font size. The 100% width page (doc3) preserves 10px of breathing room via left and right margins. If you prefer your content flush to the viewport, just add doc3 {margin:auto} to your CSS. Regardless of what you choose in the other two steps, you can always toggle between these widths and behaviors by simply swapping the ID value. It’s really that simple. Example: 100% fluid layout Step 2: Choose a Template Preset This is perhaps the most frequently omitted step (they’re all optional), but I use it nearly every time. In a source-order-independent way (good for accessibility and SEO), “Template Presets” provide commonly used template widths compatible with ad-unit dimension standards defined by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an industry association. Choose between the six Template Presets (.yui-t1 through .yui-t6) by setting the class value on the document-wrapping div established in Step 1. Most frequently I use yui-t3, which puts the narrow secondary block on the left and makes it 300px wide. <body> <div id="doc3" class="yui-t3"></div> </body> The Template Presets control two “blocks” of content, which are defined by two divs, each with yui-b (“b” for “block”) class values. Template Presets describe the width and orientation of the secondary block; the main block will take up the rest of the space. <body> <div id="doc3" class="yui-t3"> <div class="yui-b"></div> <div class="yui-b"></div> </div> </body> Use a wrapping div with an ID of yui-main to structurally indicate which block is the main block. This wrapper—not the source order—identifies the main block. <body> <div id="doc3" class="yui-t3"> <div id="yui-main"> <div class="yui-b"></div> </div> <div class="yui-b"></div> </div> </body> Example: Main and secondary blocks sized and oriented with .yui-t3 Template Preset Again, regardless of what values you choose in the other steps, you can always toggle between these Template Presets by toggling the class value of your document-wrapping div. It’s really that simple. Step 3: Nest and Stack Grid Structures. The bulk of the power of the system is in this third step. The key is that columns are built by parents telling children how to behave. By default, two children each consume half of their parent’s area. Put two units inside a grid structure, and they will sit side-by-side, and they will each take up half the space. Nest this structure and two columns become four. Stack them for rows of columns. An Even Number of Columns The default behavior creates two evenly-distributed columns. It’s easy. Define one parent grid with .yui-g (“g” for grid) and two child units with .yui-u (“u” for unit). The code looks like this: <div class="yui-g"> <div class="yui-u first"></div> <div class="yui-u"></div> </div> Be sure to indicate the “first“ unit because the :first-child pseudo-class selector isn’t supported across all A-grade browsers. It’s unfortunate we need to add this, but luckily it’s not out of place in the markup layer since it is structural information. Example: Two evenly-distributed columns in the main content block An Odd Number of Columns The default system does not work for an odd number of columns without using the included “Special Grids” classes. To create three evenly distributed columns, use the “yui-gb“ Special Grid: <div class="yui-gb"> <div class="yui-u first"></div> <div class="yui-u"></div> <div class="yui-u"></div> </div> Example: Three evenly distributed columns in the main content block Uneven Column Distribution Special Grids are also used for unevenly distributed column widths. For example, .yui-ge tells the first unit (column) to take up 75% of the parent’s space and the other unit to take just 25%. <div class="yui-ge"> <div class="yui-u first"></div> <div class="yui-u"></div> </div> Example: Two columns in the main content block split 75%-25% Putting It All Together Start with a full-width fluid page (div#doc3). Make the secondary block 180px wide on the right (div.yui-t4). Create three rows of columns: Three evenly distributed columns in the first row (div.yui-gb), two uneven columns (66%-33%) in the second row (div.yui-gc), and two evenly distributed columns in the thrid row. <body> <!-- choose fluid page and Template Preset --> <div id="doc3" class="yui-t4"> <!-- main content block --> <div id="yui-main"> <div class="yui-b"> <!-- stacked grid structure, Special Grid "b" --> <div class="yui-gb"> <div class="yui-u first"></div> <div class="yui-u"></div> <div class="yui-u"></div> </div> <!-- stacked grid structure, Special Grid "c" --> <div class="yui-gc"> <div class="yui-u first"></div> <div class="yui-u"></div> </div> <!-- stacked grid structure --> <div class="yui-g"> <div class="yui-u first"></div> <div class="yui-u"></div> </div> </div> </div> <!-- secondary content block --> <div class="yui-b"></div> </div> </body> Example: A complex layout. Wasn’t that easy? Now that you know the three “levers” of YUI Grids CSS, you’ll be creating headache-free fluid layouts faster than you can say “Peace on Earth”. 2006 Nate Koechley natekoechley 2006-12-20T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/intricate-fluid-layouts/ code
129 Knockout Type - Thin Is Always In OS X has gorgeous native anti-aliasing (although I will admit to missing 10px aliased Geneva — *sigh*). This is especially true for dark text on a light background. However, things can go awry when you start using light text on a dark background. Strokes thicken. Counters constrict. Letterforms fill out like seasonal snackers. So how do we combat the fat? In Safari and other Webkit-based browsers we can use the CSS ‘text-shadow’ property. While trying to add a touch more contrast to the navigation on haveamint.com I noticed an interesting side-effect on the weight of the type. The second line in the example image above has the following style applied to it: This creates an invisible drop-shadow. (Why is it invisible? The shadow is positioned directly behind the type (the first two zeros) and has no spread (the third zero). So the color, black, is completely eclipsed by the type it is supposed to be shadowing.) Why applying an invisible drop-shadow effectively lightens the weight of the type is unclear. What is clear is that our light-on-dark text is now of a comparable weight to its dark-on-light counterpart. You can see this trick in effect all over ShaunInman.com and in the navigation on haveamint.com and Subtraction.com. The HTML and CSS source code used to create the example images used in this article can be found here. 2006 Shaun Inman shauninman 2006-12-17T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/knockout-type/ code
143 Marking Up a Tag Cloud Everyone’s doing it. The problem is, everyone’s doing it wrong. Harsh words, you might think. But the crimes against decent markup are legion in this area. You see, I’m something of a markup and semantics junkie. So I’m going to analyse some of the more well-known tag clouds on the internet, explain what’s wrong, and then show you one way to do it better. del.icio.us I think the first ever tag cloud I saw was on del.icio.us. Here’s how they mark it up. <div class="alphacloud"> <a href="/tag/.net" class="lb s2">.net</a> <a href="/tag/advertising" class=" s3">advertising</a> <a href="/tag/ajax" class=" s5">ajax</a> ... </div> Unfortunately, that is one of the worst examples of tag cloud markup I have ever seen. The page states that a tag cloud is a list of tags where size reflects popularity. However, despite describing it in this way to the human readers, the page’s author hasn’t described it that way in the markup. It isn’t a list of tags, just a bunch of anchors in a <div>. This is also inaccessible because a screenreader will not pause between adjacent links, and in some configurations will not announce the individual links, but rather all of the tags will be read as just one link containing a whole bunch of words. Markup crime number one. Flickr Ah, Flickr. The darling photo sharing site of the internet, and the biggest blind spot in every standardista’s vision. Forgive it for having atrocious markup and sometimes confusing UI because it’s just so much damn fun to use. Let’s see what they do. <p id="TagCloud">  <a href="/photos/tags/06/" style="font-size: 14px;">06</a>   <a href="/photos/tags/africa/" style="font-size: 12px;">africa</a>   <a href="/photos/tags/amsterdam/" style="font-size: 14px;">amsterdam</a>  ... </p> Again we have a simple collection of anchors like del.icio.us, only this time in a paragraph. But rather than using a class to represent the size of the tag they use an inline style. An inline style using a pixel-based font size. That’s so far away from the goal of separating style from content, they might as well use a <font> tag. You could theoretically parse that to extract the information, but you have more work to guess what the pixel sizes represent. Markup crime number two (and extra jail time for using non-breaking spaces purely for visual spacing purposes.) Technorati Ah, now. Here, you’d expect something decent. After all, the Overlord of microformats and King of Semantics Tantek Çelik works there. Surely we’ll see something decent here? <ol class="heatmap"> <li><em><em><em><em><a href="/tag/Britney+Spears">Britney Spears</a></em></em></em></em></li> <li><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><a href="/tag/Bush">Bush</a></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></li> <li><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><a href="/tag/Christmas">Christmas</a></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></li> ... <li><em><em><em><em><em><em><a href="/tag/SEO">SEO</a></em></em></em></em></em></em></li> <li><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><em><a href="/tag/Shopping">Shopping</a></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></em></li> ... </ol> Unfortunately it turns out not to be that decent, and stop calling me Shirley. It’s not exactly terrible code. It does recognise that a tag cloud is a list of links. And, since they’re in alphabetical order, that it’s an ordered list of links. That’s nice. However … fifteen nested <em> tags? FIFTEEN? That’s emphasis for you. Yes, it is parse-able, but it’s also something of a strange way of looking at emphasis. The HTML spec states that <em> is emphasis, and <strong> is for stronger emphasis. Nesting <em> tags seems counter to the idea that different tags are used for different levels of emphasis. Plus, if you had a screen reader that stressed the voice for emphasis, what would it do? Shout at you? Markup crime number three. So what should it be? As del.icio.us tells us, a tag cloud is a list of tags where the size that they are rendered at contains extra information. However, by hiding the extra context purely within the CSS or the HTML tags used, you are denying that context to some users. The basic assumption being made is that all users will be able to see the difference between font sizes, and this is demonstrably false. A better way to code a tag cloud is to put the context of the cloud within the content, not the markup or CSS alone. As an example, I’m going to take some of my favourite flickr tags and put them into a cloud which communicates the relative frequency of each tag. To start with a tag cloud in its most basic form is just a list of links. I am going to present them in alphabetical order, so I’ll use an ordered list. Into each list item I add the number of photos I have with that particular tag. The tag itself is linked to the page on flickr which contains those photos. So we end up with this first example. To display this as a traditional tag cloud, we need to alter it in a few ways: The items need to be displayed next to each other, rather than one-per-line The context information should be hidden from display (but not from screen readers) The tag should link to the page of items with that tag Displaying the items next to each other simply means setting the display of the list elements to inline. The context can be hidden by wrapping it in a <span> and then using the off-left method to hide it. And the link just means adding an anchor (with rel="tag" for some extra microformats bonus points). So, now we have a simple collection of links in our second example. The last stage is to add the sizes. Since we already have context in our content, the size is purely for visual rendering, so we can just use classes to define the different sizes. For my example, I’ll use a range of class names from not-popular through ultra-popular, in order of smallest to largest, and then use CSS to define different font sizes. If you preferred, you could always use less verbose class names such as size1 through size6. Anyway, adding some classes and CSS gives us our final example, a semantic and more accessible tag cloud. 2006 Mark Norman Francis marknormanfrancis 2006-12-09T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/marking-up-a-tag-cloud/ code
134 Photographic Palettes How many times have you seen a colour combination that just worked, a match so perfect that it just seems obvious? Now, how many times do you come up with those in your own work? A perfect palette looks easy when it’s done right, but it’s often maddeningly difficult and time-consuming to accomplish. Choosing effective colour schemes will always be more art than science, but there are things you can do that will make coming up with that oh-so-smooth palette just a little a bit easier. A simple trick that can lead to incredibly gratifying results lies in finding a strong photograph and sampling out particularly harmonious colours. Photo Selection Not all photos are created equal. You certainly want to start with imagery that fits the eventual tone you’re attempting to create. A well-lit photo of flowers might lead to a poor colour scheme for a funeral parlour’s web site, for example. It’s worth thinking about what you’re trying to say in advance, and finding a photo that lends itself to your message. As a general rule of thumb, photos that have a lot of neutral or de-saturated tones with one or two strong colours make for the best palette; bright and multi-coloured photos are harder to derive pleasing results from. Let’s start with a relatively neutral image. Sampling In the above example, I’ve surrounded the photo with three different background colours directly sampled from the photo itself. Moving from left to right, you can see how each of the sampled colours is from an area of increasingly smaller coverage within the photo, and yet there’s still a strong harmony between the photo and the background image. I don’t really need to pick the big obvious colours from the photo to create that match, I can easily concentrate on more interesting colours that might work better for what I intend. Using a similar palette, let’s apply those colour choices to a more interesting layout: In this mini-layout, I’ve re-used the same tan colour from the previous middle image as a background, and sampled out a nicely matching colour for the top and bottom overlays, as well as the two different text colours. Because these colours all fall within a narrow range, the overall balance is harmonious. What if I want to try something a little more daring? I have a photo of stacked chairs of all different colours, and I’d like to use a few more of those. No problem, provided I watch my colour contrast: Though it uses varying shades of red, green, and yellow, this palette actually works because the values are even, and the colours muted. Placing red on top of green is usually a hideous combination of death, but if the green is drab enough and the red contrasts well enough, the result can actually be quite pleasing. I’ve chosen red as my loudest colour in this palette, and left green and yellow to play the quiet supporting roles. Obviously, there are no hard and fast rules here. You might not want to sample absolutely every colour in your scheme from a photo. There are times where you’ll need a variation that’s just a little bit lighter, or a blue that’s not in the photo. You might decide to start from a photo base and tweak, or add in colours of your own. That’s okay too. Tonal Variations I’ll leave you with a final trick I’ve been using lately, a way to bring a bit more of a formula into the equation and save some steps. Starting with the same base palette I sampled from the chairs, in the above image I’ve added a pair of overlaying squares that produce tonal variations of each primary. The lighter variation is simply a solid white square set to 40% opacity, the darker one is a black square at 20%. That gives me a highlight and shadow for each colour, which would prove handy if I had to adapt this colour scheme to a larger layout. I could add a few more squares of varying opacities, or adjust the layer blending modes for different effects, but as this looks like a great place to end, I’ll leave that up to your experimental whims. Happy colouring! 2006 Dave Shea daveshea 2006-12-22T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/photographic-palettes/ design
131 Random Lines Made With Mesh I know that Adobe Illustrator can be a bit daunting for people who aren’t really advanced users of the program, but you would be amazed by how easy you can create cool effects or backgrounds. In this short tutorial I show you how to create a cool looking background only in 5 steps. Step 1 – Create Lines Create lines using random widths and harmonious suitable colors. If you get stuck on finding the right colors, check out Adobe’s Kuler and start experimenting. Step 2 – Convert Strokes to Fills Select all lines and convert them to fills. Go to the Object menu, select Path > Outline Stroke. Select the Rectangle tool and draw 1 big rectangle on top the lines. Give the rectangle a suitable color. With the rectangle still selected, go to the Object menu, select Arrange > Send to Back. Step 3 – Convert to Mesh Select all objects by pressing the command key (for Mac users), control key (for Windows users) + the “a” key. Go to the Object menu and select the Envelope Distort > Make with Mesh option. Enter 2 rows and 2 columns. Check the preview box to see what happens and click the OK button. Step 4 – Play Around with The Mesh Points Play around with the points of the mesh using the Direct Selection tool (the white arrow in the Toolbox). Click on the top right point of the mesh. Once you’re starting to drag hold down the shift key and move the point upwards. Now start dragging the bezier handles on the mesh to achieve the effect as shown in the above picture. Of course you can try out all kind of different effects here. The Final Result This is an example of how the final result can look. You can try out all kinds of different shapes dragging the handles of the mesh points. This is just one of the many results you can get. So next time you haven’t got inspiration for a background of a header, a banner or whatever, just experiment with a few basic shapes such as lines and try out the ‘Envelope Distort’ options in Illustrator or the ‘Make with Mesh’ option and experiment, you’ll be amazed by the unexpected creative results. 2006 Veerle Pieters veerlepieters 2006-12-08T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/random-lines-made-with-mesh/ design
142 Revealing Relationships Can Be Good Form A few days ago, a colleague of mine – someone I have known for several years, who has been doing web design for several years and harks back from the early days of ZDNet – was running through a prototype I had put together for some user testing. As with a lot of prototypes, there was an element of ‘smoke and mirrors’ to make things look like they were working. One part of the form included a yes/no radio button, and selecting the Yes option would, in the real and final version of the form, reveal some extra content. Rather than put too much JavaScript in the prototype, I took a preverbial shortcut and created a link which I wrapped around the text next to the radio button – clicking on that link would cause the form to mimic a change event on the radio button. But it wasn’t working for him. Why was that? Because whereas I created the form using a <label> tag for each <input> and naturally went to click on the text rather than the form control itself, he was going straight for the control (and missing the sneaky little <a href> I’d placed around the text). Bah! There goes my time-saver. So, what did I learn? That a web professional who has used the Internet for years had neither heard of the <label> tag, nor had he ever tried clicking on the text. It just goes to show that despite its obvious uses, the label element is not as well known as it rightfully deserves to be. So, what’s a web-standards-loving guy to do? Make a bit more bleedin’ obvious, that’s what! The Mouse Pointer Trick OK, this is the kind of thing that causes some people outrage. A dead simple way of indicating that the label does something is to use a snippet of CSS to change the default mouse cursor to a hand. It’s derided because the hand icon is usually used for links, and some would argue that using this technique is misleading: label { cursor: pointer; } This is not a new idea, though, and you didn’t come here for this. The point is that with something very simple, you’ve made the label element discoverable. But there are other ways that you can do this that are web standards friendly and won’t upset the purists quite so much as the hand/pointer trick. Time to wheel in the JavaScript trolley jack … Our Old Friend AddEvent First things, first, you’ll need to use the addEvent function (or your favourite variation thereof) that Scott Andrew devised and make that available to the document containing the form: function addEvent(elm, evType, fn, useCapture) { if(elm.addEventListener) { elm.addEventListener(evType, fn, useCapture); return true; } else if (elm.attachEvent) { var r = elm.attachEvent('on' + evType, fn); return r; } else { elm['on' + evType] = fn; } } Finding All Your Labels Once you’ve linked to the addEvent function (or embedded it on the page), you can start to get your JavaScripting fingers a-flexing. Now, what I’m suggesting you do here is: Identify all the label elements on the page by working your way through the DOM Find out the value of the for attribute for each label that you uncover Attach a behaviour or two to each of those label elements – and to the input that the label relates to (identified with the for attribute) Here’s the technobabble version of the steps above: function findLabels() { var el = document.getElementsByTagName("label"); for (i=0;i<el.length;i++) { var thisId = el[i].getAttribute("for"); if ((thisId)==null) { thisId = el[i].htmlFor; } if(thisId!="") { //apply these behaviours to the label el[i].onmouseover = highlightRelationship; el[i].onmouseout = hideRelationship; } } } function highlightRelationship() { var thisId = this.getAttribute("for"); if ((thisId)==null) { thisId = this.htmlFor; } this.className="showRel"; document.getElementById(thisId).className="showRel"; //if (document.getElementById(thisId).type=="text") document.getElementById(thisId).select(); } function hideRelationship() { var thisId = this.getAttribute("for"); if ((thisId)==null) { thisId = this.htmlFor; } this.className=""; document.getElementById(thisId).className=""; } addEvent(window, 'load', findLabels, false); Using the above script, you can apply a CSS class (I’ve called it showRel) to the elements when you hover over them. How you want it to look is up to you, of course. Here are a few examples of the idea. Note: the design is not exactly what you’d call ‘fancy’, and in the examples there is one input that looks broken but it is deliberately moved away from the label it relates to, just to demonstrate that you can show the relationship even from afar. Background colour changes on hover Background colour change + mouse pointer trick Background colour change + mouse pointer trick + text selection Hopefully you’ll agree that using an unobtrusive piece of JavaScript you can make otherwise ‘shy’ elements like the label reveal their true colours. Although you might want to tone down the colours from the ones I’ve used in this demo! 2006 Ian Lloyd ianlloyd 2006-12-13T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/revealing-relationships-can-be-good-form/ ux
138 Rounded Corner Boxes the CSS3 Way If you’ve been doing CSS for a while you’ll know that there are approximately 3,762 ways to create a rounded corner box. The simplest techniques rely on the addition of extra mark-up directly to your page, while the more complicated ones add the mark-up though DOM manipulation. While these techniques are all very interesting, they do seem somewhat of a kludge. The goal of CSS is to separate structure from presentation, yet here we are adding superfluous mark-up to our code in order to create a visual effect. The reason we are doing this is simple. CSS2.1 only allows a single background image per element. Thankfully this looks set to change with the addition of multiple background images into the CSS3 specification. With CSS3 you’ll be able to add not one, not four, but eight background images to a single element. This means you’ll be able to create all kinds of interesting effects without the need of those additional elements. While the CSS working group still seem to be arguing over the exact syntax, Dave Hyatt went ahead and implemented the currently suggested mechanism into Safari. The technique is fiendishly simple, and I think we’ll all be a lot better off once the W3C stop arguing over the details and allow browser vendors to get on and provide the tools we need to build better websites. To create a CSS3 rounded corner box, simply start with your box element and apply your 4 corner images, separated by commas. .box { background-image: url(top-left.gif), url(top-right.gif), url(bottom-left.gif), url(bottom-right.gif); } We don’t want these background images to repeat, which is the normal behaviour, so lets set all their background-repeat properties to no-repeat. .box { background-image: url(top-left.gif), url(top-right.gif), url(bottom-left.gif), url(bottom-right.gif); background-repeat: no-repeat, no-repeat, no-repeat, no-repeat; } Lastly, we need to define the positioning of each corner image. .box { background-image: url(top-left.gif), url(top-right.gif), url(bottom-left.gif), url(bottom-right.gif); background-repeat: no-repeat, no-repeat, no-repeat, no-repeat; background-position: top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right; } And there we have it, a simple rounded corner box with no additional mark-up. As well as using multiple background images, CSS3 also has the ability to create rounded corners without the need of any images at all. You can do this by setting the border-radius property to your desired value as seen in the next example. .box { border-radius: 1.6em; } This technique currently works in Firefox/Camino and creates a nice, if somewhat jagged rounded corner. If you want to create a box that works in both Mozilla and WebKit based browsers, why not combine both techniques and see what happens. 2006 Andy Budd andybudd 2006-12-04T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/rounded-corner-boxes-the-css3-way/ code
127 Showing Good Form Earlier this year, I forget exactly when (it’s been a good year), I was building a client site that needed widgets which look like this (designed, incidentally, by my erstwhile writing partner, Cameron Adams): Building this was a challenge not just in CSS, but in choosing the proper markup – how should such a widget be constructed? Mmm … markup It seemed to me there were two key issues to deal with: The function of the interface is to input information, so semantically this is a form, therefore we have to find a way of building it using form elements: fieldset, legend, label and input We can’t use a table for layout, even though that would clearly be the easiest solution! Abusing tables for layout is never good – physical layout is not what table semantics mean. But even if this data can be described as a table, we shouldn’t mix forms markup with non-forms markup, because of the behavioral impact this can have on a screen reader: To take a prominent example, the screen reader JAWS has a mode specifically for interacting with forms (cunningly known as “forms mode”). When running in this mode its output only includes relevant elements – legends, labels and form controls themselves. Any other kind of markup – like text in a previous table cell, a paragraph or list in between – is simply ignored. The user in this situation would have to switch continually in and out of forms mode to hear all the content. (For more about this issue and some test examples, there’s a thread at accessify forum which wanders in that direction.) One further issue for screen reader users is implied by the design: the input fields are associated together in rows and columns, and a sighted user can visually scan across and down to make those associations; but a blind user can’t do that. For such a user the row and column header data will need to be there at every axis; in other words, the layout should be more like this: And constructed with appropriate semantic markup to convey those relationships. By this point the selection of elements seems pretty clear: each row is a fieldset, the row header is a legend, and each column header is a label, associated with an input. Here’s what that form looks like with no CSS: And here’s some markup for the first row (with most of the attributes removed just to keep this example succinct): <fieldset> <legend> <span>Match points</span> </legend> <label> <span>Win</span> <input value="3" /> </label> <label> <span>Draw</span> <input value="1" /> </label> <label> <span>Lose</span> <input value="0" /> </label> <label> <span>Played</span> <input value="0" /> </label> </fieldset> The span inside each legend is because legend elements are highly resistant to styling! Indeed they’re one of the most stubborn elements in the browsers’ vocabulary. Oh man … how I wrestled with the buggers … until this obvious alternative occurred to me! So the legend element itself is just a container, while all the styling is on the inner span. Oh yeah, there was some CSS too I’m not gonna dwell too much on the CSS it took to make this work – this is a short article, and it’s all there in the demo [demo page, style sheet] But I do want to touch on the most interesting bit – where we get from a layout with headers on every row, to one where only the top row has headers – or at least, so it appears to graphical browsers. For screen readers, as we noted, we need those headers on every row, so we should employ some cunning CSS to partly negate their visual presence, without removing them from the output. The core styling for each label span is like this: label span { display:block; padding:5px; line-height:1em; background:#423221; color:#fff; font-weight:bold; } But in the rows below the header they have these additional rules: fieldset.body label span { padding:0 5px; line-height:0; position:relative; top:-10000em; } The rendered width of the element is preserved, ensuring that the surrounding label is still the same width as the one in the header row above, and hence a unified column width is preserved all the way down. But the element effectively has no height, and so it’s effectively invisible. The styling is done this way, rather than just setting the height to zero and using overflow:hidden, because to do that would expose an unrelated quirk with another popular screen reader! (It would hide the output from Window Eyes, as shown in this test example at access matters.) The finished widget It’s an intricate beast allright! But after all that we do indeed get the widget we want: Demo page Style sheet It’s not perfect, most notably because the legends have to have a fixed width; this can be in em to allow for text scaling, but it still doesn’t allow the content to break into multiple lines. It also doesn’t look quite right in Safari; and some CSS hacking was needed to make it look right in IE6 and IE7. Still it worked well enough for the purpose, and satisfied the client completely. And most of all it re-assured me in my faith – that there’s never any need to abuse tables for layout. (Unless of course you think this content is a table anyway, but that’s another story!) 2006 James Edwards jamesedwards 2006-12-11T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/showing-good-form/ ux
140 Styling hCards with CSS There are plenty of places online where you can learn about using the hCard microformat to mark up contact details at your site (there are some resources at the end of the article). But there’s not yet been a lot of focus on using microformats with CSS. So in this installment of 24 ways, we’re going to look at just that – how microformats help make CSS based styling simpler and more logical. Being rich, quite complex structures, hCards provide designers with a sophisticated scaffolding for styling them. A recent example of styling hCards I saw, playing on the business card metaphor, was by Andy Hume, at http://thedredge.org/2005/06/using-hcards-in-your-blog/. While his approach uses fixed width cards, let’s take a look at how we might style a variable width business card style for our hCards. Let’s take a common hCard, which includes address, telephone and email details <div class="vcard"> <p class="fn org">Web Directions North <a href="http://suda.co.uk/projects/X2V/get-vcard.php?uri=http://north.webdirections.org/contact/"> <img src="images/vcard-add.png" alt="download vcard icon"></a> </p> 1485 Laperrière Avenue Ottawa ON K1Z 7S8 Canada Phone/Fax: Work: 61 2 9365 5007 Email: info@webdirections.org We’ll be using a variation on the now well established “sliding doors” technique (if you create a CSS technique, remember it’s very important to give it a memorable name or acronym, and bonus points if you get your name in there!) by Douglas Bowman, enhanced by Scott Schiller (see http://www.schillmania.com/projects/dialog/,) which will give us a design which looks like this The technique, in a nutshell, uses background images on four elements, two at the top, and two at the bottom, to add each rounded corner. We are going to make this design “fluid” in the sense that it grows and shrinks in proportion with the size of the font that the text of the element is displayed with. This is sometimes referred to as an “em driven design” (we’ll see why in a moment). To see how this works in practice, here’s the same design with the text “zoomed” up in size and the same design again, when we zoom the text size down By the way, the hCard image comes from Chris Messina, and you can download it and other microformat icons from the microformats wiki. Now, with CSS3, this whole task would be considerably easier, because we can add multiple background images to an element, and border images for each edge of an element. Safari, version 1.3 up, actually supports multiple background images, but sadly, it’s not supported in Firefox 1.5, or even Firefox 2.0 (let’s not mention IE7 eh?). So it’s probably too little supported to use now. So instead we’ll use a technique that only involves CSS2, and works in pretty much any browser. Very often, developers add div or span elements as containers for these background images, and in fact, if you visit Scott Shiller’s site, that’s what he has done there. But if at all possible we shouldn’t be adding any HTML simply for presentational purposes, even if the presentation is done via CSS. What we can do is to use the HTML we have already, as much as is possible, to add the style we want. This can take some creative thinking, but once you get the hang of this approach it becomes a more natural way of using HTML compared with simply adding divs and spans at will as hooks for style. Of course, this technique isn’t always simple, and in fact sometimes simply not possible, requiring us to add just a little HTML to provide the “hooks” for CSS. Let’s go to work The first step is to add a background image to the whole vCard element. We make this wide enough (for example 1000 or more pixels) and tall enough that no matter how large the content of the vCard grows, it will never overflow this area. We can’t simply repeat the image, because the top left corner will show when the image repeats. We add this as the background image of the vCard element using CSS. While we are at it, let’s give the text a sans-serif font, some color so that it will be visible, and stop the image repeating. .vcard { background-image: url(images/vcardfill.png); background-repeat: no-repeat; color: #666; font-family: "Lucida Grande", Verdana, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; } Which in a browser, will look something like this. Next step we need to add the top right hand corner of the hCard. In keeping with our aim of not adding HTML simply for styling purposes, we want to use the existing structure of the page where possible. Here, we’ll use the paragraph of class fn and org, which is the first child element of the vcard element. <p class="fn org">Web Directions Conference Pty Ltd <img src="images/vcard-add.png" alt="download vcard icon"></p> Here’s our CSS for this element .fn { background-image: url(images/topright.png); background-repeat: no-repeat; background-position: top right; padding-top: 2em; font-weight: bold; font-size: 1.1em; } Again, we don’t want it to repeat, but this time, we’ve specified a background position for the image. This will make the background image start from the top, but its right edge will be located at the right edge of the element. I also made the font size a little bigger, and the weight bold, to differentiate it from the rest of the text in the hCard. Here’s the image we are adding as the background to this element. So, putting these two CSS statements together we get We specified a padding-top of 2em to give some space between the content of the fn element and the edge of the fn element. Otherwise the top of the hCard image would be hard against the border. To see this in action, just remove the padding-top: 2em; declaration and preview in a browser. So, with just two statements, we are well under way. We’ve not even had to add any HTML so far. Let’s turn to the bottom of the element, and add the bottom border (well, the background image which will serve as that border). Now, which element are we going to use to add this background image to? OK, here I have to admit to a little, teensie bit of cheating. If you look at the HTML of the hCard, I’ve grouped the email and telephone properties into a div, with a class of telecommunications. This grouping is not strictly requred for our hCard. <div class="telecommunications"> <p class="tel">Phone/Fax: <span class="tel"><span class="type">Work</span>: <span class="value">61 2 9365 5007</span></p> <p class="email">Email: <a class="value" href="mailto:info@webdirections.org">info@webdirections.org</a></p> </div> Now, I chose that class name because that is what the vCard specification calls this group of properties. And typically, I do tend to group together related elements using divs when I mark up content. I find it makes the page structure more logical and readable. But strictly speaking, this isn’t necessary, so you may consider it cheating. But my lesson in this would be, if you are going to add markup, try to make it as meaningful as possible. As you have probably guessed by now, we are going to add one part of the bottom border image to this element. We’re going to add this image as the background-image. Again, it will be a very wide image, like the top left one, so that no matter how wide the element might get, the background image will still be wide enough. Now, we’ll need to make this image sit in the bottom left of the element we attach it to, so we use a backgound position of left bottom (we put the horizontal position before the vertical). Here’s our CSS statement for this .telecommunications { background-image: url(images/bottom-left.png); background-repeat: no-repeat; background-position: left bottom; margin-bottom: 2em; } And that will look like this Not quite there, but well on the way. Time for the final piece in the puzzle. OK, I admit, I might have cheated just a little bit more in this step. But like the previous step, all valid, and (hopefully) quite justifiable markup. If we look at the HTML again, you’ll find that our email address is marked up like this <p class="email">Email: <a class="value" href="mailto:info@webdirections.org">info@webdirections.org</a></p> Typically, in hCard, the value part of this property isn’t required, and we could get away with <a class="email" href="mailto:info@webdirections.org">info@webdirections.org</a> The form I’ve used, with the span of class value is however, perfectly valid hCard markup (hard allows for multiple email addresses of different types, which is where this typically comes in handy). Why have I gone to all this trouble? Well, when it came to styling the hCard, I realized I needed a block element to attach the background image for the bottom right hand corner to. Typically the last block element in the containing element is the ideal choice (and sometimes it’s possible to take an inline element, for example the link here, and use CSS to make it a block element, and attach it to that, but that really doesn’t work with this design). So, if we are going to use the paragraph which contains the email link, we need a way to select it exclusively, which means that with CSS2 at least, we need a class or id as a hook for our CSS selector (in CSS3 we could use the last-child selector, which selects the last child element of a specified element, but again, as last child is not widely supported, we won’t rely on it here.) So, the least worst thing we could do is take an existing element, and add some reasonably meaningful markup to it. That’s why we gave the paragraph a class of email, and the email address a class of value. Which reminds me a little of a moment in Hamlet The lady doth protest too much, methinks OK, let’s get back to the CSS. We add the bottom right corner image, positioning it in the bottom right of the element, and making sure it doesn’t repeat. We also add some padding to the bottom, to balance out the padding we added to the top of the hCard. p.email { background-image: url(images/bottom-right.png); background-position: right bottom; background-repeat: no-repeat; padding-bottom: 2em; } Which all goes to make our hCard look like this It just remains for us to clean up a little. Let’s start from the top. We’ll float the download image to the right like this .vcard img { float: right; padding-right: 1em; margin-top: -1em } See how we didn’t have to add a class to style the image, we used the fact that the image is a descendent of the vcard element, and a descendent selector. In my experience, the very widely supported, powerful descendent selector is one of the most underused aspects of CSS. So if you don’t use it frequently, look into it in more detail. We added some space to the right of the image, and pulled it up a bit closer to the top of the hCard, like this We also want to add some whitespace between the edge of the hCard and the text. We would typically add padding to the left of the containing element, (in this case the vcard element) but this would break our bottom left hand corner, like this That’s because the div element we added this bottom left background image to would be moved in by the padding on its containing element. So instead, we add left margin to all the paragraphs in the hCard .vcard p { margin-left: 1em; } (there is the descendent selector again – it is the swiss army knife of CSS) Now, we’ve not yet made the width of the hCard a function of the size of the text inside it (or “em driven” as we described it earlier). We do this by giving the hCard a width that is specified in em units. Here we’ll set a width of say 28em, which makes the hCard always roughly as wide as 28 characters (strictly speaking 28 times the width of the letter capital M). So the statement for our containing vcard element becomes .vcard { background-image: url(images/vcardfill.png); background-repeat: no-repeat; color: #666; font-family: "Lucida Grande", Verdana, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; width: 28em; } and now our element will look like this We’ve used almost entirely the existing HTML from our original hCard (adding just a little, and trying as much as possible to keep that additional markup meaningful), and just 6 CSS statements. Holiday Bonus – a downloadable vCard Did you notice this part of the HTML <a href="http://suda.co.uk/projects/X2V/get-vcard.php?uri=http://north.webdirections.org/contact/"> <img src="images/vcard-add.png" alt="download vcard icon"></a> What’s with the odd looking url <a href="http://suda.co.uk/projects/X2V/get-vcard.php?uri=http://north.webdirections.org/contact/" If you click the link, X2V, a nifty web service from Brian Suda, grabs the page at the URL, and if it finds a hCard, converts it to a vCard, and depending on how your system is setup, automatically downloads it and adds it to your address book (Mac OS X) or prompts you whether you’d like to save the vCard and add it to whatever application is the default vCard handler on your system. What X2V does is take the actual HTML of your hCard, and with the magic of XSLT, converts it to a vCard. So, by simply marking up contact details using hCard, and adding a link like this, you automatically get downloadable vCard – and if you change your contact details, and update the hCard, there’s no vCard file to update as well. Technorati also have a similar service at http://technorati.com/contact so you might want to use that if you expect any kind of load, as they can probably afford the bandwidth more than Brian! If you want to play with the HTML and CSS for this design, the code and images can be downloaded. Hope you enjoyed this, and found it useful. If so, you might like to check out my microformats focussed blog, or get along to Web Directions North, where I’ll be speaking along with Dan Cederholmn and Tantek Çelik in a 2 hour session focussed solely on microformats. And keep an eye out for my microformats book, from which this article has been adapted, coming in the spring of 2007. A happy festive season, and all the best for 2007 John Some hCard links The hCard entry at microformats.org The hCard Creator The hCard cheatsheet The hCard FAQ Ideas for authoring hCards Microfomatique – a blog about microformats Web Directions North – featuring a full 2 hour focussed microformats session 2006 John Allsopp johnallsopp 2006-12-14T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/styling-hcards-with-css/ design
132 Tasty Text Trimmer In most cases, when designing a user interface it’s best to make a decision about how data is best displayed and stick with it. Failing to make a decision ultimately leads to too many user options, which in turn can be taxing on the poor old user. Under some circumstances, however, it’s good to give the user freedom in customising their workspace. One good example of this is the ‘Article Length’ tool in Apple’s Safari RSS reader. Sliding a slider left of right dynamically changes the length of each article shown. It’s that kind of awesomey magic stuff that’s enough to keep you from sleeping. Let’s build one. The Setup Let’s take a page that has lots of long text items, a bit like a news page or like Safari’s RSS items view. If we were to attach a class name to each element we wanted to resize, that would give us something to hook onto from the JavaScript. Example 1: The basic page. As you can see, I’ve wrapped my items in a DIV and added a class name of chunk to them. It’s these chunks that we’ll be finding with the JavaScript. Speaking of which … Our Core Functions There are two main tasks that need performing in our script. The first is to find the chunks we’re going to be resizing and store their original contents away somewhere safe. We’ll need this so that if we trim the text down we’ll know what it was if the user decides they want it back again. We’ll call this loadChunks. var loadChunks = function(){ var everything = document.getElementsByTagName('*'); var i, l; chunks = []; for (i=0, l=everything.length; i<l; i++){ if (everything[i].className.indexOf(chunkClass) > -1){ chunks.push({ ref: everything[i], original: everything[i].innerHTML }); } } }; The variable chunks is stored outside of this function so that we can access it from our next core function, which is doTrim. var doTrim = function(interval) { if (!chunks) loadChunks(); var i, l; for (i=0, l=chunks.length; i<l; i++){ var a = chunks[i].original.split(' '); a = a.slice(0, interval); chunks[i].ref.innerHTML = a.join(' '); } }; The first thing that needs to be done is to call loadChunks if the chunks variable isn’t set. This should only happen the first time doTrim is called, as from that point the chunks will be loaded. Then all we do is loop through the chunks and trim them. The trimming itself (lines 6-8) is very simple. We split the text into an array of words (line 6), then select only a portion from the beginning of the array up until the number we want (line 7). Finally the words are glued back together (line 8). In essense, that’s it, but it leaves us needing to know how to get the number into this function in the first place, and how that number is generated by the user. Let’s look at the latter case first. The YUI Slider Widget There are lots of JavaScript libraries available at the moment. A fair few of those are really good. I use the Yahoo! User Interface Library professionally, but have only recently played with their pre-build slider widget. Turns out, it’s pretty good and perfect for this task. Once you have the library files linked in (check the docs linked above) it’s fairly straightforward to create yourself a slider. slider = YAHOO.widget.Slider.getHorizSlider("sliderbg", "sliderthumb", 0, 100, 5); slider.setValue(50); slider.subscribe("change", doTrim); All that’s needed then is some CSS to make the slider look like a slider, and of course a few bits of HTML. We’ll see those later. See It Working! Rather than spell out all the nuts and bolts of implementing this fairly simple script, let’s just look at in it action and then pick on some interesting bits I’ve added. Example 2: Try the Tasty Text Trimmer. At the top of the JavaScript file I’ve added a small number of settings. var chunkClass = 'chunk'; var minValue = 10; var maxValue = 100; var multiplier = 5; Obvious candidates for configuration are the class name used to find the chunks, and also the some minimum and maximum values. The minValue is the fewest number of words we wish to display when the slider is all the way down. The maxValue is the length of the slider, in this case 100. Moving the slider makes a call to our doTrim function with the current value of the slider. For a slider 100 pixels long, this is going to be in the range of 0-100. That might be okay for some things, but for longer items of text you’ll want to allow for displaying more than 100 words. I’ve accounted for this by adding in a multiplier – in my code I’m multiplying the value by 5, so a slider value of 50 shows 250 words. You’ll probably want to tailor the multiplier to the type of content you’re using. Keeping it Accessible This effect isn’t something we can really achieve without JavaScript, but even so we must make sure that this functionality has no adverse impact on the page when JavaScript isn’t available. This is achieved by adding the slider markup to the page from within the insertSliderHTML function. var insertSliderHTML = function(){ var s = '<a id="slider-less" href="#less"><img src="icon_min.gif" width="10" height="10" alt="Less text" class="first" /></a>'; s +=' <div id="sliderbg"><div id="sliderthumb"><img src="sliderthumbimg.gif" /></div></div>'; s +=' <a id="slider-more" href="#more"><img src="icon_max.gif" width="10" height="10" alt="More text" /></a>'; document.getElementById('slider').innerHTML = s; } The other important factor to consider is that a slider can be tricky to use unless you have good eyesight and pretty well controlled motor skills. Therefore we should provide a method of changing the value by the keyboard. I’ve done this by making the icons at either end of the slider links so they can be tabbed to. Clicking on either icon fires the appropriate JavaScript function to show more or less of the text. In Conclusion The upshot of all this is that without JavaScript the page just shows all the text as it normally would. With JavaScript we have a slider for trimming the text excepts that can be controlled with the mouse or with a keyboard. If you’re like me and have just scrolled to the bottom to find the working demo, here it is again: Try the Tasty Text Trimmer Trimmer for Christmas? Don’t say I never give you anything! 2006 Drew McLellan drewmclellan 2006-12-01T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/tasty-text-trimmer/ code
144 The Mobile Web, Simplified A note from the editors: although eye-opening in 2006, this article is no longer relevant to today’s mobile web. Considering a foray into mobile web development? Following are four things you need to know before making the leap. 1. 4 billion mobile subscribers expected by 2010 Fancy that. Coupled with the UN prediction of 6.8 billion humans by 2010, 4 billion mobile subscribers (source) is an astounding 59% of the planet. Just how many of those subscribers will have data plans and web-enabled phones is still in question, but inevitably this all means one thing for you and me: A ton of potential eyes to view our web content on a mobile device. 2. Context is king Your content is of little value to users if it ignores the context in which it is viewed. Consider how you access data on your mobile device. You might be holding a bottle of water or gripping a handle on the subway/tube. You’re probably seeking specific data such as directions or show times, rather than the plethora of data at your disposal via a desktop PC. The mobile web, a phrase often used to indicate “accessing the web on a mobile device”, is very much a context-, content-, and component-specific environment. Expressed in terms of your potential target audience, access to web content on a mobile device is largely influenced by surrounding circumstances and conditions, information relevant to being mobile, and the feature set of the device being used. Ask yourself, What is relevant to my users and the tasks, problems, and needs they may encounter while being mobile? Answer that question and you’ll be off to a great start. 3. WAP 2.0 is an XHTML environment In a nutshell, here are a few fundamental tenets of mobile internet technology: Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) is the protocol for enabling mobile access to internet content. Wireless Markup Language (WML) was the language of choice for WAP 1.0. Nearly all devices sold today are WAP 2.0 devices. With the introduction of WAP 2.0, XHTML Mobile Profile (XHTML-MP) became the preferred markup language. XHTML-MP will be familiar to anyone experienced with XHTML Transitional or Strict. Summary? The mobile web is rapidly becoming an XHTML environment, and thus you and I can apply our existing “desktop web” skills to understand how to develop content for it. With WML on the decline, the learning curve is much smaller today than it was several years ago. I’m generalizing things gratuitously, but the point remains: Get off yo’ lazy butt and begin to take mobile seriously. I’ll even pass you a few tips for getting started. First, the DOCTYPE for XHTML-MP is as follows: <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//WAPFORUM//DTD XHTML Mobile 1.0//EN" "http://www.openmobilealliance.org/tech/DTD/xhtml-mobile10.dtd"> As for MIME type, Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) specifies using the MIME type application/vnd.wap.xhtml+xml, but ultimately you need to ensure the server delivering your mobile content is configured properly for the MIME type you choose to use, as there are other options (see Setting up WAP Servers). Once you’ve made it to the body, the XHTML-MP markup is not unlike what you’re already used to. A few resources worth skimming: Developers Home XHTML-MP Tutorial – An impressively replete resource for all things XHTML-MP XHTML-MP Tags List – A complete list of XHTML-MP elements and accompanying attributes And last but certainly not least, CSS. There exists WAP CSS, which is essentially a subset of CSS2 with WAP-specific extensions. For all intents and purposes, much of the CSS you’re already comfortable using will be transferrable to mobile. As for including CSS in your pages, your options are the same as for desktop sites: external, embedded, and inline. Some experts will argue embedded or inline over external in favor of reducing the number of HTTP connections per page request, yet many popular mobilized sites and apps employ external linking without issue. Stocking stuffers: Flickr Mobile, Fandango Mobile, and Popurls Mobile. A few sites with whom you can do the View Source song and dance for further study. 4. “Cell phone” is so DynaTAC If you’re a U.S. resident, listen up: You must rid your vocabulary of the term “cell phone”. We’re one of the few economies on the planet to refer to a mobile phone accordingly. If you care to find yourself in any of the worthwhile mobile development circles, begin using terms more widely accepted: “mobile” or “mobile phone” or “handset” or “handy”. If you’re not sure which, go for “mobile”. Such as, “Yo dog, check out my new mobile.” More importantly, however, is overcoming the mentality that access to the mobile web can be done only with a phone. Instead, “device” encourages us to think phone, handheld computer, watch, Nintendo DS, car, you name it. Simple enough? 2006 Cameron Moll cameronmoll 2006-12-19T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/the-mobile-web-simplified/ ux
124 Writing Responsible JavaScript Without a doubt, JavaScript has been making something of a comeback in the last year. If you’re involved in client-side development in any way at all, chances are that you’re finding yourself writing more JavaScript now than you have in a long time. If you learned most of your JavaScript back when DHTML was all the rage and before DOM Scripting was in vogue, there have been some big shifts in the way scripts are written. Most of these are in the way event handlers are assigned and functions declared. Both of these changes are driven by the desire to write scripts that are responsible page citizens, both in not tying behaviour to content and in taking care not to conflict with other scripts. I thought it may be useful to look at some of these more responsible approaches to learn how to best write scripts that are independent of the page content and are safely portable between different applications. Event Handling Back in the heady days of Web 1.0, if you wanted to have an object on the page react to something like a click, you would simply go ahead and attach an onclick attribute. This was easy and understandable, but much like the font tag or the style attribute, it has the downside of mixing behaviour or presentation in with our content. As we’re learned with CSS, there are big benefits in keeping those layers separate. Hey, if it works for CSS, it should work for JavaScript too. Just like with CSS, instead of adding an attribute to our element within the document, the more responsible way to do that is to look for the item from your script (like CSS does with a selector) and then assign the behaviour to it. To give an example, take this oldskool onclick use case: <a id="anim-link" href="#" onclick="playAnimation()">Play the animation</a> This could be rewritten by removing the onclick attribute, and instead doing the following from within your JavaScript. document.getElementById('anim-link').onclick = playAnimation; It’s all in the timing Of course, it’s never quite that easy. To be able to attach that onclick, the element you’re targeting has to exist in the page, and the page has to have finished loading for the DOM to be available. This is where the onload event is handy, as it fires once everything has finished loading. Common practise is to have a function called something like init() (short for initialise) that sets up all these event handlers as soon as the page is ready. Back in the day we would have used the onload attibute on the <body> element to do this, but of course what we really want is: window.onload = init; As an interesting side note, we’re using init here rather than init() so that the function is assigned to the event. If we used the parentheses, the init function would have been run at that moment, and the result of running the function (rather than the function itself) would be assigned to the event. Subtle, but important. As is becoming apparent, nothing is ever simple, and we can’t just go around assigning our initialisation function to window.onload. What if we’re using other scripts in the page that might also want to listen out for that event? Whichever script got there last would overwrite everything that came before it. To manage this, we need a script that checks for any existing event handlers, and adds the new handler to it. Most of the JavaScript libraries have their own systems for doing this. If you’re not using a library, Simon Willison has a good stand-alone example function addLoadEvent(func) { var oldonload = window.onload; if (typeof window.onload != 'function') { window.onload = func; } else { window.onload = function() { if (oldonload) { oldonload(); } func(); } } } Obviously this is just a toe in the events model’s complex waters. Some good further reading is PPK’s Introduction to Events. Carving out your own space Another problem that rears its ugly head when combining multiple scripts on a single page is that of making sure that the scripts don’t conflict. One big part of that is ensuring that no two scripts are trying to create functions or variables with the same names. Reusing a name in JavaScript just over-writes whatever was there before it. When you create a function in JavaScript, you’ll be familiar with doing something like this. function foo() { ... goodness ... } This is actually just creating a variable called foo and assigning a function to it. It’s essentially the same as the following. var foo = function() { ... goodness ... } This name foo is by default created in what’s known as the ‘global namespace’ – the general pool of variables within the page. You can quickly see that if two scripts use foo as a name, they will conflict because they’re both creating those variables in the global namespace. A good solution to this problem is to add just one name into the global namespace, make that one item either a function or an object, and then add everything else you need inside that. This takes advantage of JavaScript’s variable scoping to contain you mess and stop it interfering with anyone else. Creating An Object Say I was wanting to write a bunch of functions specifically for using on a site called ‘Foo Online’. I’d want to create my own object with a name I think is likely to be unique to me. var FOOONLINE = {}; We can then start assigning functions are variables to it like so: FOOONLINE.message = 'Merry Christmas!'; FOOONLINE.showMessage = function() { alert(this.message); }; Calling FOOONLINE.showMessage() in this example would alert out our seasonal greeting. The exact same thing could also be expressed in the following way, using the object literal syntax. var FOOONLINE = { message: 'Merry Christmas!', showMessage: function() { alert(this.message); } }; Creating A Function to Create An Object We can extend this idea bit further by using a function that we run in place to return an object. The end result is the same, but this time we can use closures to give us something like private methods and properties of our object. var FOOONLINE = function(){ var message = 'Merry Christmas!'; return { showMessage: function(){ alert(message); } } }(); There are two important things to note here. The first is the parentheses at the end of line 10. Just as we saw earlier, this runs the function in place and causes its result to be assigned. In this case the result of our function is the object that is returned at line 4. The second important thing to note is the use of the var keyword on line 2. This ensures that the message variable is created inside the scope of the function and not in the global namespace. Because of the way closure works (which if you’re not familiar with, just suspend your disbelief for a moment) that message variable is visible to everything inside the function but not outside. Trying to read FOOONLINE.message from the page would return undefined. This is useful for simulating the concept of private class methods and properties that exist in other programming languages. I like to take the approach of making everything private unless I know it’s going to be needed from outside, as it makes the interface into your code a lot clearer for someone else to read. All Change, Please So that was just a whistle-stop tour of a couple of the bigger changes that can help to make your scripts better page citizens. I hope it makes useful Sunday reading, but obviously this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to designing modular, reusable code. For some, this is all familiar ground already. If that’s the case, I encourage you to perhaps submit a comment with any useful resources you’ve found that might help others get up to speed. Ultimately it’s in all of our interests to make sure that all our JavaScript interoperates well – share your tips. 2006 Drew McLellan drewmclellan 2006-12-10T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2006/writing-responsible-javascript/ code
158 10 Ways To Get Design Approval One of the most challenging parts of the web design process is getting design sign off. It can prove time consuming, demoralizing and if you are not careful can lead to a dissatisfied client. What is more you can end up with a design that you are ashamed to include in your portfolio. How then can you ensure that the design you produce is the one that gets built? How can you get the client to sign off on your design? Below are 10 tips learnt from years of bitter experience. 1. Define the role of the client and designer Many of the clients you work with will not have been involved in a web project before. Even if they have they may have worked in a very different way to what you would expect. Take the time at the beginning of the project to explain their role in the design of the site. The best approach is to emphasis that their job is to focus on the needs of their users and business. They should concentrate on the broad issues, while you worry about the details of layout, typography and colour scheme. By clarifying what you expect from the client, you help them to provide the right kind of input throughout the process. 2. Understand the business Before you open up Photoshop or put pen to paper, take the time to make sure you properly understand not only the brief but the organization behind the site. By understanding their business objectives, organizational structure and marketing strategy your design decisions will be better informed. You cannot rely upon the brief to provide all of the information you need. It is important to dig deeper and get as good an understanding of their business as possible. This information will prove invaluable when justifying your design decisions. 3. Understand the users We all like to think of ourselves as user centric designers, but exactly how much effort do you put into knowing your users before beginning the design process? Take the time to really understand them the best you can. Try to meet with some real prospective users and get to know their needs. Failing that work with the client to produce user personas to help picture exactly what kind of people they are. Understanding your users not only improves the quality of your work, but also helps move the discussion away from the personal preferences of the client, to the people who’s opinion really matters. 4. Avoid multiple concepts Many clients like the idea of having the option to choose between multiple design concepts. However, although on the surface this might appear to be a good idea it can ultimately be counterproductive for design sign off. In a world of limited budgets it is unwise to waste money on producing designs that are ultimately going to be thrown away. The resources would be better spent refining a single design through multiple iterations. What is more, multiple concepts often cause confusion rather than clarity. It is common for a client to request one element from one design and another from the second. As any designer knows this seldom works. 5. Use mood boards Clients are often better at expressing what they don’t like than what they do. This is one of the reasons why they favour producing multiple design concepts. An alternative less costly approach is to create a series of mood boards. These boards contain a collection of colours, typography and imagery which represent different “moods” or directions, which the design could take. Mood boards are quick and easy to produce allowing you to try out various design approaches with the client without investing the time needed to produce complete design concepts. This means that by the time you develop a concept the client and designer have already established an understanding about the direction of the design. 6. Say what you like It is not uncommon for a client to ask for a design that looks similar to another site they like. The problem is that it can often be hard to establish exactly what it is about the site that attracts them. Also in many cases the sites they like are not something you are keen to emulate! A better approach that was suggested to me by Andy Budd is to show them sites that you think the design should emulate. Keep a collection of screen captures from well designed sites and pick out a few that are relevant to that particular client. Explain why you feel these designs might suit their project and ask for their feedback. If they don’t like your choices then expose them to more of your collection and see what they pick out. 7. Wireframe the homepage Often clients find it hard to distinguish between design and content and so sometimes reject a design on the basis that the content is not right. This is particularly true when signing off the homepage. You may therefore find it useful to establish the homepage content before producing the design. That way once they see the design they will not be distracted by the content. One of the best ways to do this is by producing a basic wireframe consisting of a series of content boxes. Once this has been approved you will find the sign off of design much easier. 8. Present your designs Although it is true that a good design should speak for itself it still needs presenting to the client. The client needs to understand why you have made the design decisions you have, otherwise they will judge the design purely on personal preference. Talk them through the design explaining how it meets the needs of their users and business objectives. Refer to the mood boards and preferred sites the client approved and explain how the design is a continuation of those. Never simply email the design through and hope the client interprets your work correctly! 9. Provide written supporting material Unfortunately, no matter how well you justify the design to the client he is almost certain to want to show it to others. He may need his bosses approval or require internal buy in. At the very least he is going to want to get a second opinion from a friend or colleague. The problem with this is that you are not going to be there to present to these people in the same way you did for the client. You cannot expect the client to present your ideas as well as you did. The reality is that you have lost control of how the design is perceived. One way to minimize this problem is to provide written documentation supporting the design. This can be a summary of the presentation you gave to the client and allows him to distribute this along with the design. By putting a written explanation with the design you ensure that everybody who sees it gets the same message. 10. Control the feedback My final piece of advice for managing design sign off is to control the way you receive feedback. A clients natural inclination will be to give you his personal opinion on the design. This is reinforced because you ask them what they think of the design. Instead ask them what their users will think of the design. Encourage them to think from the users perspective. Also encourage them to keep that overarching focus I talked about in my first tip. Their tendency will be to try to improve the design, however that should be your problem not theirs. The role of a client should be to defend the needs of their users and business not do the design. Encourage the client to make comments such as “I am not sure that my female users will like the masculine colours” rather than “can we make the whole design pink.” It is down to them to identify the problems and for you as the designer to find the most appropriate solution. So there you have it. My 10 tips to improve design sign off. Will this ensure design approval every time? Unfortunately not. However it should certainly help smooth the way. 2007 Paul Boag paulboag 2007-12-10T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/10-ways-to-get-design-approval/ business
150 A Gift Idea For Your Users: Respect, Yo If, indeed, it is the thought that counts, maybe we should pledge to make more thoughtful design decisions. In addition to wowing people who use the Web sites we build with novel features, nuanced aesthetics and the new new thing, maybe we should also thread some subtle things throughout our work that let folks know: hey, I’m feeling ya. We’re simpatico. I hear you loud and clear. It’s not just holiday spirit that moves me to talk this way. As good as people are, we need more than the horizon of karma to overcome that invisible demon, inertia. Makers of the Web, respectful design practices aren’t just the right thing, they are good for business. Even if your site is the one and only place to get experience x, y or zed, you don’t rub someone’s face in it. You keep it free flowing, you honor the possible back and forth of a healthy transaction, you are Johnny Appleseed with the humane design cues. You make it clear that you are in it for the long haul. A peek back: Think back to what search (and strategy) was like before Google launched a super clean page with “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. Aggregation was the order of the day (just go back and review all the ‘strategic alliances’ that were announced daily.) Yet the GOOG comes along with this zen layout (nope, we’re not going to try to make you look at one of our media properties) and a bold, brash, teleport-me-straight-to-the-first-search-result button. It could have been titled “We’re Feeling Cocky”. These were radical design decisions that reset how people thought about search services. Oh, you mean I can just find what I want and get on with it? It’s maybe even more impressive today, after the GOOG has figured out how to monetize attention better than anyone. “I’m Feeling Lucky” is still there. No doubt, it costs the company millions. But by leaving a little money on the table, they keep the basic bargain they started to strike in 1997. We’re going to get you where you want to go as quickly as possible. Where are the places we might make the same kind of impact in our work? Here are a few ideas: Respect People’s Time As more services become more integrated with our lives, this will only become more important. How can you make it clear that you respect the time a user has granted you? User-Oriented Defaults Default design may be the psionic tool in your belt. Unseen, yet pow-er-ful. Look at your defaults. Who are they set up to benefit? Are you depending on users not checking off boxes so you can feel ok about sending them email they really don’t want? Are you depending on users not checking off boxes so you tilt privacy values in ways most beneficial for your SERPs? Are you making it a little too easy for 3rd party applications to run buckwild through your system? There’s being right and then there’s being awesome. Design to the spirit of the agreement and not the letter. See this? Make sure that’s really the experience you think people want. Whenever I see a service that defaults to not opting me in their newsletter just because I bought a t shirt from them, you can be sure that I trust them that much more. And they are likely to see me again. Reduce, Reuse It’s likely that people using your service will have data and profile credentials elsewhere. You should really think hard about how you can let them repurpose some of that work within your system. Can you let them reduce the number of logins/passwords they have to manage by supporting OpenID? Can you let them reuse profile information from another service by slurping in (or even subscribing) to hCards? Can you give them a leg up by reusing a friends list they make available to you? (Note: please avoid the anti-pattern of inviting your user to upload all her credential data from 3rd party sites into your system.) This is a much larger issue, and if you’d like to get involved, have a look at the wiki, and dive in. Make it simple to leave Oh, this drives me bonkers. Again, the more simple you make it to increase or decrease involvement in your site, or to just opt-out altogether, the better. This example from Basecamp is instructive: At a glance, I can see what the implications are of choosing a different type of account. I can also move between account levels with one click. Finally, I can cancel the service easily. No hoop jumping. Also, it should be simple for users to take data with them or delete it. Let Them Have Fun Don’t overlook opportunities for pleasure. Even the most mundane tasks can be made more enjoyable. Check out one of my favorite pieces of interaction design from this past year: Holy knob fiddling, Batman! What a great way to get people to play with preference settings: an equalizer metaphor. Those of a certain age will recall how fun it was to make patterns with your uncle’s stereo EQ. I think this is a delightful way to encourage people to optimize their own experience of the news feed feature. Given the killer nature of this feature, it was important for Facebook to make it easy to fine tune. I’d also point you to Flickr’s Talk Like A Pirate Day Easter egg as another example of design that delights. What a huge amount of work for a one-off, totally optional way to experience the site. And what fun. And how true to its brand persona. Brill. Anti-hype Don’t talk so much. Rather, ship and sample. Release code, tell the right users. See what happens. Make changes. Extend the circle a bit by showing some other folks. Repeat. The more you hype coming features, the more you talk about what isn’t yet, the more you build unrealistic expectations. Your genius can’t possibly match our collective dreaming. Disappointment is inevitable. Yet, if you craft the right melody and make it simple for people to hum your tune, it will spread. Give it time. Listen. Speak the Language of the Tribe It’s respectful to speak in a human way. Not that you have to get all zOMGWTFBBQ!!1 in your messaging. People respond when you speak to them in a way that sounds natural. Natural will, of course, vary according to context. Again, listen in and people will signal the speech that works in that group for those tasks. Reveal those cues in your interface work and you’ll have powerful proof that actual people are working on your Web site. This example of Pownce‘s gender selector is the kind of thing I’m talking about: Now, this doesn’t mean you should mimic the lingo on some cool kidz site. Your service doesn’t need to have a massage when it’s down. Think about what works for you and your tribe. Excellent advice here from Feedburner’s Dick Costolo on finding a voice for your service. Also, Mule Design’s Erika Hall has an excellent talk on improving your word fu. Pass the mic, yo Here is a crazy idea: you could ask your users what they want. Maybe you could even use this input to figure out what they really want. Tools abound. Comments, wikis, forums, surveys. Embed the sexy new Get Satisfaction widget and have a dynamic FAQ running. The point is that you make it clear to people that they have a means of shaping the service with you. And you must showcase in some way that you are listening, evaluating and taking action against some of that user input. You get my drift. There are any number of ways we can show respect to those who gift us with their time, data, feedback, attention, evangelism, money. Big things are in the offing. I can feel the love already. 2007 Brian Oberkirch brianoberkirch 2007-12-23T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/a-gift-idea-for-your-users-respect-yo/ ux
167 Back To The Future of Print By now we have weathered the storm that was the early days of web development, a dangerous time when we used tables, inline CSS and separate pages for print only versions. We can reflect in a haggard old sea-dog manner (“yarrr… I remember back in the browser wars…”) on the bad practices of the time. We no longer need convincing that print stylesheets are the way to go1, though some of the documentation for them is a little outdated now. I am going to briefly cover 8 tips and 4 main gotchas when creating print stylesheets in our more enlightened era. Getting started As with regular stylesheets, print CSS can be included in a number of ways2, for our purposes we are going to be using the link element. <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" media="print" href="print.css"> This is still my favourite way of linking to CSS files, its easy to see what files are being included and to what media they are being applied to. Without the media attribute specified the link element defaults to the media type ‘all’ which means that the styles within then apply to print and screen alike. The media type ‘screen’ only applies to the screen and wont be picked up by print, this is the best way of hiding styles from print. Make sure you include your print styles after all your other CSS, because you will need to override certain rules and this is a lot easier if you are flowing with the cascade than against it! Another thing you should be thinking is ‘does it need to be printed’. Consider the context3, if it is not a page that is likely to be printed, such as a landing page or a section index then the print styles should resemble the way the page looks on the screen. Context is really important for the design of your print stylesheet, all the tips and tricks that follow should be taken in the context of the page. If for example you are designing a print stylesheet for an item in a shopping cart, it is irrelevant for the user to know the exact url of the link that takes them to your checkout. Tips and tricks During these tip’s we are going to build up print styles for a textileRef:11112857385470b854b8411:linkStartMarker:“simple example”:/examples/back-to-the-future-of-print/demo-1.html 1. Remove the cruft First things first, navigation, headers and most page furniture are pretty much useless and dead space in print so they will need to be removed, using display:none;. 2. Linearise your content Content doesn’t work so well in columns in print, especially if the content columns are long and intend to stretch over multiple columns (as mentioned in the gotcha section below). You might want to consider Lineariseing the content to flow down the page. If you have your source order in correct priority this will make things a lot easier4. 3. Improve your type Once you have removed all the useless cruft and jiggled things about a bit, you can concentrate more on the typography of the page. Typography is a complex topic5, but simply put serif-ed fonts such as Georgia work better on print and sans serif-ed fonts such as Verdana are more appropriate for screen use. You will probably want to increase font size and line height and change from px to pt (which is specifically a print measurement). 4. Go wild on links There are some incredibly fun things you can do with links in print using CSS. There are two schools of thought, one that consider it is best to disguise inline links as body text because they are not click-able on paper. Personally I believe it is useful to know for reference that the document did link to somewhere originally. When deciding which approach to take, consider the context of your document, do people need to know where they would have gone to? will it help or hinder them to know this information? Also for an alternative to the below, take a look at Aaron Gustafson’s article on generating footnotes for print6. Using some clever selector trickery and CSS generated content you can have the location of the link generated after the link itself. HTML: <p>I wish <a href="http://www.google.com/">Google</a> could find <a href="/photoOfMyKeys.jpg">my keys</a></p> CSS: a:link:after, a:visited:after, a:hover:after, a:active:after { content: " <" attr(href) "> "; } But this is not perfect, in the above example the content of the href is just naively plonked after the link text: I wish Google <http://www.google.com/> would find my keys </photoOfMyKeys.jpg> As looking back over this printout the user is not immediately aware of the location of the link, a better solution is to use even more crazy selectors to deal with relative links. We can also add a style to the generated content so it is distinguishable from the link text itself. CSS: a:link:after, a:visited:after, a:hover:after, a:active:after { content: " <" attr(href) "> "; color: grey; font-style: italic; font-weight: normal; } a[href^="/"]:after { content: " <http://www.example.com"attr(href)"> "; } The output is now what we were looking for (you will need to replace example.com with your own root URL): I wish Google <http://www.google.com/> would find my keys <http://www.example.com/photoOfMyKeys.jpg> Using regular expressions on the attribute selectors, one final thing you can do is to suppress the generated content on mailto: links, if for example you know the link text always reflects the email address. Eg: HTML: <a href="mailto:me@example.com">me@example.com</a> CSS: a[href^="mailto"]:after { content: ""; } This example shows the above in action. Of course with this clever technique, there are the usual browser support issues. While it won’t look as intended in browsers such as Internet Explorer 6 and 7 (IE6 and IE7) it will not break either and will just degrade gracefully because IE cannot do generated content. To the best of my knowledge Safari 2+ and Opera 9.X support a colour set on generated content whereas Firefox 2 & Camino display this in black regardless of the link or inherited text colour. 5. Jazz your headers for print This is more of a design consideration, don’t go too nuts though; there are a lot more limitations in print media than on screen. For this example we are going to go for is having a bottom border on h2’s and styling other headings with graduating colors or font sizes. And here is the example complete with jazzy headers. 6. Build in general hooks If you are building a large site with many different types of page, you may find it useful to build into your CSS structure, classes that control what is printed (e.g. noprint and printonly). This may not be semantically ideal, but in the past I have found it really useful for maintainability of code across large and varied sites 7. For that extra touch of class When printing pages from a long URL, even if the option is turned on to show the location of the page in the header, browsers may still display a truncated (and thus useless) version. Using the above tip (or just simply setting to display:none in screen and display:block in print) you can insert the URL of the page you are currently on for print only, using JavaScript’s window.location.href variable. function addPrintFooter() { var p = document.createElement('p'); p.className = 'print-footer'; p.innerHTML = window.location.href; document.body.appendChild(p); } You can then call this function using whichever onload or ondomready handler suits your fancy. Here is our familiar demo to show all the above in action 8. Tabular data across pages If you are using tabled data in your document there are a number of things you can do to increase usability of long tables over several pages. If you use the <thead> element this should repeat your table headers on the next page should your table be split. You will need to set thead {display: table-header-group;} explicitly for IE even though this should be the default value. Also if you use tr {page-break-inside: avoid;} this should (browser support depending) stop your table row from breaking across two pages. For more information on styling tables for print please see the CSS discuss wiki7. Gotchas 1. Where did all my content go? Absolutely the most common mistake I see with print styles is the truncated content bug. The symptom of this is that only the first page of a div’s content will be printed, the rest will look truncated after this. Floating long columns may still have this affect, as mentioned in Eric Meyer’s article on ‘A List Apart’ article from 20028; though in testing I am no longer able to replicate this. Using overflow:hidden on long content in Firefox however still causes this truncation. Overflow hidden is commonly used to clear floats9. A simple fix can be applied to resolve this, if the column is floated you can override this with float:none similarly overflow:hidden can be overridden with overflow:visible or the offending rules can be banished to a screen only stylesheet. Using position:absolute on long columns also has a very similar effect in truncating the content, but can be overridden in print with position:static; Whilst I only recommend having a print stylesheet for content pages on your site; do at least check other landing pages, section indexes and your homepage. If these are inaccessible in print possibly due to the above gotcha, it might be wise to provide a light dusting of print styles or move the offending overflow / float rules to a screen only stylesheet to fix the issues. 2. Damn those background browser settings One of the factors of life you now need to accept is that you can’t control the user’s browser settings, no more than you can control whether or not they use IE6. Most browsers by default will not print background colours or images unless explicitly told to by the user. Naturally this causes a number of problems, for starters you will need to rethink things like branding. At this point it helps if you are doing the print styles early in the project so that you can control the logo not being a background image for example. Where colour is important to the meaning of the document, for example a status on an invoice, bear in mind that a textural representation will also need to be supplied as the user may be printing in black and white. Borders will print however regardless of setting, so assuming the user is printing in colour you can always use borders to indicate colour. Check the colour contrast of the text against white, this may need to be altered without backgrounds. You should check how your page looks with backgrounds turned on too, for consistency with the default browser settings you may want to override your background anyway. One final issue with backgrounds being off is list items. It is relatively common practice to suppress the list-style-type and replace with a background image to finely control the bullet positioning. This technique doesn’t translate to print, you will need to disable this background bullet and re-instate your trusty friend the list-style-type. 3. Using JavaScript in your CSS? … beware IE6 Internet explorer has an issue that when Javascript is used in a stylesheet it applies this to all media types even if only applied to screen. For example, if you happen to be using expressions to set a width for IE, perhaps to mimic min-width, a simple width:100% !important rule can overcome the effects the expression has on your print styles10. 4. De-enhance your Progressive enhancements Quite a classic “doh” moment is when you realise that, of course paper doesn’t support Javascript. If you have any dynamic elements on the page, for example a document collapsed per section, you really should have been using Progressive enhancement techniques11 and building for browsers without Javascript first, adding in the fancy stuff later. If this is the case it should be trivial to override your wizzy JS styles in your print stylesheet, to display all your content and make it accessible for print, which is by far the best method of achieving this affect. And Finally… I refer you back to the nature of the document in hand, consider the context of your site and the page. Use the tips here to help you add that extra bit of flair to your printed media. Be careful you don’t get caught out by the common gotchas, keep the design simple, test cross browser and relish in the medium of print. Further Reading 1 For more information constantly updated, please see the CSS discuss wiki on print stylesheets 2 For more information on media types and ways of including CSS please refer to the CSS discuss wiki on Media Stylesheets 3 Eric Meyer talks to ThinkVitamin about the importance of context when designing your print strategy. 4 Mark Boulton describes how he applies a newspaper like print stylesheet to an article in the Guardian website. Mark also has some persuasive arguments that print should not be left to last 5 Richard Rutter Has a fantastic resource on typography which also applies to print. 6 Aaron Gustafson has a great solution to link problem by creating footnotes at the end of the page. 7 The CSS discuss wiki has more detailed information on printing tables and detailed browser support 8 This ‘A List Apart’ article is dated May 10th 2002 though is still mostly relevant 9 Float clearing technique using ‘overflow:hidden’ 10 Autistic Cuckoo describes the interesting insight with regards to expressions specified for screen in IE6 remaining in print 11 Wikipedia has a good article on the definition of progressive enhancement 12 For a really neat trick involving a dynamically generated column to displaying <abbr> and <dfn> meanings (as well as somewhere for the user to write notes), try print previewing on Brian Suda’s site 2007 Natalie Downe nataliedowne 2007-12-09T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/back-to-the-future-of-print/ design
157 Capturing Caps Lock One of the more annoying aspects of having to remember passwords (along with having to remember loads of them) is that if you’ve got Caps Lock turned on accidentally when you type one in, it won’t work, and you won’t know why. Most desktop computers alert you in some way if you’re trying to enter your password to log on and you’ve enabled Caps Lock; there’s no reason why the web can’t do the same. What we want is a warning – maybe the user wants Caps Lock on, because maybe their password is in capitals – rather than something that interrupts what they’re doing. Something subtle. But that doesn’t answer the question of how to do it. Sadly, there’s no way of actually detecting whether Caps Lock is on directly. However, there’s a simple work-around; if the user presses a key, and it’s a capital letter, and they don’t have the Shift key depressed, why then they must have Caps Lock on! Simple. DOM scripting allows your code to be notified when a key is pressed in an element; when the key is pressed, you get the ASCII code for that key. Capital letters, A to Z, have ASCII codes 65 to 90. So, the code would look something like: on a key press if the ASCII code for the key is between 65 and 90 *and* if shift is pressed warn the user that they have Caps Lock on, but let them carry on end if end keypress The actual JavaScript for this is more complicated, because both event handling and keypress information differ across browsers. Your event handling functions are passed an event object, except in Internet Explorer where you use the global event object; the event object has a which parameter containing the ASCII code for the key pressed, except in Internet Explorer where the event object has a keyCode parameter; some browsers store whether the shift key is pressed in a shiftKey parameter and some in a modifiers parameter. All this boils down to code that looks something like this: keypress: function(e) { var ev = e ? e : window.event; if (!ev) { return; } var targ = ev.target ? ev.target : ev.srcElement; // get key pressed var which = -1; if (ev.which) { which = ev.which; } else if (ev.keyCode) { which = ev.keyCode; } // get shift status var shift_status = false; if (ev.shiftKey) { shift_status = ev.shiftKey; } else if (ev.modifiers) { shift_status = !!(ev.modifiers & 4); } // At this point, you have the ASCII code in “which”, // and shift_status is true if the shift key is pressed } Then it’s just a check to see if the ASCII code is between 65 and 90 and the shift key is pressed. (You also need to do the same work if the ASCII code is between 97 (a) and 122 (z) and the shift key is not pressed, because shifted letters are lower-case if Caps Lock is on.) if (((which >= 65 && which <= 90) && !shift_status) || ((which >= 97 && which <= 122) && shift_status)) { // uppercase, no shift key /* SHOW THE WARNING HERE */ } else { /* HIDE THE WARNING HERE */ } The warning can be implemented in many different ways: highlight the password field that the user is typing into, show a tooltip, display text next to the field. For simplicity, this code shows the warning as a previously created image, with appropriate alt text. Showing the warning means creating a new <img> tag with DOM scripting, dropping it into the page, and positioning it so that it’s next to the appropriate field. The image looks like this: You know the position of the field the user is typing into (from its offsetTop and offsetLeft properties) and how wide it is (from its offsetWidth properties), so use createElement to make the new img element, and then absolutely position it with style properties so that it appears in the appropriate place (near to the text field). The image is a transparent PNG with an alpha channel, so that the drop shadow appears nicely over whatever else is on the page. Because Internet Explorer version 6 and below doesn’t handle transparent PNGs correctly, you need to use the AlphaImageLoader technique to make the image appear correctly. newimage = document.createElement('img'); newimage.src = "http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2145/2067574980_3ddd405905_o_d.png"; newimage.style.position = "absolute"; newimage.style.top = (targ.offsetTop - 73) + "px"; newimage.style.left = (targ.offsetLeft + targ.offsetWidth - 5) + "px"; newimage.style.zIndex = "999"; newimage.setAttribute("alt", "Warning: Caps Lock is on"); if (newimage.runtimeStyle) { // PNG transparency for IE newimage.runtimeStyle.filter += "progid:DXImageTransform.Microsoft.AlphaImageLoader(src='http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2145/2067574980_3ddd405905_o_d.png',sizingMethod='scale')"; } document.body.appendChild(newimage); Note that the alt text on the image is also correctly set. Next, all these parts need to be pulled together. On page load, identify all the password fields on the page, and attach a keypress handler to each. (This only needs to be done for password fields because the user can see if Caps Lock is on in ordinary text fields.) var inps = document.getElementsByTagName("input"); for (var i=0, l=inps.length; i The “create an image” code from above should only be run if the image is not already showing, so instead of creating a newimage object, create the image and attach it to the password field so that it can be checked for later (and not shown if it’s already showing). For safety, all the code should be wrapped up in its own object, so that its functions don’t collide with anyone else’s functions. So, create a single object called capslock and make all the functions be named methods of the object: var capslock = { ... keypress: function(e) { } ... } Also, the “create an image” code is saved into its own named function, show_warning(), and the converse “remove the image” code into hide_warning(). This has the advantage that developers can include the JavaScript library that has been written here, but override what actually happens with their own code, using something like: <script src="jscapslock.js" type="text/javascript"></script> <script type="text/javascript"> capslock.show_warning(target) { // do something different here to warn the user } capslock.hide_warning(target) { // hide the warning that we created in show_warning() above } </script> And that’s all. Simply include the JavaScript library in your pages, override what happens on a warning if that’s more appropriate for what you’re doing, and that’s all you need. See the script in action. 2007 Stuart Langridge stuartlangridge 2007-12-04T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/capturing-caps-lock/ code
147 Christmas Is In The AIR That’s right, Christmas is coming up fast and there’s plenty of things to do. Get the tree and lights up, get the turkey, buy presents and who know what else. And what about Santa? He’s got a list. I’m pretty sure he’s checking it twice. Sure, we could use an existing list making web site or even a desktop widget. But we’re geeks! What’s the fun in that? Let’s build our own to-do list application and do it with Adobe AIR! What’s Adobe AIR? Adobe AIR, formerly codenamed Apollo, is a runtime environment that runs on both Windows and OSX (with Linux support to follow). This runtime environment lets you build desktop applications using Adobe technologies like Flash and Flex. Oh, and HTML. That’s right, you web standards lovin’ maniac. You can build desktop applications that can run cross-platform using the trio of technologies, HTML, CSS and JavaScript. If you’ve tried developing with AIR before, you’ll need to get re-familiarized with the latest beta release as many things have changed since the last one (such as the API and restrictions within the sandbox.) To get started To get started in building an AIR application, you’ll need two basic things: The AIR runtime. The runtime is needed to run any AIR-based application. The SDK. The software development kit gives you all the pieces to test your application. Unzip the SDK into any folder you wish. You’ll also want to get your hands on the JavaScript API documentation which you’ll no doubt find yourself getting into before too long. (You can download it, too.) Also of interest, some development environments have support for AIR built right in. Aptana doesn’t have support for beta 3 yet but I suspect it’ll be available shortly. Within the SDK, there are two main tools that we’ll use: one to test the application (ADL) and another to build a distributable package of our application (ADT). I’ll get into this some more when we get to that stage of development. Building our To-do list application The first step to building an application within AIR is to create an XML file that defines our default application settings. I call mine application.xml, mostly because Aptana does that by default when creating a new AIR project. It makes sense though and I’ve stuck with it. Included in the templates folder of the SDK is an example XML file that you can use. The first key part to this after specifying things like the application ID, version, and filename, is to specify what the default content should be within the content tags. Enter in the name of the HTML file you wish to load. Within this HTML file will be our application. <content>ui.html</content> Create a new HTML document and name it ui.html and place it in the same directory as the application.xml file. The first thing you’ll want to do is copy over the AIRAliases.js file from the frameworks folder of the SDK and add a link to it within your HTML document. <script type="text/javascript" src="AIRAliases.js"></script> The aliases create shorthand links to all of the Flash-based APIs. Now is probably a good time to explain how to debug your application. Debugging our application So, with our XML file created and HTML file started, let’s try testing our ‘application’. We’ll need the ADL application located in BIN folder of the SDK and tell it to run the application.xml file. /path/to/adl /path/to/application.xml You can also just drag the XML file onto ADL and it’ll accomplish the same thing. If you just did that and noticed that your blank application didn’t load, you’d be correct. It’s running but isn’t visible. Which at this point means you’ll have to shut down the ADL process. Sorry about that! Changing the visibility You have two ways to make your application visible. You can do it automatically by setting the placing true in the visible tag within the application.xml file. <visible>true</visible> The other way is to do it programmatically from within your application. You’d want to do it this way if you had other startup tasks to perform before showing the interface. To turn the UI on programmatically, simple set the visible property of nativeWindow to true. <script type="text/javascript"> nativeWindow.visible = true; </script> Sandbox Security Now that we have an application that we can see when we start it, it’s time to build the to-do list application. In doing so, you’d probably think that using a JavaScript library is a really good idea — and it can be but there are some limitations within AIR that have to be considered. An HTML document, by default, runs within the application sandbox. You have full access to the AIR APIs but once the onload event of the window has fired, you’ll have a limited ability to make use of eval and other dynamic script injection approaches. This limits the ability of external sources from gaining access to everything the AIR API offers, such as database and local file system access. You’ll still be able to make use of eval for evaluating JSON responses, which is probably the most important if you wish to consume JSON-based services. If you wish to create a greater wall of security between AIR and your HTML document loading in external resources, you can create a child sandbox. We won’t need to worry about it for our application so I won’t go any further into it but definitely keep this in mind. Finally, our application Getting tired of all this preamble? Let’s actually build our to-do list application. I’ll use jQuery because it’s small and should suit our needs nicely. Let’s begin with some structure: <body> <input type="text" id="text" value=""> <input type="button" id="add" value="Add"> <ul id="list"></ul> </body> Now we need to wire up that button to actually add a new item to our to-do list. <script type="text/javascript"> $(document).ready(function(){ // make sure the application is visible nativeWindow.visible = true; $('#add').click(function(){ var t = $('#text').val(); if(t) { // use DOM methods to create the new list item var li = document.createElement('li'); // the extra space at the end creates a buffer between the text // and the delete link we're about to add li.appendChild(document.createTextNode(t + ' ')); // create the delete link var del = document.createElement('a'); // this makes it a true link. I feel dirty doing this. del.setAttribute('href', '#'); del.addEventListener('click', function(evt){ this.parentNode.parentNode.removeChild(this.parentNode); }); del.appendChild(document.createTextNode('[del]')); li.appendChild(del); // append everything to the list $('#list').append(li); //reset the text box $('#text').val(''); } }) }); </script> And just like that, we’ve got a to-do list! That’s it! Just never close your application and you’ll remember everything. Okay, that’s not very practical. You need to have some way of storing your to-do items until the next time you open up the application. Storing Data You’ve essentially got 4 different ways that you can store data: Using the local database. AIR comes with SQLLite built in. That means you can create tables and insert, update and select data from that database just like on a web server. Using the file system. You can also create files on the local machine. You have access to a few folders on the local system such as the documents folder and the desktop. Using EcryptedLocalStore. I like using the EcryptedLocalStore because it allows you to easily save key/value pairs and have that information encrypted. All this within just a couple lines of code. Sending the data to a remote API. Our to-do list could sync up with Remember the Milk, for example. To demonstrate some persistence, we’ll use the file system to store our files. In addition, we’ll let the user specify where the file should be saved. This way, we can create multiple to-do lists, keeping them separate and organized. The application is now broken down into 4 basic tasks: Load data from the file system. Perform any interface bindings. Manage creating and deleting items from the list. Save any changes to the list back to the file system. Loading in data from the file system When the application starts up, we’ll prompt the user to select a file or specify a new to-do list. Within AIR, there are 3 main file objects: File, FileMode, and FileStream. File handles file and path names, FileMode is used as a parameter for the FileStream to specify whether the file should be read-only or for write access. The FileStream object handles all the read/write activity. The File object has a number of shortcuts to default paths like the documents folder, the desktop, or even the application store. In this case, we’ll specify the documents folder as the default location and then use the browseForSave method to prompt the user to specify a new or existing file. If the user specifies an existing file, they’ll be asked whether they want to overwrite it. var store = air.File.documentsDirectory; var fileStream = new air.FileStream(); store.browseForSave("Choose To-do List"); Then we add an event listener for when the user has selected a file. When the file is selected, we check to see if the file exists and if it does, read in the contents, splitting the file on new lines and creating our list items within the interface. store.addEventListener(air.Event.SELECT, fileSelected); function fileSelected() { air.trace(store.nativePath); // load in any stored data var byteData = new air.ByteArray(); if(store.exists) { fileStream.open(store, air.FileMode.READ); fileStream.readBytes(byteData, 0, store.size); fileStream.close(); if(byteData.length > 0) { var s = byteData.readUTFBytes(byteData.length); oldlist = s.split(“\r\n”); // create todolist items for(var i=0; i < oldlist.length; i++) { createItem(oldlist[i], (new Date()).getTime() + i ); } } } } Perform Interface Bindings This is similar to before where we set the click event on the Add button but we’ve moved the code to save the list into a separate function. $('#add').click(function(){ var t = $('#text').val(); if(t){ // create an ID using the time createItem(t, (new Date()).getTime() ); } }) Manage creating and deleting items from the list The list management is now in its own function, similar to before but with some extra information to identify list items and with calls to save our list after each change. function createItem(t, id) { if(t.length == 0) return; // add it to the todo list todolist[id] = t; // use DOM methods to create the new list item var li = document.createElement('li'); // the extra space at the end creates a buffer between the text // and the delete link we're about to add li.appendChild(document.createTextNode(t + ' ')); // create the delete link var del = document.createElement('a'); // this makes it a true link. I feel dirty doing this. del.setAttribute('href', '#'); del.addEventListener('click', function(evt){ var id = this.id.substr(1); delete todolist[id]; // remove the item from the list this.parentNode.parentNode.removeChild(this.parentNode); saveList(); }); del.appendChild(document.createTextNode('[del]')); del.id = 'd' + id; li.appendChild(del); // append everything to the list $('#list').append(li); //reset the text box $('#text').val(''); saveList(); } Save changes to the file system Any time a change is made to the list, we update the file. The file will always reflect the current state of the list and we’ll never have to click a save button. It just iterates through the list, adding a new line to each one. function saveList(){ if(store.isDirectory) return; var packet = ''; for(var i in todolist) { packet += todolist[i] + '\r\n'; } var bytes = new air.ByteArray(); bytes.writeUTFBytes(packet); fileStream.open(store, air.FileMode.WRITE); fileStream.writeBytes(bytes, 0, bytes.length); fileStream.close(); } One important thing to mention here is that we check if the store is a directory first. The reason we do this goes back to our browseForSave call. If the user cancels the dialog without selecting a file first, then the store points to the documentsDirectory that we set it to initially. Since we haven’t specified a file, there’s no place to save the list. Hopefully by this point, you’ve been thinking of some cool ways to pimp out your list. Now we need to package this up so that we can let other people use it, too. Creating a Package Now that we’ve created our application, we need to package it up so that we can distribute it. This is a two step process. The first step is to create a code signing certificate (or you can pay for one from Thawte which will help authenticate you as an AIR application developer). To create a self-signed certificate, run the following command. This will create a PFX file that you’ll use to sign your application. adt -certificate -cn todo24ways 1024-RSA todo24ways.pfx mypassword After you’ve done that, you’ll need to create the package with the certificate adt -package -storetype pkcs12 -keystore todo24ways.pfx todo24ways.air application.xml . The important part to mention here is the period at the end of the command. We’re telling it to package up all files in the current directory. After that, just run the AIR file, which will install your application and run it. Important things to remember about AIR When developing an HTML application, the rendering engine is Webkit. You’ll thank your lucky stars that you aren’t struggling with cross-browser issues. (My personal favourites are multiple backgrounds and border radius!) Be mindful of memory leaks. Things like Ajax calls and event binding can cause applications to slowly leak memory over time. Web pages are normally short lived but desktop applications are often open for hours, if not days, and you may find your little desktop application taking up more memory than anything else on your machine! The WebKit runtime itself can also be a memory hog, usually taking about 15MB just for itself. If you create multiple HTML windows, it’ll add another 15MB to your memory footprint. Our little to-do list application shouldn’t be much of a concern, though. The other important thing to remember is that you’re still essentially running within a Flash environment. While you probably won’t notice this working in small applications, the moment you need to move to multiple windows or need to accomplish stuff beyond what HTML and JavaScript can give you, the need to understand some of the Flash-based elements will become more important. Lastly, the other thing to remember is that HTML links will load within the AIR application. If you want a link to open in the users web browser, you’ll need to capture that event and handle it on your own. The following code takes the HREF from a clicked link and opens it in the default web browser. air.navigateToURL(new air.URLRequest(this.href)); Only the beginning Of course, this is only the beginning of what you can do with Adobe AIR. You don’t have the same level of control as building a native desktop application, such as being able to launch other applications, but you do have more control than what you could have within a web application. Check out the Adobe AIR Developer Center for HTML and Ajax for tutorials and other resources. Now, go forth and create your desktop applications and hopefully you finish all your shopping before Christmas! Download the example files. 2007 Jonathan Snook jonathansnook 2007-12-19T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/christmas-is-in-the-air/ code
162 Conditional Love “Browser.” The four-letter word of web design. I mean, let’s face it: on the good days, when things just work in your target browsers, it’s marvelous. The air smells sweeter, birds’ songs sound more melodious, and both your design and your code are looking sharp. But on the less-than-good days (which is, frankly, most of them), you’re compelled to tie up all your browsers in a sack, heave them into the nearest river, and start designing all-imagemap websites. We all play favorites, after all: some will swear by Firefox, Opera fans are allegedly legion, and others still will frown upon anything less than the latest WebKit nightly. Thankfully, we do have an out for those little inconsistencies that crop up when dealing with cross-browser testing: CSS patches. Spare the Rod, Hack the Browser Before committing browsercide over some rendering bug, a designer will typically reach for a snippet of CSS fix the faulty browser. Historically referred to as “hacks,” I prefer Dan Cederholm’s more client-friendly alternative, “patches”. But whatever you call them, CSS patches all work along the same principle: supply the proper property value to the good browsers, while giving higher maintenance other browsers an incorrect value that their frustrating idiosyncratic rendering engine can understand. Traditionally, this has been done either by exploiting incomplete CSS support: #content { height: 1%; // Let's force hasLayout for old versions of IE. line-height: 1.6; padding: 1em; } html>body #content { height: auto; // Modern browsers get a proper height value. } or by exploiting bugs in their rendering engine to deliver alternate style rules: #content p { font-size: .8em; /* Hide from Mac IE5 \*/ font-size: .9em; /* End hiding from Mac IE5 */ } We’ve even used these exploits to serve up whole stylesheets altogether: @import url("core.css"); @media tty { i{content:"\";/*" "*/}} @import 'windows-ie5.css'; /*";} }/* */ The list goes on, and on, and on. For every browser, for every bug, there’s a patch available to fix some rendering bug. But after some time working with standards-based layouts, I’ve found that CSS patches, as we’ve traditionally used them, become increasingly difficult to maintain. As stylesheets are modified over the course of a site’s lifetime, inline fixes we’ve written may become obsolete, making them difficult to find, update, or prune out of our CSS. A good patch requires a constant gardener to ensure that it adds more than just bloat to a stylesheet, and inline patches can be very hard to weed out of a decently sized CSS file. Giving the Kids Separate Rooms Since I joined Airbag Industries earlier this year, every project we’ve worked on has this in the head of its templates: <link rel="stylesheet" href="-/css/screen/main.css" type="text/css" media="screen, projection" /> <!--[if lt IE 7]> <link rel="stylesheet" href="-/css/screen/patches/win-ie-old.css" type="text/css" media="screen, projection" /> <![endif]--> <!--[if gte IE 7]> <link rel="stylesheet" href="-/css/screen/patches/win-ie7-up.css" type="text/css" media="screen, projection" /> <![endif]--> The first element is, simply enough, a link element that points to the project’s main CSS file. No patches, no hacks: just pure, modern browser-friendly style rules. Which, nine times out of ten, will net you a design that looks like spilled eggnog in various versions of Internet Explorer. But don’t reach for the mulled wine quite yet. Immediately after, we’ve got a brace of conditional comments wrapped around two other link elements. These odd-looking comments allow us to selectively serve up additional stylesheets just to the version of IE that needs them. We’ve got one for IE 6 and below: <!--[if lt IE 7]> <link rel="stylesheet" href="-/css/screen/patches/win-ie-old.css" type="text/css" media="screen, projection" /> <![endif]--> And another for IE7 and above: <!--[if gte IE 7]> <link rel="stylesheet" href="-/css/screen/patches/win-ie7-up.css" type="text/css" media="screen, projection" /> <![endif]--> Microsoft’s conditional comments aren’t exactly new, but they can be a valuable alternative to cooking CSS patches directly into a master stylesheet. And though they’re not a W3C-approved markup structure, I think they’re just brilliant because they innovate within the spec: non-IE devices will assume that the comments are just that, and ignore the markup altogether. This does, of course, mean that there’s a little extra markup in the head of our documents. But this approach can seriously cut down on the unnecessary patches served up to the browsers that don’t need them. Namely, we no longer have to write rules like this in our main stylesheet: #content { height: 1%; // Let's force hasLayout for old versions of IE. line-height: 1.6; padding: 1em; } html>body #content { height: auto; // Modern browsers get a proper height value. } Rather, we can simply write an un-patched rule in our core stylesheet: #content { line-height: 1.6; padding: 1em; } And now, our patch for older versions of IE goes in—you guessed it—the stylesheet for older versions of IE: #content { height: 1%; } The hasLayout patch is applied, our design’s repaired, and—most importantly—the patch is only seen by the browser that needs it. The “good” browsers don’t have to incur any added stylesheet weight from our IE patches, and Internet Explorer gets the conditional love it deserves. Most importantly, this “compartmentalized” approach to CSS patching makes it much easier for me to patch and maintain the fixes applied to a particular browser. If I need to track down a bug for IE7, I don’t need to scroll through dozens or hundreds of rules in my core stylesheet: instead, I just open the considerably slimmer IE7-specific patch file, make my edits, and move right along. Even Good Children Misbehave While IE may occupy the bulk of our debugging time, there’s no denying that other popular, modern browsers will occasionally disagree on how certain bits of CSS should be rendered. But without something as, well, pimp as conditional comments at our disposal, how do we bring the so-called “good browsers” back in line with our design? Assuming you’re loving the “one patch file per browser” model as much as I do, there’s just one alternative: JavaScript. function isSaf() { var isSaf = (document.childNodes && !document.all && !navigator.taintEnabled && !navigator.accentColorName) ? true : false; return isSaf; } function isOp() { var isOp = (window.opera) ? true : false; return isOp; } Instead of relying on dotcom-era tactics of parsing the browser’s user-agent string, we’re testing here for support for various DOM objects, whose presence or absence we can use to reasonably infer the browser we’re looking at. So running the isOp() function, for example, will test for Opera’s proprietary window.opera object, and thereby accurately tell you if your user’s running Norway’s finest browser. With scripts such as isOp() and isSaf() in place, you can then reasonably test which browser’s viewing your content, and insert additional link elements as needed. function loadPatches(dir) { if (document.getElementsByTagName() && document.createElement()) { var head = document.getElementsByTagName("head")[0]; if (head) { var css = new Array(); if (isSaf()) { css.push("saf.css"); } else if (isOp()) { css.push("opera.css"); } if (css.length) { var link = document.createElement("link"); link.setAttribute("rel", "stylesheet"); link.setAttribute("type", "text/css"); link.setAttribute("media", "screen, projection"); for (var i = 0; i < css.length; i++) { var tag = link.cloneNode(true); tag.setAttribute("href", dir + css[0]); head.appendChild(tag); } } } } } Here, we’re testing the results of isSaf() and isOp(), one after the other. For each function that returns true, then the name of a new stylesheet is added to the oh-so-cleverly named css array. Then, for each entry in css, we create a new link element, point it at our patch file, and insert it into the head of our template. Fire it up using your favorite onload or DOMContentLoaded function, and you’re good to go. Scripteat Emptor At this point, some of the audience’s more conscientious ‘scripters may be preparing to lob figgy pudding at this author’s head. And that’s perfectly understandable; relying on JavaScript to patch CSS chafes a bit against the normally clean separation we have between our pages’ content, presentation, and behavior layers. And beyond the philosophical concerns, this approach comes with a few technical caveats attached: Browser detection? So un-133t. Browser detection is not something I’d typically recommend. Whenever possible, a proper DOM script should check for the support of a given object or method, rather than the device with which your users view your content. It’s JavaScript, so don’t count on it being available. According to one site, roughly four percent of Internet users don’t have JavaScript enabled. Your site’s stats might be higher or lower than this number, but still: don’t expect that every member of your audience will see these additional stylesheets, and ensure that your content’s still accessible with JS turned off. Be a constant gardener. The sample isSaf() and isOp() functions I’ve written will tell you if the user’s browser is Safari or Opera. As a result, stylesheets written to patch issues in an old browser may break when later releases repair the relevant CSS bugs. You can, of course, add logic to these simple little scripts to serve up version-specific stylesheets, but that way madness may lie. In any event, test your work vigorously, and keep testing it when new versions of the targeted browsers come out. Make sure that a patch written today doesn’t become a bug tomorrow. Patching Firefox, Opera, and Safari isn’t something I’ve had to do frequently: still, there have been occasions where the above script’s come in handy. Between conditional comments, careful CSS auditing, and some judicious JavaScript, browser-based bugs can be handled with near-surgical precision. So pass the ‘nog. It’s patchin’ time. 2007 Ethan Marcotte ethanmarcotte 2007-12-15T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/conditional-love/ code
152 CSS for Accessibility CSS is magical stuff. In the right hands, it can transform the plainest of (well-structured) documents into a visual feast. But it’s not all fur coat and nae knickers (as my granny used to say). Here are some simple ways you can use CSS to improve the usability and accessibility of your site. Even better, no sexy visuals will be harmed by the use of these techniques. Promise. Nae knickers This is less of an accessibility tip, and more of a reminder to check that you’ve got your body background colour specified. If you’re sitting there wondering why I’m mentioning this, because it’s a really basic thing, then you might be as surprised as I was to discover that from a sample of over 200 sites checked last year, 35% of UK local authority websites were missing their body background colour. Forgetting to specify your body background colour can lead to embarrassing gaps in coverage, which are not only unsightly, but can prevent your users reading the text on your site if they use a different operating system colour scheme. All it needs is the following line to be added to your CSS file: body {background-color: #fff;} If you pair it with color: #000; … you’ll be assured of maintaining contrast for any areas you inadvertently forget to specify, no matter what colour scheme your user needs or prefers. Even better, if you’ve got standard reset CSS you use, make sure that default colours for background and text are specified in it, so you’ll never be caught with your pants down. At the very least, you’ll have a white background and black text that’ll prompt you to change them to your chosen colours. Elbow room Paying attention to your typography is important, but it’s not just about making it look nice. Careful use of the line-height property can make your text more readable, which helps everyone, but is particularly helpful for those with dyslexia, who use screen magnification or simply find it uncomfortable to read lots of text online. When lines of text are too close together, it can cause the eye to skip down lines when reading, making it difficult to keep track of what you’re reading across. So, a bit of room is good. That said, when lines of text are too far apart, it can be just as bad, because the eye has to jump to find the next line. That not only breaks up the reading rhythm, but can make it much more difficult for those using Screen Magnification (especially at high levels of magnification) to find the beginning of the next line which follows on from the end of the line they’ve just read. Using a line height of between 1.2 and 1.6 times normal can improve readability, and using unit-less line heights help take care of any pesky browser calculation problems. For example: p { font-family: "Lucida Grande", Lucida, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 1em; line-height: 1.3; } or if you want to use the shorthand version: p { font: 1em/1.3 "Lucida Grande", Lucida, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; } View some examples of different line-heights, based on default text size of 100%/1em. Further reading on Unitless line-heights from Eric Meyer. Transformers: Initial case in disguise Nobody wants to shout at their users, but there are some occasions when you might legitimately want to use uppercase on your site. Avoid screen-reader pronunciation weirdness (where, for example, CONTACT US would be read out as Contact U S, which is not the same thing – unless you really are offering your users the chance to contact the United States) caused by using uppercase by using title case for your text and using the often neglected text-transform property to fake uppercase. For example: .uppercase { text-transform: uppercase } Don’t overdo it though, as uppercase text is harder to read than normal text, not to mention the whole SHOUTING thing. Linky love When it comes to accessibility, keyboard only users (which includes those who use voice recognition software) who can see just fine are often forgotten about in favour of screen reader users. This Christmas, share the accessibility love and light up those links so all of your users can easily find their way around your site. The link outline AKA: the focus ring, or that dotted box that goes around links to show users where they are on the site. The techniques below are intended to supplement this, not take the place of it. You may think it’s ugly and want to get rid of it, especially since you’re going to the effort of tarting up your links. Don’t. Just don’t. The non-underlined underline If you listen to Jacob Nielsen, every link on your site should be underlined so users know it’s a link. You might disagree with him on this (I know I do), but if you are choosing to go with underlined links, in whatever state, then remove the default underline and replacing it with a border that’s a couple of pixels away from the text. The underline is still there, but it’s no longer cutting off the bottom of letters with descenders (e.g., g and y) which makes it easier to read. This is illustrated in Examples 1 and 2. You can modify the three lines of code below to suit your own colour and border style preferences, and add it to whichever link state you like. text-decoration: none; border-bottom: 1px #000 solid; padding-bottom: 2px; Standing out from the crowd Whatever way you choose to do it, you should be making sure your links stand out from the crowd of normal text which surrounds them when in their default state, and especially in their hover or focus states. A good way of doing this is to reverse the colours when on hover or focus. Well-focused Everyone knows that you can use the :hover pseudo class to change the look of a link when you mouse over it, but, somewhat ironically, people who can see and use a mouse are the group who least need this extra visual clue, since the cursor handily (sorry) changes from an arrow to a hand. So spare a thought for the non-pointing device users that visit your site and take the time to duplicate that hover look by using the :focus pseudo class. Of course, the internets being what they are, it’s not quite that simple, and predictably, Internet Explorer is the culprit once more with it’s frustrating lack of support for :focus. Instead it applies the :active pseudo class whenever an anchor has focus. What this means in practice is that if you want to make your links change on focus as well as on hover, you need to specify focus, hover and active. Even better, since the look and feel necessarily has to be the same for the last three states, you can combine them into one rule. So if you wanted to do a simple reverse of colours for a link, and put it together with the non-underline underlines from before, the code might look like this: a:link { background: #fff; color: #000; font-weight: bold; text-decoration: none; border-bottom: 1px #000 solid; padding-bottom: 2px; } a:visited { background: #fff; color: #800080; font-weight: bold; text-decoration: none; border-bottom: 1px #000 solid; padding-bottom: 2px; } a:focus, a:hover, a:active { background: #000; color: #fff; font-weight: bold; text-decoration: none; border-bottom: 1px #000 solid; padding-bottom: 2px; } Example 3 shows what this looks like in practice. Location, Location, Location To take this example to it’s natural conclusion, you can add an id of current (or something similar) in appropriate places in your navigation, specify a full set of link styles for current, and have a navigation which, at a glance, lets users know which page or section they’re currently in. Example navigation using location indicators. and the source code Conclusion All the examples here are intended to illustrate the concepts, and should not be taken as the absolute best way to format links or style navigation bars – that’s up to you and whatever visual design you’re using at the time. They’re also not the only things you should be doing to make your site accessible. Above all, remember that accessibility is for life, not just for Christmas. 2007 Ann McMeekin annmcmeekin 2007-12-13T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/css-for-accessibility/ design
154 Diagnostic Styling We’re all used to using CSS to make our designs live and breathe, but there’s another way to use CSS: to find out where our markup might be choking on missing accessibility features, targetless links, and just plain missing content. Note: the techniques discussed here mostly work in Firefox, Safari, and Opera, but not Internet Explorer. I’ll explain why that’s not really a problem near the end of the article — and no, the reason is not “everyone should just ignore IE anyway”. Basic Diagnostics To pick a simple example, suppose you want to call out all holdover font and center elements in a site. Simple: you just add the following to your styles. font, center {outline: 5px solid red;} You could take it further and add in a nice lime background or some such, but big thick red outlines should suffice. Now you’ll be able to see the offenders wherever as you move through the site. (Of course, if you do this on your public server, everyone else will see the outlines too. So this is probably best done on a development server or local copy of the site.) Not everyone may be familiar with outlines, which were introduced in CSS2, so a word on those before we move on. Outlines are much like borders, except outlines don’t affect layout. Eh? Here’s a comparison. On the left, you have a border. On the right, an outline. The border takes up layout space, pushing other content around and generally being a nuisance. The outline, on the other hand, just draws into quietly into place. In most current browsers, it will overdraw any content already onscreen, and will be overdrawn by any content placed later — which is why it overlaps the images above it, and is overlapped by those below it. Okay, so we can outline deprecated elements like font and center. Is that all? Oh no. Attribution Let’s suppose you also want to find any instances of inline style — that is, use of the style attribute on elements in the markup. This is generally discouraged (outside of HTML e-mails, which I’m not going to get anywhere near), as it’s just another side of the same coin of using font: baking the presentation into the document structure instead of putting it somewhere more manageable. So: *[style], font, center {outline: 5px solid red;} Adding that attribute selector to the rule’s grouped selector means that we’ll now be outlining any element with a style attribute. There’s a lot more that attribute selectors will let use diagnose. For example, we can highlight any images that have empty alt or title text. img[alt=""] {border: 3px dotted red;} img[title=""] {outline: 3px dotted fuchsia;} Now, you may wonder why one of these rules calls for a border, and the other for an outline. That’s because I want them to “add together” — that is, if I have an image which possesses both alt and title, and the values of both are empty, then I want it to be doubly marked. See how the middle image there has both red and fuchsia dots running around it? (And am I the only one who sorely misses the actual circular dots drawn by IE5/Mac?) That’s due to its markup, which we can see here in a fragment showing the whole table row. <tr> <th scope="row">empty title</th> <td><img src="comic.gif" title="" /></td> <td><img src="comic.gif" title="" alt="" /></td> <td><img src="comic.gif" title="" alt="comical" /></td> </tr> Right, that’s all well and good, but it misses a rather more serious situation: the selector img[alt=""] won’t match an img element that doesn’t even have an alt attribute. How to tackle this problem? Not a Problem Well, if you want to select something based on a negative, you need a negative selector. img:not([alt]) {border: 5px solid red;} This is really quite a break from the rest of CSS selection, which is all positive: “select anything that has these characteristics”. With :not(), we have the ability to say (in supporting browsers) “select anything that hasn’t these characteristics”. In the above example, only img elements that do not have an alt attribute will be selected. So we expand our list of image-related rules to read: img[alt=""] {border: 3px dotted red;} img[title=""] {outline: 3px dotted fuchsia;} img:not([alt]) {border: 5px solid red;} img:not([title]) {outline: 5px solid fuchsia;} With the following results: We could expand this general idea to pick up tables who lack a summary, or have an empty summary attribute. table[summary=""] {outline: 3px dotted red;} table:not([summary]) {outline: 5px solid red;} When it comes to selecting header cells that lack the proper scope, however, we have a trickier situation. Finding headers with no scope attribute is easy enough, but what about those that have a scope attribute with an incorrect value? In this case, we actually need to pull an on-off maneuver. This has us setting all th elements to have a highlight style, and then turn it off for the elements that meet our criteria. th {border: 2px solid red;} th[scope="col"], th[scope="row"] {border: none;} This was necessary because of the way CSS selectors work. For example, consider this: th:not([scope="col"]), th:not([scope="row"]) {border: 2px solid red;} That would select…all th elements, regardless of their attrributes. That’s because every th element doesn’t have a scope of col, doesn’t have a scope of row, or doesn’t have either. There’s no escaping this selector o’ doom! This limitation arises because :not() is limited to containing a single “thing” within its parentheses. You can’t, for example, say “select all elements except those that are images which descend from list items”. Reportedly, this limitation was imposed to make browser implementation of :not() easier. Still, we can make good use of :not() in the service of further diagnosing. Calling out links in trouble is a breeze: a[href]:not([title]) {border: 5px solid red;} a[title=""] {outline: 3px dotted red;} a[href="#"] {background: lime;} a[href=""] {background: fuchsia;} Here we have a set that will call our attention to links missing title information, as well as links that have no valid target, whether through a missing URL or a JavaScript-driven page where there are no link fallbacks in the case of missing or disabled JavaScript (href="#"). And What About IE? As I said at the beginning, much of what I covered here doesn’t work in Internet Explorer, most particularly :not() and outline. (Oh, so basically everything? -Ed.) I can’t do much about the latter. For the former, however, it’s possible to hack your way around the problem by doing some layered on-off stuff. For example, for images, you replace the previously-shown rules with the following: img {border: 5px solid red;} img[alt][title] {border-width: 0;} img[alt] {border-color: fuchsia;} img[alt], img[title] {border-style: double;} img[alt=""][title], img[alt][title=""] {border-width: 3px;} img[alt=""][title=""] {border-style: dotted;} It won’t have exactly the same set of effects, given the inability to use both borders and outlines, but will still highlight troublesome images. It’s also the case that IE6 and earlier lack support for even attribute selectors, whereas IE7 added pretty much all the attribute selector types there are, so the previous code block won’t have any effect previous to IE7. In a broader sense, though, these kinds of styles probably aren’t going to be used in the wild, as it were. Diagnostic styles are something only you see as you work on a site, so you can make sure to use a browser that supports outlines and :not() when you’re diagnosing. The fact that IE users won’t see these styles is irrelevant since users of any browser probably won’t be seeing these styles. Personally, I always develop in Firefox anyway, thanks to its ability to become a full-featured IDE through the addition of extensions like Firebug and the Web Developer Toolbar. Yeah, About That… It’s true that much of what I describe in this article is available in the WDT. I feel there are two advantages to writing your own set of diagnostic styles. When you write your own styles, you can define exactly what the visual results will be, and how they will interact. The WDT doesn’t let you make its outlines thicker or change their colors. You can combine a bunch of diagnostics into a single set of rules and add it to your site’s style sheet during the diagnostic portion, thus ensuring they persist as you surf around. This can be done in the WDT, but it isn’t as easy (and, at least for me, not as reliable). It’s also true that a markup validator will catch many of the errors I mentioned, such as missing alt and summary attributes. For some, that’s sufficient. But it won’t catch everything diagnostic styles can, like empty alt values or untargeted links, which are perfectly valid, syntactically speaking. Diagnosis Complete? I hope this has been a fun look at the concept of diagnostic styling as well as a quick introduction into possibly new concepts like :not() and outlines. This isn’t all there is to say, of course: there is plenty more that could be added to a diagnostic style sheet. And everyone’s diagnostics will be different, tuned to meet each person’s unique situation. Mostly, though, I hope this small exploration triggers some creative thinking about the use of CSS to do more than just lay out pages and colorize text. Given the familiarity we acquire with CSS, it only makes sense to use it wherever it might be useful, and setting up visible diagnostic flags is just one more place for it to help us. 2007 Eric Meyer ericmeyer 2007-12-20T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/diagnostic-styling/ process
151 Get In Shape Pop quiz: what’s wrong with the following navigation? Maybe nothing. But then again, maybe there’s something bugging you about the way it comes together, something you can’t quite put your finger on. It seems well-designed, but it also seems a little… off. The design decisions that led to this eventual form were no doubt well-considered: Client: The top level needs to have a “current page” status indicator of some sort. Designer: How about a white tab? Client: Great! The second level needs to show up underneath the first level though… Designer: Okay, but that white tab I just added makes it hard to visually connect the bottom nav to the top. Client: Too late, we’ve seen the white tab and we love it. Try and make it work. Designer: Right. So I placed the second level in its own box. Client: Hmm. They seem too separated. I can’t tell that the yellow nav is the second level of the first. Designer: How about an indicator arrow? Client: Brilliant! The problem is that the end result feels awkward and forced. During the design process, little decisions were made that ultimately affect the overall shape of the navigation. What started out as a neatly contained rounded rectangle ended up as an ambiguous double shape that looks funny, though it’s often hard to pinpoint precisely why. The Shape of Things Well the why in this case is because seemingly unrelated elements in a design still end up visually interacting. Adding a new item to a page impacts everything surrounding it. In this navigation example, we’re looking at two individual objects that are close enough to each other that they form a relationship; if we reduce them to strictly their outlines, it’s a little easier to see that this particular combination registers oddly. The two shapes float with nothing really grounding them. If they were connected, perhaps it would be a different story. The white tab divides the top shape in half, leaving a gap in the middle of it. There’s very little balance in this pairing because the overall shape of the navigation wasn’t considered during the design process. Here’s another example: Gmail. Great email client, but did you ever closely look at what’s going on in that left hand navigation? The continuous blue bar around the message area spills out into the navigation. If we remove all text, we’re left with this odd configuration: Though the reasoning for anchoring the navigation highlight against the message area might be sound, the result is an irregular shape that doesn’t correspond with anything in reality. You may never consciously notice it, but once you do it’s hard to miss. One other example courtesy of last.fm: The two header areas are the same shade of pink so they appear to be closely connected. When reduced to their outlines it’s easy to see that this combination is off-balance: the edges don’t align, the sharp corners of the top shape aren’t consistent with the rounded corners of the bottom, and the part jutting out on the right of the bottom one seems fairly random. The result is a duo of oddly mis-matched shapes. Design Strategies Our minds tend to pick out familiar patterns. A clever designer can exploit this by creating references in his or her work to shapes and combinations with which viewers are already familiar. There are a few simple ideas that can be employed to help you achieve this: consistency, balance, and completion. Consistency A fairly simple way to unify the various disparate shapes on a page is by designing them with a certain amount of internal consistency. You don’t need to apply an identical size, colour, border, or corner treatment to every single shape; devolving a design into boring repetition isn’t what we’re after here. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to apply a set of common rules to most shapes within your work. Consider purevolume and its multiple rounded-corner panels. From the bottom of the site’s main navigation to the grey “Extras” panels halfway down the page (shown above), multiple shapes use a common border radius for unity. Different colours, different sizes, different content, but the consistent outlines create a strong sense of similarity. Not that every shape on the site follows this rule; they break the pattern right at the top with a darker sharp-cornered header, and again with the thumbnails below. But the design remains unified, nonetheless. Balance Arguably the biggest problem with the last.fm example earlier is one of balance. The area poking out of the bottom shape created a fairly obvious imbalance for no apparent reason. The right hand side is visually emphasized due to the greater area of pink coverage, but with the white gap left beside it, the emphasis seems unwarranted. It’s possible to create tension in your design by mismatching shapes and throwing off the balance, but when that happens unintentionally it can look like a mistake. Above are a few examples of design elements in balanced and unbalanced configurations. The examples in the top row are undeniably more pleasing to the eye than those in the bottom row. If these were fleshed out into full designs, those derived from the templates in the top row would naturally result in stronger work. Take a look at the header on 9Rules for a study in well-considered balance. On the left you’ll see a couple of paragraphs of text, on the right you have floating navigational items, and both flank the site’s logo. This unusual layout combines multiple design elements that look nothing alike, and places them together in a way that anchors each so that no one weighs down the header. Completion And finally we come to the idea of completion. Shapes don’t necessarily need hard outlines to be read visually as shapes, which can be exploited for various purposes. Notice how Zend’s mid-page “Business Topics” and “News” items (below) fade out to the right and bottom, but the placement of two of these side-by-side creates an impression of two panels rather than three disparate floating columns. By allowing the viewer’s eye to complete the shapes, they’ve lightened up the design of the page and removed inessential lines. In a busy design this technique could prove quite handy. Along the same lines, the individual shapes within your design may also be combined visually to form outlines of larger shapes. The differently-coloured header and main content/sidebar shapes on Veerle’s blog come together to form a single central panel, further emphasized by the slight drop shadow to the right. Implementation Studying how shape can be used effectively in design is simply a starting point. As with all things design-related, there are no hard and fast rules here; ultimately you may choose to bring these principles into your work more often, or break them for effect. But understanding how shapes interact within a page, and how that effect is ultimately perceived by viewers, is a key design principle you can use to impress your friends. 2007 Dave Shea daveshea 2007-12-16T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/get-in-shape/ design
163 Get To Grips with Slippy Maps Online mapping has definitely hit mainstream. Google Maps made ‘slippy maps’ popular and made it easy for any developer to quickly add a dynamic map to his or her website. You can now find maps for store locations, friends nearby, upcoming events, and embedded in blogs. In this tutorial we’ll show you how to easily add a map to your site using the Mapstraction mapping library. There are many map providers available to choose from, each with slightly different functionality, design, and terms of service. Mapstraction makes deciding which provider to use easy by allowing you to write your mapping code once, and then easily switch providers. Assemble the pieces Utilizing any of the mapping library typically consists of similar overall steps: Create an HTML div to hold the map Include the Javascript libraries Create the Javascript Map element Set the initial map center and zoom level Add markers, lines, overlays and more Create the Map Div The HTML div is where the map will actually show up on your page. It needs to have a unique id, because we’ll refer to that later to actually put the map here. This also lets you have multiple maps on a page, by creating individual divs and Javascript map elements. The size of the div also sets the height and width of the map. You set the size using CSS, either inline with the element, or via a CSS reference to the element id or class. For this example, we’ll use inline styling. <div id="map" style="width: 400px; height: 400px;"></div> Include Javascript libraries A mapping library is like any Javascript library. You need to include the library in your page before you use the methods of that library. For our tutorial, we’ll need to include at least two libraries: Mapstraction, and the mapping API(s) we want to display. Our first example we’ll use the ubiquitous Google Maps library. However, you can just as easily include Yahoo, MapQuest, or any of the other supported libraries. Another important aspect of the mapping libraries is that many of them require an API key. You will need to agree to the terms of service, and get an API key these. <script src="http://maps.google.com/maps?file=api&v=2&key=YOUR_KEY" type="text/javascript"></script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://mapstraction.com/src/mapstraction.js"></script> Create the Map Great, we’ve now put in all the pieces we need to start actually creating our map. This is as simple as creating a new Mapstraction object with the id of the HTML div we created earlier, and the name of the mapping provider we want to use for this map. With several of the mapping libraries you will need to set the map center and zoom level before the map will appear. The map centering actually triggers the initialization of the map. var mapstraction = new Mapstraction('map','google'); var myPoint = new LatLonPoint(37.404,-122.008); mapstraction.setCenterAndZoom(myPoint, 10); A note about zoom levels. The setCenterAndZoom function takes two parameters, the center as a LatLonPoint, and a zoom level that has been defined by mapping libraries. The current usage is for zoom level 1 to be “zoomed out”, or view the entire earth – and increasing the zoom level as you zoom in. Typically 17 is the maximum zoom, which is about the size of a house. Different mapping providers have different quality of zoomed in maps over different parts of the world. This is a perfect reason why using a library like Mapstraction is very useful, because you can quickly change mapping providers to accommodate users in areas that have bad coverage with some maps. To switch providers, you just need to include the Javascript library, and then change the second parameter in the Mapstraction creation. Or, you can call the switch method to dynamically switch the provider. So for Yahoo Maps (demo): var mapstraction = new Mapstraction('map','yahoo'); or Microsoft Maps (demo): var mapstraction = new Mapstraction('map','microsoft'); want a 3D globe in your browser? try FreeEarth (demo): var mapstraction = new Mapstraction('map','freeearth'); or even OpenStreetMap (free your data!) (demo): var mapstraction = new Mapstraction('map','openstreetmap'); Visit the Mapstraction multiple map demo page for an example of how easy it is to have many maps on your page, each with a different provider. Adding Markers While adding your first map is fun, and you can probably spend hours just sliding around, the point of adding a map to your site is usually to show the location of something. So now you want to add some markers. There are a couple of ways to add to your map. The simplest is directly creating markers. You could either hard code this into a rather static page, or dynamically generate these using whatever tools your site is built on. var marker = new Marker( new LatLonPoint(37.404,-122.008) ); marker.setInfoBubble("It's easy to add maps to your site"); mapstraction.addMarker( marker ); There is a lot more you can do with markers, including changing the icon, adding timestamps, automatically opening the bubble, or making them draggable. While it is straight-forward to create markers one by one, there is a much easier way to create a large set of markers. And chances are, you can make it very easy by extending some data you already are sharing: RSS. Specifically, using GeoRSS you can easily add a large set of markers directly to a map. GeoRSS is a community built standard (like Microformats) that added geographic markup to RSS and Atom entries. It’s as simple as adding <georss:point>42 -83</georss:point> to your feeds to share items via GeoRSS. Once you’ve done that, you can add that feed as an ‘overlay’ to your map using the function: mapstraction.addOverlay("http://api.flickr.com/services/feeds/groups_pool.gne?id=322338@N20&format=rss_200&georss=1"); Mapstraction also supports KML for many of the mapping providers. So it’s easy to add various data sources together with your own data. Check out Mapufacture for a growing index of available GeoRSS feeds and KML documents. Play with your new toys Mapstraction offers a lot more functionality you can utilize for demonstrating a lot of geographic data on your website. It also includes geocoding and routing abstraction layers for making sure your users know where to go. You can see more on the Mapstraction website: http://mapstraction.com. 2007 Andrew Turner andrewturner 2007-12-02T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/get-to-grips-with-slippy-maps/ code
159 How Media Studies Can Massage Your Message A young web designer once told his teacher ‘just get to the meat already.’ He was frustrated with what he called the ‘history lessons and name-dropping’ aspects of his formal college course. He just wanted to learn how to build Web sites, not examine the reasons why. Technique and theory are both integrated and necessary portions of a strong education. The student’s perspective has direct value, but also holds a distinct sorrow: Knowing the how without the why creates a serious problem. Without these surrounding insights we cannot tap into the influence of the history and evolved knowledge that came before. We cannot properly analyze, criticize, evaluate and innovate beyond the scope of technique. History holds the key to transcending former mistakes. Philosophy encourages us to look at different points of view. Studying media and social history empowers us as Web workers by bringing together myriad aspects of humanity in direct relation to the environment of society and technology. Having an understanding of media, communities, communication arts as well as logic, language and computer savvy are all core skills of the best of web designers in today’s medium. Controlling the Message ‘The computer can’t tell you the emotional story. It can give you the exact mathematical design, but what’s missing is the eyebrows.’ – Frank Zappa Media is meant to express an idea. The great media theorist Marshall McLuhan suggests that not only is media interesting because it’s about the expression of ideas, but that the media itself actually shapes the way a given idea is perceived. This is what McLuhan meant when he uttered those famous words: ‘The medium is the message.’ If instead of actually serving a steak to a vegetarian friend, what might a painting of the steak mean instead? Or a sculpture of a cow? Depending upon the form of media in question, the message is altered. Figure 1 Must we know the history of cows to appreciate the steak on our plate? Perhaps not, but if we begin to examine how that meat came to be on the plate, the social, cultural and ideological associations of that cow, we begin to understand the complexity of both medium and message. A piece of steak on my plate makes me happy. A vegetarian friend from India might disagree and even find that that serving her a steak was very insensitive. Takeaway: Getting the message right involves understanding that message in order to direct it to your audience accordingly. A Separate Piece If we revisit the student who only wants technique, while he might become extremely adept at the rendering of an idea, without an understanding of the medium, how is he to have greater control over how that idea is perceived? Ultimately, his creativity is limited and his perspective narrowed, and the teacher has done her student a disservice without challenging him, particularly in a scholastic environment, to think in liberal, creative and ultimately innovative terms. For many years, web pundits including myself have promoted the idea of separation as a core concept within creating effective front-end media for the Web. By this, we’ve meant literal separation of the technologies and documents: Markup for content; CSS for presentation; DOM Scripting for behavior. While the message of separation was an important part of understanding and teaching best practices for manageable, scalable sites, that separation is really just a separation of pieces, not of entire disciplines. For in fact, the medium of the Web is an integrated one. That means each part of the desired message must be supported by the media silos within a given site. The visual designer must study the color, space, shape and placement of visual objects (including type) into a meaningful expression. The underlying markup is ideally written as semantically as possible, promote the meaning of the content it describes. Any interaction and functionality must make the process of the medium support, not take away from, the meaning of the site or Web application. Examination: The Glass Bead Game Figure 2 Figure 2 shows two screenshots of CoreWave’s historic ‘Glass Bead Game.’ Fashioned after Herman Hesse’s novel of the same name, the game was an exploration of how ideas are connected to other ideas via multiple forms of media. It was created for the Web in 1996 using server-side randomization with .htmlx files in order to allow players to see how random associations are in fact not random at all. Takeaway: We can use the medium itself to explore creative ideas, to link us from one idea to the next, and to help us better express those ideas to our audiences. Computers and Human Interaction Since our medium involves computers and human interaction, it does us well to look to foundations of computers and reason. Not long ago I was chatting with Jared Spool on IM about this and that, and he asked me ‘So how do you feel about that?’ This caused me no end of laughter and I instantly quipped back ‘It’s okay by me ELIZA.’ We both enjoyed the joke, but then I tried to share it with another dare I say younger colleague, and the reference was lost. Raise your hand if you got the reference! Some of you will, but many people who come to the Web medium do not get the benefit of such historical references because we are not formally educated in them. Joseph Weizenbaum created the ELIZA program, which emulates a Rogerian Therapist, in 1966. It was an early study of computers and natural human language. I was a little over 2 years old, how about you? Conversation with Eliza There are fortunately a number of ELIZA emulators on the Web. I found one at http://www.chayden.net/eliza/Eliza.html that actually contains the source code (in Java) that makes up the ELIZA script. Figure 3 shows a screen shot of the interaction. ELIZA first welcomes me, says ‘Hello, How do you do. Please state your problem’ and we continue in a short loop of conversation, the computer using cues from my answers to create new questions and leading fragments of conversation. Figure 3 Albeit a very limited demonstration of how humans could interact with a computer in 1966, it’s amusing to play with now and compare it to something as richly interactive as the Microsoft Surface (Figure 4). Here, we see clear Lucite blocks that display projected video. Each side of the block has a different view of the video, so not only does one have to match up the images as they are moving, but do so in the proper directionality. Figure 4 Takeway: the better we know our environment, the more we can alter it to emulate, expand and even supersede our message. Leveraging Holiday Cheer Since most of us at least have a few days off for the holidays now that Christmas is upon us, now’s a perfect time to reflect on ones’ environment and examine the messages within it. Convince your spouse to find you a few audio books for stocking stuffers. Find interactive games to play with your kids and observe them, and yourself, during the interaction. Pour a nice egg-nog and sit down with a copy of Marshall McLuhan’s ‘The Medium is the Massage.’ Leverage that holiday cheer and here’s to a prosperous, interactive new year. 2007 Molly Holzschlag mollyholzschlag 2007-12-22T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/how-media-studies-can-massage-your-message/ ux
146 Increase Your Font Stacks With Font Matrix Web pages built in plain old HTML and CSS are displayed using only the fonts installed on users’ computers (@font-face implementations excepted). To enable this, CSS provides the font-family property for specifying fonts in order of preference (often known as a font stack). For example: h1 {font-family: 'Egyptienne F', Cambria, Georgia, serif} So in the above rule, headings will be displayed in Egyptienne F. If Egyptienne F is not available then Cambria will be used, failing that Georgia or the final fallback default serif font. This everyday bit of CSS will be common knowledge among all 24 ways readers. It is also a commonly held belief that the only fonts we can rely on being installed on users’ computers are the core web fonts of Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana, Georgia and friends. But is that really true? If you look in the fonts folder of your computer, or even your Mum’s computer, then you are likely to find a whole load of fonts besides the core ones. This is because many software packages automatically install extra typefaces. For example, Office 2003 installs over 100 additional fonts. Admittedly not all of these fonts are particularly refined, and not all are suitable for the Web. However they still do increase your options. The Matrix I have put together a matrix of (western) fonts showing which are installed with Mac and Windows operating systems, which are installed with various versions of Microsoft Office, and which are installed with Adobe Creative Suite. The matrix is available for download as an Excel file and as a CSV. There are no readily available statistics regarding the penetration of Office or Creative Suite, but you can probably take an educated guess based on your knowledge of your readers. The idea of the matrix is that use can use it to help construct your font stack. First of all pick the font you’d really like for your text – this doesn’t have to be in the matrix. Then pick the generic family (serif, sans-serif, cursive, fantasy or monospace) and a font from each of the operating systems. Then pick any suitable fonts from the Office and Creative Suite lists. For example, you may decide your headings should be in the increasingly ubiquitous Clarendon. This is a serif type face. At OS-level the most similar is arguably Georgia. Adobe CS2 comes with Century Old Style which has a similar feel. Century Schoolbook is similar too, and is installed with all versions of Office. Based on this your font stack becomes: font-family: 'Clarendon Std', 'Century Old Style Std', 'Century Schoolbook', Georgia, serif Note the ‘Std’ suffix indicating a ‘standard’ OpenType file, which will normally be your best bet for more esoteric fonts. I’m not suggesting the process of choosing suitable fonts is an easy one. Firstly there are nearly two hundred fonts in the matrix, so learning what each font looks like is tricky and potentially time consuming (if you haven’t got all the fonts installed on a machine to hand you’ll be doing a lot of Googling for previews). And it’s not just as simple as choosing fonts that look similar or have related typographic backgrounds, they need to have similar metrics as well, This is especially true in terms of x-height which gives an indication of how big or small a font looks. Over to You The main point of all this is that there are potentially more fonts to consider than is generally accepted, so branch out a little (carefully and tastefully) and bring a little variety to sites out there. If you come up with any novel font stacks based on this approach, please do blog them (tagged as per the footer) and at some point they could all be combined in one place for everyone to consider. Appendix What about Linux? The only operating systems in the matrix are those from Microsoft and Apple. For completeness, Linux operating systems should be included too, although these are many and varied and very much in a minority, so I omitted them for time being. For the record, some Linux distributions come packaged with Microsoft’s core fonts. Others use the Vera family, and others use the Liberation family which comprises fonts metrically identical to Times New Roman and Arial. Sources The sources of font information for the matrix are as follows: Windows XP SP2 Windows Vista Office 2003 Office 2007 Mac OSX Tiger Mac OSX Leopard (scroll down two thirds) Office 2004 (Mac) by inspecting my Microsoft Office 2004/Office/Fonts folder Office 2008 (Mac) is expected to be as Office 2004 with the addition of the Vista ClearType fonts Creative Suite 2 (see pdf link in first comment) Creative Suite 3 2007 Richard Rutter richardrutter 2007-12-17T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/increase-your-font-stacks-with-font-matrix/ design
153 JavaScript Internationalisation or: Why Rudolph Is More Than Just a Shiny Nose Dunder sat, glumly staring at the computer screen. “What’s up, Dunder?” asked Rudolph, entering the stable and shaking off the snow from his antlers. “Well,” Dunder replied, “I’ve just finished coding the new reindeer intranet Santa Claus asked me to do. You know how he likes to appear to be at the cutting edge, talking incessantly about Web 2.0, AJAX, rounded corners; he even spooked Comet recently by talking about him as if he were some pushy web server. “I’ve managed to keep him happy, whilst also keeping it usable, accessible, and gleaming — and I’m still on the back row of the sleigh! But anyway, given the elves will be the ones using the site, and they come from all over the world, the site is in multiple languages. Which is great, except when it comes to the preview JavaScript I’ve written for the reindeer order form. Here, have a look…” As he said that, he brought up the textileRef:8234272265470b85d91702:linkStartMarker:“order form in French”:/examples/javascript-internationalisation/initial.fr.html on the screen. (Same in English). “Looks good,” said Rudolph. “But if I add some items,” said Dunder, “the preview appears in English, as it’s hard-coded in the JavaScript. I don’t want separate code for each language, as that’s just silly — I thought about just having if statements, but that doesn’t scale at all…” “And there’s more, you aren’t displaying large numbers in French properly, either,” added Rudolph, who had been playing and looking at part of the source code: function update_text() { var hay = getValue('hay'); var carrots = getValue('carrots'); var bells = getValue('bells'); var total = 50 * bells + 30 * hay + 10 * carrots; var out = 'You are ordering ' + pretty_num(hay) + ' bushel' + pluralise(hay) + ' of hay, ' + pretty_num(carrots) + ' carrot' + pluralise(carrots) + ', and ' + pretty_num(bells) + ' shiny bell' + pluralise(bells) + ', at a total cost of <strong>' + pretty_num(total) + '</strong> gold pieces. Thank you.'; document.getElementById('preview').innerHTML = out; } function pretty_num(n) { n += ''; var o = ''; for (i=n.length; i>3; i-=3) { o = ',' + n.slice(i-3, i) + o; } o = n.slice(0, i) + o; return o; } function pluralise(n) { if (n!=1) return 's'; return ''; } “Oh, botheration!” cried Dunder. “This is just so complicated.” “It doesn’t have to be,” said Rudolph, “you just have to think about things in a slightly different way from what you’re used to. As we’re only a simple example, we won’t be able to cover all possibilities, but for starters, we need some way of providing different information to the script dependent on the language. We’ll create a global i18n object, say, and fill it with the correct language information. The first variable we’ll need will be a thousands separator, and then we can change the pretty_num function to use that instead: function pretty_num(n) { n += ''; var o = ''; for (i=n.length; i>3; i-=3) { o = i18n.thousands_sep + n.slice(i-3, i) + o; } o = n.slice(0, i) + o; return o; } “The i18n object will also contain our translations, which we will access through a function called _() — that’s just an underscore. Other languages have a function of the same name doing the same thing. It’s very simple: function _(s) { if (typeof(i18n)!='undefined' && i18n[s]) { return i18n[s]; } return s; } “So if a translation is available and provided, we’ll use that; otherwise we’ll default to the string provided — which is helpful if the translation begins to lag behind the site’s text at all, as at least something will be output.” “Got it,” said Dunder. “ _('Hello Dunder') will print the translation of that string, if one exists, ‘Hello Dunder’ if not.” “Exactly. Moving on, your plural function breaks even in English if we have a word where the plural doesn’t add an s — like ‘children’.” “You’re right,” said Dunder. “How did I miss that?” “No harm done. Better to provide both singular and plural words to the function and let it decide which to use, performing any translation as well: function pluralise(s, p, n) { if (n != 1) return _(p); return _(s); } “We’d have to provide different functions for different languages as we employed more elves and got more complicated — for example, in Polish, the word ‘file’ pluralises like this: 1 plik, 2-4 pliki, 5-21 plików, 22-24 pliki, 25-31 plików, and so on.” (More information on plural forms) “Gosh!” “Next, as different languages have different word orders, we must stop using concatenation to construct sentences, as it would be impossible for other languages to fit in; we have to keep coherent strings together. Let’s rewrite your update function, and then go through it: function update_text() { var hay = getValue('hay'); var carrots = getValue('carrots'); var bells = getValue('bells'); var total = 50 * bells + 30 * hay + 10 * carrots; hay = sprintf(pluralise('%s bushel of hay', '%s bushels of hay', hay), pretty_num(hay)); carrots = sprintf(pluralise('%s carrot', '%s carrots', carrots), pretty_num(carrots)); bells = sprintf(pluralise('%s shiny bell', '%s shiny bells', bells), pretty_num(bells)); var list = sprintf(_('%s, %s, and %s'), hay, carrots, bells); var out = sprintf(_('You are ordering %s, at a total cost of <strong>%s</strong> gold pieces.'), list, pretty_num(total)); out += ' '; out += _('Thank you.'); document.getElementById('preview').innerHTML = out; } “ sprintf is a function in many other languages that, given a format string and some variables, slots the variables into place within the string. JavaScript doesn’t have such a function, so we’ll write our own. Again, keep it simple for now, only integers and strings; I’m sure more complete ones can be found on the internet. function sprintf(s) { var bits = s.split('%'); var out = bits[0]; var re = /^([ds])(.*)$/; for (var i=1; i<bits.length; i++) { p = re.exec(bits[i]); if (!p || arguments[i]==null) continue; if (p[1] == 'd') { out += parseInt(arguments[i], 10); } else if (p[1] == 's') { out += arguments[i]; } out += p[2]; } return out; } “Lastly, we need to create one file for each language, containing our i18n object, and then include that from the relevant HTML. Here’s what a blank translation file would look like for your order form: var i18n = { thousands_sep: ',', "%s bushel of hay": '', "%s bushels of hay": '', "%s carrot": '', "%s carrots": '', "%s shiny bell": '', "%s shiny bells": '', "%s, %s, and %s": '', "You are ordering %s, at a total cost of <strong>%s</strong> gold pieces.": '', "Thank you.": '' }; “If you implement this across the intranet, you’ll want to investigate the xgettext program, which can automatically extract all strings that need translating from all sorts of code files into a standard .po file (I think Python mode works best for JavaScript). You can then use a different program to take the translated .po file and automatically create the language-specific JavaScript files for us.” (e.g. German .po file for PledgeBank, mySociety’s .po-.js script, example output) With a flourish, Rudolph finished editing. “And there we go, localised JavaScript in English, French, or German, all using the same main code.” “Thanks so much, Rudolph!” said Dunder. “I’m not just a pretty nose!” Rudolph quipped. “Oh, and one last thing — please comment liberally explaining the context of strings you use. Your translator will thank you, probably at the same time as they point out the four hundred places you’ve done something in code that only works in your language and no-one else’s…” Thanks to Tim Morley and Edmund Grimley Evans for the French and German translations respectively. 2007 Matthew Somerville matthewsomerville 2007-12-08T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/javascript-internationalisation/ code
161 Keeping JavaScript Dependencies At Bay As we are writing more and more complex JavaScript applications we run into issues that have hitherto (god I love that word) not been an issue. The first decision we have to make is what to do when planning our app: one big massive JS file or a lot of smaller, specialised files separated by task. Personally, I tend to favour the latter, mainly because it allows you to work on components in parallel with other developers without lots of clashes in your version control. It also means that your application will be more lightweight as you only include components on demand. Starting with a global object This is why it is a good plan to start your app with one single object that also becomes the namespace for the whole application, say for example myAwesomeApp: var myAwesomeApp = {}; You can nest any necessary components into this one and also make sure that you check for dependencies like DOM support right up front. Adding the components The other thing to add to this main object is a components object, which defines all the components that are there and their file names. var myAwesomeApp = { components :{ formcheck:{ url:'formcheck.js', loaded:false }, dynamicnav:{ url:'dynamicnav.js', loaded:false }, gallery:{ url:'gallery.js', loaded:false }, lightbox:{ url:'lightbox.js', loaded:false } } }; Technically you can also omit the loaded properties, but it is cleaner this way. The next thing to add is an addComponent function that can load your components on demand by adding new SCRIPT elements to the head of the documents when they are needed. var myAwesomeApp = { components :{ formcheck:{ url:'formcheck.js', loaded:false }, dynamicnav:{ url:'dynamicnav.js', loaded:false }, gallery:{ url:'gallery.js', loaded:false }, lightbox:{ url:'lightbox.js', loaded:false } }, addComponent:function(component){ var c = this.components[component]; if(c && c.loaded === false){ var s = document.createElement('script'); s.setAttribute('type', 'text/javascript'); s.setAttribute('src',c.url); document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0].appendChild(s); } } }; This allows you to add new components on the fly when they are not defined: if(!myAwesomeApp.components.gallery.loaded){ myAwesomeApp.addComponent('gallery'); }; Verifying that components have been loaded However, this is not safe as the file might not be available. To make the dynamic adding of components safer each of the components should have a callback at the end of them that notifies the main object that they indeed have been loaded: var myAwesomeApp = { components :{ formcheck:{ url:'formcheck.js', loaded:false }, dynamicnav:{ url:'dynamicnav.js', loaded:false }, gallery:{ url:'gallery.js', loaded:false }, lightbox:{ url:'lightbox.js', loaded:false } }, addComponent:function(component){ var c = this.components[component]; if(c && c.loaded === false){ var s = document.createElement('script'); s.setAttribute('type', 'text/javascript'); s.setAttribute('src',c.url); document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0].appendChild(s); } }, componentAvailable:function(component){ this.components[component].loaded = true; } } For example the gallery.js file should call this notification as a last line: myAwesomeApp.gallery = function(){ // [... other code ...] }(); myAwesomeApp.componentAvailable('gallery'); Telling the implementers when components are available The last thing to add (actually as a courtesy measure for debugging and implementers) is to offer a listener function that gets notified when the component has been loaded: var myAwesomeApp = { components :{ formcheck:{ url:'formcheck.js', loaded:false }, dynamicnav:{ url:'dynamicnav.js', loaded:false }, gallery:{ url:'gallery.js', loaded:false }, lightbox:{ url:'lightbox.js', loaded:false } }, addComponent:function(component){ var c = this.components[component]; if(c && c.loaded === false){ var s = document.createElement('script'); s.setAttribute('type', 'text/javascript'); s.setAttribute('src',c.url); document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0].appendChild(s); } }, componentAvailable:function(component){ this.components[component].loaded = true; if(this.listener){ this.listener(component); }; } }; This allows you to write a main listener function that acts when certain components have been loaded, for example: myAwesomeApp.listener = function(component){ if(component === 'gallery'){ showGallery(); } }; Extending with other components As the main object is public, other developers can extend the components object with own components and use the listener function to load dependent components. Say you have a bespoke component with data and labels in extra files: myAwesomeApp.listener = function(component){ if(component === 'bespokecomponent'){ myAwesomeApp.addComponent('bespokelabels'); }; if(component === 'bespokelabels'){ myAwesomeApp.addComponent('bespokedata'); }; if(component === 'bespokedata'){ myAwesomeApp,bespokecomponent.init(); }; }; myAwesomeApp.components.bespokecomponent = { url:'bespoke.js', loaded:false }; myAwesomeApp.components.bespokelabels = { url:'bespokelabels.js', loaded:false }; myAwesomeApp.components.bespokedata = { url:'bespokedata.js', loaded:false }; myAwesomeApp.addComponent('bespokecomponent'); Following this practice you can write pretty complex apps and still have full control over what is available when. You can also extend this to allow for CSS files to be added on demand. Influences If you like this idea and wondered if someone already uses it, take a look at the Yahoo! User Interface library, and especially at the YAHOO_config option of the global YAHOO.js object. 2007 Christian Heilmann chrisheilmann 2007-12-18T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/keeping-javascript-dependencies-at-bay/ code
155 Minification: A Christmas Diet The festive season is generally more about gorging ourselves than staying thin but we’re going to change all that with a quick introduction to minification. Performance has been a hot topic this last year. We’re building more complex sites and applications but at the same time trying to make then load faster and behave more responsively. What is a discerning web developer to do? Minification is the process of make something smaller, in the case of web site performance we’re talking about reducing the size of files we send to the browser. The primary front-end components of any website are HTML, CSS, Javascript and a sprinkling of images. Let’s find some tools to trim the fat and speed up our sites. For those that want to play along at home you can download the various utilities for Mac or Windows. You’ll want to be familiar with running apps on the command line too. HTMLTidy HTMLTidy optimises and strips white space from HTML documents. It also has a pretty good go at correcting any invalid markup while it’s at it. tidy -m page.html CSSTidy CSSTidy takes your CSS file, optimises individual rules (for instance transforming padding-top: 10px; padding-bottom: 10px; to padding: 10px 0;) and strips unneeded white space. csstidy style.css style-min.css JSMin JSMin takes your javascript and makes it more compact. With more and more websites using javascript to power (progressive) enhancements this can be a real bandwidth hog. Look out for pre-minified versions of libraries and frameworks too. jsmin <script.js >script-min.js Remember to run JSLint before you run JSMin to catch some common problems. OptiPNG Images can be a real bandwidth hog and making all of them smaller with OptiPNG should speed up your site. optipng image.png All of these tools have an often bewildering array of options and generally good documentation included as part of the package. A little experimentation will get you even more bang for your buck. For larger projects you likely won’t want to be manually minifying all your files. The best approach here is to integrate these tools into your build process and have your live website come out the other side smaller than it went in. You can also do things on the server to speed things up; GZIP compression for instance or compilation of resources to reduce the number of HTTP requests. If you’re interested in performance a good starting point is the Exceptional Performance section on the Yahoo Developer Network and remember to install the YSlow Firebug extension while you’re at it. 2007 Gareth Rushgrove garethrushgrove 2007-12-06T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/minification-a-christmas-diet/ process
156 Mobile 2.0 Thinking 2.0 As web geeks, we have a thick skin towards jargon. We all know that “Web 2.0” has been done to death. At Blue Flavor we even have a jargon bucket to penalize those who utter such painfully overused jargon with a cash deposit. But Web 2.0 is a term that has lodged itself into the conscience of the masses. This is actually a good thing. The 2.0 suffix was able to succinctly summarize all that was wrong with the Web during the dot-com era as well as the next evolution of an evolving media. While the core technologies actually stayed basically the same, the principles, concepts, interactions and contexts were radically different. With that in mind, this Christmas I want to introduce to you the concept of Mobile 2.0. While not exactly a new concept in the mobile community, it is relatively unknown in the web community. And since the foundation of Mobile 2.0 is the web, I figured it was about time for you to get to know each other. It’s the Carriers’ world. We just live in it. Before getting into Mobile 2.0, I thought first I should introduce you to its older brother. You know the kind, the kid with emotional problems that likes to beat up on you and your friends for absolutely no reason. That is the mobile of today. The mobile ecosystem is a very complicated space often and incorrectly compared to the Web. If the Web was a freewheeling hippie — believing in freedom of information and the unity of man through communities — then Mobile is the cutthroat capitalist — out to pillage and plunder for the sake of the almighty dollar. Where the Web is relatively easy to publish to and ultimately make a buck, Mobile is wrought with layers of complexity, politics and obstacles. I can think of no better way to summarize these challenges than the testimony of Jason Devitt to the United States Congress in what is now being referred to as the “iPhone Hearing.” Jason is the co-founder and CEO of SkyDeck a new wireless startup and former CEO of Vindigo an early pioneer in mobile content. As Jason points out, the mobile ecosystem is a closed door environment controlled by the carriers, forcing the independent publisher to compete or succumb to the will of corporate behemoths. But that is all about to change. Introducing Mobile 2.0 Mobile 2.0 is term used by the mobile community to describe the current revolution happening in mobile. It describes the convergence of mobile and web services, adding portability, ubiquitous connectivity and location-aware services to add physical context to information found on the Web. It’s an important term that looks toward the future. Allowing us to imagine the possibilities that mobile technology has long promised but has yet to deliver. It imagines a world where developers can publish mobile content without the current constraints of the mobile ecosystem. Like the transition from Web 1.0 to 2.0, it signifies the shift away from corporate or brand-centered experiences to user-centered experiences. A focus on richer interactions, driven by user goals. Moving away from proprietary technologies to more open and standard ones, more akin to the Web. And most importantly (from our perspective as web geeks) a shift away from kludgy one-off mobile applications toward using the Web as a platform for content and services. This means the world of the Web and the world of Mobile are coming together faster than you can say ARPU (Average Revenue Per User, a staple mobile term to you webbies). And this couldn’t come at a better time. The importance of understanding and addressing user context is quickly becoming a crucial consideration to every interactive experience as the number of ways we access information on the Web increases. Mobile enables the power of the Web, the collective information of millions of people, inherit payment channels and access to just about every other mass media to literally be overlaid on top of the physical world, in context to the person viewing it. Anyone who can’t imagine how the influence of mobile technology can’t transform how we perform even the simplest of daily tasks needs to get away from their desktop and see the new evolution of information. The Instigators But what will make Mobile 2.0 move from idillic concept to a hardened market reality in 2008 will be four key technologies. Its my guess that you know each them already. 1. Opera Opera is like the little train that could. They have been a driving force on moving the Web as we know it on to mobile handsets. Opera technology has proven itself to be highly adaptable, finding itself preloaded on over 40 million handsets, available on televisions sets through Nintendo Wii or via the Nintendo DS. 2. WebKit Many were surprised when Apple chose to use KHTML instead of Gecko (the guts of Firefox) to power their Safari rendering engine. But WebKit has quickly evolved to be a powerful and flexible browser in the mobile context. WebKit has been in Nokia smartphones for a few years now, is the technology behind Mobile Safari in the iPhone and the iPod Touch and is the default web technology in Google’s open mobile platform effort, Android. 3. The iPhone The iPhone has finally brought the concepts and principles of Mobile 2.0 into the forefront of consumers minds and therefore developers’ minds as well. Over 500 web applications have been written specifically for the iPhone since its launch. It’s completely unheard of to see so many applications built for the mobile context in such a short period of time. 4. CSS & Javascript Web 2.0 could not exist without the rich interactions offered by CSS and Javascript, and Mobile 2.0 is no different. CSS and Javascript support across multiple phones historically has been, well… to put it positively… utter crap. Javascript finally allows developers to create interesting interactions that support user goals and the mobile context. Specially, AJAX allows us to finally shed the days of bloated Java applications and focus on portable and flexible web applications. While CSS — namely CSS3 — allows us to create designs that are as beautiful as they are economical with bandwidth and load times. With Leaflets, a collection of iPhone optimized web apps we created, we heavily relied on CSS3 to cache and reuse design elements over and over, minimizing download times while providing an elegant and user-centered design. In Conclusion It is the combination of all these instigators that is significantly decreasing the bar to mobile publishing. The market as Jason Devitt describes it, will begin to fade into the background. And maybe the world of mobile will finally start looking more like the Web that we all know and love. So after the merriment and celebration of the holiday is over and you look toward the new year to refresh and renew, I hope that you take a seriously consider the mobile medium. By this time next year, it is predicted that one-third of humanity will be using mobile devices to access the Web. 2007 Brian Fling brianfling 2007-12-21T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/mobile-2-0/ business
164 My Other Christmas Present Is a Definition List A note from the editors: readers should note that the HTML5 redefinition of definition lists has come to pass and is now à la mode. Last year, I looked at how the markup for tag clouds was generally terrible. I thought this year I would look not at a method of marking up a common module, but instead just at a simple part of HTML and how it generally gets abused. No, not tables. Definition lists. Ah, definition lists. Often used but rarely understood. Examining the definition of definitions To start with, let’s see what the HTML spec has to say about them. Definition lists vary only slightly from other types of lists in that list items consist of two parts: a term and a description. The canonical example of a definition list is a dictionary. Words can have multiple descriptions (even the word definition has at least five). Also, many terms can share a single definition (for example, the word colour can also be spelt color, but they have the same definition). Excellent, we can all grasp that. But it very quickly starts to fall apart. Even in the HTML specification the definition list is mis-used. Another application of DL, for example, is for marking up dialogues, with each DT naming a speaker, and each DD containing his or her words. Wrong. Completely and utterly wrong. This is the biggest flaw in the HTML spec, along with dropping support for the start attribute on ordered lists. “Why?”, you may ask. Let me give you an example from Romeo and Juliet, act 2, scene 2. <dt>Juliet</dt> <dd>Romeo!</dd> <dt>Romeo</dt> <dd>My niesse?</dd> <dt>Juliet</dt> <dd>At what o'clock tomorrow shall I send to thee?</dd> <dt>Romeo</dt> <dd>At the hour of nine.</dd> Now, the problem here is that a given definition can have multiple descriptions (the DD). Really the dialog “descriptions” should be rolled up under the terms, like so: <dt>Juliet</dt> <dd>Romeo!</dd> <dd>At what o'clock tomorrow shall I send to thee?</dd> <dt>Romeo</dt> <dd>My niesse?</dd> <dd>At the hour of nine.</dd> Suddenly the play won’t make anywhere near as much sense. (If it’s anything, the correct markup for a play is an ordered list of CITE and BLOCKQUOTE elements.) This is the first part of the problem. That simple example has turned definition lists in everyone’s mind from pure definitions to more along the lines of a list with pre-configured heading(s) and text(s). Screen reader, enter stage left. In many screen readers, a simple definition list would be read out as “definition term equals definition description”. So in our play excerpt, Juliet equals Romeo! That’s not right, either. But this also leads a lot of people astray with definition lists to believing that they are useful for key/value pairs. Behaviour and convention The WHAT-WG have noticed the common mis-use of the DL, and have codified it into the new spec. In the HTML5 draft, a definition list is no longer a definition list. The dl element introduces an unordered association list consisting of zero or more name-value groups (a description list). Each group must consist of one or more names (dt elements) followed by one or more values (dd elements). They also note that the “dl element is inappropriate for marking up dialogue, since dialogue is ordered”. So for that example they have created a DIALOG (sic) element. Strange, then, that they keep DL as-is but instead refer to it an “association list”. They have not created a new AL element, and kept DL for the original purpose. They have chosen not to correct the usage or to create a new opportunity for increased specificity in our HTML, but to “pave the cowpath” of convention. How to use a definition list Given that everyone else is using a DL incorrectly, should we? Well, if they all jumped off a bridge, would you too? No, of course you wouldn’t. We don’t have HTML5 yet, so we’re stuck with the existing semantics of HTML4 and XHTML1. Which means that: Listing dialogue is not defining anything. Listing the attributes of a piece of hardware (resolution = 1600×1200) is illustrating sample values, not defining anything (however, stating what ‘resolution’ actually means in this context would be a definition). Listing the cast and crew of a given movie is not defining the people involved in making movies. (Stuart Gordon may have been the director of Space Truckers, but that by no means makes him the true definition of a director.) A menu of navigation items is simply a nested ordered or unordered list of links, not a definition list. Applying styling handles to form labels and elements is not a good use for a definition list. And so on. Living by the specification, a definition list should be used for term definitions – glossaries, lexicons and dictionaries – only. Anything else is a crime against markup. 2007 Mark Norman Francis marknormanfrancis 2007-12-05T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/my-other-christmas-present-is-a-definition-list/ code
166 Performance On A Shoe String Back in the summer, I happened to notice the official Wimbledon All England Tennis Club site had jumped to the top of Alexa’s Movers & Shakers list — a list that tracks sites that have had the biggest upturn or downturn in traffic. The lawn tennis championships were underway, and so traffic had leapt from almost nothing to crazy-busy in a no time at all. Many sites have similar peaks in traffic, especially when they’re based around scheduled events. No one cares about the site for most of the year, and then all of a sudden – wham! – things start getting warm in the data centre. Whilst the thought of chestnuts roasting on an open server has a certain appeal, it’s less attractive if you care about your site being available to visitors. Take a look at this Alexa traffic graph showing traffic patterns for superbowl.com at the beginning of each year, and wimbledon.org in the month of July. Traffic graph from Alexa.com Whilst not on the same scale or with such dramatic peaks, we have a similar pattern of traffic here at 24ways.org. Over the last three years we’ve seen a dramatic pick up in traffic over the month of December (as would be expected) and then a much lower, although steady load throughout the year. What we do have, however, is the luxury of knowing when the peaks will be. For a normal site, be that a blog, small scale web app, or even a small corporate site, you often just cannot predict when you might get slashdotted, end up on the front page of Digg or linked to from a similarly high-profile site. You just don’t know when the peaks will be. If you’re a big commercial enterprise like the Super Bowl, scaling up for that traffic is simply a cost of doing business. But for most of us, we can’t afford to have massive capacity sat there unused for 90% of the year. What you have to do instead is work out how to deal with as much traffic as possible with the modest resources you have. In this article I’m going to talk about some of the things we’ve learned about keeping 24 ways running throughout December, whilst not spending a fortune on hosting we don’t need for 11 months of each year. We’ve not always got it right, but we’ve learned a lot along the way. The Problem To know how to deal with high traffic, you need to have a basic idea of what happens when a request comes into a web server. 24 ways is hosted on a single small virtual dedicated server with a great little hosting company in the UK. We run Apache with PHP and MySQL all on that one server. When a request comes in a new Apache process is started to deal with the request (or assigned if there’s one available not doing anything). Each process takes a bunch of memory, so there’s a finite number of processes that you can run, and therefore a finite number of pages you can serve at once before your server runs out of memory. With our budget based on whatever is left over after beer, we need to get best performance we can out of the resources available. As the goal is to serve as many pages as quickly as possible, there are several approaches we can take: Reducing the amount of memory needed by each Apache process Reducing the amount of time each process is needed Reducing the number of requests made to the server Yahoo! have published some information on what they call Exceptional Performance, which is well worth reading, and compliments many of my examples here. The Yahoo! guidelines very much look at things from a user perspective, which is always important. Server tweaking If you’re in the position of being able to change your server configuration (our set-up gives us root access to what is effectively a virtual machine) there are some basic steps you can take to maximise the available memory and reduce the memory footprint. Without getting too boring and technical (whole books have been written on this) there are a couple of things to watch out for. Firstly, check what processes you have running that you might not need. Every megabyte of memory that you free up might equate to several thousand extra requests being served each day, so take a look at top and see what’s using up your resources. Quite often a machine configured as a web server will have some kind of mail server running by default. If your site doesn’t use mail (ours doesn’t) make sure it’s shut down and not using resources. Secondly, have a look at your Apache configuration and particularly what modules are loaded. The method for doing this varies between versions of Apache, but again, every module loaded increases the amount of memory that each Apache process requires and therefore limits the number of simultaneous requests you can deal with. The final thing to check is that Apache isn’t configured to start more servers than you have memory for. This is usually done by setting the MaxClients directive. When that limit is reached, your site is going to stop responding to further requests. However, if all else goes well that threshold won’t be reached, and if it does it will at least stop the weight of the traffic taking the entire server down to a point where you can’t even log in to sort it out. Those are the main tidbits I’ve found useful for this site, although it’s worth repeating that entire books have been written on this subject alone. Caching Although the site is generated with PHP and MySQL, the majority of pages served don’t come from the database. The process of compiling a page on-the-fly involves quite a few trips to the database for content, templates, configuration settings and so on, and so can be slow and require a lot of CPU. Unless a new article or comment is published, the site doesn’t actually change between requests and so it makes sense to generate each page once, save it to a file and then just serve all following requests from that file. We use QuickCache (or rather a plugin based on it) for this. The plugin integrates with our publishing system (Textpattern) to make sure the cache is cleared when something on the site changes. A similar plugin called WP-Cache is available for WordPress, but of course this could be done any number of ways, and with any back-end technology. The important principal here is to reduce the time it takes to serve a page by compiling the page once and serving that cached result to subsequent visitors. Keep away from your database if you can. Outsource your feeds We get around 36,000 requests for our feed each day. That really only works out at about 7,000 subscribers averaging five-and-a-bit requests a day, but it’s still 36,000 requests we could easily do without. Each request uses resources and particularly during December, all those requests can add up. The simple solution here was to switch our feed over to using FeedBurner. We publish the address of the FeedBurner version of our feed here, so those 36,000 requests a day hit FeedBurner’s servers rather than ours. In addition, we get pretty graphs showing how the subscriber-base is building. Off-load big files Larger files like images or downloads pose a problem not in bandwidth, but in the time it takes them to transfer. A typical page request is very quick, a few seconds at the most, resulting in the connection being freed up promptly. Anything that keeps a connection open for a long time is going to start killing performance very quickly. This year, we started serving most of the images for articles from a subdomain – media.24ways.org. Rather than pointing to our own server, this subdomain points to an Amazon S3 account where the files are held. It’s easy to pigeon-hole S3 as merely an online backup solution, and whilst not a fully fledged CDN, S3 works very nicely for serving larger media files. The roughly 20GB of files served this month have cost around $5 in Amazon S3 charges. That’s so affordable it may not be worth even taking the files back off S3 once December has passed. I found this article on Scalable Media Hosting with Amazon S3 to be really useful in getting started. I upload the files via a Firefox plugin (mentioned in the article) and then edit the ACL to allow public access to the files. The way S3 enables you to point DNS directly at it means that you’re not tied to always using the service, and that it can be transparent to your users. If your site uses photographs, consider uploading them to a service like Flickr and serving them directly from there. Many photo sharing sites are happy for you to link to images in this way, but do check the acceptable use policies in case you need to provide a credit or link back. Off-load small files You’ll have noticed the pattern by now – get rid of as much traffic as possible. When an article has a lot of comments and each of those comments has an avatar along with it, a great many requests are needed to fetch each of those images. In 2006 we started using Gravatar for avatars, but their servers were slow and were holding up page loads. To get around this we started caching the images on our server, but along with that came the burden of furnishing all the image requests. Earlier this year Gravatar changed hands and is now run by the same team behind WordPress.com. Those guys clearly know what they’re doing when it comes to high performance, so this year we went back to serving avatars directly from them. If your site uses avatars, it really makes sense to use a service like Gravatar where your users probably already have an account, and where the image requests are going to be dealt with for you. Know what you’re paying for The server account we use for 24 ways was opened in November 2005. When we first hit the front page of Digg in December of that year, we upgraded the server with a bit more memory, but other than that we were still running on that 2005 spec for two years. Of course, the world of technology has moved on in those years, prices have dropped and specs have improved. For the same amount we were paying for that 2005 spec server, we could have an account with twice the CPU, memory and disk space. So in November of this year I took out a new account and transferred the site from the old server to the new. In that single step we were prepared for dealing with twice the amount of traffic, and because of a special offer at the time I didn’t even have to pay the setup cost on the new server. So it really pays to know what you’re paying for and keep an eye out of ways you can make improvements without needing to spend more money. Further steps There’s nearly always more that can be done. For example, there are some media files (particularly for older articles) that are not on S3. We also serve our CSS directly and it’s not minified or compressed. But by tackling the big problems first we’ve managed to reduce load on the server and at the same time make sure that the load being placed on the server can be dealt with in the most frugal way. Over the last 24 days we’ve served up articles to more than 350,000 visitors without breaking a sweat. On a busy day, that’s been nearly 20,000 visitors in just 24 hours. While in the grand scheme of things that’s not a huge amount of traffic, it can be a lot if you’re not prepared for it. However, with a little planning for the peaks you can help ensure that when the traffic arrives you’re ready to capitalise on it. Of course, people only visit 24 ways for the wealth of knowledge and experience that’s tied up in the articles here. Therefore I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all our authors this year who have given their time as a gift to the community, and to wish you all a very happy Christmas. 2007 Drew McLellan drewmclellan 2007-12-24T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/performance-on-a-shoe-string/ ux
165 Transparent PNGs in Internet Explorer 6 Newer breeds of browser such as Firefox and Safari have offered support for PNG images with full alpha channel transparency for a few years. With the use of hacks, support has been available in Internet Explorer 5.5 and 6, but the hacks are non-ideal and have been tricky to use. With IE7 winning masses of users from earlier versions over the last year, full PNG alpha-channel transparency is becoming more of a reality for day-to-day use. However, there are still numbers of IE6 users out there who we can’t leave out in the cold this Christmas, so in this article I’m going to look what we can do to support IE6 users whilst taking full advantage of transparency for the majority of a site’s visitors. So what’s alpha channel transparency? Cast your minds back to the Ghost of Christmas Past, the humble GIF. Images in GIF format offer transparency, but that transparency is either on or off for any given pixel. Each pixel’s either fully transparent, or a solid colour. In GIF, transparency is effectively just a special colour you can chose for a pixel. The PNG format tackles the problem rather differently. As well as having any colour you chose, each pixel also carries a separate channel of information detailing how transparent it is. This alpha channel enables a pixel to be fully transparent, fully opaque, or critically, any step in between. This enables designers to produce images that can have, for example, soft edges without any of the ‘halo effect’ traditionally associated with GIF transparency. If you’ve ever worked on a site that has different colour schemes and therefore requires multiple versions of each graphic against a different colour, you’ll immediately see the benefit. What’s perhaps more interesting than that, however, is the extra creative freedom this gives designers in creating beautiful sites that can remain web-like in their ability to adjust, scale and reflow. The Internet Explorer problem Up until IE7, there has been no fully native support for PNG alpha channel transparency in Internet Explorer. However, since IE5.5 there has been some support in the form of proprietary filter called the AlphaImageLoader. Internet Explorer filters can be applied directly in your CSS (for both inline and background images), or by setting the same CSS property with JavaScript. CSS: img { filter: progid:DXImageTransform.Microsoft.AlphaImageLoader(...); } JavaScript: img.style.filter = "progid:DXImageTransform.Microsoft.AlphaImageLoader(...)"; That may sound like a problem solved, but all is not as it may appear. Firstly, as you may realise, there’s no CSS property called filter in the W3C CSS spec. It’s a proprietary extension added by Microsoft that could potentially cause other browsers to reject your entire CSS rule. Secondly, AlphaImageLoader does not magically add full PNG transparency support so that a PNG in the page will just start working. Instead, when applied to an element in the page, it draws a new rendering surface in the same space that element occupies and loads a PNG into it. If that sounds weird, it’s because that’s precisely what it is. However, by and large the result is that PNGs with an alpha channel can be accommodated. The pitfalls So, whilst support for PNG transparency in IE5.5 and 6 is possible, it’s not without its problems. Background images cannot be positioned or repeated The AlphaImageLoader does work for background images, but only for the simplest of cases. If your design requires the image to be tiled (background-repeat) or positioned (background-position) you’re out of luck. The AlphaImageLoader allows you to set a sizingMethod to either crop the image (if necessary) or to scale it to fit. Not massively useful, but something at least. Delayed loading and resource use The AlphaImageLoader can be quite slow to load, and appears to consume more resources than a standard image when applied. Typically, you’d need to add thousands of GIFs or JPEGs to a page before you saw any noticeable impact on the browser, but with the AlphaImageLoader filter applied Internet Explorer can become sluggish after just a handful of alpha channel PNGs. The other noticeable effect is that as more instances of the AlphaImageLoader are applied, the longer it takes to render the PNGs with their transparency. The user sees the PNG load in its original non-supported state (with black or grey areas where transparency should be) before one by one the filter kicks in and makes them properly transparent. Both the issue of sluggish behaviour and delayed load only really manifest themselves with volume and size of image. Use just a couple of instances and it’s fine, but be careful adding more than five or six. As ever, test, test, test. Links become unclickable, forms unfocusable This is a big one. There’s a bug/weirdness with AlphaImageLoader that sometimes prevents interaction with links and forms when a PNG background image is used. This is sometimes reported as a z-index issue, but I don’t believe it is. Rather, it’s an artefact of that weird way the filter gets applied to the document almost outside of the normal render process. Often this can be solved by giving the links or form elements hasLayout using position: relative; where possible. However, this doesn’t always work and the non-interaction problem cannot always be solved. You may find yourself having to go back to the drawing board. Sidestepping the danger zones Frankly, it’s pretty bad news if you design a site, have that design signed off by your client, build it and then find out only at the end (because you don’t know what might trigger a problem) that your search field can’t be focused in IE6. That’s an absolute nightmare, and whilst it’s not likely to happen, it’s possible that it might. It’s happened to me. So what can you do? The best approach I’ve found to this scenario is Isolate the PNG or PNGs that are causing the problem. Step through the PNGs in your page, commenting them out one by one and retesting. Typically it’ll be the nearest PNG to the problem, so try there first. Keep going until you can click your links or focus your form fields. This is where you really need luck on your side, because you’re going to have to fake it. This will depend on the design of the site, but some way or other create a replacement GIF or JPEG image that will give you an acceptable result. Then use conditional comments to serve that image to only users of IE older than version 7. A hack, you say? Well, you started it chum. Applying AlphaImageLoader Because the filter property is invalid CSS, the safest pragmatic approach is to apply it selectively with JavaScript for only Internet Explorer versions 5.5 and 6. This helps ensure that by default you’re serving standard CSS to browsers that support both the CSS and PNG standards correct, and then selectively patching up only the browsers that need it. Several years ago, Aaron Boodman wrote and released a script called sleight for doing just that. However, sleight dealt only with images in the page, and not background images applied with CSS. Building on top of Aaron’s work, I hacked sleight and came up with bgsleight for applying the filter to background images instead. That was in 2003, and over the years I’ve made a couple of improvements here and there to keep it ticking over and to resolve conflicts between sleight and bgsleight when used together. However, with alpha channel PNGs becoming much more widespread, it’s time for a new version. Introducing SuperSleight SuperSleight adds a number of new and useful features that have come from the day-to-day needs of working with PNGs. Works with both inline and background images, replacing the need for both sleight and bgsleight Will automatically apply position: relative to links and form fields if they don’t already have position set. (Can be disabled.) Can be run on the entire document, or just a selected part where you know the PNGs are. This is better for performance. Detects background images set to no-repeat and sets the scaleMode to crop rather than scale. Can be re-applied by any other JavaScript in the page – useful if new content has been loaded by an Ajax request. Download SuperSleight Implementation Getting SuperSleight running on a page is quite straightforward, you just need to link the supplied JavaScript file (or the minified version if you prefer) into your document inside conditional comments so that it is delivered to only Internet Explorer 6 or older. <!--[if lte IE 6]> <script type="text/javascript" src="supersleight-min.js"></script> <![endif]--> Supplied with the JavaScript is a simple transparent GIF file. The script replaces the existing PNG with this before re-layering the PNG over the top using AlphaImageLoaded. You can change the name or path of the image in the top of the JavaScript file, where you’ll also find the option to turn off the adding of position: relative to links and fields if you don’t want that. The script is kicked off with a call to supersleight.init() at the bottom. The scope of the script can be limited to just one part of the page by passing an ID of an element to supersleight.limitTo(). And that’s all there is to it. Update March 2008: a version of this script as a jQuery plugin is also now available. 2007 Drew McLellan drewmclellan 2007-12-01T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/supersleight-transparent-png-in-ie6/ code
145 The Neverending (Background Image) Story Everyone likes candy for Christmas, and there’s none better than eye candy. Well, that, and just more of the stuff. Today we’re going to combine both of those good points and look at how to create a beautiful background image that goes on and on… forever! Of course, each background image is different, so instead of agonising over each and every pixel, I’m going to concentrate on five key steps that you can apply to any of your own repeating background images. In this example, we’ll look at the Miami Beach background image used on the new FOWA site, which I’m afraid is about as un-festive as you can get. 1. Choose your image wisely I find there are three main criteria when judging photos you’re considering for repetition manipulation (or ‘repetulation’, as I like to say)… simplicity (beware of complex patterns) angle and perspective (watch out for shadows and obvious vanishing points) consistent elements (for easy cloning) You might want to check out this annotated version of the image, where I’ve highlighted elements of the photo that led me to choose it as the right one. The original image purchased from iStockPhoto. The Photoshopped version used on the FOWA site. 2. The power of horizontal lines With the image chosen and your cursor poised for some Photoshop magic, the most useful thing you can do is drag out the edge pixels from one side of the image to create a kind of rough colour ‘template’ on which to work over. It doesn’t matter which side you choose, although you might find it beneficial to use the one with the simplest spread of colour and complex elements. Click and hold on the marquee tool in the toolbar and select the ‘single column marquee tool’, which will span the full height of your document but will only be one pixel wide. Make the selection right at the edge of your document, press ctrl-c / cmd-c to copy the selection you made, create a new layer, and hit ctrl-v / cmd-v to paste the selection onto your new layer. using free transform (ctrl-t / cmd-t), drag out your selection so that it becomes as wide as your entire canvas. A one-pixel-wide selection stretched out to the entire width of the canvas. 3. Cloning It goes without saying that the trusty clone tool is one of the most important in the process of creating a seamlessly repeating background image, but I think it’s important to be fairly loose with it. Always clone on to a new layer so that you’ve got the freedom to move it around, but above all else, use the eraser tool to tweak your cloned areas: let that handle the precision stuff and you won’t have to worry about getting your clones right first time. In the example below, you can see how I overcame the problem of the far-left tree shadow being chopped off by cloning the shadow from the tree on its right. The edge of the shadow is cut off and needs to be ‘made’ from a pre-existing element. The successful clone completes the missing shadow. The two elements are obviously very similar but it doesn’t look like a clone because the majority of the shape is ‘genuine’ and only a small part is a duplicate. Also, after cloning I transformed the duplicate, erased parts of it, used gradients, and — ooh, did someone mention gradients? 4. Never underestimate a gradient For this image, I used gradients in a similar way to a brush: covering large parts of the canvas with a colour that faded out to a desired point, before erasing certain parts for accuracy. Several of the gradients and brushes that make up the ‘customised’ part of the image, visible when the main photograph layer is hidden. The full composite. Gradients are also a bit of an easy fix: you can use a gradient on one side of the image, flip it horizontally, and then use it again on the opposite side to make a more seamless join. Speaking of which… 5. Sewing the seams No matter what kind of magic Photoshop dust you sprinkle over your image, there will still always be the area where the two edges meet: that scary ‘loop’ point. Fret ye not, however, for there’s help at hand in the form of a nice little cheat. Even though the loop point might still be apparent, we can help hide it by doing something to throw viewers off the scent. The seam is usually easy to spot because it’s a blank area with not much detail or colour variation, so in order to disguise it, go against the rule: put something across it! This isn’t quite as challenging as it may sound, because if we intentionally make our own ‘object’ to span the join, we can accurately measure the exact halfway point where we need to split it across the two sides of the image. This is exactly what I did with the FOWA background image: I made some clouds! A sky with no clouds in an unhappy one. A simple soft white brush creates a cloud-like formation in the sky. After taking the cloud’s opacity down to 20%, I used free transform to highlight the boundaries of the layer. I then moved it over to the right, so that the middle of the layer perfectly aligned with the right side of the canvas. Finally, I duplicated the layer and did the same in reverse: dragging the layer over to the left and making sure that the middle of the duplicate layer perfectly aligned with the left side of the canvas. And there you have it! Boom! Ta-da! Et Voila! To see the repeating background image in action, visit futureofwebapps.com on a large widescreen monitor or see a simulation of the effect. Thanks for reading, folks. Have a great Christmas! 2007 Elliot Jay Stocks elliotjaystocks 2007-12-03T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/the-neverending-background-image-story/ code
160 Tracking Christmas Cheer with Google Charts A note from the editors: Since this article was written Google has retired the Charts API. Let’s get something out in the open: I love statistics. As an informatician I can’t get enough graphs, charts, and numbers. So you can imagine when Google released their Charts API I thought Christmas had come early. I immediately began to draw up graphs for the holiday season using the new API; and using my new found chart-making skills I’ll show you what you can and can’t do with Google Charts. Mummy, it’s my first chart The Google Charts API allows you to send data to Google; in return they give you back a nicely-rendered graph. All the hard work is done on Google’s servers — you need only reference an image in your HTML. You pass along the data — the numbers for the charts, axis labels, and so on — in the query string of the image’s URL. If you want to add charts to your blog or web site, there’s probably no quicker way to get started. Here’s a simple example: if we add the following line to an HTML page: <img src="http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?cht=lc&chs=200x125&chd=s:ZreelPuevfgznf2008" /> Then we’ll see the line graph in Figure 1 appear in our page. That graph is hosted on Google’s own server1: http://chart.apis.google.com/. Figure 1: A simple example of a line graph created with Google Charts. If you look at the URL used in the example you’ll notice we’re passing some parameters along in the query string (the bit after the question mark). The query string looks like this: cht=lc&chs=200x125&chd=s:ZreelPuevfgznf2008 It’s contains everything Google Charts needs to draw the graph. There are three parameters in the query string: cht; this specifies the type of chart Google Charts will generate (in this case, lc is a line chart). chs, the value of which is 200x125; this defines the chart’s size (200 pixels wide by 125 pixels high). chd, the value of which is s:ZreelPuevfgznf2008; this is the actual chart data, which we’ll discuss in more detail later. These three parameters are the minimum you need to send to Google Charts in order to create a chart. There are lots more parameters you can send too (giving you more choice over how a chart is displayed), but you have to include at least these three before a chart can be created. Using these three parameters you can create pie charts, scatter plots, Venn diagrams, bar charts (and more) up to 1,000 pixels wide or 1,000 pixels high (but no more than 300,000 pixels in total). Christmas pie After I discovered the option to create a pie chart I instantly thought of graphing all the types of food and beverages that I’ll consume at this year’s Christmas feast. I can represent each item as a percentage of all the food on a pie chart (just thinking about that makes me hungry). By changing the value of the cht parameter in the image’s query string I can change the chart type from a line chart to a pie chart. Google Charts offers two different types of pie chart: a fancy three-dimensional version and a two-dimensional overhead version. I want to stick with the latter, so I need to change cht=lc to cht=p (the p telling Google Charts to create a pie chart; if you want the three-dimensional version, use cht=p3). As a pie chart is circular I also need to adjust the size of the chart to make it square. Finally, it would be nice to add a title to the graph. I can do this by adding the optional parameter, chtt, to the end of the image URL. I end up with the chart you see in Figure 2. Figure 2: Pie chart with a title. To add this chart to your own page, you include the following (notice that you can’t include spaces in URLs, so you need to encode them as plus-signs.): <img src="http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?chtt=Food+and+Drink+Consumed+Christmas+2007&cht=p&chs=300x300&chd=s:ZreelPuevfgznf2008" /> Ok, that’s great, but there are still two things I want to do before I can call this pie chart complete. First I want to label each slice of the pie. And second I want to include the proper data (at the moment the slices are meaningless). If 2007 is anything like 2006, the break down will be roughly as follows: Egg nog 10% Christmas Ham 20% Milk (not including egg nog) 8% Cookies 25% Roasted Chestnuts 5% Chocolate 3% Various Other Beverages 15% Various Other Foods 9% Snacks 5% I have nine categories of food and drink to be tracked, so I need nine slice labels. To add these to the chart, I use the chl parameter. All nine labels are sent in one value; I use the vertical-pipe character, |, to separate them. So I need to append the following to the query string: chl=Egg+nog|Christmas+Ham|Milk+(not+including+egg+nog)|Cookies|Roast+Chestnuts|Chocolate|Various+Other+Beverages|Various+Other+Foods|Snacks Next I need to add the corresponding percentage values to the chart labels. Encoding the chart data is the trickiest part of the Google Charts API — but by no means complicated. There are three different ways to encode your data on a chart. As I’m only dealing with small numbers, I’m going to use what Google calls simple encoding. Simple encoding offers a sixty-two value spectrum in which to represent data. Remember the mandatory option, chd, from the first example? The value for this is split into two parts: the type of encoding and the graph data itself. These two parts are separated with a colon. To use simple encoding, the first character of the chd option must be a lower case s. Follow this with a colon and everything after it is considered data for the graph. In simple encoding, you have sixty-two values to represent your data. These values are lowercase and uppercase letters from the Latin alphabet (fifty-two characters in total) and the digits 0 to 9. Each letter of the alphabet represents a single number: A equals 0, B equals 1, and so on up to Z, which equals 25; a equals 26, b equals 27, and so on up to z, which equals 51. The ten digits represent the numbers 52 to 61: 0 equals 52, 1 equals 53, and 9 equals 61. In the previous two examples we used the string ZreelPuevfgznf2008 as our chart data; the Z is equal to 25, the r is equal to 42, the e is equal to 30, and so on. I want to encode the percentage values 10, 20, 8, 25, 5, 3, 15, 9 and 5, so in simple encoding I would use the string KUIZFDPJF. If you think figuring this out for each chart may make your head explode, don’t worry: help is out there. Do you remember I said I needed to change the image dimensions to be square, to accommodate the pie chart? Well now I’m including labels I need even more room. And as I’m in a Christmassy mood I’m going to add some festive colours too. The optional chco parameter is used to change the chart color. You set this using the same hexadecimal (“hex”) notation found in CSS. So let’s make our pie chart green by adding chco=00AF33 (don’t start it with a hash character as in CSS) to the image URL. If we only specify one hex colour for the pie chart Google Charts will use shades of that colour for each of the slices. To choose your own colours, pass a comma separated list of colours. The “Milk” and “Cookies” slices were consumed together, so we can make those two slices more of a redish colour. I’ll use shades of green for the other slices. My chco parameter now looks like this: chco=00AF33,4BB74C,EE2C2C,CC3232,33FF33,66FF66,9AFF9A,C1FFC1,CCFFCC. After all this, I’m left with the following URL: http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?chco=00AF33,4BB74C,EE2C2C,CC3232,33FF33,66FF66,9AFF9A,C1FFC1,CCFFCC&chl=Egg+nog|Christmas+Ham|Milk+(not+including+egg+nog)|Cookies|Roast+Chestnuts|Chocolate|Various+Other+Beverages|Various+Other+Foods|Snacks&chtt=Food+and+Drink+Consumed+Christmas+2007&cht=p&chs=600x300&chd=s:KUIZFDPJF What does that give us? I’m glad you asked. I have the rather beautiful 600-pixel wide pie chart you see in Figure 3. Figure 3: A Christmassy pie chart with labels. But I don’t like pie charts The pie chart was invented by the Scottish polymath William Playfair in 1801. But not everyone is as excited by pie charts as wee Billy, so if you’re an anti-pie-chartist, what can you do? You can easily reuse the same data but display it as a bar graph in a snap. The first thing we need to do is change the value of the cht parameter from p to bhg. This creates a horizontal bar graph (you can request a vertical bar graph using bvg). The data and labels all remain the same, but we need to decide where the labels will appear. I’ll talk more about how to do all this in the next section. In Figure 4 you’ll see the newly-converted bar graph. The URL for the graph is: http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?cht=bhg&chs=600x300&chd=s:KUIZFDPJF&chxt=x,y&chtt=Food+and+Drink+Consumed+Christmas+2007&chxl=1:|Egg+nog|Christmas+Ham|Milk+(not+including+egg+nog)|Cookies|Roast+Chestnuts|Chocolate|Various+Other+Beverages|Various+Other+Foods|Snacks&chco=00AF33 Figure 4: The pie chart from Figure 3 represented as a bar chart. Two lines, one graph Pie charts and bar charts are interesting, but what if I want to compare last year’s Christmas cheer with this year’s? That sounds like I’ll need two lines on one graph. The code is much the same as the previous examples; the most obvious difference is I need to set up the chart as a line graph. Creating some dummy values for the required parameters, I end up with: <img src="http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?chs=800x300&cht=lxy&chd=t:0,100|0,100" /> The chs=800x300 sets the dimensions of the new chart, while cht=lxy describes the type of chart we are using (in this case a line chart with x and y co-ordinates). For the chart data I’m going to demostrate a different encoding, text encoding. To use this I start the value of the chd parameter with “t:” instead of “s:”, and follow it with a list of x coordinates, a vertical pipe, |, and a list of y coordinates. Given the URL above, Google Charts will render the chart shown in Figure 5. Figure 5: A simple line graph with x and y co-ordinates. To make this graph a little more pleasing to the eye, I can add much the same as I did to the pie chart. I’ll add a chart title. Maybe something like “Projected Christmas Cheer for 2007”. Just as before I would add a chtt parameter to the image URL: &chtt=Projected+Christmas+Cheer+for+2007 Next, let’s add some labels on the y axis to represent a scale from 0 to 100. On the x axis let’s label for the most important days of December. To do this I need to use the chart axis type parameter, chxt. This allows us to specify the axes and associate some labels with them. As I’m only interested in the y-axis (to the left of the chart) and the x-axis (below the chart), we add chxt=x,y to our image URL. Now I need my label data. This is slightly more tricky because I want the data evenly spaced without labelling every item. The parameter for labels is chxl, the chart axis label. You match a label to an axis by using a number. So 0:Label1 is the zero index of chxt — in this case the x-axis. 1:Label2 is the first index of chxt — the y-axis. The order of these parameters or labels doesn’t matter as long as you associate them to their chxt correctly. The next thing to know about chxl is that you can add an empty label. Labels are separated by vertical pipe; if you don’t put any text in a label, you just leave the two vertical pipes empty (“||”) and Google Charts will allocate space but no label. For our vertical y axis, we want to label only 50% and 100% on the graph and plot them in their respective places. Since the y-axis is the second item, 1: (remember to start counting at zero), we add ten spaces to our image URL, chxl=1:||||||50|||||100 This will output the 50 halfway and the 100 at the top; all the other spaces will be empty. We can do the same thing to get specific dates along the x-axis as well. Let’s add the 1st of December, St. Nick’s Day (the 6th), Christmas Day, Boxing Day (a holiday common in the UK and the Commonwealth, on the 26th), and the final day of the month, the 31st. Since this is the x-axis I’ll use 0: as a reference in the chxt parameter tell Google Charts which axis to label. In full, the chxl parameter now looks like: chxl=1:||||||50|||||100|0:|Dec+1st|||||6th||||10th|||||15th|||||20th|||||25th|26th|||||Dec+31st That’s pretty. Before we begin to graph our data, I’ll do one last thing: add some grid lines to the chart so to better connect the data to the labels. The parameter for this is chg, short for chart grid lines. The parameter takes four comma-separated arguments. The first is the x-axis spacing for the grid. I have thirty-one days, so I need thirty vertical lines. The chart is 100% wide, so 3.33 (100 divided by 30) is the required spacing. As for the y-axis: the axis goes up to 100% but we probably only need to have a horizontal line every 10%, so the required spacing is 10 (100 divided by 10). That is the second argument. The last two arguments control the dash-style of the grid-lines. The first number is the length of the line dash and the second is the space between the dashes. So 6,3 would mean a six-unit dash with a three-unit space. I like a ratio of 1,3 but you can change this as you wish. Now that I have the four arguments, the chg parameter looks like: chg=3.333,10,1,3 If I add that to the chart URL I end up with: http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?chs=800x300&cht=lxy&chd=t:0,100|0,100&chtt=Projected+Christmas+Cheer+for+2007&chxt=x,y&chxl=0:|Dec+1st|||||6th|||||||||||||||||||25th|26th|||||Dec+31st|1:||||||50|||||100&chg=3.3333,10,1,3 Which results in the chart shown in Figure 6. Figure 6: Chart ready to receive the Christmas cheer values. Real data Now the chart is ready I can add historical data from 2006 and current data from 2007. Having a look at last year’s cheer levels we find some highs and lows through-out the month: Dec 1st Advent starts; life is good 30% Dec 6th St. Nick’s Day, awake to find good things in my shoes 45% Dec 8th Went Christmas carolling, nearly froze 20% Dec 10th Christmas party at work, very nice dinner 50% Dec 18th Panic Christmas shopping, hate rude people 15% Dec 23rd Off Work, home eating holiday food 80% Dec 25th Opened presents, good year, but got socks again from Grandma 60% Dec 26th Boxing Day; we’re off and no one knows why 70% Dec 28th Third day of left overs 40% Dec 29th Procured some fireworks for new years 55% Dec 31st New Year’s Eve 80% Since I’m plotting data for 2006 and 2007 on the same graph I’ll need two different colours — one for each year’s line — and a key to denote what each colour represents. The key is controlled by the chdl (chart data legend) parameter. Again, each part of the parameter is separated by a vertical pipe, so for two labels I’ll use chdl=2006|2007. I also want to colour-code them, so I’ll need to add the chco as I did for the pie chart. I want a red line and a green line, so I’ll use chco=458B00,CD2626 and add this to the image URL. Let’s begin to plot the 2006 data on the Chart, replacing our dummy data of chd=t:0,100|0,100 with the correct information. The chd works by first listing all the x coordinates (each separated by a comma), then a vertical pipe, and then all the y coordinates (also comma-separated). The chart is 100% wide, so I need to convert the days into a percentage of the month. The 1st of December is 0 and the 31st is 100. Everything else is somewhere in between. Our formula is: (d – 1) × 100 ÷ (31 – 1) Where d is the day of the month. The formula states that each day will be printed every 3.333 units; so the 6th of December will be printed at 16.665 units. I can repeat the process for the other dates listed to get the following x coordinates: 0,16.7,23.3,33.3,60,76.7,83.3,86.7,93.3,96.7. The y axis coordinates are easy because our scale is 100%, just like our rating, so we can simply copy them across as 30,45,20,50,15,80,60,70,40,55,80. This gives us a final chd value of: chd=t:0,16.7,23.3,33.3,60,76.7,83.3,86.7,93.3,96.7,100|30,45,20,50,15,80,60,70,40,55,80 Onto 2007: I can put the data for the month so far to see how we are trending. Dec 1st Christmas shopping finished already 50% Dec 4th Computer hard disk drive crashed (not Christmas related accident, but put me in a bad mood) 10% Dec 6th Missed St. Nick’s Day completely due to travelling 30% Dec 9th Dinner with friends before they travel 55% Dec 11th 24ways article goes live 60% Using the same system we did for 2006, I can take the five data points and plot them on the chart. The new x axis values will be 0,10,16.7,26.7 and the new y axis 50,10,30,65. We incorporate those into the image URL by appending these values onto the chd parameter we already have, which then becomes: chd=t:0,16.7,23.3,33.3,60,76.7,83.3,86.7,93.3,96.7,100|30,45,20,50,15,80,60,70,40,55,80|0,10,16.7,26.7,33.3|50,10,30,55,60 Passing this to Google Charts results in Figure 7. http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?chs=800x300&cht=lxy&chd=t:0,100|0,100&chtt=Projected+Christmas+Cheer+for+2007&chxt=x,y&chxl=0:|Dec+1st|||||6th|||||||||||||||||||25th|26th|||||Dec+31st|1:||||||50|||||100&chg=3.3333,10,1,3&chd=t:0,16.7,23.3,33.3,60,76.7,83.3,86.7,93.3,96.7,100|30,45,20,50,15,80,60,70,40,55,80|0,10,16.7,26.7,33.3|50,10,30,55,60&chco=458B00,CD2626&chdl=2006|2007 Figure 7: Projected Christmas cheer for 2006 and 2007. Did someone mention Edward Tufte? Google Charts are a robust set of chart types that you can create easily and freely using their API. As you can see, you can graph just about anything you want using the line graph, bar charts, scatter plots, venn diagrams and pie charts. One type of chart conspicuously missing from the API is sparklines. Sparklines were proposed by Edward Tufte as “small, high resolution graphics embedded in a context of words, numbers, images”. They can be extremely useful, but can you create them in Google Charts? The answer is: “Yes, but it’s an undocumented feature”. (The usual disclaimer about undocumented features applies.) If we take our original line graph example, and change the value of the cht parameter from lc (line chart) to lfi (financial line chart) the axis-lines are removed. This allows you to make a chart — a sparkline — small enough to fit into a sentence. Google uses the lfi type all throughout the their financial site, but it’s not yet part of the official API. MerryChristmas http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?cht=lfi&chs=100x15&chd=s:MerryChristmas 24ways http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?cht=lfi&chs=100x15&chd=s:24ways&chco=999999 HappyHolidays http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?cht=lfi&chs=100x15&chd=s:HappyHolidays&chco=ff0000 HappyNewYear http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?cht=lfi&chs=100x15&chd=s:HappyNewYear&chco=0000ff Summary The new Google Charts API is a powerful method for creating charts and graphs of all types. If you apply a little bit of technical skill you can create pie charts, bar graphs, and even sparklines as and when you need them. Now you’ve finished ready the article I hope you waste no more time: go forth and chart! Further reading Google Charts API More on Google Charts How to handle negative numbers 12 Days of Christmas Pie Chart 1 In order to remain within the 50,000 requests a day limit the Google Charts API imposes, chart images on this page have been cached and are being served from our own servers. But the URLs work – try them! 2007 Brian Suda briansuda 2007-12-11T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/tracking-christmas-cheer-with-google-charts/ ux
148 Typesetting Tables Tables have suffered in recent years on the web. They were used for laying out web pages. Then, following the Web Standards movement, they’ve been renamed by the populous as `data tables’ to ensure that we all know what they’re for. There have been some great tutorials for the designing tables using CSS for presentation and focussing on the semantics in the displaying of data in the correct way. However, typesetting tables is a subtle craft that has hardly had a mention. Table design can often end up being a technical exercise. What data do we need to display? Where is the data coming from and what form will it take? When was the last time your heard someone talk about lining numerals? Or designing to the reading direction? Tables are not read like sentences When a reader looks at, and tries to understand, tabular data, they’re doing a bunch of things at the same time. Generally, they’re task based; they’re looking for something. They are reading horizontally AND vertically Reading a table is not like reading a paragraph in a novel, and therefore shouldn’t be typeset in the same way. Designing tables is information design, it’s functional typography—it’s not a time for eye candy. Typesetting tables Typesetting great looking tables is largely an exercise in restraint. Minimal interference with the legibility of the table should be in the forefront of any designers mind. When I’m designing tables I apply some simple rules: Plenty of negative space Use the right typeface Go easy on the background tones, unless you’re giving reading direction visual emphasis Design to the reading direction By way of explanation, here are those rules as applied to the following badly typeset table. Your default table This table is a mess. There is no consideration for the person trying to read it. Everything is too tight. The typeface is wrong. It’s flat. A grim table indeed. Let’s see what we can do about that. Plenty of negative space The badly typeset table has been set with default padding. There has been little consideration for the ascenders and descenders in the type interfering with the many horizontal rules. The first thing we do is remove most of the lines, or rules. You don’t need them – the data in the rows forms its own visual rules. Now, with most of the rules removed, the ones that remain mean something; they are indicating some kind of hierarchy to the help the reader understand what the different table elements mean – in this case the column headings. Now we need to give the columns and rows more negative space. Note the framing of the column headings. I’m giving them more room at the bottom. This negative space is active—it’s empty for a reason. The extra air in here also gives more hierarchy to the column headings. Use the right typeface The default table is set in a serif typeface. This isn’t ideal for a couple of reasons. This serif typeface has a standard set of text numerals. These dip below the baseline and are designed for using figures within text, not on their own. What you need to use is a typeface with lining numerals. These align to the baseline and are more legible when used for tables. Sans serif typefaces generally have lining numerals. They are also arguably more legible when used in tables. Go easy on the background tones, unless you’re giving reading direction visual emphasis We’ve all seen background tones on tables. They have their use, but my feeling is that use should be functional and not decorative. If you have a table that is long, but only a few columns wide, then alternate row shading isn’t that useful for showing the different lines of data. It’s a common misconception that alternate row shading is to increase legibility on long tables. That’s not the case. Shaded rows are to aid horizontal reading across multiple table columns. On wide tables they are incredibly useful for helping the reader find what they want. Background tone can also be used to give emphasis to the reading direction. If we want to emphasis a column, that can be given a background tone. Hierarchy As I said earlier, people may be reading a table vertically, and horizontally in order to find what they want. Sometimes, especially if the table is complex, we need to give them a helping hand. Visually emphasising the hierarchy in tables can help the reader scan the data. Column headings are particularly important. Column headings are often what a reader will go to first, so we need to help them understand that the column headings are different to the stuff beneath them, and we also need to give them more visual importance. We can do this by making them bold, giving them ample negative space, or by including a thick rule above them. We can also give the row titles the same level of emphasis. In addition to background tones, you can give emphasis to reading direction by typesetting those elements in bold. You shouldn’t use italics—with sans serif typefaces the difference is too subtle. So, there you have it. A couple of simple guidelines to make your tables cleaner and more readable. 2007 Mark Boulton markboulton 2007-12-07T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/typesetting-tables/ design
149 Underpants Over My Trousers With Christmas approaching faster than a speeding bullet, this is the perfect time for you to think about that last minute present to buy for the web geek in your life. If you’re stuck for ideas for that special someone, forget about that svelte iPhone case carved from solid mahogany and head instead to your nearest comic-book shop and pick up a selection of comics or graphic novels. (I’ll be using some of my personal favourite comic books as examples throughout). Trust me, whether your nearest and dearest has been reading comics for a while or has never peered inside this four-colour world, they’ll thank-you for it. Aside from indulging their superhero fantasies, comic books can provide web designers with a rich vein of inspiring ideas and material to help them create shirt button popping, trouser bursting work for the web. I know from my own personal experience, that looking at aspects of comic book design, layout and conventions and thinking about the ways that they can inform web design has taken my design work in often-unexpected directions. There are far too many fascinating facets of comic book design that provide web designers with inspiration to cover in the time that it takes to pull your underpants over your trousers. So I’m going to concentrate on one muscle bound aspect of comic design, one that will make you think differently about how you lay out the content of your pages in panels. A suitcase full of Kryptonite Now, to the uninitiated onlooker, the panels of a comic book may appear to perform a similar function to still frames from a movie. But inside the pages of a comic, panels must work harder to help the reader understand the timing of a story. It is this method for conveying narrative timing to a reader that I believe can be highly useful to designers who work on the web as timing, drama and suspense are as important in the web world as they are in worlds occupied by costumed crime fighters and superheroes. I’d like you to start by closing your eyes and thinking about your own process for laying out panels of content on a page. OK, you’ll actually be better off with your eyes open if you’re going to carry on reading. I’ll bet you a suitcase full of Kryptonite that you often, if not always, structure your page layouts, and decide on the dimensions of those panels according to either: The base grid that you are working to The Golden Ratio or another mathematical schema More likely, I bet that you decide on the size and the number of your panels based on the amount of content that will be going into them. From today, I’d like you to think about taking a different approach. This approach not only addresses horizontal and vertical space, but also adds the dimension of time to your designs. Slowing down the action A comic book panel not only acts as a container for its content but also indicates to a reader how much time passes within the panel and as a result, how much time the reader should focus their attention on that one panel. Smaller panels create swift eye movement and shorter bursts of attention. Larger panels give the perception of more time elapsing in the story and subconsciously demands that a reader devotes more time to focus on it. Concrete by Paul Chadwick (Dark Horse Comics) This use of panel dimensions to control timing can also be useful for web designers in designing the reading/user experience. Imagine a page full of information about a product or service. You’ll naturally want the reader to focus for longer on the key benefits of your offering rather than perhaps its technical specifications. Now take a look at this spread of pages from Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (Diamond Comic Distributors 2004) Throughout this series of (originally) twelve editions, artist Dave Gibbons stuck rigidly to his 3×3 panels per page design and deviated from it only for dramatic moments within the narrative. In particular during the last few pages of chapter eleven, Gibbons adds weight to the impending doom by slowing down the action by using larger panels and forces the reader to think longer about what was coming next. The action then speeds up through twelve smaller panels until the final panel: nothing more than white space and yet one of the most iconic and thought provoking in the entire twelve book series. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (Diamond Comic Distributors 2004) On the web it is common for clients to ask designers to fill every pixel of screen space with content, perhaps not understanding the drama that can be added by nothing more than white space. In the final chapter, Gibbons emphasises the carnage that has taken place (unseen between chapters eleven and twelve) by presenting the reader with six full pages containing only single, large panels. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (Diamond Comic Distributors 2004) This drama, created by the artist’s use of panel dimensions to control timing, is a technique that web designers can also usefully employ when emphasising important areas of content. Think back for a moment to the home page of Apple Inc., during the launch of their iconic iPhone, where the page contained nothing more than a large image and the phrase “Say hello to iPhone”. Rather than fill the page with sales messages, Apple’s designers allowed the space itself to tell the story and created a real sense of suspense and expectation among their readers. Borders Whereas on the web, panel borders are commonly used to add emphasis to particular areas of content, in comic books they take on a different and sometimes opposite role. In the examples so far, borders have contained all of the action. Removing a border can have the opposite effect to what you might at first think. Rather than taking emphasis away from their content, in comics, borderless panels allow the reader’s eyes to linger for longer on the content adding even stronger emphasis. Concrete by Paul Chadwick (Dark Horse Comics) This effect is amplified when the borderless content is allowed to bleed to the edges of a page. Because the content is no longer confined, except by the edges of the page (both comic and web) the reader’s eye is left to wander out into open space. Concrete by Paul Chadwick (Dark Horse Comics) This type of open, borderless content panel can be highly useful in placing emphasis on the most important content on a page in exactly the very opposite way that we commonly employ on the web today. So why is time an important dimension to think about when designing your web pages? On one level, we are often already concerned with the short attention spans of visitors to our pages and should work hard to allow them to quickly and easily find and read the content that both they and we think is important. Learning lessons from comic book timing can only help us improve that experience. On another: timing, suspense and drama are already everyday parts of the web browsing experience. Will a reader see what they expect when they click from one page to the next? Or are they in for a surprise? Most importantly, I believe that the web, like comics, is about story telling: often the story of the experiences that a customer will have when they use our product or service or interact with our organisation. It is this element of story telling than can be greatly improved by learning from comics. It is exactly this kind of learning and adapting from older, more established and at first glance unrelated media that you will find can make a real distinctive difference to the design work that you create. Fill your stockings If you’re a visual designer or developer and are not a regular reader of comics, from the moment that you pick up your first title, I know that you will find them inspiring. I will be writing more, and speaking about comic design applied to the web at several (to be announced) events this coming year. I hope you’ll be slipping your underpants over your trousers and joining me then. In the meantime, here is some further reading to pick up on your next visit to a comic book or regular bookshop and slip into your stockings: Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner (Northern Light Books 2001) Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud (Harper Collins 1994) Have a happy superhero season. (I would like to thank all of the talented artists, writers and publishers whose work I have used as examples in this article and the hundreds more who inspire me every day with their tall tales and talent.) 2007 Andy Clarke andyclarke 2007-12-14T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/underpants-over-my-trousers/ design
168 Unobtrusively Mapping Microformats with jQuery Microformats are everywhere. You can’t shake an electronic stick these days without accidentally poking a microformat-enabled site, and many developers use microformats as a matter of course. And why not? After all, why invent your own class names when you can re-use pre-defined ones that give your site extra functionality for free? Nevertheless, while it’s good to know that users of tools such as Tails and Operator will derive added value from your shiny semantics, it’s nice to be able to reuse that effort in your own code. We’re going to build a map of some of my favourite restaurants in Brighton. Fitting with the principles of unobtrusive JavaScript, we’ll start with a semantically marked up list of restaurants, then use JavaScript to add the map, look up the restaurant locations and plot them as markers. We’ll be using a couple of powerful tools. The first is jQuery, a JavaScript library that is ideally suited for unobtrusive scripting. jQuery allows us to manipulate elements on the page based on their CSS selector, which makes it easy to extract information from microformats. The second is Mapstraction, introduced here by Andrew Turner a few days ago. We’ll be using Google Maps in the background, but Mapstraction makes it easy to change to a different provider if we want to later. Getting Started We’ll start off with a simple collection of microformatted restaurant details, representing my seven favourite restaurants in Brighton. The full, unstyled list can be seen in restaurants-plain.html. Each restaurant listing looks like this: <li class="vcard"> <h3><a class="fn org url" href="http://www.riddleandfinns.co.uk/">Riddle & Finns</a></h3> <div class="adr"> <p class="street-address">12b Meeting House Lane</p> <p><span class="locality">Brighton</span>, <abbr class="country-name" title="United Kingdom">UK</abbr></p> <p class="postal-code">BN1 1HB</p> </div> <p>Telephone: <span class="tel">+44 (0)1273 323 008</span></p> <p>E-mail: <a href="mailto:info@riddleandfinns.co.uk" class="email">info@riddleandfinns.co.uk</a></p> </li> Since we’re dealing with a list of restaurants, each hCard is marked up inside a list item. Each restaurant is an organisation; we signify this by placing the classes fn and org on the element surrounding the restaurant’s name (according to the hCard spec, setting both fn and org to the same value signifies that the hCard represents an organisation rather than a person). The address information itself is contained within a div of class adr. Note that the HTML <address> element is not suitable here for two reasons: firstly, it is intended to mark up contact details for the current document rather than generic addresses; secondly, address is an inline element and as such cannot contain the paragraphs elements used here for the address information. A nice thing about microformats is that they provide us with automatic hooks for our styling. For the moment we’ll just tidy up the whitespace a bit; for more advanced style tips consult John Allsop’s guide from 24 ways 2006. .vcard p { margin: 0; } .adr { margin-bottom: 0.5em; } To plot the restaurants on a map we’ll need latitude and longitude for each one. We can find this out from their address using geocoding. Most mapping APIs include support for geocoding, which means we can pass the API an address and get back a latitude/longitude point. Mapstraction provides an abstraction layer around these APIs which can be included using the following script tag: <script type="text/javascript" src="http://mapstraction.com/src/mapstraction-geocode.js"></script> While we’re at it, let’s pull in the other external scripts we’ll be using: <script type="text/javascript" src="jquery-1.2.1.js"></script> <script src="http://maps.google.com/maps?file=api&v=2&key=YOUR_KEY" type="text/javascript"></script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://mapstraction.com/src/mapstraction.js"></script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://mapstraction.com/src/mapstraction-geocode.js"></script> That’s everything set up: let’s write some JavaScript! In jQuery, almost every operation starts with a call to the jQuery function. The function simulates method overloading to behave in different ways depending on the arguments passed to it. When writing unobtrusive JavaScript it’s important to set up code to execute when the page has loaded to the point that the DOM is available to be manipulated. To do this with jQuery, pass a callback function to the jQuery function itself: jQuery(function() { // This code will be executed when the DOM is ready }); Initialising the map The first thing we need to do is initialise our map. Mapstraction needs a div with an explicit width, height and ID to show it where to put the map. Our document doesn’t currently include this markup, but we can insert it with a single line of jQuery code: jQuery(function() { // First create a div to host the map var themap = jQuery('<div id="themap"></div>').css({ 'width': '90%', 'height': '400px' }).insertBefore('ul.restaurants'); }); While this is technically just a single line of JavaScript (with line-breaks added for readability) it’s actually doing quite a lot of work. Let’s break it down in to steps: var themap = jQuery('<div id="themap"></div>') Here’s jQuery’s method overloading in action: if you pass it a string that starts with a < it assumes that you wish to create a new HTML element. This provides us with a handy shortcut for the more verbose DOM equivalent: var themap = document.createElement('div'); themap.id = 'themap'; Next we want to apply some CSS rules to the element. jQuery supports chaining, which means we can continue to call methods on the object returned by jQuery or any of its methods: var themap = jQuery('<div id="themap"></div>').css({ 'width': '90%', 'height': '400px' }) Finally, we need to insert our new HTML element in to the page. jQuery provides a number of methods for element insertion, but in this case we want to position it directly before the <ul> we are using to contain our restaurants. jQuery’s insertBefore() method takes a CSS selector indicating an element already on the page and places the current jQuery selection directly before that element in the DOM. var themap = jQuery('<div id="themap"></div>').css({ 'width': '90%', 'height': '400px' }).insertBefore('ul.restaurants'); Finally, we need to initialise the map itself using Mapstraction. The Mapstraction constructor takes two arguments: the first is the ID of the element used to position the map; the second is the mapping provider to use (in this case google ): // Initialise the map var mapstraction = new Mapstraction('themap','google'); We want the map to appear centred on Brighton, so we’ll need to know the correct co-ordinates. We can use www.getlatlon.com to find both the co-ordinates and the initial map zoom level. // Show map centred on Brighton mapstraction.setCenterAndZoom( new LatLonPoint(50.82423734980143, -0.14007568359375), 15 // Zoom level appropriate for Brighton city centre ); We also want controls on the map to allow the user to zoom in and out and toggle between map and satellite view. mapstraction.addControls({ zoom: 'large', map_type: true }); Adding the markers It’s finally time to parse some microformats. Since we’re using hCard, the information we want is wrapped in elements with the class vcard. We can use jQuery’s CSS selector support to find them: var vcards = jQuery('.vcard'); Now that we’ve found them, we need to create a marker for each one in turn. Rather than using a regular JavaScript for loop, we can instead use jQuery’s each() method to execute a function against each of the hCards. jQuery('.vcard').each(function() { // Do something with the hCard }); Within the callback function, this is set to the current DOM element (in our case, the list item). If we want to call the magic jQuery methods on it we’ll need to wrap it in another call to jQuery: jQuery('.vcard').each(function() { var hcard = jQuery(this); }); The Google maps geocoder seems to work best if you pass it the street address and a postcode. We can extract these using CSS selectors: this time, we’ll use jQuery’s find() method which searches within the current jQuery selection: var streetaddress = hcard.find('.street-address').text(); var postcode = hcard.find('.postal-code').text(); The text() method extracts the text contents of the selected node, minus any HTML markup. We’ve got the address; now we need to geocode it. Mapstraction’s geocoding API requires us to first construct a MapstractionGeocoder, then use the geocode() method to pass it an address. Here’s the code outline: var geocoder = new MapstractionGeocoder(onComplete, 'google'); geocoder.geocode({'address': 'the address goes here'); The onComplete function is executed when the geocoding operation has been completed, and will be passed an object with the resulting point on the map. We just want to create a marker for the point: var geocoder = new MapstractionGeocoder(function(result) { var marker = new Marker(result.point); mapstraction.addMarker(marker); }, 'google'); For our purposes, joining the street address and postcode with a comma to create the address should suffice: geocoder.geocode({'address': streetaddress + ', ' + postcode}); There’s one last step: when the marker is clicked, we want to display details of the restaurant. We can do this with an info bubble, which can be configured by passing in a string of HTML. We’ll construct that HTML using jQuery’s html() method on our hcard object, which extracts the HTML contained within that DOM node as a string. var marker = new Marker(result.point); marker.setInfoBubble( '<div class="bubble">' + hcard.html() + '</div>' ); mapstraction.addMarker(marker); We’ve wrapped the bubble in a div with class bubble to make it easier to style. Google Maps can behave strangely if you don’t provide an explicit width for your info bubbles, so we’ll add that to our CSS now: .bubble { width: 300px; } That’s everything we need: let’s combine our code together: jQuery(function() { // First create a div to host the map var themap = jQuery('<div id="themap"></div>').css({ 'width': '90%', 'height': '400px' }).insertBefore('ul.restaurants'); // Now initialise the map var mapstraction = new Mapstraction('themap','google'); mapstraction.addControls({ zoom: 'large', map_type: true }); // Show map centred on Brighton mapstraction.setCenterAndZoom( new LatLonPoint(50.82423734980143, -0.14007568359375), 15 // Zoom level appropriate for Brighton city centre ); // Geocode each hcard and add a marker jQuery('.vcard').each(function() { var hcard = jQuery(this); var streetaddress = hcard.find('.street-address').text(); var postcode = hcard.find('.postal-code').text(); var geocoder = new MapstractionGeocoder(function(result) { var marker = new Marker(result.point); marker.setInfoBubble( '<div class="bubble">' + hcard.html() + '</div>' ); mapstraction.addMarker(marker); }, 'google'); geocoder.geocode({'address': streetaddress + ', ' + postcode}); }); }); Here’s the finished code. There’s one last shortcut we can add: jQuery provides the $ symbol as an alias for jQuery. We could just go through our code and replace every call to jQuery() with a call to $(), but this would cause incompatibilities if we ever attempted to use our script on a page that also includes the Prototype library. A more robust approach is to start our code with the following: jQuery(function($) { // Within this function, $ now refers to jQuery // ... }); jQuery cleverly passes itself as the first argument to any function registered to the DOM ready event, which means we can assign a local $ variable shortcut without affecting the $ symbol in the global scope. This makes it easy to use jQuery with other libraries. Limitations of Geocoding You may have noticed a discrepancy creep in to the last example: whereas my original list included seven restaurants, the geocoding example only shows five. This is because the Google Maps geocoder incorporates a rate limit: more than five lookups in a second and it starts returning error messages instead of regular results. In addition to this problem, geocoding itself is an inexact science: while UK postcodes generally get you down to the correct street, figuring out the exact point on the street from the provided address usually isn’t too accurate (although Google do a pretty good job). Finally, there’s the performance overhead. We’re making five geocoding requests to Google for every page served, even though the restaurants themselves aren’t likely to change location any time soon. Surely there’s a better way of doing this? Microformats to the rescue (again)! The geo microformat suggests simple classes for including latitude and longitude information in a page. We can add specific points for each restaurant using the following markup: <li class="vcard"> <h3 class="fn org">E-Kagen</h3> <div class="adr"> <p class="street-address">22-23 Sydney Street</p> <p><span class="locality">Brighton</span>, <abbr class="country-name" title="United Kingdom">UK</abbr></p> <p class="postal-code">BN1 4EN</p> </div> <p>Telephone: <span class="tel">+44 (0)1273 687 068</span></p> <p class="geo">Lat/Lon: <span class="latitude">50.827917</span>, <span class="longitude">-0.137764</span> </p> </li> As before, I used www.getlatlon.com to find the exact locations – I find satellite view is particularly useful for locating individual buildings. Latitudes and longitudes are great for machines but not so useful for human beings. We could hide them entirely with display: none, but I prefer to merely de-emphasise them (someone might want them for their GPS unit): .vcard .geo { margin-top: 0.5em; font-size: 0.85em; color: #ccc; } It’s probably a good idea to hide them completely when they’re displayed inside an info bubble: .bubble .geo { display: none; } We can extract the co-ordinates in the same way we extracted the address. Since we’re no longer geocoding anything our code becomes a lot simpler: $('.vcard').each(function() { var hcard = $(this); var latitude = hcard.find('.geo .latitude').text(); var longitude = hcard.find('.geo .longitude').text(); var marker = new Marker(new LatLonPoint(latitude, longitude)); marker.setInfoBubble( '<div class="bubble">' + hcard.html() + '</div>' ); mapstraction.addMarker(marker); }); And here’s the finished geo example. Further reading We’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible with microformats, jQuery (or just regular JavaScript) and a bit of imagination. If this example has piqued your interest, the following links should give you some more food for thought. The hCard specification Notes on parsing hCards jQuery for JavaScript programmers – my extended tutorial on jQuery. Dann Webb’s Sumo – a full JavaScript library for parsing microformats, based around some clever metaprogramming techniques. Jeremy Keith’s Adactio Austin – the first place I saw using microformats to unobtrusively plot locations on a map. Makes clever use of hEvent as well. 2007 Simon Willison simonwillison 2007-12-12T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2007/unobtrusively-mapping-microformats-with-jquery/ code
99 A Christmas hCard From Me To You So apparently Christmas is coming. And what is Christmas all about? Well, cleaning out your address book, of course! What better time to go through your contacts, making sure everyone’s details are up date and that you’ve deleted all those nasty clients who never paid on time? It’s also a good time to make sure your current clients and colleagues have your most up-to-date details, so instead of filling up their inboxes with e-cards, why not send them something useful? Something like a… vCard! (See what I did there?) Just in case you’ve been working in a magical toy factory in the upper reaches of Scandinavia for the last few years, I’m going to tell you that now would also be the perfect time to get into microformats. Using the hCard format, we’ll build a very simple web page and markup our contact details in such a way that they’ll be understood by microformats plugins, like Operator or Tails for Firefox, or the cross-browser Microformats Bookmarklet. Oh, and because Christmas is all about dressing up and being silly, we’ll make the whole thing look nice and have a bit of fun with some CSS3 progressive enhancement. If you can’t wait to see what we end up with, you can preview it here. Step 1: Contact Details First, let’s decide what details we want to put on the page. I’d put my full name, my email address, my phone number, and my postal address, but I’d rather not get surprise visits from strangers when I’m fannying about with my baubles, so I’m going to use Father Christmas instead (that’s Santa to you Yanks). Father Christmas fatherchristmas@elliotjaystocks.com 25 Laughingallthe Way Snow Falls Lapland Finland 010 60 58 000 Step 2: hCard Creator Now I’m not sure about you, but I rather like getting the magical robot pixies to do the work for me, so head on over to the hCard Creator and put those pixies to work! Pop in your details and they’ll give you some nice microformatted HTML in turn. <div id="hcard-Father-Christmas" class="vcard"> <a class="url fn" href="http://elliotjaystocks.com/fatherchristmas">Father Christmas</a> <a class="email" href="mailto:fatherchristmas@elliotjaystocks.com"> fatherchristmas@elliotjaystocks.com</a> <div class="adr"> <div class="street-address">25 Laughingallthe Way</div> <span class="locality">Snow Falls</span> , <span class="region">Lapland</span> , <span class="postal-code">FI-00101</span> <span class="country-name">Finland</span> </div> <div class="tel">010 60 58 000</div> <p style="font-size:smaller;">This <a href="http://microformats.org/wiki/hcard">hCard</a> created with the <a href="http://microformats.org/code/hcard/creator">hCard creator</a>.</p> </div> Step 3: Editing The Code One of the great things about microformats is that you can use pretty much whichever HTML tags you want, so just because the hCard Creator Fairies say something should be wrapped in a <span> doesn’t mean you can’t change it to a <blink>. Actually, no, don’t do that. That’s not even excusable at Christmas. I personally have a penchant for marking up each line of an address inside a <li> tag, where the parent url retains the class of adr. As long as you keep the class names the same, you’ll be fine. <div id="hcard-Father-Christmas" class="vcard"> <h1><a class="url fn" href="http://elliotjaystocks.com/fatherchristmas">Father Christmas </a></h1> <a class="email" href="mailto:fatherchristmas@elliotjaystocks.com?subject=Here, have some Christmas cheer!">fatherchristmas@elliotjaystocks.com</a> <ul class="adr"> <li class="street-address">25 Laughingallthe Way</li> <li class="locality">Snow Falls</li> <li class="region">Lapland</li> <li class="postal-code">FI-00101</li> <li class="country-name">Finland</li> </ul> <span class="tel">010 60 58 000</span> </div> Step 4: Testing The Microformats With our microformats in place, now would be a good time to test that they’re working before we start making things look pretty. If you’re on Firefox, you can install the Operator or Tails extensions, but if you’re on another browser, just add the Microformats Bookmarklet. Regardless of your choice, the results is the same: if you’ve code microformatted content on a web page, one of these bad boys should pick it up for you and allow you to export the contact info. Give it a try and you should see father Christmas appearing in your address book of choice. Now you’ll never forget where to send those Christmas lists! Step 5: Some Extra Markup One of the first things we’re going to do is put a photo of Father Christmas on the hCard. We’ll be using CSS to apply a background image to a div, so we’ll be needing an extra div with a class name of “photo”. In turn, we’ll wrap the text-based elements of our hCard inside a div cunningly called “text”. Unfortunately, because of the float technique we’ll be using, we’ll have to use one of those nasty float-clearing techniques. I shall call this “christmas-cheer”, since that is what its presence will inevitably bring, of course. Oh, and let’s add a bit of text to give the page context, too: <p>Send your Christmas lists my way...</p> <div id="hcard-Father-Christmas" class="vcard"> <div class="text"> <h1><a class="url fn" href="http://elliotjaystocks.com/fatherchristmas">Father Christmas </a></h1> <a class="email" href="mailto:fatherchristmas@elliotjaystocks.com?subject=Here, have some Christmas cheer!">fatherchristmas@elliotjaystocks.com</a> <ul class="adr"> <li class="street-address">25 Laughingallthe Way</li> <li class="locality">Snow Falls</li> <li class="region">Lapland</li> <li class="postal-code">FI-00101</li> <li class="country-name">Finland</li> </ul> <span class="tel">010 60 58 000</span> </div> <div class="photo"></div> <br class="christmas-cheer" /> </div> <div class="credits"> <p>A tutorial by <a href="http://elliotjaystocks.com">Elliot Jay Stocks</a> for <a href="http://24ways.org/">24 Ways</a></p> <p>Background: <a href="http://sxc.hu/photo/1108741">stock.xchng</a> | Father Christmas: <a href="http://istockphoto.com/file_closeup/people/4575943-active-santa.php?id=4575943">iStockPhoto</a></p> </div> Step 6: Some Christmas Sparkle So far, our hCard-housing web page is slightly less than inspiring, isn’t it? It’s time to add a bit of CSS. There’s nothing particularly radical going on here; just a simple layout, some basic typographic treatment, and the placement of the Father Christmas photo. I’d usually use a more thorough CSS reset like the one found in the YUI or Eric Meyer’s, but for this basic page, the simple * solution will do. Check out the step 6 demo to see our basic styles in place. From this… … to this: Step 7: Fun With imagery Now it’s time to introduce a repeating background image to the <body> element. This will seamlessly repeat for as wide as the browser window becomes. But that’s fairly straightforward. How about having some fun with the Father Christmas image? If you look at the image file itself, you’ll see that it’s twice as wide as the area we can see and contains a ‘hidden’ photo of our rather camp St. Nick. As a light-hearted visual… er… ‘treat’ for users who move their mouse over the image, we move the position of the background image on the “photo” div. Check out the step 7 demo to see it working. Step 8: Progressive Enhancement Finally, this fun little project is a great opportunity for us to mess around with some advanced CSS features (some from the CSS3 spec) that we rarely get to use on client projects. (Don’t forget: no Christmas pressies for clients who want you to support IE6!) Here are the rules we’re using to give some browsers a superior viewing experience: @font-face allows us to use Jos Buivenga’s free font ‘Fertigo Pro’ on all text; text-shadow adds a little emphasis on the opening paragraph; body > p:first-child causes only the first paragraph to receive this treatment; border-radius created rounded corners on our main div and the links within it; and webkit-transition allows us to gently fade in between the default and hover states of those links. And with that, we’re done! You can see the results here. It’s time to customise the page to your liking, upload it to your site, and send out the URL. And do it quickly, because I’m sure you’ve got some last-minute Christmas shopping to finish off! 2008 Elliot Jay Stocks elliotjaystocks 2008-12-10T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/a-christmas-hcard-from-me-to-you/ code
108 A Festive Type Folly ‘Tis the season to be jolly, so the carol singers tell us. At 24 ways, we’re keeping alive another British tradition that includes the odd faux-Greco-Roman building dotted around the British countryside, Tower Bridge built in 1894, and your Dad’s Christmas jumper with the dancing reindeer motif. ‘Tis the season of the folly! 24 Ways to impress your friends The example is not an image, just text. You may wish to see a screenshot in Safari to compare with your own operating system and browser rendering. Like all follies this is an embellishment — a bit of web typography fun. It’s similar to the masthead text at my place, but it’s also a hyperlink. Unlike the architectural follies of the past, no child labour was used to fund or build it, just some HTML flavoured with CSS, and a heavy dose of Times New Roman. Why Times New Roman, you ask? Well, after a few wasted hours experimenting with heaps of typefaces, seeking an elusive consistency of positioning and rendering across platforms, it proved to be the most consistent. Who’d‘a thought? To make things more interesting, I wanted to use a traditional scale and make the whole thing elastic by using relative lengths that would react to a person’s font size. So, to the meat of this festive frippery: There are three things we rely on to create this indulgence: Descendant selectors Absolute positioning Inheritance HTML & Descendant Selectors The markup for the folly might seem complex at first glance. To semantics pedants and purists it may seem outrageous. If that’s you, read on at your peril! Here it is with lots of whitespace: <div id="type"> <h1>   <a href="/">     <em>2       <span>4         <span>w           <span>a             <span>y               <span>s</span>             </span>           </span>         </span>       </span>     </em>     <strong>to       <span>i         <span>m           <span>pre             <span>s               <span>s                 <span>your                   <span>friends</span>                 </span>               </span>             </span>           </span>         </span>       </span>     </strong>   </a> </h1> </div> Why so much markup? Well, we want to individually style many of the glyphs. By nesting the elements, we can pick out the bits we need as descendant selectors. To retain a smidgen of semantics, the text is wrapped in <h1> and <a> elements. The two phrases, “24 ways” and “to impress your friends” are wrapped in <em> and <strong> tags, respectively. Within those loving arms, their descendant <span>s cascade invisibly, making a right mess of our source, but ready to be picked out in our CSS rules. So, to select the “2” from the example we can simply write, #type h1 em{ }. Of course, that selects everything within the <em> tags, but as we drill down the document tree, selecting other glyphs, any property / value styles can be reset or changed as required. Pixels Versus Ems Before we get stuck into the CSS, I should say that the goal here is to have everything expressed in relative “em” lengths. However, when I’m starting out, I use pixels for all values, and only convert them to ems after I’ve finished. It saves re-calculating the em length for every change I make as the folly evolves, but still makes the final result elastic, without relying on browser zoom. To skip ahead, see the complete CSS. Absolutely Positioned Glyphs If a parent element has position: relative, or position: absolute applied to it, all children of that parent can be positioned absolutely relative to it. (See Dave Shea’s excellent introduction to this.) That’s exactly how the folly is achieved. As the parent, #type also has a font-size of 16px set, a width and height, and some basic style with a background and border: #type{ font-size: 16px; text-align: left; background: #e8e9de; border: 0.375em solid #fff; width: 22.5em; height: 13.125em; position: relative; } The h1 is also given a default style with a font-size of 132px in ems relative to the parent font-size of 16px: #type h1{ font-family: "Times New Roman", serif; font-size: 8.25em; /* 132px */ line-height: 1em; font-weight: 400; margin: 0; padding: 0; } To get the em value, we divide the required size in pixels by the actual parent font-size in pixels 132 ÷ 16 = 8.25 We also give the descendants of the h1 some default properties. The line height, style and weight are normalised, they are positioned absolutely relative to #type, and a border and padding is applied: #type h1 em, #type h1 strong, #type h1 span{ line-height: 1em; font-style: normal; font-weight: 400; position: absolute; padding: 0.1em; border: 1px solid transparent; } The padding ensures that some browsers don’t forget about parts of a glyph that are drawn outside of their invisible container. When this happens, IE will trim the glyph, cutting off parts of descenders, for example. The border is there to make sure the glyphs have layout. Without this, positioning can be problematic. IE6 will not respect the transparent border colour — it uses the actual text colour — but in all other respects renders the example. You can hack around it, but it seemed unnecessary for this example. Once these defaults are established, the rest is trial and error. As a quick example, the numeral “2” is first to be positioned: #type h1 a em{ font-size: 0.727em; /* (2) 96px */ left: 0.667em; top: 0; } Every element of the folly is positioned in exactly the same way as you can see in the complete CSS. When converting pixels to ems, the font-size is set first. Then, because we know what that is, we calculate the equivalent x- and y-position accordingly. Inheritance CSS inheritance gave me a headache a long time ago when I first encountered it. After the penny dropped I came to experience something disturbingly close to affection for this characteristic. What it basically means is that children inherit the characteristics of their parents. For example: We gave #type a font-size of 16px. For #type h1 we changed it by setting font-size: 8.25em;. Than means that #type h1 now has a computed font-size of 8.25 × 16px = 132px. Now, all children of #type h1 in the document tree will inherit a font-size of 132px unless we explicitly change it as we did for #type h1 a em. The “2” in the example — selected with #type h1 a em — is set at 96px with left and top positioning calculated relatively to that. So, the left position of 0.667em is 0.667 × 96 = 64px, approximately (three decimal points in em lengths don’t always give exact pixel equivalents). One way to look at inheritance is as a cascade of dependancy: In our example, the computed font size of any given element depends on that of the parent, and the absolute x- and y-position depends on the computed font size of the element itself. Link Colours The same descendant selectors we use to set and position the type are also used to apply the colour by combining them with pseudo-selectors like :focus and :hover. Because the descendant selectors are available to us, we can pretty much pick out any glyph we like. First, we need to disable the underline: #type h1 a:link, #type h1 a:visited{ text-decoration: none; } In our example, the “24” has a unique default state (colour): #type h1 a:link em, #type h1 a:visited em{ color: #624; } The rest of the “Ways” text has a different colour, which it shares with the large “s” in “impress”: #type h1 a:link em span span, #type h1 a:visited em span span, #type h1 a:link strong span span span span, #type h1 a:visited strong span span span span{ color: #b32720; } “24” changes on :focus, :hover and :active. Critically though, the whole of the “24 Ways” text, and the large “s” in “impress” all have the same style in this instance: #type h1 a:focus em, #type h1 a:hover em, #type h1 a:active em, #type h1 a:focus em span span, #type h1 a:hover em span span, #type h1 a:active em span span, #type h1 a:focus strong span span span span, #type h1 a:hover strong span span span span, #type h1 a:active strong span span span span{ color: #804; } If a descendant selector has a :link and :visited state set as a pseudo element, it needs to also have the corresponding :focus, :hover and :active states set. A Final Note About Web Typography From grids to basic leading to web fonts, and even absolute positioning, there’s a wealth of things we can do to treat type on the Web with love and respect. However, experiments like this can highlight the vagaries of rasterisation and rendering that limit our ability to achieve truly subtle and refined results. At the operating system level, the differences in type rendering are extreme, and even between sequential iterations in Windows — from Standard to ClearType — they can be daunting. Add to that huge variations in screen quality, and even the paper we print our type onto has many potential variations. Compare our example in Safari 3.2.1 / OS X 10.5.5 (left) and IE7 / Win XP (right). Both rendered on a 23” Apple Cinema HD (LCD): Browser developers continue to make great strides. However, those of us who set type on the Web need more consistency and quality if we want to avoid technologies like Flash and evolve web typography. Although web typography is inevitably — and mistakenly — compared unfavourably to print, it has the potential to achieve the same refinement in a different way. Perhaps one day, the glyphs of our favourite faces, so carefully crafted, kerned and hinted for the screen, will be rendered with the same precision with which they were drawn by type designers and styled by web designers. That would be my wish for the new year. Happy holidays! 2008 Jon Tan jontan 2008-12-17T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/a-festive-type-folly/ design
98 Absolute Columns CSS layouts have come quite a long way since the dark ages of web publishing, with all sorts of creative applications of floats, negative margins, and even background images employed in order to give us that most basic building block, the column. As the title implies, we are indeed going to be discussing columns today—more to the point, a handy little application of absolute positioning that may be exactly what you’ve been looking for… Care for a nightcap? If you’ve been developing for the web for long enough, you may be familiar with this little children’s fable, passed down from wizened Shaolin monks sitting atop the great Mt. Geocities: “Once upon a time, multiple columns of the same height could be easily created using TABLES.” Now, though we’re all comfortably seated on the standards train (and let’s be honest: even if you like to think you’ve fallen off, if you’ve given up using tables for layout, rest assured your sleeper car is still reserved), this particular—and as page layout goes, quite basic—trick is still a thorn in our CSSides compared to the ease of achieving the same effect using said Tables of Evil™. See, the orange juice masks the flavor… Creative solutions such as Dan Cederholm’s Faux Columns do a good job of making it appear as though adjacent columns maintain equal height as content expands, using a background image to fill the space that the columns cannot. Now, the Holy Grail of CSS columns behaving exactly how they would as table cells—or more to the point, as columns—still eludes us (cough CSS3 Multi-column layout module cough), but sometimes you just need, for example, a secondary column (say, a sidebar) to match the height of a primary column, without involving the creation of images. This is where a little absolute positioning can save you time, while possibly giving your layout a little more flexibility. Shaken, not stirred You’re probably familiar by now with the concept of Making the Absolute, Relative as set forth long ago by Doug Bowman, but let’s quickly review just in case: an element set to position:absolute will position itself relative to its nearest ancestor set to position:relative, rather than the browser window (see Figure 1). Figure 1. However, what you may not know is that we can anchor more than two sides of an absolutely positioned element. Yes, that’s right, all four sides (top, right, bottom, left) can be set, though in this example we’re only going to require the services of three sides (see Figure 2 for the end result). Figure 2. Trust me, this will make you feel better Our requirements are essentially the same as the standard “absolute-relative” trick—a container <div> set to position:relative, and our sidebar <div> set to position:absolute — plus another <div> that will serve as our main content column. We’ll also add a few other common layout elements (wrapper, header, and footer) so our example markup looks more like a real layout and less like a test case: <div id="wrapper"> <div id="header"> <h2>#header</h2> </div> <div id="container"> <div id="column-left"> <h2>#left</h2> <p>Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet…</p> </div> <div id="column-right"> <h2>#right</h2> </div> </div> <div id="footer"> <h2>#footer</h2> </div> </div> In this example, our main column (#column-left) is only being given a width to fit within the context of the layout, and is otherwise untouched (though we’re using pixels here, this trick will of course work with fluid layouts as well), and our right keeping our styles nice and minimal: #container { position: relative; } #column-left { width: 480px; } #column-right { position: absolute; top: 10px; right: 10px; bottom: 10px; width: 250px; } The trick is a simple one: the #container <div> will expand vertically to fit the content within #column-left. By telling our sidebar <div> (#column-right) to attach itself not only to the top and right edges of #container, but also to the bottom, it too will expand and contract to match the height of the left column (duplicate the “lorem ipsum” paragraph a few times to see it in action). Figure 3. On the rocks “But wait!” I hear you exclaim, “when the right column has more content than the left column, it doesn’t expand! My text runneth over!” Sure enough, that’s exactly what happens, and what’s more, it’s supposed to: Absolutely positioned elements do exactly what you tell them to do, and unfortunately aren’t very good at thinking outside the box (get it? sigh…). However, this needn’t get your spirits down, because there’s an easy way to address the issue: by adding overflow:auto to #column-right, a scrollbar will automatically appear if and when needed: #column-right { position: absolute; top: 10px; right: 10px; bottom: 10px; width: 250px; overflow: auto; } While this may limit the trick’s usefulness to situations where the primary column will almost always have more content than the secondary column—or where the secondary column’s content can scroll with wild abandon—a little prior planning will make it easy to incorporate into your designs. Driving us to drink It just wouldn’t be right to have a friendly, festive holiday tutorial without inviting IE6, though in this particular instance there will be no shaming that old browser into admitting it has a problem, nor an intervention and subsequent 12-step program. That’s right my friends, this tutorial has abstained from IE6-abuse now for 30 days, thanks to the wizard Dean Edwards and his amazingly talented IE7 Javascript library. Simply drop the Conditional Comment and <script> element into the <head> of your document, along with one tiny CSS hack that only IE6 (and below) will ever see, and that browser will be back on the straight and narrow: <!--[if lt IE 7]> <script src="http://ie7-js.googlecode.com/svn/version/2.0(beta3)/IE7.js" type="text/javascript"></script> <style type="text/css" media="screen"> #container { zoom:1; /* helps fix IE6 by initiating hasLayout */ } </style> <![endif]--> Eggnog is supposed to be spiked, right? Of course, this is one simple example of what can be a much more powerful technique, depending on your needs and creativity. Just don’t go coding up your wildest fantasies until you’ve had a chance to sleep off the Christmas turkey and whatever tasty liquids you happen to imbibe along the way… 2008 Dan Rubin danrubin 2008-12-22T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/absolute-columns/ code
102 Art Directing with Looking Room Using photographic composition techniques to start to art direct on the template-driven web. Think back to last night. There you are, settled down in front of the TV, watching your favourite soap opera, with nice hot cup of tea in hand. Did you notice – whilst engrossed in the latest love-triangle – that the cameraman has worked very hard to support your eye’s natural movement on-screen? He’s carefully framed individual shots to create balance. Think back to last week. There you were, sat with your mates watching the big match. Did you notice that the cameraman frames the shot to go with the direction of play? A player moving right will always be framed so that he is on the far left, with plenty of ‘room’ to run into. Both of these cameramen use a technique called Looking Room, sometimes called Lead Room. Looking Room is the space between the subject (be it a football, or a face), and the edge of the screen. Specifically, Looking Room is the negative space on the side the subject is looking or moving. The great thing is, it’s not just limited to photography, film or television; we can use it in web design too. Basic Framing Before we get into Looking Room, and how it applies to web, we need to have a look at some basics of photographic composition. Many web sites use imagery, or photographs, to enhance the content. But even with professionally shot photographs, without a basic understanding of framing or composition, you can damage how the image is perceived. A simple, easy way to make photographs more interesting is to fill the frame. Take this rather mundane photograph of a horse: A typical point and click affair. But, we can work with this. By closely cropping, and filling the frame, we can instantly change the mood of the shot. I’ve also added Looking Room on the right of the horse. This is space that the horse would be walking into. It gives the photograph movement. Subject, Space, and Movement Generally speaking, a portrait photograph will have a subject and space around them. Visual interest in portrait photography can come from movement; how the eye moves around the shot. To get the eye moving, the photographer modifies the space around the subject. Look at this portrait: The photography has framed the subject on the right, allowing for whitespace, or Looking Room, in the direction the subject is looking. The framing of the subject (1), with the space to the left (2) – the Looking Room – creates movement, shown by the arrow (3). Note the subject is not framed centrally (shown by the lighter dotted line). If the photographer had framed the subject with equal space either side, the resulting composition is static, like our horse. If the photographer framed the subject way over on the left, as she is looking that way, the resulting whitespace on the right leads a very uncomfortable composition. The root of this discomfort is what the framing is telling our eye to do. The subject, looking to the left, suggests to us that we should do the same. However, the Looking Room on the right is telling our eye to occupy this space. The result is a confusing back and forth. How Looking Room applies to the web We can apply the same theory to laying out a web page or application. Taking the three same elements – Subject, Space, and resulting Movement – we can guide a user’s eye to the elements we need to. As designers, or content editors, framing photographs correctly can have a subtle but important effect on how a page is visually scanned. Take this example: The BBC homepage uses great photography as a way of promoting content. Here, they have cropped the main photograph to guide the user’s eye into the content. By applying the same theory, the designer or content editor has applied considerable Looking Room (2) to the photograph to create balance with the overall page design, but also to create movement of the user’s eye toward the content (1) If the image was flipped horizontally. The Looking Room is now on the right. The subject of the photograph is looking off the page, drawing the user’s eye away from the content. Once again, this results in a confusing back and forth as your eye fights its way over to the left of the page. A little bit of Art Direction Art Direction can be described as the act or process of managing the visual presentation of content. Art Direction is difficult to do on the web, because content and presentation are, more often than not, separated. But where there are images, and when we know the templates that those images will populate, we can go a little way to bridging the gap between content and presentation. By understanding the value of framing and Looking Room, and the fact that it extends beyond just a good looking photograph, we can start to see photography playing more of an integral role in the communication of content. We won’t just be populating templates. We’ll be art directing. Photo credits: Portrait by Carsten Tolkmit Horse by Mike Pedroncelli 2008 Mark Boulton markboulton 2008-12-05T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/art-directing-with-looking-room/ design
115 Charm Clients, Win Pitches Over the years I have picked up a number of sales techniques that have lead to us doing pretty well in the pitches we go for. Of course, up until now, these top secret practices have remained firmly locked in the company vault but now I am going to share them with you. They are cunningly hidden within the following paragraphs so I’m afraid you’re going to have to read the whole thing. Ok, so where to start? I guess a good place would be getting invited to pitch for work in the first place. Shameless self promotion What not to do You’re as keen as mustard to ‘sell’ what you do, but you have no idea as to the right approach. From personal experience (sometimes bitter!), the following methods are as useful as the proverbial chocolate teapot: Cold calling Advertising Bidding websites Sales people Networking events Ok, I’m exaggerating; sometimes these things work. For example, cold calling can work if you have a story – a reason to call and introduce yourself other than “we do web design and you have a website”. “We do web design and we’ve just moved in next door to you” would be fine. Advertising can work if your offering is highly specialist. However, paying oodles of dollars a day to Google Ads to appear under the search term ‘web design’ is probably not the best use of your budget. Specialising is, in fact, probably a good way to go. Though it can feel counter intuitive in that you are not spreading yourself as widely as you might, you will eventually become an expert and therefore gain a reputation in your field. Specialism doesn’t necessarily have to be in a particular skillset or technology, it could just as easily be in a particular supply chain or across a market. Target audience ‘Who to target?’ is the next question. If you’re starting out then do tap-up your family and friends. Anything that comes your way from them will almost certainly come with a strong recommendation. Also, there’s nothing wrong with calling clients you had dealings with in previous employment (though beware of any contractual terms that may prevent this). You are informing your previous clients that your situation has changed; leave it up to them to make any move towards working with you. After all, you’re simply asking to be included on the list of agencies invited to tender for any new work. Look to target clients similar to those you have worked with previously. Again, you have a story – hopefully a good one! So how do you reach these people? Mailing lists Forums Writing articles Conferences / Meetups Speaking opportunities Sharing Expertise In essence: blog, chat, talk, enthuse, show off (a little)… share. There are many ways you can do this. There’s the traditional portfolio, almost obligatory blog (regularly updated of course), podcast, ‘giveaways’ like Wordpress templates, CSS galleries and testimonials. Testimonials are your greatest friend. Always ask clients for quotes (write them and ask for their permission to use) and even better, film them talking about how great you are. Finally, social networking sites can offer a way to reach your target audiences. You do have to be careful here though. You are looking to build a reputation by contributing value. Do not self promote or spam! Writing proposals Is it worth it? Ok, so you have been invited to respond to a tender or brief in the form of a proposal. Good proposals take time to put together so you need to be sure that you are not wasting your time. There are two fundamental questions that you need to ask prior to getting started on your proposal: Can I deliver within the client’s timescales? Does the client’s budget match my price? The timescales that clients set are often plucked from the air and a little explanation about how long projects usually take can be enough to change expectations with regard to delivery. However, if a deadline is set in stone ask yourself if you can realistically meet it. Agreeing to a deadline that you know you cannot meet just to win a project is a recipe for an unhappy client, no chance of repeat business and no chance of any recommendations to other potential clients. Price is another thing altogether. So why do we need to know? The first reason, and most honest reason, is that we don’t want to do a lot of unpaid pitch work when there is no chance that our price will be accepted. Who would? But this goes both ways – the client’s time is also being wasted. It may only be the time to read the proposal and reject it, but what if all the bids are too expensive? Then the client needs to go through the whole process again. The second reason why we need to know budgets relates to what we would like to include in a proposal over what we need to include. For example, take usability testing. We always highly recommend that a client pays for at least one round of usability testing because it will definitely improve their new site – no question. But, not doing it doesn’t mean they’ll end up with an unusable turkey. It’s just more likely that any usability issues will crop up after launch. I have found that the best way to discover a budget is to simply provide a ballpark total, usually accompanied by a list of ‘likely tasks for this type of project’, in an initial email or telephone response. Expect a lot of people to dismiss you out of hand. This is good. Don’t be tempted to ‘just go for it’ anyway because you like the client or work is short – you will regret it. Others will say that the ballpark is ok. This is not as good as getting into a proper discussion about what priorities they might have but it does mean that you are not wasting your time and you do have a chance of winning the work. The only real risk with this approach is that you misinterpret the requirements and produce an inaccurate ballpark. Finally, there is a less confrontational approach that I sometimes use that involves modular pricing. We break down our pricing into quite detailed tasks for all proposals but when I really do not have a clue about a client’s budget, I will often separate pricing into ‘core’ items and ‘optional’ items. This has proved to be a very effective method of presenting price. What to include So, what should go into a proposal? It does depend on the size of the piece of work. If it’s a quick update for an existing client then they don’t want to read through all your blurb about why they should choose to work with you – a simple email will suffice. But, for a potential new client I would look to include the following: Your suitability Summary of tasks Timescales Project management methodology Pricing Testing methodology Hosting options Technologies Imagery References Financial information Biographies However, probably the most important aspect of any proposal is that you respond fully to the brief. In other words, don’t ignore the bits that either don’t make sense to you or you think irrelevant. If something is questionable, cover it and explain why you don’t think it is something that warrants inclusion in the project. Should you provide speculative designs? If the brief doesn’t ask for any, then certainly not. If it does, then speak to the client about why you don’t like to do speculative designs. Explain that any designs included as part of a proposal are created to impress the client and not the website’s target audience. Producing good web design is a partnership between client and agency. This can often impress and promote you as a professional. However, if they insist then you need to make a decision because not delivering any mock-ups will mean that all your other work will be a waste of time. Walking away As I have already mentioned, all of this takes a lot of work. So, when should you be prepared to walk away from a potential job? I have already covered unrealistic deadlines and insufficient budget but there are a couple of other reasons. Firstly, would this new client damage your reputation, particularly within current sectors you are working in? Secondly, can you work with this client? A difficult client will almost certainly lead to a loss-making project. Perfect pitch Requirements If the original brief didn’t spell out what is expected of you at a presentation then make sure you ask beforehand. The critical element is how much time you have. It seems that panels are providing less and less time these days. The usual formula is that you get an hour; half of which should be a presentation of your ideas followed by 30 minutes of questions. This isn’t that much time, particularly for a big project that covers all aspect of web design and production. Don’t be afraid to ask for more time, though it is very rare that you will be granted any. Ask if there any areas that a) they particularly want you to cover and b) if there are any areas of your proposal that were weak. Ask who will be attending. The main reason for this is to see if the decision maker(s) will be present but it’s also good to know if you’re presenting to 3 or 30 people. Who should be there Generally speaking, I think two is the ideal number. Though I have done many presentations on my own, I always feel having two people to bounce ideas around with and have a bit of banter with, works well. You are not only trying to sell your ideas and expertise but also yourselves. One of the main things in the panels minds will be – “can I work with these people?” Having more than two people at a presentation often looks like you’re wheeling people out just to demonstrate that they exist. What makes a client want to hire you? In a nutshell: Confidence, Personality, Enthusiasm. You can impart confidence by being well prepared and professional, providing examples and demonstrations and talking about your processes. You may find project management boring but pretty much every potential client will want to feel reassured that you manage your projects effectively. As well as demonstrating that you know what you’re talking about, it is important to encourage, and be part of, discussion about the project. Be prepared to suggest and challenge and be willing to say “I don’t know”. Also, no-one likes a show-off so don’t over promote yourself; encourage them to contact your existing clients. What makes a client like you? Engaging with a potential client is tricky and it’s probably the area where you need to be most on your toes and try to gauge the reaction of the client. We recommend the following: Encourage questions throughout Ask if you make sense – which encourages questions if you’re not getting any Humour – though don’t keep trying to be funny if you’re not getting any laughs! Be willing to go off track Read your audience Empathise with the process – chances are, most of the people in front of you would rather be doing something else Think about what you wear – this sounds daft but do you want to be seen as either the ‘stiff in the suit’ or the ‘scruffy art student’? Chances are neither character would get hired. Differentiation Sometimes, especially if you think you are an outsider, it’s worth taking a few risks. I remember my colleague Paul starting off a presentation once with the line (backed up on screen) – “Headscape is not a usability consultancy”. This was in response to the clients request to engage a usability consultancy. The thrust of Paul’s argument was that we are a lot more than that. This really worked. We were the outside choice but they ended up hiring us. Basically, this differentiated us from the crowd. It showed that we are prepared to take risks and think, dare I say it, outside of the box. Dealing with difficult characters How you react to tricky questioning is likely to be what determines whether you have a good or bad presentation. Here are a few of those characters that so often turn up in panels: The techie – this is likely to be the situation where you need to say “I don’t know”. Don’t bluff as you are likely to dig yourself a great big embarrassment-filled hole. Promise to follow up with more information and make sure that you do so as quickly as possible after the pitch. The ‘hard man’ MD – this the guy who thinks it is his duty to throw ‘curve ball’ questions to see how you react. Focus on your track record (big name clients will impress this guy) and emphasise your processes. The ‘no clue’ client – you need to take control and be the expert though you do need to explain the reasoning behind any suggestions you make. This person will be judging you on how much you are prepared to help them deliver the project. The price negotiator – be prepared to discuss price but do not reduce your rate or the effort associated with your proposal. Fall back on modular pricing and try to reduce scope to come within budget. You may wish to offer a one-off discount to win a new piece of work but don’t get into detail at the pitch. Don’t panic… If you go into a presentation thinking ‘we must win this’ then, chances are, you won’t. Relax and be yourself. If you’re not hitting it off with the panel then so be it. You have to remember that quite often you will be making up the numbers in a tendering process. This is massively frustrating but, unfortunately, part of it. If it’s not going well, concentrate on what you are offering and try to demonstrate your professionalism rather than your personality. Finally, be on your toes, watch people’s reactions and pay attention to what they say and try to react accordingly. So where are the secret techniques I hear you ask? Well, using the words ‘secret’ and ‘technique’ was probably a bit naughty. Most of this stuff is about being keen, using your brain and believing in yourself and what you are selling rather than following a strict set of rules. 2008 Marcus Lillington marcuslillington 2008-12-09T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/charm-clients-win-pitches/ business
106 Checking Out: Progress Meters It’s the holiday season, so you know what that means: online shopping! When I started developing Web sites back in the 90s, many of my first clients were small local shops wanting to sell their goods online, so I developed many a checkout system. And because of slow dial-up speeds back then, informing the user about where they were in the checkout process was pretty important. Even though we’re (mostly) beyond the dial-up days, informing users about where they are in a flow is still important. In usability tests at the companies I’ve worked at, I’ve seen time and time again how not adequately informing the user about their state can cause real frustration. This is especially true for two sets of users: mobile users and users of assistive devices, in particular, screen readers. The progress meter is a very common design solution used to indicate to the user’s state within a flow. On the design side, much effort may go in to crafting a solution that is as visually informative as possible. On the development side, however, solutions range widely. I’ve checked out the checkouts at a number of sites and here’s what I’ve found when it comes to progress meters: they’re sometimes inaccessible and often confusing or unhelpful — all because of the way in which they’re coded. For those who use assistive devices or text-only browsers, there must be a better way to code the progress meter — and there is. (Note: All code samples are from live sites but have been tweaked to hide the culprits’ identities.) How not to make progress A number of sites assemble their progress meters using non- or semi-semantic markup and images with no alternate text. On text-only browsers (like my mobile phone) and to screen readers, this looks and reads like chunks of content with no context given. <div id="progress"> <img src="icon_progress_1a.gif" alt=""> <em>Shipping information</em> <img src="icon_progress_arrow.gif" alt=""> <img src="icon_progress_2a.gif" alt=""> <em>Payment information</em> <img src="icon_progress_arrow.gif" alt="" class="progarrow"> <img src="icon_progress_3b.gif" alt=""> <strong>Place your order</strong> </div> In the above example, the third state, “Place your order”, is the current state. But a screen reader may not know that, and my cell phone only displays "Shipping informationPayment informationPlace your order". Not good. Is this progress? Other sites present the entire progress meter as a graphic, like the following: Now, I have no problem with using a graphic to render a very stylish progress meter (my sample above is probably not the most stylish example, of course, but you understand my point). What becomes important in this case is the use of appropriate alternate text to describe the image. Disappointingly, sites today have a wide range of solutions, including using no alternate text. Check out these code samples which call progress meter images. <img src="checkout_step2.gif" alt=""> I think we can all agree that the above is bad, unless you really don’t care whether or not users know where they are in a flow. <img src="checkout_step2.gif" alt="Shipping information - Payment information - Place your order"> The alt text in the example above just copies all of the text found in the graphic, but it doesn’t represent the status at all. So for every page in the checkout, the user sees or hears the same text. Sure, by the second or third page in the flow, the user has figured out what’s going on, but she or he had to think about it. I don’t think that’s good. <img src="checkout_step2.gif" alt="Checkout: Payment information"> The above probably has the best alternate text out of these examples, because the user at least understands that they’re in the Checkout process, on the Place your order page. But going through the flow with alt text like this, the user doesn’t know how many steps are in the flow. Semantic progress Of course, there are some sites that use an ordered list when marking up the progress meter. Hooray! Unfortunately, no text-only browser or screen reader would be able to describe the user’s current state given this markup. <ol class="progressmeter"> <li class="one current">shipping information</li> <li class="two">payment information</li> <li class="three">place your order</li> </ol> Without CSS enabled, the above is rendered as follows: Progress at last We all know that semantic markup makes for the best foundation, so we’ll start with the markup found above. In order to make the state information accessible, let’s add some additional text in paragraph and span elements. <div class="progressmeter"> <p>There are three steps in this checkout process.</p> <ol> <li class="one"><span>Enter your</span> shipping information</li> <li class="two"><span>Enter your</span> payment information</li> <li class="three"><span>Review details and</span> place your order</li> </ol> </div> Add on some simple CSS to hide the paragraph and spans, and arrange the list items on a single line with a background image to represent the large number, and this is what you’ll get: There are three steps in this checkout process. Enter your shipping information Enter your payment information Review details and place your order To display and describe a state as active, add the class “current” to one of the list items. Then change the hidden content such that it better describes the state to the user. <div class="progressmeter"> <p>There are three steps in this checkout process.</p> <ol> <li class="one current"><span>You are currently entering your</span> shipping information</li> <li class="two"><span>In the next step, you will enter your</span> payment information</li> <li class="three"><span>In the last step, you will review the details and</span> place your order</li> </ol> </div> The end result is an attractive progress meter that gives much greater semantic and contextual information. There are three steps in this checkout process. You are currently entering your shipping information In the next step, you will enter your payment information In the last step, you will review the details and place your order For example, the above example renders in a text-only browser as follows: There are three steps in this checkout process. You are currently entering your shipping information In the next step, you will enter your payment information In the last step, you will review the details and place your order And the screen reader I use for testing announces the following: There are three steps in this checkout process. List of three items. You are currently entering your shipping information. In the next step, you will enter your payment information. In the last step, you will review the details and place your order. List end. Here’s a sample code page that summarises this approach. Happy frustration-free online shopping with this improved progress meter! 2008 Kimberly Blessing kimberlyblessing 2008-12-12T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/checking-out-progress-meters/ ux
105 Contract Killer When times get tough, it can often feel like there are no good people left in the world, only people who haven’t yet turned bad. These bad people will go back on their word, welch on a deal, put themselves first. You owe it to yourself to stay on top. You owe it to yourself to ensure that no matter how bad things get, you’ll come away clean. You owe it yourself and your business not to be the guy lying bleeding in an alley with a slug in your gut. But you’re a professional, right? Nothing bad is going to happen to you. You’re a good guy. You do good work for good people. Think again chump. Maybe you’re a gun for hire, a one man army with your back to the wall and nothing standing between you and the line at a soup kitchen but your wits. Maybe you work for the agency, or like me you run one of your own. Either way, when times get tough and people get nasty, you’ll need more than a killer smile to save you. You’ll need a killer contract too. It was exactly ten years ago today that I first opened my doors for business. In that time I’ve thumbed through enough contracts to fill a filing cabinet. I’ve signed more contracts than I can remember, many so complicated that I should have hired a lawyer (or detective) to make sense of their complicated jargon and solve their cross-reference puzzles. These documents had not been written to be understood on first reading but to spin me around enough times so as to give the other player the upper-hand. If signing a contract I didn’t fully understand made me a stupid son-of-a-bitch, not asking my customers to sign one just makes me plain dumb. I’ve not always been so careful about asking my customers to sign contracts with me as I am now. Somehow in the past I felt that insisting on a contract went against the friendly, trusting relationship that I like to build with my customers. Most of the time the game went my way. On rare the occasions when a fight broke out, I ended up bruised and bloodied. I learned that asking my customers to sign a contract matters to both sides, but what also matters to me is that these contracts should be more meaningful, understandable and less complicated than any of those that I have ever autographed. Writing a killer contract If you are writing a contract between you and your customers it doesn’t have to conform to the seemingly standard format of jargon and complicated legalese. You can be creative. A killer contract will clarify what is expected of both sides and it can also help you to communicate your approach to doing business. It will back-up your brand values and help you to build a great relationship between you and your customers. In other words, a creative contract can be a killer contract. Your killer contract should cover: A simple overview of who is hiring who, what they are being hired to do, when and for how much What both parties agree to do and what their respective responsibilities are The specifics of the deal and what is or isn’t included in the scope What happens when people change their minds (as they almost always do) A simple overview of liabilities and other legal matters You might even include a few jokes To help you along, I will illustrate those bullet points by pointing both barrels at the contract that I wrote and have been using at Stiffs & Nonsense for the past year. My contract has been worth its weight in lead and you are welcome to take all or any part of it to use for yourself. It’s packing a creative-commons attribution share-a-like license. That means you are free to re-distribute it, translate it and otherwise re-use it in ways I never considered. In return I only ask you mention my name and link back to this article. As I am only an amateur detective, you should have it examined thoroughly by your own, trusted legal people if you use it. NB: The specific details of this killer contract work for me and my customers. That doesn’t mean that they will work for you and yours. The ways that I handle design revisions, testing, copyright ownership and other specifics are not the main focus of this article. That you handle each of them carefully when you write your own killer contract is. Kiss Me, Deadly Setting a tone and laying foundations for agreement The first few paragraphs of a killer contract are the most important. Just like a well thought-out web page, these first few words should be simple, concise and include the key points in your contract. As this is the part of the contract that people absorb most easily, it is important that you make it count. Start by setting the overall tone and explaining how your killer contract is structured and why it is different. We will always do our best to fulfill your needs and meet your goals, but sometimes it is best to have a few simple things written down so that we both know what is what, who should do what and what happens if stuff goes wrong. In this contract you won’t find complicated legal terms or large passages of unreadable text. We have no desire to trick you into signing something that you might later regret. We do want what’s best for the safety of both parties, now and in the future. In short You ([customer name]) are hiring us ([company name]) located at [address] to [design and develop a web site] for the estimated total price of [total] as outlined in our previous correspondence. Of course it’s a little more complicated, but we’ll get to that. The Big Kill What both parties agree to do Have you ever done work on a project in good faith for a junior member of a customer’s team, only to find out later that their spending hadn’t been authorized? To make damn sure that does not happen to you, you should ask your customer to confirm that not only are they authorized to enter into your contract but that they will fulfill all of their obligations to help you meet yours. This will help you to avoid any gunfire if, as deadline day approaches, you have fulfilled your side of the bargain but your customer has not come up with the goods. As our customer, you have the power and ability to enter into this contract on behalf of your company or organization. You agree to provide us with everything that we need to complete the project including text, images and other information as and when we need it, and in the format that we ask for. You agree to review our work, provide feedback and sign-off approval in a timely manner too. Deadlines work two ways and you will also be bound by any dates that we set together. You also agree to stick to the payment schedule set out at the end of this contract. We have the experience and ability to perform the services you need from us and we will carry them out in a professional and timely manner. Along the way we will endeavor to meet all the deadlines set but we can’t be responsible for a missed launch date or a deadline if you have been late in supplying materials or have not approved or signed off our work on-time at any stage. On top of this we will also maintain the confidentiality of any information that you give us. My Gun Is Quick Getting down to the nitty gritty What appear at first to be a straight-forward projects can sometimes turn long and complicated and unless you play it straight from the beginning your relationship with your customer can suffer under the strain. Customers do, and should have the opportunity to, change their minds and give you new assignments. After-all, projects should be flexible and few customers know from the get-go exactly what they want to see. If you handle this well from the beginning you will help to keep yourself and your customers from becoming frustrated. You will also help yourself to dodge bullets in the event of a fire-fight. We will create designs for the look-and-feel, layout and functionality of your web site. This contract includes one main design plus the opportunity for you to make up to two rounds of revisions. If you’re not happy with the designs at this stage, you will pay us in full for all of the work that we have produced until that point and you may either cancel this contract or continue to commission us to make further design revisions at the daily rate set out in our original estimate. We know from plenty of experience that fixed-price contracts are rarely beneficial to you, as they often limit you to your first idea about how something should look, or how it might work. We don’t want to limit either your options or your opportunities to change your mind. The estimate/quotation prices at the beginning of this document are based on the number of days that we estimate we’ll need to accomplish everything that you have told us you want to achieve. If you do want to change your mind, add extra pages or templates or even add new functionality, that won’t be a problem. You will be charged the daily rate set out in the estimate we gave you. Along the way we might ask you to put requests in writing so we can keep track of changes. As I like to push my luck when it comes to CSS, it never hurts to head off the potential issue of progressive enrichment right from the start. You should do this too. But don’t forget that when it comes to technical matters your customers may have different expectations or understanding, so be clear about what you will and won’t do. If the project includes XHTML or HTML markup and CSS templates, we will develop these using valid XHTML 1.0 Strict markup and CSS2.1 + 3 for styling. We will test all our markup and CSS in current versions of all major browsers including those made by Apple, Microsoft, Mozilla and Opera. We will also test to ensure that pages will display visually in a ‘similar’, albeit not necessarily an identical way, in Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 for Windows as this browser is now past it’s sell-by date. We will not test these templates in old or abandoned browsers, for example Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 or 5.5 for Windows or Mac, previous versions of Apple’s Safari, Mozilla Firefox or Opera unless otherwise specified. If you need to show the same or similar visual design to visitors using these older browsers, we will charge you at the daily rate set out in our original estimate for any necessary additional code and its testing. The Twisted Thing It is not unheard of for customers to pass off stolen goods as their own. If this happens, make sure that you are not the one left holding the baby. You should also make it clear who owns the work that you make as customers often believe that because they pay for your time, that they own everything that you produce. Copyrights You guarantee to us that any elements of text, graphics, photos, designs, trademarks, or other artwork that you provide us for inclusion in the web site are either owned by your good selfs, or that you have permission to use them. When we receive your final payment, copyright is automatically assigned as follows: You own the graphics and other visual elements that we create for you for this project. We will give you a copy of all files and you should store them really safely as we are not required to keep them or provide any native source files that we used in making them. You also own text content, photographs and other data you provided, unless someone else owns them. We own the XHTML markup, CSS and other code and we license it to you for use on only this project. Vengeance Is Mine! The fine print Unless your work is pro-bono, you should make sure that your customers keep you in shoe leather. It is important that your customers know from the outset that they must pay you on time if they want to stay on good terms. We are sure you understand how important it is as a small business that you pay the invoices that we send you promptly. As we’re also sure you’ll want to stay friends, you agree to stick tight to the following payment schedule. [Payment schedule] No killer contract would be complete without you making sure that you are watching your own back. Before you ask your customers to sign, make it clear-cut what your obligations are and what will happen if any part of your killer contract finds itself laying face down in the dirt. We can’t guarantee that the functions contained in any web page templates or in a completed web site will always be error-free and so we can’t be liable to you or any third party for damages, including lost profits, lost savings or other incidental, consequential or special damages arising out of the operation of or inability to operate this web site and any other web pages, even if you have advised us of the possibilities of such damages. Just like a parking ticket, you cannot transfer this contract to anyone else without our permission. This contract stays in place and need not be renewed. If any provision of this agreement shall be unlawful, void, or for any reason unenforceable, then that provision shall be deemed severable from this agreement and shall not affect the validity and enforceability of any remaining provisions. Phew. Although the language is simple, the intentions are serious and this contract is a legal document under exclusive jurisdiction of [English] courts. Oh and don’t forget those men with big dogs. Survival… Zero! Take it from me, packing a killer contract will help to keep you safe when times get tough, but you must still keep your wits about you and stay on the right side of the law. Don’t be a turkey this Christmas. Be a contract killer. Update, May 2010: For a follow-on to this article see Contract Killer: The Next Hit 2008 Andy Clarke andyclarke 2008-12-23T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/contract-killer/ business
120 Easier Page States for Wireframes When designing wireframes for web sites and web apps, it is often overlooked that the same ‘page’ can look wildly different depending on its context. A logged-in page will look different from a logged-out page; an administrator’s view may have different buttons than a regular user’s view; a power user’s profile will be more extensive than a new user’s. These different page states need designing at some point, especially if the wireframes are to form a useful communication medium between designer and developer. Documenting the different permutations can be a time consuming exercise involving either multiple pages in one’s preferred box-and-arrow software, or a fully fledged drawing containing all the possible combinations annotated accordingly. Enter interactive wireframes and Polypage Interactive wireframes built in HTML are a great design and communication tool. They provide a clickable prototype, running in the browser as would the final site. As such they give a great feel for how the site will be to use. Once you add in the possibilities of JavaScript and a library such as jQuery, they become even more flexible and powerful. Polypage is a jQuery plugin which makes it really easy to design multiple page states in HTML wireframes. There’s no JavaScript knowledge required (other than cutting and pasting in a few lines). The page views are created by simply writing all the alternatives into your HTML page and adding special class names to apply state and conditional view logic to the various options. When the page is loaded Polypage automatically detects the page states defined by the class names and creates a control bar enabling the user to toggle page states with the click of a mouse or the clack of a keyboard. Using cookies by way of the jQuery cookie plugin, Polypage retains the view state throughout your prototype. This means you could navigate through your wireframes as if you were logged out; as if you were logged in as an administrator; with notes on or off; or with any other view or state you might require. The possibilities are entirely up to you. How does it work? Firstly you need to link to jQuery, the jQuery cookie plugin and to Polypage. Something like this: <script src="javascripts/jquery-1.2.6.min.js" type="text/javascript"></script> <script src="javascripts/cookie.jquery.js" type="text/javascript"></script> <script src="javascripts/polypage.jquery.js" type="text/javascript"></script> Then you need to initialise Polypage on page load using something along these lines: <script type="text/javascript"> $(document).ready(function() { $.polypage.init(); }); </script> Next you need to define the areas of your wireframe which are particular to a given state or view. Do this by applying classes beginning with pp_. Polypage will ignore all other classes in the document. The pp_ prefix should be followed by a state name. This can be any text string you like, bearing in mind it will appear in the control bar. Typical page states might include ‘logged_in’, ‘administrator’ or ‘group_owner’. A complete class name would therefore look something like pp_logged_in. Examples If a user is logged in, you might want to specify an option for him or her to sign out. Using Polypage, this could be put in the wireframe as follows: <a href="logout" class="pp_logged_in"> Sign out </a> Polypage will identify the pp_logged_in class on the link and hide it (as the ‘Sign out’ link should only be shown when the page is in the ‘logged in’ view). Polypage will then automatically write a ‘logged in’ toggle to the control bar, enabling you to show or hide the ‘Sign out’ link by toggling the ‘logged in’ view. The same will apply to all content marked with a pp_logged_in class. States can also be negated by adding a not keyword to the class name. For example you might want to provide a log in link for users who are not signed in. Using Polypage, you would insert the not keyword after the pp prefix as follows: <a href="login" class="pp_not_logged_in"> Login </a> Again Polypage identifies the pp prefix but this time sees that the ‘Login’ link should not be shown when the ‘logged in’ state is selected. States can also be joined together to add some basic logic to pages. The syntax follows natural language and uses the or and and keywords in addition to the afore-mentioned not. Some examples would be pp_logged_in_and_admin, pp_admin_or_group_owner and pp_logged_in_and_not_admin. Finally, you can set default states for a page by passing an array to the polypage.init() function like this: $.polypage.init(['logged_in', 'admin']); You can see a fully fledged example in this fictional social network group page. The example page defaults to a logged in state. You can see the logged out state by toggling ‘logged in’ off in the Polypage control bar. There are also views specified for a group member, a group admin, a new group and notes. Where can I get hold of it? You can download the current version from GitHub. Polypage was originally developed by Clearleft and New Bamboo, with particular contributions from Andy Kent and Natalie Downe. It has been used in numerous real projects, but it is still an early release so there is bound to be room for improvement. We’re pleased to say that Polypage is now an open source project so any feedback, particularly by way of actual improvements, is extremely welcome. 2008 Richard Rutter richardrutter 2008-12-11T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/easier-page-states-for-wireframes/ process
101 Easing The Path from Design to Development As a web developer, I have the pleasure of working with a lot of different designers. There has been a lot of industry discussion of late about designers and developers, focusing on how different we sometimes are and how the interface between our respective phases of a project (that is to say moving from a design phase into production) can sometimes become a battleground. I don’t believe it has to be a battleground. It’s actually more like being a dance partner – our steps are different, but as long as we know our own part and have a little knowledge of our partner’s steps, it all goes together to form a cohesive dance. Albeit with less spandex and fewer sequins (although that may depend on the project in question). As the process usually flows from design towards development, it’s most important that designers have a little knowledge of how the site is going to be built. At the specialist web development agency I’m part of, we find that designs that have been well considered from a technical perspective help to keep the project on track and on budget. Based on that experience, I’ve put together my checklist of things that designers should consider before handing their work over to a developer to build. Layout One rookie mistake made by traditionally trained designers transferring to the web is to forget a web browser is not a fixed medium. Unlike designing a magazine layout or a piece of packaging, there are lots of available options to consider. Should the layout be fluid and resize with the window, or should it be set to a fixed width? If it’s fluid, which parts expand and which not? If it’s fixed, should it sit in the middle of the window or to one side? If any part of the layout is going to be flexible (get wider and narrower as required), consider how any graphics are affected. Images don’t usually look good if displayed at anything other that their original size, so should they behave? If a column is going to get wider than it’s shown in the Photoshop comp, it may be necessary to provide separate wider versions of any background images. Text size and content volume A related issue is considering how the layout behaves with both different sizes of text and different volumes of content. Whilst text zooming rather than text resizing is becoming more commonplace as the default behaviour in browsers, it’s still a fundamentally important principal of web design that we are suggesting and not dictating how something should look. Designs must allow for a little give and take in the text size, and how this affects the design needs to be taken into consideration. Keep in mind that the same font can display differently in different places and platforms. Something as simple as Times will display wider on a Mac than on Windows. However, the main impact of text resizing is the change in how much vertical space copy takes up. This is particularly important where space is limited by the design (making text bigger causes many more problems than making text smaller). Each element from headings to box-outs to navigation items and buttons needs to be able to expand at least vertically, if not horizontally as well. This may require some thought about how elements on the page may wrap onto new lines, as well as again making sure to provide extended versions of any graphical elements. Similarly, it’s rare theses days to know exactly what content you’re working with when a site is designed. Many, if not most sites are designed as a series of templates for some kind of content management system, and so designs cannot be tweaked around any specific item of content. Designs must be able to cope with both much greater and much lesser volumes of content that might be thrown in at the lorem ipsum phase. Particular things to watch out for are things like headings (how do they wrap onto multiple lines) and any user-generated items like usernames. It can be very easy to forget that whilst you might expect something like a username to be 8-12 characters, if the systems powering your site allow for 255 characters they’ll always be someone who’ll go there. Expect them to do so. Again, if your site is content managed or not, consider the possibility that the structure might be expanded in the future. Consider how additional items might be added to each level of navigation. Whilst it’s rarely desirable to make significant changes without revisiting the site’s information architecture more thoroughly, it’s an inevitable fact of life that the structure needs a little bit of flexibility to change over time. Interactions with and without JavaScript A great number of sites now make good use of JavaScript to streamline the user interface and make everything just that touch more usable. Remember, though, that any developer worth their salt will start by building the interface without JavaScript, get it all working, and then layer that JavaScript on top. This is to allow for users viewing the site without JavaScript available or enabled in their browser. Designers need to consider both states of any feature they’re designing – how it looks and functions with and without JavaScript. If the feature does something fancy with Ajax, consider how the same can be achieved with basic HTML forms, links and intermediary pages. These all need to be designed, because this is how some of your users will interact with the site. Logged in and logged out states When designing any type of web application or site that has a membership system – that is to say users can create an account and log into the site – the design will need to consider how any element is presented in both logged in and logged out states. For some items there’ll be no difference, whereas for others there may be considerable differences. Should an item be hidden completely not logged out users? Should it look different in some way? Perhaps it should look the same, but prompt the user to log in when they interact with it. If so, what form should that prompt take on and how does the user progress through the authentication process to arrive back at the task they were originally trying to complete? Couple logged in and logged out states with the possible absence of JavaScript, and every feature needs to be designed in four different states: Logged out with JavaScript available Logged in with JavaScript available Logged out without JavaScript available Logged in without JavaScript available Fonts There are three main causes of war in this world; religions, politics and fonts. I’ve said publicly before that I believe the responsibility for this falls squarely at the feet of Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop, like a mistress at a brothel, parades a vast array of ropey, yet strangely enticing typefaces past the eyes of weak, lily-livered designers, who can’t help but crumble to their curvy charms. Yet, on the web, we have to be a little more restrained in our choice of typefaces. The purest solution is always to make the best use of the available fonts, but this isn’t always the most desirable solution from a design point of view. There are several technical solutions such as techniques that utilise Flash (like sIFR), dynamically generated images and even canvas in newer browsers. Discuss the best approach with your developer, as every different technique has different trade-offs, and this may impact the design in other ways. Messaging Any site that has interactive elements, from a simple contact form through to fully featured online software application, involves some kind of user messaging. By this I mean the error messages when something goes wrong and the success and thank-you messages when something goes right. These typically appear as the result of an interaction, so are easy to forget and miss off a Photoshop comp. For every form, consider what gets displayed to the user if they make a mistake or miss something out, and also what gets displayed back when the interaction is successful. What do they see and where do the go next? With Ajax interactions, the user doesn’t get any visual feedback of the site waiting for a response from the server unless you design it that way. Consider using a ‘waiting’ or ‘in progress’ spinner to give the user some visual feedback of any background processes. How should these look? How do they animate? Similarly, also consider the big error pages like a 404. With luck, these won’t often be seen, but it’s at the point that they are when careful design matters the most. Form fields Depending on the visual style of your site, the look of a browser’s default form fields and buttons can sometimes jar. It’s understandable that many a designer wants to change the way they look. Depending on the browser in question, various things can be done to style form fields and their buttons (although it’s not as flexible as most would like). A common request is to replace the default buttons with a graphical button. This is usually achievable in most cases, although it’s not easy to get a consistent result across all browsers – particularly when it comes to vertical positioning and the space surrounding the button. If the layout is very precise, or if space is at a premium, it’s always best to try and live with the browser’s default form controls. Whichever way you go, it’s important to remember that in general, each form field should have a label, and each form should have a submit button. If you find that your form breaks either of those rules, you should double check. Practical tips for handing files over There are a couple of basic steps that a design can carry out to make sure that the developer has the best chance of implementing the design exactly as envisioned. If working with Photoshop of Fireworks or similar comping tool, it helps to group and label layers to make it easy for a developer to see which need to be turned on and off to get to isolate parts of the page and different states of the design. Also, if you don’t work in the same office as your developer (and so they can’t quickly check with you), provide a PDF of each page and state so that your developer can see how each page should look aside from any confusion with quick layers are switched on or off. These also act as a handy quick reference that can be used without firing up Photoshop (which can kill both productivity and your machine). Finally, provide a colour reference showing the RGB values of all the key colours used throughout the design. Without this, the developer will end up colour-picking from the comps, and could potentially end up with different colours to those you intended. Remember, for a lot of developers, working in a tool like Photoshop is like presenting a designer with an SSH terminal into a web server. It’s unfamiliar ground and easy to get things wrong. Be the expert of your own domain and help your colleagues out when they’re out of their comfort zone. That goes both ways. In conclusion When asked the question of how to smooth hand-over between design and development, almost everyone who has experienced this situation could come up with their own list. This one is mine, based on some of the more common experiences we have at edgeofmyseat.com. So in bullet point form, here’s my checklist for handing a design over. Is the layout fixed, or fluid? Does each element cope with expanding for larger text and more content? Are all the graphics large enough to cope with an area expanding? Does each interactive element have a state for with and without JavaScript? Does each element have a state for logged in and logged out users? How are any custom fonts being displayed? (and does the developer have the font to use?) Does each interactive element have error and success messages designed? Do all form fields have a label and each form a submit button? Is your Photoshop comp document well organised? Have you provided flat PDFs of each state? Have you provided a colour reference? Are we having fun yet? 2008 Drew McLellan drewmclellan 2008-12-01T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/easing-the-path-from-design-to-development/ process
111 Geometric Background Patterns When the design is finished and you’re about to start the coding process, you have to prepare your graphics. If you’re working with a pattern background you need to export only the repeating fragment. It can be a bit tricky to isolate a fragment to achieve a seamless pattern background. For geometric patterns there is a method I always follow and that I want to share with you. Take for example a perfect 45° diagonal line pattern. How do you define this pattern fragment so it will be rendered seamlessly? Here is the method I usually follow to avoid a mismatch. First, zoom in so you see enough detail and you can distinguish the pixels. Select the Rectangular Marquee Selection tool and start your selection at the intersection of 2 different colors of a diagonal line. Hold down the Shift key while dragging so you drag a perfect square. Release the mouse when you reach the exact same intesection (as your starting) point at the top right. Copy this fragment (using Copy Merged: Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + C) and paste the fragment in a new layer. Give this layer the name ‘pattern’. Now hold down the Command Key (Control Key on Windows) and click on the ‘pattern’ layer in the Layers Palette to select the fragment. Now go to Edit > Define Pattern, enter a name for your pattern and click OK. Test your pattern in a new document. Create a new document of 600 px by 400px, hit Cmd/Ctrl + A and go to Edit > Fill… and choose your pattern. If the result is OK, you have created a perfect pattern fragment. Below you see this pattern enlarged. The guides show the boundaries of the pattern fragment and the red pixels are the reference points. The red pixels at the top right, bottom right and bottom left should match the red pixel at the top left. This technique should work for every geometric pattern. Some patterns are easier than others, but this, and the Photoshop pattern fill test, has always been my guideline. Other geometric pattern examples Example 1 Not all geometric pattern fragments are squares. Some patterns look easy at first sight, because they look very repetitive, but they can be a bit tricky. Zoomed in pattern fragment with point of reference shown: Example 2 Some patterns have a clear repeating point that can guide you, such as the blue small circle of this pattern as you can see from this zoomed in screenshot: Zoomed in pattern fragment with point of reference shown: Example 3 The different diagonal colors makes a bit more tricky to extract the correct pattern fragment. The orange dot, which is the starting point of the selection is captured a few times inside the fragment selection: 2008 Veerle Pieters veerlepieters 2008-12-02T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/geometric-background-patterns/ design
109 Geotag Everywhere with Fire Eagle A note from the editors: Since this article was written Yahoo! has retired the Fire Eagle service. Location, they say, is everywhere. Everyone has one, all of the time. But on the web, it’s taken until this year to see the emergence of location in the applications we use and build. The possibilities are broad. Increasingly, mobile phones provide SDKs to approximate your location wherever you are, browser extensions such as Loki and Mozilla’s Geode provide browser-level APIs to establish your location from the proximity of wireless networks to your laptop. Yahoo’s Brickhouse group launched Fire Eagle, an ambitious location broker enabling people to take their location from any of these devices or sources, and provide it to a plethora of web services. It enables you to take the location information that only your iPhone knows about and use it anywhere on the web. That said, this is still a time of location as an emerging technology. Fire Eagle stores your location on the web (protected by application-specific access controls), but to try and give an idea of how useful and powerful your location can be — regardless of the services you use now — today’s 24ways is going to build a bookmarklet to call up your location on demand, in any web application. Location Support on the Web Over the past year, the number of applications implementing location features has increased dramatically. Plazes and Brightkite are both full featured social networks based around where you are, whilst Pownce rolled in Fire Eagle support to allow geotagging of all the content you post to their microblogging service. Dipity’s beautiful timeline shows for you moving from place to place and Six Apart’s activity stream for Movable Type started exposing your movements. The number of services that hook into Fire Eagle will increase as location awareness spreads through the developer community, but you can use your location on other sites indirectly too. Consider Flickr. Now world renowned for their incredible mapping and places features, geotagging on Flickr started out as a grassroots extension of regular tagging. That same technique can be used to start rolling geotagging in any publishing platform you come across, for any kind of content. Machine-tags (geo:lat= and geo:lon=) and the adr and geo microformats can be used to enhance anything you write with location information. A crash course in avian inflammability Fire Eagle is a location store. A broker between services and devices which provide location and those which consume it. It’s a switchboard that controls which pieces of your location different applications can see and use, and keeps hidden anything you want kept private. A blog widget that displays your current location in public can be restricted to display just your current city, whilst a service that provides you with a list of the nearest ATMs will operate better with a precise street address. Even if your iPhone tells Fire Eagle exactly where you are, consuming applications only see what you want them to see. That’s important for users to realise that they’re in control, but also important for application developers to remember that you cannot rely on having super-accurate information available all the time. You need to build location aware applications which degrade gracefully, because users will provide fuzzier information — either through choice, or through less accurate sources. Application specific permissions are controlled through an OAuth API. Each application has a unique key, used to request a second, user-specific key that permits access to that user’s information. You store that user key and it remains valid until such a time as the user revokes your application’s access. Unlike with passwords, these keys are unique per application, so revoking the access rights of one application doesn’t break all the others. Building your first Fire Eagle app; Geomarklet Fire Eagle’s developer documentation can take you through examples of writing simple applications using server side technologies (PHP, Python). Here, we’re going to write a client-side bookmarklet to make your location available in every site you use. It’s designed to fast-track the experience of having location available everywhere on web, and show you how that can be really handy. Hopefully, this will set you thinking about how location can enhance the new applications you build in 2009. An oddity of bookmarklets Bookmarklets (or ‘favlets’, for those of an MSIE persuasion) are a strange environment to program in. Critically, you have no persistent storage available. As such, using token-auth APIs in a static environment requires you to build you application in a slightly strange way; authing yourself in advance and then hardcoding the keys into your script. Get started Before you do anything else, go to http://fireeagle.com and log in, get set up if you need to and by all means take a look around. Take a look at the mobile updaters section of the application gallery and perhaps pick out an app that will update Fire Eagle from your phone or laptop. Once that’s done, you need to register for an application key in the developer section. Head straight to /developer/create and complete the form. Since you’re building a standalone application, choose ‘Auth for desktop applications’ (rather than web applications), and select that you’ll be ‘accessing location’, not updating. At the end of this process, you’ll have two application keys, a ‘Consumer Key’ and a ‘Consumer Secret’, which look like these: Consumer Key luKrM9U1pMnu Consumer Secret ZZl9YXXoJX5KLiKyVrMZffNEaBnxnd6M These keys combined allow your application to make requests to Fire Eagle. Next up, you need to auth yourself; granting your new application permission to use your location. Because bookmarklets don’t have local storage, you can’t integrate the auth process into the bookmarklet itself — it would have no way of storing the returned key. Instead, I’ve put together a simple web frontend through which you can auth with your application. Head to Auth me, Amadeus!, enter the application keys you just generated and hit ‘Authorize with Fire Eagle’. You’ll be taken to the Fire Eagle website, just as in regular Fire Eagle applications, and after granting access to your app, be redirected back to Amadeus which will provide you your user tokens. These tokens are used in subsequent requests to read your location. And, skip to the end… The process of building the bookmarklet, making requests to Fire Eagle, rendering it to the page and so forth follows, but if you’re the impatient type, you might like to try this out right now. Take your four API keys from above, and drag the following link to your Bookmarks Toolbar; it contains all the code described below. Before you can use it, you need to edit in your own API keys. Open your browser’s bookmark editor and where you find text like ‘YOUR_CONSUMER_KEY_HERE’, swap in the corresponding key you just generated. Get Location Bookmarklet Basics To start on the bookmarklet code, set out a basic JavaScript module-pattern structure: var Geomarklet = function() { return ({ callback: function(json) {}, run: function() {} }); }; Geomarklet.run(); Next we’ll add the keys obtained in the setup step, and also some basic Fire Eagle support objects: var Geomarklet = function() { var Keys = { consumer_key: 'IuKrJUHU1pMnu', consumer_secret: 'ZZl9YXXoJX5KLiKyVEERTfNEaBnxnd6M', user_token: 'xxxxxxxxxxxx', user_secret: 'xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx' }; var LocationDetail = { EXACT: 0, POSTAL: 1, NEIGHBORHOOD: 2, CITY: 3, REGION: 4, STATE: 5, COUNTRY: 6 }; var index_offset; return ({ callback: function(json) {}, run: function() {} }); }; Geomarklet.run(); The Location Hierarchy A successful Fire Eagle query returns an object called the ‘location hierarchy’. Depending on the level of detail shared, the index of a particular piece of information in the array will vary. The LocationDetail object maps the array indices of each level in the hierarchy to something comprehensible, whilst the index_offset variable is an adjustment based on the detail of the result returned. The location hierarchy object looks like this, providing a granular breakdown of a location, in human consumable and machine-friendly forms. "user": { "location_hierarchy": [{ "level": 0, "level_name": "exact", "name": "707 19th St, San Francisco, CA", "normal_name": "94123", "geometry": { "type": "Point", "coordinates": [ - 0.2347530752, 67.232323] }, "label": null, "best_guess": true, "id": , "located_at": "2008-12-18T00:49:58-08:00", "query": "q=707%2019th%20Street,%20Sf" }, { "level": 1, "level_name": "postal", "name": "San Francisco, CA 94114", "normal_name": "12345", "woeid": , "place_id": "", "geometry": { "type": "Polygon", "coordinates": [], "bbox": [] }, "label": null, "best_guess": false, "id": 59358791, "located_at": "2008-12-18T00:49:58-08:00" }, { "level": 2, "level_name": "neighborhood", "name": "The Mission, San Francisco, CA", "normal_name": "The Mission", "woeid": 23512048, "place_id": "Y12JWsKbApmnSQpbQg", "geometry": { "type": "Polygon", "coordinates": [], "bbox": [] }, "label": null, "best_guess": false, "id": 59358801, "located_at": "2008-12-18T00:49:58-08:00" }, } In this case the first object has a level of 0, so the index_offset is also 0. Prerequisites To query Fire Eagle we call in some existing libraries to handle the OAuth layer and the Fire Eagle API call. Your bookmarklet will need to add the following scripts into the page: The SHA1 encryption algorithm The OAuth wrapper An extension for the OAuth wrapper The Fire Eagle wrapper itself When the bookmarklet is first run, we’ll insert these scripts into the document. We’re also inserting a stylesheet to dress up the UI that will be generated. If you want to follow along any of the more mundane parts of the bookmarklet, you can download the full source code. Rendering This bookmarklet can be extended to support any formatting of your location you like, but for sake of example I’m going to build three common formatters that you’ll find useful for common location scenarios: Sites which already ask for your location; and in publishing systems that accept tags or HTML mark-up. All the rendering functions are items in a renderers object, so they can be iterated through easily, making it trivial to add new formatting functions as your find new use cases (just add another function to the object). var renderers = { geotag: function(user) { if(LocationDetail.EXACT !== index_offset) { return false; } else { var coords = user.location_hierarchy[LocationDetail.EXACT].geometry.coordinates; return "geo:lat=" + coords[0] + ", geo:lon=" + coords[1]; } }, city: function(user) { if(LocationDetail.CITY < index_offset) { return false; } else { return user.location_hierarchy[LocationDetail.CITY - index_offset].name; } } You should always fail gracefully, and in line with catering to users who choose not to share their location precisely, always check that the location has been returned at the level you require. Geotags are expected to be precise, so if an exact location is unavailable, returning false will tell the rendering aspect of the bookmarklet to ignore the function altogether. These first two are quite simple, geotag returns geo:lat=-0.2347530752, geo:lon=67.232323 and city returns San Francisco, CA. This final renderer creates a chunk of HTML using the adr and geo microformats, using all available aspects of the location hierarchy, and can be used to geotag any content you write on your blog or in comments: html: function(user) { var geostring = ''; var adrstring = ''; var adr = []; adr.push('<p class="adr">'); // city if(LocationDetail.CITY >= index_offset) { adr.push( '\n <span class="locality">' + user.location_hierarchy[LocationDetail.CITY-index_offset].normal_name + '</span>,' ); } // county if(LocationDetail.REGION >= index_offset) { adr.push( '\n <span class="region">' + user.location_hierarchy[LocationDetail.REGION-index_offset].normal_name + '</span>,' ); } // locality if(LocationDetail.STATE >= index_offset) { adr.push( '\n <span class="region">' + user.location_hierarchy[LocationDetail.STATE-index_offset].normal_name + '</span>,' ); } // country if(LocationDetail.COUNTRY >= index_offset) { adr.push( '\n <span class="country-name">' + user.location_hierarchy[LocationDetail.COUNTRY-index_offset].normal_name + '</span>' ); } // postal if(LocationDetail.POSTAL >= index_offset) { adr.push( '\n <span class="postal-code">' + user.location_hierarchy[LocationDetail.POSTAL-index_offset].normal_name + '</span>,' ); } adr.push('\n</p>\n'); adrstring = adr.join(''); if(LocationDetail.EXACT === index_offset) { var coords = user.location_hierarchy[LocationDetail.EXACT].geometry.coordinates; geostring = '<p class="geo">' +'\n <span class="latitude">' + coords[0] + '</span>;' + '\n <span class="longitude">' + coords[1] + '</span>\n</p>\n'; } return (adrstring + geostring); } Here we check the availability of every level of location and build it into the adr and geo patterns as appropriate. Just as for the geotag function, if there’s no exact location the geo markup won’t be returned. Finally, there’s a rendering method which creates a container for all this data, renders all the applicable location formats and then displays them in the page for a user to copy and paste. You can throw this together with DOM methods and some simple styling, or roll in some components from YUI or JQuery to handle drawing full featured overlays. You can see this simple implementation for rendering in the full source code. Make the call With a framework in place to render Fire Eagle’s location hierarchy, the only thing that remains is to actually request your location. Having already authed through Amadeus earlier, that’s as simple as instantiating the Fire Eagle JavaScript wrapper and making a single function call. It’s a big deal that whilst a lot of new technologies like OAuth add some complexity and require new knowledge to work with, APIs like Fire Eagle are really very simple indeed. return { run: function() { insert_prerequisites(); setTimeout( function() { var fe = new FireEagle( Keys.consumer_key, Keys.consumer_secret, Keys.user_token, Keys.user_secret ); var script = document.createElement('script'); script.type = 'text/javascript'; script.src = fe.getUserUrl( FireEagle.RESPONSE_FORMAT.json, 'Geomarklet.callback' ); document.body.appendChild(script); }, 2000 ); }, callback: function(json) { if(json.rsp && 'fail' == json.rsp.stat) { alert('Error ' + json.rsp.code + ": " + json.rsp.message); } else { index_offset = json.user.location_hierarchy[0].level; draw_selector(json); } } }; We first insert the prerequisite scripts required for the Fire Eagle request to function, and to prevent trying to instantiate the FireEagle object before it’s been loaded over the wire, the remaining instantiation and request is wrapped inside a setTimeout delay. We then create the request URL, referencing the Geomarklet.callback callback function and then append the script to the document body — allowing a cross-domain request. The callback itself is quite simple. Check for the presence and value of rsp.status to test for errors, and display them as required. If the request is successful set the index_offset — to adjust for the granularity of the location hierarchy — and then pass the object to the renderer. The result? When Geomarklet.run() is called, your location from Fire Eagle is read, and each renderer displayed on the page in an easily copy and pasteable form, ready to be used however you need. Deploy The final step is to convert this code into a long string for use as a bookmarklet. Easiest for Mac users is the JavaScript bundle in TextMate — choose Bundles: JavaScript: Copy as Bookmarklet to Clipboard. Then create a new ‘Get Location’ bookmark in your browser of choice and paste in. Those without TextMate can shrink their code down into a single line by first running their code through the JSLint tool (to ensure the code is free from errors and has all the required semi-colons) and then use a find-and-replace tool to remove line breaks from your code (or even run your code through JSMin to shrink it down). With the bookmarklet created and added to your bookmarks bar, you can now call up your location on any page at all. Get a feel for a web where your location is just another reliable part of the browsing experience. Where next? So, the Geomarklet you’ve been guided through is a pretty simple premise and pretty simple output. But from this base you can start to extend: Add code that will insert each of the location renderings directly into form fields, perhaps, or how about site-specific handlers to add your location tags into the correct form field in Wordpress or Tumblr? Paste in your current location to Google Maps? Or Flickr? Geomarklet gives you a base to start experimenting with location on your own pages and the sites you browse daily. The introduction of consumer accessible geo to the web is an adventure of discovery; not so much discovering new locations, but discovering location itself. 2008 Ben Ward benward 2008-12-21T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/geotag-everywhere-with-fire-eagle/ code
118 Ghosts On The Internet By rights the internet should be full of poltergeists, poor rootless things looking for their real homes. Many events on the internet are not properly associated with their correct timeframe. I don’t mean a server set to the wrong time, though that happens too. Much of the content published on the internet is separated from any proper reference to its publication time. What does publication even mean? Let me tell you a story… “It is 2019 and this is Kathy Clees reporting on the story of the moment, the shock purchase of Microsoft by Apple Inc. A Internet Explorer security scare story from 2008 was responsible, yes from 11 years ago, accidently promoted by an analyst, who neglected to check the date of their sources.” If you think this is fanciful nonsense, then cast your mind back to September 2008, this story in Wired or The Times (UK) about a huge United Airlines stock tumble. A Florida newspaper had a automated popular story section. A random reader looking at a story about United’s 2002 Bankruptcy proceedings caused this story to get picked up by Google’s later visit to the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s news home page. The story was undated, Google’s news engine apparently gave it a 2008 date, an analyst picked it up and pushed it to Bloomberg and within minutes the United stock was tumbling. Their stock price dropped from $12 to $3, then recovered to $11 over the day. An eight percent fall in share price over a mis-configured date Completing this out of order Christmas Carol, lets look at what is current practice and how dates are managed, we might even get to clank some chains. Publication date used to be inseparable from publication, the two things where stamped on the same piece of paper. How can we determine when things have been published, now? Determining publication dates Time as defined by http://www.w3.org/TR/NOTE-datetime extends ISO 8601, mandating the use of a year value. This is pretty well defined, we can even get very accurate timings down to milliseconds, Ruby and other languages can even handle Calendar reformation. So accuracy is not the issue. One problem is that there are many dates which could be interpreted as the publication date. Publication can mean any of date written or created; date placed on server; last modified date; or the current date from the web server. Created and modified have parallels with file systems, but the large number of database driven websites means that this no longer holds much meaning, as there are no longer any files. Checking web server HEAD may also not correspond, it might give the creation time for the HTML file you are viewing or it might give the last modified time for a file from disk. It is too unreliable and lacking in context to be of real value. So if the web server will not help, then how can we get the right timeframe for our content? We are left with URLs and the actual page content. Looking at Flickr, this picture (by Douglas County History Research Center) has four date values which can be associated with it. It was taken around 1900, scanned in 1992 and placed on Flickr on July 29th, 2008 and replaced later that day. Which dates should be represented here? This is hard question to answer, but currently the date of upload to Flickr is the best represented in terms of the date URL, /photos/douglascountyhistory/archives/date-posted/2008/07/29/, plus some Dublin Core RDF for the year. Flickr uses 2008 as the value for this image. Not accurate, but a reasonable compromise for the millions of other images on their site. Flickr represents location much better than it represents time. For the most part this is fine, but once you go back in time to the 1800s then the maps of the world start to change a lot and you need to reference both time and place. The Google timeline search offers another interesting window on the world, showing results organised by decade for any search term. Being able to jump to a specific occurrence of a term makes it easier to get primary results rather than later reporting. The 1918 “Spanish flu” results jump out in this timeline. Any major news event will have multiple analysis articles after the event, finding the original reporting of hurricane Katrina is harder now. Many publishers are putting older content online, e.g. Harpers or Nature or The Times, often these use good date based URLs, sometimes they are unhelpful database references. If this content is available for free, then how much better would it be to provide good metadata on date of publication. Date based URLs A quick word on date based URLs, they can be brilliant at capturing first published date. However they can be hard to interpret. Is /03/04 a date in March or April, what about 08/03/04? Obviously 2008/03/04 is easier to understand, it is probably March 4th. Including a proper timestamp in the page content avoid this kind of guesswork. Many sites represent the date as a plain text string; a few hook an HTML class of date around it, a very few provide an actual timestamp. Associating the date with the individual content makes it harder to get the date wrong. Movable Type and TypePad are a notable exceptions, they will embed Dublin Core RDF to represent each posting e.g. dc:date="2008-12-18T02:57:28-08:00". WordPress doesn’t support date markup out of the box, though there is a patch and a howto for hAtom available. In terms of newspapers, the BBC use <meta name="OriginalPublicationDate" content="2008/12/18 18:52:05" /> along with opaque URLs such as http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7787335.stm. The Guardian use nice clear URLs http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/dec/18/car-industry-recession but have no marked up date on the page. The New York Times are similar to the Guardian with nice URLs, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/19/business/19markets.html, but again no timestamps. All of these papers have all the data available, but it is not marked up in a useful manner. Syndication formats Syndication formats are better at supporting dates, RSS uses RFC 822 for dates, just like email so dates such as Wed, 17 Dec 2008 12:52:40 GMT are valid, with all the white space issues that entails. The Atom syndication format uses the much clearer http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc3339 with timestamps of the form 1996-12-19T16:39:57-08:00. Both syndication formats encourage the use of last modified. This is understandable, but a pity as published date is a very useful value. The Atom syndication format supports “published” and mandates “updated” as timestamps, see the Atom RFC 4287 for more detail. Marking up dates However the aim of this short article is to encourage you to use microformats or RDF to encode dates. A good example of this is Twitter, they use hAtom for each individual entry, http://twitter.com/zzgavin/status/1065835819 contains the following markup, which represents a human and a machine readable version of the time of that tweet. <span class="published" title="2008-12-18T22:01:27+00:00">about 3 hours ago</span> The spec for datetime is still draft at the minute and there is still ongoing conversation around the right format and semantics for representing date and time in microformats, see the datetime design pattern for details. The hAtom example page shows the minimal changes required to implement hAtom on well formed blog post content and for other less well behaved content. You have the information already in your content publication systems, this is not some additional onerous content entry task, simply some template formatting. I started to see this as a serious issue after reading Stewart Brand’s Clock of the Long Now about five years ago. Brand’s book explores the issues of short term thinking that permeate our society, thinking beyond the end of the financial year is a stretch for many people. The Long Now has a world view of a 10,000 year timeframe, see http://longnow.org/ for much more information. Freebase from Long Now Board member Danny Hillis, supports dates quite well – see the entry for A Christmas Carol. In conclusion I feel we should be making it easier for people searching for our content in the future. We’ve moved through tagging content and on to geo-tagging content. Now it is time to get the timestamps right on our content. How do I know when something happened and how can I find other things that happened at the same time is a fair question. This should be something I can satisfy simply and easily. There are a range of tools available to us in either hAtom or RDF to specify time accurately alongside the content, so what is stopping you? Thinking of the long term it is hard for us to know now what will be of relevance for future generations, so we should aim to raise the floor for publishing tools so that all content has the right timeframe associated with it. We are moving from publishing words and pictures on the internet to being able to associate publication with an individual via XFN and OpenID. We can associate place quite well too, the last piece of useful metadata is timeframe. 2008 Gavin Bell gavinbell 2008-12-20T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/ghosts-on-the-internet/ ux
114 How To Create Rockband'ism There are mysteries happening in the world of business these days. We want something else by now. The business of business has to become more than business. We want to be able to identify ourselves with the brands we purchase and we want them to do good things. We want to feel cool because we buy stuff, and we don’t just want a shopping experience – we want an engagement with a company we can relate to. Let me get back to “feeling cool” – if we want to feel cool, we might get the companies we buy from to support that. That’s why I am on a mission to make companies into rockbands. Now when I say rockbands – I don’t mean the puke-y, drunky, nasty stuff that some people would highlight is also a part of rockbands. Therefore I have created my own word “rockband’ism”. This word is the definition of a childhood dream version of being in a rockband – the feeling of being more respected and loved and cool, than a cockroach or a suit on the floor of a company. Rockband’ism Rockband’ism is what we aspire to, to feel cool and happy. So basically what I am arguing is that companies should look upon themselves as rockbands. Because the world has changed, so business needs to change as well. I have listed a couple of things you could do today to become a rockband, as a person or as a company. 1 – Give your support to companies that make a difference to their surroundings – if you are buying electronics look up what the electronic producers are doing of good in the world (check out the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics). 2 – Implement good karma in your everyday life (and do well by doing good). What you give out you get back at some point in some shape – this can also be implemented for business. 3 – WWRD? – “what would a rockband do”? or if you are into Kenny Rogers – what would he do in any given situation? This will also show yourself where your business or personal integrity lies because you actually act as a person or a rockband you admire. 4 – Start leading instead of managing – If we can measure stuff why should we manage it? Leadership is key here instead of management. When you lead you tell people how to reach the stars, when you manage you keep them on the ground. 5 – Respect and confide in, that people are the best at what they do. If they aren’t, they won’t be around for long. If they are and you keep on buggin’ them, they won’t be around for long either. 6 – Don’t be arrogant – Because audiences can’t stand it – talk to people as a person not as a company. 7 – Focus on your return on involvement – know that you get a return on, what you involve yourself in. No matter if it’s bingo, communities, talks, ornithology or un-conferences. 8 – Find out where you can make a difference and do it. Don’t leave it up to everybody else to save the world. 9 – Find out what you can do to become an authentic, trustworthy and remarkable company. Maybe you could even think about this a lot and make these thoughts into an actionplan. 10 – Last but not least – if you’re not happy – do something else, become another type of rockband, maybe a soloist of a sort, or an orchestra. No more business as usual This really isn’t time for more business as usual, our environment (digital, natural, work or any other kind of environment) is changing. You are going to have to change too. This article actually sprang from a talk I did at the Shift08 conference in Lisbon in October. In addition to this article for 24 ways I have turned the talk into an eBook that you can get on Toothless Tiger Press for free. May you all have a sustainable and great Christmas full of great moments with your loved ones. December is a month for gratitude, enjoyment and love. 2008 Henriette Weber henrietteweber 2008-12-07T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/how-to-create-rockbandism/ business
97 Making Modular Layout Systems For all of the advantages the web has with distribution of content, I’ve always lamented the handiness of the WYSIWYG design tools from the print publishing world. When I set out to redesign my personal website, I wanted to have some of the same abilities that those tools have, laying out pages how I saw fit, and that meant a flexible system for dealing with imagery. Building on some of the CSS that Eric Meyer employed a few years back on the A List Apart design, I created a set of classes to use together to achieve the variety I was after. Employing multiple classes isn’t a new technique, but most examples aren’t coming at this from strictly editorial and visual perspectives; I wanted to have options to vary my layouts depending on content. If you want to skip ahead, you can view the example first. Laying the Foundation We need to be able to map out our page so that we have predictable canvas, and then create a system of image sizes that work with it. For the sake of this article, let’s use a simple uniform 7-column grid, consisting of seven 100px-wide columns and 10px of space between each column, though you can use any measurements you want as long as they remain constant. All of our images will have a width that references the grid column widths (in our example, 100px, 210px, 320px, 430px, 540px, 650px, or 760px), but the height can be as large as needed. Once we know our images will all have one of those widths, we can setup our CSS to deal with the variations in layout. In the most basic form, we’re going to be dealing with three classes: one each that represent an identifier, a size, and a placement for our elements. This is really a process of abstracting the important qualities of what you would do with a given image in a layout into separate classes, allowing you to quickly customize their appearance by combining the appropriate classes. Rather than trying to serve up a one-size-fits-all approach to styling, we give each class only one or two attributes and rely on the combination of classes to get us there. Identifier This specifies what kind of element we have: usually either an image (pic) or some piece of text (caption). Size Since we know how our grid is constructed and the potential widths of our images, we can knock out a space equal to the width of any number of columns. In our example, that value can be one, two, three, four, five, six, or seven. Placement This tells the element where to go. In our example we can use a class of left or right, which sets the appropriate floating rule. Additions I created a few additions that be tacked on after the “placement” in the class stack: solo, for a bit more space beneath images without captions, frame for images that need a border, and inset for an element that appears inside of a block of text. Outset images are my default, but you could easily switch the default concept to use inset images and create a class of outset to pull them out of the content columns. The CSS /* I D E N T I F I E R */ .pic p, .caption { font-size: 11px; line-height: 16px; font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; color: #666; margin: 4px 0 10px; } /* P L A C E M E N T */ .left {float: left; margin-right: 20px;} .right {float: right; margin-left: 20px;} .right.inset {margin: 0 120px 0 20px;} /* img floated right within text */ .left.inset {margin-left: 230px;} /* img floated left within text */ /* S I Z E */ .one {width: 100px;} .two {width: 210px;} .three {width: 320px;} .four {width: 430px;} .five {width: 540px;} .six {width: 650px;} .seven {width: 760px;} .eight {width: 870px;} /* A D D I T I O N S */ .frame {border: 1px solid #999;} .solo img {margin-bottom: 20px;} In Use You can already see how powerful this approach can be. If you want an image and a caption on the left to stretch over half of the page, you would use: <div class="pic four left"> <img src="image.jpg" /> <p>Caption goes here.</p> </div> Or, for that same image with a border and no caption: <img src="image.jpg" class="pic four left frame solo"/> You just tack on the classes that contain the qualities you need. And because we’ve kept each class so simple, we can apply these same stylings to other elements too: <p class="caption two left">Caption goes here.</p> Caveats Obviously there are some potential semantic hang-ups with these methods. While classes like pic and caption stem the tide a bit, others like left and right are tougher to justify. This is something that you have to decide for yourself; I’m fine with the occasional four or left class because I think there’s a good tradeoff. Just as a fully semantic solution to this problem would likely be imperfect, this solution is imperfect from the other side of the semantic fence. Additionally, IE6 doesn’t understand the chain of classes within a CSS selector (like .right.inset). If you need to support IE6, you may have to write a few more CSS rules to accommodate any discrepancies. Opportunities This is clearly a simple example, but starting with a modular foundation like this leaves the door open for opportunity. We’ve created a highly flexible and human-readable system for layout manipulation. Obviously, this is something that would need to be tailored to the spacing and sizes of your site, but the systematic approach is very powerful, especially for editorial websites whose articles might have lots of images of varying sizes. It may not get us fully to the flexibility of WYSIWYG print layouts, but methods like this point us in a direction of designs that can adapt to the needs of the content. View the example: without grid and with grid. 2008 Jason Santa Maria jasonsantamaria 2008-12-15T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/making-modular-layout-systems/ process
100 Moo'y Christmas A note from the editors: Moo has changed their API since this article was written. As the web matures, it is less and less just about the virtual world. It is becoming entangled with our world and it is harder to tell what is virtual and what is real. There are several companies who are blurring this line and make the virtual just an extension of the physical. Moo is one such company. Moo offers simple print on demand services. You can print business cards, moo mini cards, stickers, postcards and more. They give you the ability to upload your images, customize them, then have them sent to your door. Many companies allow this sort of digital to physical interaction, but Moo has taken it one step further and has built an API. Printable stocking stuffers The Moo API consists of a simple XML file that is sent to their servers. It describes all the information needed to dynamically assemble and print your object. This is very helpful, not just for when you want to print your own stickers, but when you want to offer them to your customers, friends, organization or community with no hassle. Moo handles the check-out and shipping, all you need to do is what you do best, create! Now using an API sounds complicated, but it is actually very easy. I am going to walk you through the options so you can easily be printing in no time. Before you can begin sending data to the Moo API, you need to register and get an API key. This is important, because it allows Moo to track usage and to credit you. To register, visit http://www.moo.com/api/ and click “Request an API key”. In the following examples, I will use {YOUR API KEY HERE} as a place holder, replace that with your API key and everything will work fine. First thing you need to do is to create an XML file to describe the check-out basket. Open any text-editor and start with some XML basics. Don’t worry, this is pretty simple and Moo gives you a few tools to check your XML for errors before you order. <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> <moo xsi:noNamespaceSchemaLocation="http://www.moo.com/xsd/api_0.7.xsd" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"> <request> <version>0.7</version> <api_key>{YOUR API KEY HERE}</api_key> <call>build</call> <return_to>http://www.example.com/return.html</return_to> <fail_to>http://www.example.com/fail.html</fail_to> </request> <payload> ... </payload> </moo> Much like HTML’s <head> and <body>, Moo has created <request> and <payload> elements all wrapped in a <moo> element. The <request> element contains a few pieces of information that is the same across all the API calls. The <version> element describes which version of the API is being used. This is more important for Moo than for you, so just stick with “0.7” for now. The <api_key> allows Moo to track sales, referrers and credit your account. The <call> element can only take “build” so that is pretty straight forward. The <return_to> and <fail_to> elements are URLs. These are optional and are the URLs the customer is redirected to if there is an error, or when the check out process is complete. This allows for some basic branding and a custom “thank you” page which is under your control. That’s it for the <request> element, pretty easy so far! Next up is the <payload> element. What goes inside here describes what is to be printed. There are two possible elements, we can put <chooser> or we can put <products> directly inside <payload>. They work in a similar ways, but they drop the customer into different parts of the Moo checkout process. If you specify <products> then you send the customer straight to the Moo payment process. If you specify <chooser> then you send the customer one-step earlier where they are allowed to pick and choose some images, remove the ones they don’t like, adjust the crop, etc. The example here will use <chooser> but with a little bit of homework you can easily adjust to <products> if you desire. ... <chooser> <product_type>sticker</product_type> <images> <url>http://example.com/images/christmas1.jpg</url> </images> </chooser> ... Inside the <chooser> element, we can see there are two basic piece of information. The type of product we want to print, and the images that are to be printed. The <product_type> element can take one of five options and is required! The possibilities are: minicard, notecard, sticker, postcard or greetingcard. We’ll now look at two of these more closely. Moo Stickers In the Moo sticker books you get 90 small squarish stickers in a small little booklet. The simplest XML you could send would be something like the following payload: ... <payload> <chooser> <product_type>sticker</product_type> <images> <url>http://example.com/image1.jpg</url> </images> <images> <url>http://example.com/image2.jpg</url> </images> <images> <url>http://example.com/image3.jpg</url> </images> </chooser> </payload> ... This creates a sticker book with only 3 unique images, but 30 copies of each image. The Sticker books always print 90 stickers in multiples of the images you uploaded. That example only has 3 <images> elements, but you can easily duplicate the XML and send up to 90. The <url> should be the full path to your image and the image needs to be a minimum of 300 pixels by 300 pixels. You can add more XML to describe cropping, but the simplest option is to either, let your customers choose or to pre-crop all your images square so there are no issues. The full XML you would post to the Moo API to print sticker books would look like this: <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> <moo xsi:noNamespaceSchemaLocation="http://www.moo.com/xsd/api_0.7.xsd" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"> <request> <version>0.7</version> <api_key>{YOUR API KEY HERE}</api_key> <call>build</call> <return_to>http://www.example.com/return.html</return_to> <fail_to>http://www.example.com/fail.html</fail_to> </request> <payload> <chooser> <product_type>sticker</product_type> <images> <url>http://example.com/image1.jpg</url> </images> <images> <url>http://example.com/image2.jpg</url> </images> <images> <url>http://example.com/image3.jpg</url> </images> </chooser> </payload> </moo> Mini-cards The mini-cards are the small cute business cards in 14×35 dimensions and come in packs of 100. Since the mini-cards are print on demand, this allows you to have 100 unique images on the back of the cards. Just like the stickers example, we need the same XML setup. The <moo> element and <request> elements will be the same as before. The part you will focus on is the <payload> section. Since you are sending along specific information, we can’t use the <chooser> option any more. Switch this to <products> which has a child of <product>, which in turn has a <product_type> and <designs>. This might seem like a lot of work, but once you have it set up you won’t need to change it. ... <payload> <products> <product> <product_type>minicard</product_type> <designs> ... </designs> </product> </products> </payload> ... So now that we have the basic framework, we can talk about the information specific to minicards. Inside the <designs> element, you will have one <design> for each card. Much like before, this contains a way to describe the image. Note that this time the element is called <image>, not images plural. Inside the <image> element you have a <url> which points to where the image lives and a <type>. The <type> should just be set to ‘variable’. You can pass crop information here instead, but we’re going to keep it simple for this tutorial. If you are interested in how that works, you should refer to the official API documentation. ... <design> <image> <url>http://example.com/image1.jpg</url> <type>variable</type> </image> </design> ... So far, we have managed to build a pack of 100 Moo mini-cards with the same image on the front. If you wanted 100 different images, you just need to replicate this snippit, 99 more times. That describes the front design, but the flip-side of your mini-cards can contain 6 lines of text, which is customizable in a variety of colors, fonts and styles. The API allows you to create different text on the back of each mini-card, something the web interface doesn’t implement. To describe the text on the mini-card we need to add a <text_collection> element inside the <design> element. If you skip this element, the back of your mini-card will just be blank, but that’s not very festive! Inside the <text_collection> element, we need to describe the type of text we want to format, so we add a <minicard> element, which in turn contains all the lines of text. Each of Moo’s printed products take different numbers of lines of text, so if you are not planning on making mini-cards, be sure to consult the documentation. For mini-cards, we can have 6 distinct lines, each with their own style and layout. Each line is represented by an element <text_line> which has several optional children. The <id> tells which line of the 6 to print the text one. The <string> is the text you want to print and it must be shorter than 38 characters. The <bold> element is false by default, but if you want your text bolded, then add this and set it to true. The <align> element is also optional. By default it is set to align left. You can also set this to right or center if you desirer. The <font> element takes one of 3 types, modern, traditional or typewriter. The default is modern. Finally, you can set the <colour>, yes that’s color with a ‘u’, Moo is a British company, so they get to make the rules. When you start a print on demand company, you can spell it however you want. The <colour> element takes a 6 character hex value with a leading #. <design> ... <text_collection> <minicard> <text_line> <id>(1-6)</id> <string>String, I must be less than 38 chars!</string> <bold>true</bold> <align>left</align> <font>modern</font> <colour>#ff0000</colour> </text_line> </minicard> </text_collection> </design> If you combine all of this into a mini-card request you’d get this example: <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> <moo xsi:noNamespaceSchemaLocation="http://www.moo.com/xsd/api_0.7.xsd" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"> <request> <version>0.7</version> <api_key>{YOUR API KEY HERE}</api_key> <call>build</call> <return_to>http://www.example.com/return.html</return_to> <fail_to>http://www.example.com/fail.html</fail_to> </request> <payload> <products> <product> <product_type>minicard</product_type> <designs> <design> <image> <url>http://example.com/image1.jpg</url> <type>variable</type> </image> <text_collection> <minicard> <text_line> <id>1</id> <string>String, I must be less than 38 chars!</string> <bold>true</bold> <align>left</align> <font>modern</font> <colour>#ff0000</colour> </text_line> </minicard> </text_collection> </design> </designs> </product> </products> </payload> </moo> Now you know how to construct the XML that describes what to print. Next, you need to know how to send it to Moo to make it happen! Posting to the API So your XML is file ready to go. First thing we need to do is check it to make sure it’s valid. Moo has created a simple validator where you paste in your XML, and it alerts you to problems. When you have a fully valid XML file, you’ll want to send that to the Moo API. There are a few ways to do this, but the simplest is with an HTML form. This is the sample code for an HTML form with a big “Buy My Stickers” button. Once you know that it is working, you can use all your existing HTML knowledge to style it up any way you like. <form method="POST" action="http://www.moo.com/api/api.php"> <input type="hidden" name="xml" value="<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> <moo xsi:noNamespaceSchemaLocation="http://www.moo.com/xsd/api_0.7.xsd" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"> <request>....</request> <payload>...</payload> </moo> "> <input type="submit" name="submit" value="Buy My Stickers"/> </form> This is just a basic <form> element that submits to the Moo API, http://www.moo.com/api/api.php, when someone clicks the button. There is a hidden input called “xml” which contains the value the XML file we created previously. For those of you who need to “view source” to fully understand what’s happening can see a working version and peek under the hood. Using the API has advantages over uploading the images directly yourself. The images and text that you send via the API can be dynamic. Some companies, like Dopplr, have taken user profiles and dynamic data that changes every minute to generate customer stickers of places that you’ve travelled to or mini-cards with a world map of all the cities you have visited. Every single customer has different travel plans and therefore different sets of stickers and mini-card maps. The API allows for the utmost current information to be printed, on demand, in real-time. Go forth and Moo’ltiply See, making an API call wasn’t that hard was it? You are now 90% of the way to creating anything with the Moo API. With a bit of reading, you can learn that extra 10% and print any Moo product. Be on the lookout in 2009 for the official release of the 1.0 API with improvements and some extras that were not available when this article was written. This article is released under the creative-commons attribution share-a-like license. That means you are free to re-distribute it, mash it up, translate it and otherwise re-using it ways the author never considered, in return he only asks you mention his name. This work by Brian Suda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. 2008 Brian Suda briansuda 2008-12-19T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/mooy-christmas/ code
103 Recession Tips For Web Designers For web designers, there are four keys to surviving bad economic times: do good work, charge a fair price, lower your overhead, and be sure you are communicating with your client. As a reader of 24 ways, you already do good work, so let’s focus on the rest. I know something about surviving bad times, having started my agency, Happy Cog, at the dawn of the dot-com bust. Of course, the recession we’re in now may end up making the dot-com bust look like the years of bling and gravy. But the bust was rough enough at the time. Bad times are hard on overweight companies and over-leveraged start-ups, but can be kind to freelancers and small agencies. Clients who once had money to burn and big agencies to help them burn it suddenly consider the quality of work more important than the marquee value of the business card. Fancy offices and ten people at every meeting are out. A close relationship with an individual or small team that listens is in. Thin is in If you were good in client meetings when you were an employee, print business cards and pick a name for your new agency. Once some cash rolls in, see an accountant. If the one-person entrepreneur model isn’t you, it’s no problem. Form a virtual agency with colleagues who complement your creative, technical, and business skills. Athletics is a Brooklyn-based multi-disciplinary “art and design collective.” Talk about low overhead: they don’t have a president, a payroll, or a pension plan. But that hasn’t stopped clients like adidas, Nike, MTV, HBO, Disney, DKNY, and Sundance Channel from knocking on their (virtual) doors. Running a traditional business is like securing a political position in Chicago: it costs a fortune. That’s why bad times crush so many companies. But you are a creature of the internets. You don’t need an office to do great work. I ran Happy Cog out of my apartment for far longer than anyone realized. My clients, when they learned my secret, didn’t care. Keep it lean: if you can budget your incoming freelance money, you don’t have to pay yourself a traditional salary. Removing the overhead associated with payroll means more of the budget stays in your pocket, enabling you to price your projects competitively, while still within industry norms. (Underpricing is uncool, and clients who knowingly choose below-market-rate vendors tend not to treat those vendors with respect.) Getting gigs Web design is a people business. If things are slow, email former clients. If you just lost your job, email former agency clients with whom you worked closely to inform them of your freelance business and find out how they’re doing. Best practice: focus the email on wishing them a happy holiday and asking how they’re doing. Let your email signature file tell them you’re now the president of Your Name Design. Leading with the fact that you just lost your job may earn sympathy (or commiseration: the client may have lost her job, too) but it’s not exactly a sure-fire project getter. The qualities that help you land a web design project are the same in good times or bad. Have a story to tell about the kind of services you offer, and the business benefits they provide. (If you design with web standards, you already have one great story line. What are the others?) Don’t be shy about sharing your story, but don’t make it the focus of the meeting. The client is the focus. Before you meet her, learn as much as you can about her users, her business, and her competitors. At the very least, read her site’s About pages, and spend some quality time with Google. Most importantly, go to the meeting knowing how much you don’t know. Arrive curious, and armed with questions. Maintain eye contact and keep your ears open. If a point you raise causes two people to nod at each other, follow up on that point, don’t just keep grinding through your Keynote presentation. If you pay attention and think on your feet, it tells the potential client that they can expect you to listen and be flexible. (Clients are like unhappy spouses: they’re dying for someone to finally listen.) If you stick to a prepared presentation, it might send the message that you are inflexible or nervous or both. “Nervous” is an especially bad signal to send. It indicates that you are either dishonest or inexperienced. Neither quality invites a client to sign on. Web design is a people business for the client, too: they should feel that their interactions with you will be pleasant and illuminating. And that you’ll listen. Did I mention that? Give it time Securing clients takes longer and requires more effort in a recession. If two emails used to land you a gig, it will now take four, plus an in-person meeting, plus a couple of follow-up calls. This level of salesmanship is painful to geeks and designers, who would rather spend four hours kerning type or debugging a style sheet than five minutes talking business on the telephone. I know. I’m the same way. But we must overcome our natural shyness and inwardness if we intend not to fish our next meal out of a neighbor’s garbage can. As a bonus, once the recession ends, your hard-won account management skills will help you take your business to the next level. By the time jobs are plentiful again, you may not want to work for anyone but yourself. You’ll be a captain of our industry. And talented people will be emailing to ask you for a job. 2008 Jeffrey Zeldman jeffreyzeldman 2008-12-24T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/recession-tips-for-web-designers/ business
119 Rocking Restrictions I love my job. I live my job. For every project I do, I try to make it look special. I’ll be honest: I have a fetish for comments like “I never saw anything like that!” or, “I wish I thought of that!”. I know, I have an ego-problem. (Eleven I’s already) But sometimes, you run out of inspiration. Happens to everybody, and everybody hates it. “I’m the worst designer in the world.” “Everything I designed before this was just pure luck!” No it wasn’t. Countless articles about finding inspiration have already been written. Great, but they’re not the magic potion you’d expect them to be when you need it. Here’s a list of small tips that can have immediate effect when applying them/using them. Main theme: Liberate yourself from the designers’ block by restricting yourself. Do’s Grids If you aren’t already using grids, you’re doing something wrong. Not only are they a great help for aligning your design, they also restrict you to certain widths and heights. (For more information about grids, I suggest you read Mark Boulton’s series on designing grid systems. Oh, he’s also publishing a book I think.) So what’s the link between grids and restrictions? Instead of having the option to style a piece of layout with a width of 1 to 960 pixels, you have to choose from values like 60 pixels, 140, 220, 300, … Start small Having a hard time finding a style for the layout, why don’t you start with one small object? No, not that small object, I meant a piece of a form, or a link, or try styling your headers (h1 – h6). Let’s take a submit button of a form: it’s small, but needs much attention. People will click it. People will hover it. Maybe sometimes it’s disabled? Also: a button needs to look like a button, so typically it requires more styling then a regular link. Once you’ve got the button, move on, following the button’s style. Color palettes There are lots of resources on the web for finding inspiration for color palettes. Some of the most famous are COLOURlovers, wear palettes and Adobe’s Kuler. Browse through them (or create your own from a picture), pick a color palette you like and which works with the subject you’re handling, and stick with it. 4-5 colors, maybe with some tonal variations, but that’s it. Fonts There aren’t many fonts available for the web (Richard Rutter has a great article on this subject), but you’d be surprised how long they go. A simple text-transform: uppercase; or font-style: italic; can change a dull looking font into something entirely fresh. Play around with the fonts you want to use and the variations you’ll be using, and make a list. Pick five combinations of fonts and their variations, and stick with them throughout the layout. Single-task Most of us use multiple monitors. They’re great to increase productivity, but make it harder to focus on a single task. Here’s what you do: try using only your smallest monitor. Maybe it’s the one from your laptop, maybe it’s an old 1024×768 you found in the attic. Having Photoshop (or Fireworks or…) taking over your entire workspace blocks out all the other distractions on your screen, and works quite liberating. Mute everything… …but not entirely. I noticed I was way more focused when I set NetNewsWire to refresh it’s feeds only once every two hours. After two hours, I need a break anyway. Turning off Twitterrific was a mistake, as it’s my window to the world, and it’s the place where the people I like to call colleagues live. You can’t exactly ask them to bring you a cup of coffee when they go to the vending machine, but they do keep you fresh, and it stops you from going human-shy. Instead I changed the settings to not play a notification sound when new Tweets arrive so it doesn’t disturb me when I’m zoning. Don’ts CSS galleries Don’t start browsing all kinds of CSS galleries. Either you’ll feel bad, or you just start using elements in a way you can’t call “inspired” anymore. Instead gather your own collection of inspiration. Example: I use LittleSnapper in which I dump everything I find inspiring. This goes from a smart layout idea, to a failed picture someone posted on Flickr. Everything is inspiring. Panicking Don’t panic. It’s the worst thing you could do. Instead, get away from the computer, and go to bed early. A good night of sleep combined with a hot/cold shower can give you a totally new perspective on a design. Got a deadline by tomorrow? Well, you should’ve started earlier. Got a good excuse to start on this design this late? Tell your client it was either that or a bad design. 120-hour work-week Don’t work all day long, including evenings and early mornings. Write off that first hour, you don’t really think you’ll get anything productive done before 9AM?! I don’t even think you should work on one and the same design all day long. If you’re stuck, try working in blocks of 1 or 2 hours on a certain design. Mixing projects isn’t for everyone, but it might just do the trick for you. Summary Use grids, not only for layout purposes. Pick a specific element to start with. Use a colour palette. Limit the amount of fonts and variations you’ll use. Search for the smallest monitor around, and restrict yourself to that one. Reduce the amount of noise. Don’t start looking on the internet for inspiration. Build your own little inspirarchive. Work in blocks. 2008 Tim Van Damme timvandamme 2008-12-14T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/rocking-restrictions/ process
110 Shiny Happy Buttons Since Mac OS X burst onto our screens, glossy, glassy, shiny buttons have been almost de rigeur, and have essentially, along with reflections and rounded corners, become a cliché of Web 2.0 “design”. But if you can’t beat ‘em you’d better join ‘em. So, in this little contribution to our advent calendar, we’re going to take a plain old boring HTML button, and 2.0 it up the wazoo. But, here’s the catch. We’ll use no images, either in our HTML or our CSS. No sliding doors, no image replacement techniques. Just straight up, CSS, CSS3 and a bit of experimental CSS. And, it will be compatible with pretty much any browser (though with some progressive enhancement for those who keep up with the latest browsers). The HTML We’ll start with our HTML. <button type="submit">This is a shiny button</button> OK, so it’s not shiny yet – but boy will it ever be. Before styling, that’s going to look like this. Ironically, depending on the operating system and browser you are using, it may well be a shiny button already, but that’s not the point. We want to make it shiny 2.0. Our mission is to make it look something like this If you want to follow along at home keep in mind that depending on which browser you are using you may see fewer of the CSS effects we’ve added to create the button. As of writing, only in Safari are all the effects we’ll apply supported. Taking a look at our finished product, here’s what we’ve done to it: We’ve given the button some padding and a width. We’ve changed the text color, and given the text a drop shadow. We’ve given the button a border. We’ve given the button some rounded corners. We’ve given the button a drop shadow. We’ve given the button a gradient background. and remember, all without using any images. Styling the button So, let’s get to work. First, we’ll add given the element some padding and a width: button { padding: .5em; width: 15em; } Next, we’ll add the text color, and the drop shadow: color: #ffffff; text-shadow: 1px 1px 1px #000; A note on text-shadow If you’ve not seen text-shadows before well, here’s the quick back-story. Text shadow was introduced in CSS2, but only supported in Safari (version 1!) some years later. It was removed from CSS2.1, but returned in CSS3 (in the text module). It’s now supported in Safari, Opera and Firefox (3.1). Internet Explorer has a shadow filter, but the syntax is completely different. So, how do text-shadows work? The three length values specify respectively a horizontal offset, a vertical offset and a blur (the greater the number the more blurred the shadow will be), and finally a color value for the shadow. Rounding the corners Now we’ll add a border, and round the corners of the element: border: solid thin #882d13; -webkit-border-radius: .7em; -moz-border-radius: .7em; border-radius: .7em; Here, we’ve used the same property in three slightly different forms. We add the browser specific prefix for Webkit and Mozilla browsers, because right now, both of these browsers only support border radius as an experimental property. We also add the standard property name, for browsers that do support the property fully in the future. The benefit of the browser specific prefix is that if a browser only partly supports a given property, we can easily avoid using the property with that browser simply by not adding the browser specific prefix. At present, as you might guess, border-radius is supported in Safari and Firefox, but in each the relevant prefix is required. border-radius takes a length value, such as pixels. (It can also take two length values, but that’s for another Christmas.) In this case, as with padding, I’ve used ems, which means that as the user scales the size of text up and down, the radius will scale as well. You can test the difference by making the radius have a value of say 5px, and then zooming up and down the text size. We’re well and truly on the way now. All we need to do is add a shadow to the button, and then a gradient background. In CSS3 there’s the box-shadow property, currently only supported in Safari 3. It’s very similar to text-shadow – you specify a horizontal and vertical offset, a blur value and a color. -webkit-box-shadow: 2px 2px 3px #999; box-shadow: 2px 2px 2px #bbb; Once more, we require the “experimental” -webkit- prefix, as Safari’s support for this property is still considered by its developers to be less than perfect. Gradient Background So, all we have left now is to add our shiny gradient effect. Now of course, people have been doing this kind of thing with images for a long time. But if we can avoid them all the better. Smaller pages, faster downloads, and more scalable designs that adapt better to the user’s font size preference. But how can we add a gradient background without an image? Here we’ll look at the only property that is not as yet part of the CSS standard – Apple’s gradient function for use anywhere you can use images with CSS (in this case backgrounds). In essence, this takes SVG gradients, and makes them available via CSS syntax. Here’s what the property and its value looks like: background-image: -webkit-gradient(linear, left top, left bottom, from(#e9ede8), to(#ce401c),color-stop(0.4, #8c1b0b)); Zooming in on the gradient function, it has this basic form: -webkit-gradient(type, point, point, from(color), to(color),color-stop(where, color)); Which might look complicated, but is less so than at first glance. The name of the function is gradient (and in this case, because it is an experimental property, we use the -webkit- prefix). You might not have seen CSS functions before, but there are others, including the attr() function, used with generated content. A function returns a value that can be used as a property value – here we are using it as a background image. Next we specify the type of the gradient. Here we have a linear gradient, and there are also radial gradients. After that, we specify the start and end points of the gradient – in our case the top and bottom of the element, in a vertical line. We then specify the start and end colors – and finally one stop color, located at 40% of the way down the element. Together, this creates a gradient that smoothly transitions from the start color in the top, vertically to the stop color, then smoothly transitions to the end color. There’s one last thing. What color will the background of our button be if the browser doesn’t support gradients? It will be white (or possibly some default color for buttons). Which may make the text difficult or impossible to read. So, we’ll add a background color as well (see why the validator is always warning you when a color but not a background color is specified for an element?). If we put it all together, here’s what we have: button { width: 15em; padding: .5em; color: #ffffff; text-shadow: 1px 1px 1px #000; border: solid thin #882d13; -webkit-border-radius: .7em; -moz-border-radius: .7em; border-radius: .7em; -webkit-box-shadow: 2px 2px 3px #999; box-shadow: 2px 2px 2px #bbb; background-color: #ce401c; background-image: -webkit-gradient(linear, left top, left bottom, from(#e9ede8), to(#ce401c),color-stop(0.4, #8c1b0b)); } Which looks like this in various browsers: In Safari (3) In Firefox 3.1 (3.0 supports border-radius but not text-shadow) In Opera 10 and of course in Internet Explorer (version 8 shown here) But it looks different in different browsers Yes, it does look different in different browsers, but we all know the answer to the question “do web sites need to look the same in every browser?“. Even if you really think sites should look the same in every browser, hopefully this little tutorial has whet your appetite for what CSS3 and experimental CSS that’s already supported in widely used browsers (and we haven’t even touched on animations and similar effects!). I hope you’ve enjoyed out little CSSMas present, and look forward to seeing your shiny buttons everywhere on the web. Oh, and there’s just a bit of homework – your job is to use the :hover selector, and make a gradient in the hover state. 2008 John Allsopp johnallsopp 2008-12-18T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/shiny-happy-buttons/ code
104 Sitewide Search On A Shoe String One of the questions I got a lot when I was building web sites for smaller businesses was if I could create a search engine for their site. Visitors should be able to search only this site and find things without the maintainer having to put “related articles” or “featured content” links on every page by hand. Back when this was all fields this wasn’t easy as you either had to write your own scraping tool, use ht://dig or a paid service from providers like Yahoo, Altavista or later on Google. In the former case you had to swallow the bitter pill of computing and indexing all your content and storing it in a database for quick access and in the latter it hurt your wallet. Times have moved on and nowadays you can have the same functionality for free using Yahoo’s “Build your own search service” – BOSS. The cool thing about BOSS is that it allows for a massive amount of hits a day and you can mash up the returned data in any format you want. Another good feature of it is that it comes with JSON-P as an output format which makes it possible to use it without any server-side component! Starting with a working HTML form In order to add a search to your site, you start with a simple HTML form which you can use without JavaScript. Most search engines will allow you to filter results by domain. In this case we will search “bbc.co.uk”. If you use Yahoo as your standard search, this could be: <form id="customsearch" action="http://search.yahoo.com/search"> <div> <label for="p">Search this site:</label> <input type="text" name="p" id="term"> <input type="hidden" name="vs" id="site" value="bbc.co.uk"> <input type="submit" value="go"> </div> </form> The Google equivalent is: <form id="customsearch" action="http://www.google.co.uk/search"> <div> <label for="p">Search this site:</label> <input type="text" name="as_q" id="term"> <input type="hidden" name="as_sitesearch" id="site" value="bbc.co.uk"> <input type="submit" value="go"> </div> </form> In any case make sure to use the ID term for the search term and site for the site, as this is what we are going to use for the script. To make things easier, also have an ID called customsearch on the form. To use BOSS, you should get your own developer API for BOSS and replace the one in the demo code. There is click tracking on the search results to see how successful your app is, so you should make it your own. Adding the BOSS magic BOSS is a REST API, meaning you can use it in any HTTP request or in a browser by simply adding the right parameters to a URL. Say for example you want to search “bbc.co.uk” for “christmas” all you need to do is open the following URL: http://boss.yahooapis.com/ysearch/web/v1/christmas?sites=bbc.co.uk&format=xml&appid=YOUR-APPLICATION-ID Try it out and click it to see the results in XML. We don’t want XML though, which is why we get rid of the format=xml parameter which gives us the same information in JSON: http://boss.yahooapis.com/ysearch/web/v1/christmas?sites=bbc.co.uk&appid=YOUR-APPLICATION-ID JSON makes most sense when you can send the output to a function and immediately use it. For this to happen all you need is to add a callback parameter and the JSON will be wrapped in a function call. Say for example we want to call SITESEARCH.found() when the data was retrieved we can do it this way: http://boss.yahooapis.com/ysearch/web/v1/christmas?sites=bbc.co.uk&callback=SITESEARCH.found&appid=YOUR-APPLICATION-ID You can use this immediately in a script node if you want to. The following code would display the total amount of search results for the term christmas on bbc.co.uk as an alert: <script type="text/javascript"> var SITESEARCH = {}; SITESEARCH.found = function(o){ alert(o.ysearchresponse.totalhits); } </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://boss.yahooapis.com/ysearch/web/v1/christmas?sites=bbc.co.uk&callback=SITESEARCH.found&appid=Kzv_lcHV34HIybw0GjVkQNnw4AEXeyJ9Rb1gCZSGxSRNrcif_HdMT9qTE1y9LdI-"> </script> However, for our example, we need to be a bit more clever with this. Enhancing the search form Here’s the script that enhances a search form to show results below it. SITESEARCH = function(){ var config = { IDs:{ searchForm:'customsearch', term:'term', site:'site' }, loading:'Loading results...', noresults:'No results found.', appID:'YOUR-APP-ID', results:20 }; var form; var out; function init(){ if(config.appID === 'YOUR-APP-ID'){ alert('Please get a real application ID!'); } else { form = document.getElementById(config.IDs.searchForm); if(form){ form.onsubmit = function(){ var site = document.getElementById(config.IDs.site).value; var term = document.getElementById(config.IDs.term).value; if(typeof site === 'string' && typeof term === 'string'){ if(typeof out !== 'undefined'){ out.parentNode.removeChild(out); } out = document.createElement('p'); out.appendChild(document.createTextNode(config.loading)); form.appendChild(out); var APIurl = 'http://boss.yahooapis.com/ysearch/web/v1/' + term + '?callback=SITESEARCH.found&sites=' + site + '&count=' + config.results + '&appid=' + config.appID; var s = document.createElement('script'); s.setAttribute('src',APIurl); s.setAttribute('type','text/javascript'); document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0].appendChild(s); return false; } }; } } }; function found(o){ var list = document.createElement('ul'); var results = o.ysearchresponse.resultset_web; if(results){ var item,link,description; for(var i=0,j=results.length;i<j;i++){ item = document.createElement('li'); link = document.createElement('a'); link.setAttribute('href',results[i].clickurl); link.innerHTML = results[i].title; item.appendChild(link); description = document.createElement('p'); description.innerHTML = results[i]['abstract']; item.appendChild(description); list.appendChild(item); } } else { list = document.createElement('p'); list.appendChild(document.createTextNode(config.noresults)); } form.replaceChild(list,out); out = list; }; return{ config:config, init:init, found:found }; }(); Oooohhhh scary code! Let’s go through this one bit at a time: We start by creating a module called SITESEARCH and give it an configuration object: SITESEARCH = function(){ var config = { IDs:{ searchForm:'customsearch', term:'term', site:'site' }, loading:'Loading results...', appID:'YOUR-APP-ID', results:20 } Configuration objects are a great idea to make your code easy to change and also to override. In this case you can define different IDs than the one agreed upon earlier, define a message to show when the results are loading, when there aren’t any results, the application ID and the number of results that should be displayed. Note: you need to replace “YOUR-APP-ID” with the real ID you retrieved from BOSS, otherwise the script will complain! var form; var out; function init(){ if(config.appID === 'YOUR-APP-ID'){ alert('Please get a real application ID!'); } else { We define form and out as variables to make sure that all the methods in the module have access to them. We then check if there was a real application ID defined. If there wasn’t, the script complains and that’s that. form = document.getElementById(config.IDs.searchForm); if(form){ form.onsubmit = function(){ var site = document.getElementById(config.IDs.site).value; var term = document.getElementById(config.IDs.term).value; if(typeof site === 'string' && typeof term === 'string'){ If the application ID was a winner, we check if the form with the provided ID exists and apply an onsubmit event handler. The first thing we get is the values of the site we want to search in and the term that was entered and check that those are strings. if(typeof out !== 'undefined'){ out.parentNode.removeChild(out); } out = document.createElement('p'); out.appendChild(document.createTextNode(config.loading)); form.appendChild(out); If both are strings we check of out is undefined. We will create a loading message and subsequently the list of search results later on and store them in this variable. So if out is defined, it’ll be an old version of a search (as users will re-submit the form over and over again) and we need to remove that old version. We then create a paragraph with the loading message and append it to the form. var APIurl = 'http://boss.yahooapis.com/ysearch/web/v1/' + term + '?callback=SITESEARCH.found&sites=' + site + '&count=' + config.results + '&appid=' + config.appID; var s = document.createElement('script'); s.setAttribute('src',APIurl); s.setAttribute('type','text/javascript'); document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0].appendChild(s); return false; } }; } } }; Now it is time to call the BOSS API by assembling a correct REST URL, create a script node and apply it to the head of the document. We return false to ensure the form does not get submitted as we want to stay on the page. Notice that we are using SITESEARCH.found as the callback method, which means that we need to define this one to deal with the data returned by the API. function found(o){ var list = document.createElement('ul'); var results = o.ysearchresponse.resultset_web; if(results){ var item,link,description; We create a new list and then get the resultset_web array from the data returned from the API. If there aren’t any results returned, this array will not exist which is why we need to check for it. Once we done that we can define three variables to repeatedly store the item title we want to display, the link to point to and the description of the link. for(var i=0,j=results.length;i<j;i++){ item = document.createElement('li'); link = document.createElement('a'); link.setAttribute('href',results[i].clickurl); link.innerHTML = results[i].title; item.appendChild(link); description = document.createElement('p'); description.innerHTML = results[i]['abstract']; item.appendChild(description); list.appendChild(item); } We then loop over the results array and assemble a list of results with the titles in links and paragraphs with the abstract of the site. Notice the bracket notation for abstract as abstract is a reserved word in JavaScript2 :). } else { list = document.createElement('p'); list.appendChild(document.createTextNode(config.noresults)); } form.replaceChild(list,out); out = list; }; If there aren’t any results, we define a paragraph with the no results message as list. In any case we replace the old out (the loading message) with the list and re-define out as the list. return{ config:config, init:init, found:found }; }(); All that is left to do is return the properties and methods we want to make public. In this case found needs to be public as it is accessed by the API return. We return init to make it accessible and config to allow implementers to override any of the properties. Using the script In order to use this script, all you need to do is to add it after the form in the document, override the API key with your own and call init(): <form id="customsearch" action="http://search.yahoo.com/search"> <div> <label for="p">Search this site:</label> <input type="text" name="p" id="term"> <input type="hidden" name="vs" id="site" value="bbc.co.uk"> <input type="submit" value="go"> </div> </form> <script type="text/javascript" src="boss-site-search.js"></script> <script type="text/javascript"> SITESEARCH.config.appID = 'copy-the-id-you-know-to-get-where'; SITESEARCH.init(); </script> Where to go from here This is just a very simple example of what you can do with BOSS. You can define languages and regions, retrieve and display images and news and mix the results with other data sources before displaying them. One very cool feature is that by adding a view=keyterms parameter to the URL you can get the keywords of each of the results to drill deeper into the search. An example for this written in PHP is available on the YDN blog. For JavaScript solutions there is a handy wrapper called yboss available to help you go nuts. 2008 Christian Heilmann chrisheilmann 2008-12-04T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/sitewide-search-on-a-shoestring/ code
117 The First Tool You Reach For Microsoft recently announced that Internet Explorer 8 will be released in the first half of 2009. Compared to the standards support of other major browsers, IE8 will not be especially great, but it will finally catch up with the state of the art in one specific area: support for CSS tables. This milestone has the potential to trigger an important change in the way you approach web design. To show you just how big a difference CSS tables can make, think about how you might code a fluid, three-column layout from scratch. Just to make your life more difficult, give it one fixed-width column, with a background colour that differs from the rest of the page. Ready? Go! Okay, since you’re the sort of discerning web designer who reads 24ways, I’m going to assume you at least considered doing this without using HTML tables for the layout. If you’re especially hardcore, I imagine you began thinking of CSS floats, negative margins, and faux columns. If you did, colour me impressed! Now admit it: you probably also gave an inward sigh about the time it would take to figure out the math on the negative margin overlaps, check for dropped floats in Internet Explorer and generally wrestle each of the major browsers into giving you what you want. If after all that you simply gave up and used HTML tables, I can’t say I blame you. There are plenty of professional web designers out there who still choose to use HTML tables as their main layout tool. Sure, they may know that users with screen readers get confused by inappropriate use of tables, but they have a job to do, and they want tools that will make that job easy, not difficult. Now let me show you how to do it with CSS tables. First, we have a div element for each of our columns, and we wrap them all in another two divs: <div class="container"> <div> <div id="menu"> ⋮ </div> <div id="content"> ⋮ </div> <div id="sidebar"> ⋮ </div> </div> </div> Don’t sweat the “div clutter” in this code. Unlike tables, divs have no semantic meaning, and can therefore be used liberally (within reason) to provide hooks for the styles you want to apply to your page. Using CSS, we can set the outer div to display as a table with collapsed borders (i.e. adjacent cells share a border) and a fixed layout (i.e. cell widths unaffected by their contents): .container { display: table; border-collapse: collapse; table-layout: fixed; } With another two rules, we set the middle div to display as a table row, and each of the inner divs to display as table cells: .container > div { display: table-row; } .container > div > div { display: table-cell; } Finally, we can set the widths of the cells (and of the table itself) directly: .container { width: 100%; } #menu { width: 200px; } #content { width: auto; } #sidebar { width: 25%; } And, just like that, we have a rock solid three-column layout, ready to be styled to your own taste, like in this example: This example will render perfectly in reasonably up-to-date versions of Firefox, Safari and Opera, as well as the current beta release of Internet Explorer 8. CSS tables aren’t only useful for multi-column page layout; they can come in handy in most any situation that calls for elements to be displayed side-by-side on the page. Consider this simple login form layout: The incantation required to achieve this layout using CSS floats may be old hat to you by now, but try to teach it to a beginner, and watch his eyes widen in horror at the hoops you have to jump through (not to mention the assumptions you have to build into your design about the length of the form labels). Here’s how to do it with CSS tables: <form action="/login" method="post"> <div> <div> <label for="username">Username:</label> <span class="input"><input type="text" name="username" id="username"/></span> </div> <div> <label for="userpass">Password:</label> <span class="input"><input type="password" name="userpass" id="userpass"/></span> </div> <div class="submit"> <label for="login"></label> <span class="input"><input type="submit" name="login" id="login" value="Login"/></span> </div> </div> </form> This time, we’re using a mixture of divs and spans as semantically transparent styling hooks. Let’s look at the CSS code. First, we set up the outer div to display as a table, the inner divs to display as table rows, and the labels and spans as table cells (with right-aligned text): form > div { display: table; } form > div > div { display: table-row; } form label, form span { display: table-cell; text-align: right; } We want the first column of the table to be wide enough to accommodate our labels, but no wider. With CSS float techniques, we had to guess at what that width was likely to be, and adjust it whenever we changed our form labels. With CSS tables, we can simply set the width of the first column to something very small (1em), and then use the white-space property to force the column to the required width: form label { white-space: nowrap; width: 1em; } To polish off the layout, we’ll make our text and password fields occupy the full width of the table cells that contain them: input[type=text], input[type=password] { width: 100%; } The rest is margins, padding and borders to get the desired look. Check out the finished example. As the first tool you reach for when approaching any layout task, CSS tables make a lot more sense to your average designer than the cryptic incantations called for by CSS floats. When IE8 is released and all major browsers support CSS tables, we can begin to gradually deploy CSS table-based layouts on sites that are more and more mainstream. In our new book, Everything You Know About CSS Is Wrong!, Rachel Andrew and I explore in much greater detail how CSS tables work as a page layout tool in the real world. CSS tables have their quirks just like floats do, but they don’t tend to affect common layout tasks, and the workarounds tend to be less fiddly too. Check it out, and get ready for the next big step forward in web design with CSS. 2008 Kevin Yank kevinyank 2008-12-13T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/the-first-tool-you-reach-for/ code
116 The IE6 Equation It is the destiny of one browser to serve as the nemesis of web developers everywhere. At the birth of the Web Standards movement, that role was played by Netscape Navigator 4; an outdated browser that refused to die. Its tenacious existence hampered the adoption of modern standards. Today that role is played by Internet Explorer 6. There’s a sensation that I’m sure you’re familiar with. It’s a horrible mixture of dread and nervousness. It’s the feeling you get when—after working on a design for a while in a standards-compliant browser like Firefox, Safari or Opera—you decide that you can no longer put off the inevitable moment when you must check the site in IE6. Fingers are crossed, prayers are muttered, but alas, to no avail. The nemesis browser invariably screws something up. What do you do next? If the differences in IE6 are minor, you could just leave it be. After all, websites don’t need to look exactly the same in all browsers. But if there are major layout issues and a significant portion of your audience is still using IE6, you’ll probably need to roll up your sleeves and start fixing the problems. A common approach is to quarantine IE6-specific CSS in a separate stylesheet. This stylesheet can then be referenced from the HTML document using conditional comments like this: <!--[if lt IE 7]> <link rel="stylesheet" href="ie6.css" type="text/css" media="screen" /> <![endif]--> That stylesheet will only be served up to Internet Explorer where the version number is less than 7. You can put anything inside a conditional comment. You could put a script element in there. So as well as serving up browser-specific CSS, it’s possible to serve up browser-specific JavaScript. A few years back, before Microsoft released Internet Explorer 7, JavaScript genius Dean Edwards wrote a script called IE7. This amazing piece of code uses JavaScript to make Internet Explorer 5 and 6 behave like a standards-compliant browser. Dean used JavaScript to bootstrap IE’s CSS support. Because the script is specifically targeted at Internet Explorer, there’s no point in serving it up to other browsers. Conditional comments to the rescue: <!--[if lt IE 7]> <script src="http://ie7-js.googlecode.com/svn/version/2.0(beta3)/IE7.js" type="text/javascript"></script> <![endif]--> Standards-compliant browsers won’t fetch the script. Users of IE6, on the hand, will pay a kind of bad browser tax by having to download the JavaScript file. So when should you develop an IE6-specific stylesheet and when should you just use Dean’s JavaScript code? This is the question that myself and my co-worker Natalie Downe set out to answer one morning at Clearleft. We realised that in order to answer that question you need to first answer two other questions, how much time does it take to develop for IE6? and how much of your audience is using IE6? Let’s say that t represents the total development time. Let t6 represent the portion of that time you spend developing for IE6. If your total audience is a, then a6 is the portion of your audience using IE6. With some algebraic help from our mathematically minded co-worker Cennydd Bowles, Natalie and I came up with the following equation to calculate the percentage likelihood that you should be using Dean’s IE7 script: p = 50 [ log ( at6 / ta6 ) + 1 ] Try plugging in your own numbers. If you spend a lot of time developing for IE6 and only a small portion of your audience is using that browser, you’ll get a very high number out of the equation; you should probably use the IE7 script. But if you only spend a little time developing for IE6 and a significant portion of you audience are still using that browser, you’ll get a very small value for p; you might as well write an IE6-specific stylesheet. Of course this equation is somewhat disingenuous. While it’s entirely possible to research the percentage of your audience still using IE6, it’s not so easy to figure out how much of your development time will be spent developing for that one browser. You can’t really know until you’ve already done the development, by which time the equation is irrelevant. Instead of using the equation, you could try imposing a limit on how long you will spend developing for IE6. Get your site working in standards-compliant browsers first, then give yourself a time limit to get it working in IE6. If you can’t solve all the issues in that time limit, switch over to using Dean’s script. You could even make the time limit directly proportional to the percentage of your audience using IE6. If 20% of your audience is still using IE6 and you’ve just spent five days getting the site working in standards-compliant browsers, give yourself one day to get it working in IE6. But if 50% of your audience is still using IE6, be prepared to spend 2.5 days wrestling with your nemesis. All of these different methods for dealing with IE6 demonstrate that there’s no one single answer that works for everyone. They also highlight a problem with the current debate around dealing with IE6. There’s no shortage of blog posts, articles and even entire websites discussing when to drop support for IE6. But very few of them take the time to define what they mean by “support.” This isn’t a binary issue. There is no Boolean answer. Instead, there’s a sliding scale of support: Block IE6 users from your site. Develop with web standards and don’t spend any development time testing in IE6. Use the Dean Edwards IE7 script to bootstrap CSS support in IE6. Write an IE6 stylesheet to address layout issues. Make your site look exactly the same in IE6 as in any other browser. Each end of that scale is extreme. I don’t think that anybody should be actively blocking any browser but neither do I think that users of an outdated browser should get exactly the same experience as users of a more modern browser. The real meanings of “supporting” or “not supporting” IE6 lie somewhere in-between those extremes. Just as I think that semantics are important in markup, they are equally important in our discussion of web development. So let’s try to come up with some better terms than using the catch-all verb “support.” If you say in your client contract that you “support” IE6, define exactly what that means. If you find yourself in a discussion about “dropping support” for IE6, take the time to explain what you think that entails. The web developers at Yahoo! are on the right track with their concept of graded browser support. I’m interested in hearing more ideas of how to frame this discussion. If we can all agree to use clear and precise language, we stand a better chance of defeating our nemesis. 2008 Jeremy Keith jeremykeith 2008-12-08T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/the-ie6-equation/ code
112 User Styling During the recent US elections, Twitter decided to add an ‘election bar’ as part of their site design. You could close it if it annoyed you, but the action wasn’t persistent and the bar would always come back like a bad penny. The solution to common browsing problems like this is CSS. ‘User styling’ (or the creepy ‘skinning’) is the creation of CSS rules to customise and personalise a particular domain. Aside from hiding adverts and other annoyances, there are many reasons for taking the time and effort to do it: Improving personal readability by changing text size and colour Personalising the look of a web app like GMail to look less insipid Revealing microformats Sport! My dreams of site skinning tennis are not yet fully realised, but it’ll be all the rage by next Christmas, believe me. Hopefully you’re now asking “But how? HOW?!”. The process of creating a site skin is roughly as follows: See something you want to change Find out what it’s called, and if any rules already apply to it Write CSS rule(s) to override and/or enhance it. Apply the rules So let’s get stuck in… See something Let’s start small with Multimap.com. Look at that big header – it takes up an awful lot of screen space doesn’t it? No matter, we can fix it. Tools Now we need to find out where that big assed header is in the DOM, and make overriding CSS rules. The best tool I’ve found yet is the Mac OS X app, CSS Edit. It utilises a slick ‘override stylesheets’ function and DOM Inspector. Rather than give you all the usual DOM inspection tools, CSS Edit’s is solely concerned with style. Go into ‘X-Ray’ mode, click an element, and look at the inspector window to see every style rule governing it. Click the selector to be taken to where it lives in the CSS. It really is a user styling dream app. Having said all that, you can achieve all this with free, cross platform tools – namely Firefox with the Firebug and Stylish extensions. We’ll be using them for these examples, so make sure you have them installed if you want to follow along. Using Firebug, we can see that the page is very helpfully marked up, and that whole top area is simply a div with an ID of header. Change Something When you installed Stylish, it added a page and brush icon to your status bar. Click on that, and choose Write Style > for Multimap.com. The other options allow you to only create a style for a particular part of a website or URL, but we want this to apply to the whole of Multimap: The ‘Add Style’ window then pops up, with the @-moz-document query at the top: @namespace url(http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml); @-moz-document domain("multimap.com") { } All you need to do is add the CSS to hide the header, in between the curly brackets. @namespace url(http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml); @-moz-document domain("multimap.com") { #header {display: none;} } A click of the preview button shows us that it’s worked! Now the map appears further up the page. The ethics of hiding adverts is a discussion for another time, but let’s face it, when did you last whoop at the sight of a banner? Make Something Better If we’re happy with our modifications, all we need to do is give it a name and save. Whenever you visit Multimap.com, the style will be available. Stylish also allows you to toggle a style on/off via the status bar menu. If you feel you want to share this style with the world, then userstyles.org is the place to do it. It’s a grand repository of customisations that Stylish connects with. Whenever you visit a site, you can see if anyone else has written a style for it, again, via the status bar menu “Find Styles for this Page”. Selecting this with “BBC News” shows that there are plenty of options, ranging from small layout tweaks to redesigns: What’s more, whenever a style is updated, Stylish will notify you, and offer a one-click process to update it. This does only work in Firefox and Flock, so I’ll cover ways of applying site styles to other browsers later. Specific Techniques Important! In the Multimap example there wasn’t a display specified on that element, but it isn’t always going to be that easy. You may have spent most of your CSS life being a good designer and not resorting to adding !important to give your rule priority. There’s no way to avoid this in user styling – if you’re overriding an existing rule it’s a necessity! Be prepared to be typing !important a lot. Star Selector The Universal Selector is a particularly useful way to start a style. For example, if we want to make Flickr use Helvetica before Arial (as they should’ve done!), we can cover all occurrences with just one rule: * {font-family: "Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, sans-serif !important;} You can also use it to select ‘everything within an element’, by placing it after the element name: #content * {font-family: "Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, sans-serif !important;} Swapping Images If you’re changing something a little more complex, such as Google Reader, then at some point you’ll probably want to change an <img>. The technique for replacing an image involves: making your replacement image the background of the <img> tag adding padding top and left to the size of you image to push the ‘top’ image away making the height and width zero. The old image is then pushed out of the way and hidden from view, allowing the replacement in the background to be revealed. Targeting the image may require using an attribute selector: img[src="/reader/ui/3544433079-tree-view-folder-open.gif"] { padding: 16px 0 0 16px; width: 0 !important; height: 0 !important; background-image: url(data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAABAAAAAQCAYA AAAf8/9hAAAABHNCSVQICAgIfAhkiAAAAAlwSFlzAAALEgAACxIB0t1+/AAAA Bx0RVh0U29mdHdhcmUAQWRvYmUgRmlyZXdvcmtzIENTM5jWRgMAAAAVdE VYdENyZWF0aW9uIFRpbWUAMjkvNi8wOJJ/BVgAAAG3SURBVDiNpZIhb5RBEIaf 2W+vpIagIITSBIHBgsGjEYQaFLYShcITDL+ABIPnh4BFN0GQNFA4Cnf3fbszL2L3 jiuEVLDJbCazu8+8Mzsmif9ZBvDy7bvXlni0HRe8eXL/zuPzABng62J5kFKaAQS QgJAOgHMB9vDZq+d71689Hcyw9LfAZAYdioE10VSJo6OPL/KNvSuHD+7dhU 0vHEsDUUWJChIlYJIjFx5BuMB2mJY/DnMoOJl/R147oBUR0QAm8LAGCOEh3IO ULiAl8jSOy/nPetGsbGRKjktEiBCEHMlQj4loCuu4zCXCi4lUHTNDtGqEiACTqAFSI OgAUAKv4bkWVy2g6tAbJtGy0TNugM3HADmlurKH27dVZSecxjboXggiAsMItR h99wTILdewYRpXVJWtY85k7fPW8e1GpJFJacgesXs6VYYomz9G2yDhwPB7NEB BDAMK7WYJlisYVBCpfaJBeB+eocFyVyAgCaoMCTJSTOOCWSyILrAnaXpSexRsx GGAZ0AR+XT+5fjzyfwSpnUB/1w64xizVI/t6q3b+58+vJ96mWtLf9haxNoc8M v7N3d+AT4XPcFIxghoAAAAAElFTkSuQmCC) no-repeat !important; } Woah boy! What was all that gubbins in the background-image? It was a Data URI, and you can create these easily with Hixie’s online tool. It’s simply the image translated into text so that it can be embedded in the CSS, cutting down on the number of http requests. It’s also a necessity with Mozilla browsers, as they don’t allow user CSS to reference images stored locally. Converting images to URI’s avoids this, as well as making a style easily portable – no images folder to pass around. Don’t forget all your other CSS techniques at your disposal: inserting your own content with :before and :after pseudo classes, make elements semi-transparent with opacity and round box corners without hacking . You can have fun, and for once, enjoy the freedom of not worrying about IE! User styling without Stylish Instead of using the Stylish extension, you can add rules to the userContent.css file, or use @import in that file to load a separate stylesheet. You can find this is in /Library/Application Support/Camino/chrome/ on OS X, or C/Program Files/Mozilla Firefox/Chrome on Windows. This is only way to apply user styles in Camino, but what about other browsers? Opera & Omniweb: Both allow you to specify a custom CSS file as part of the site’s preferences. Opera also allows custom javascript, using the same syntax as Greasemonkey scripts (more on that below) Safari There are a few options here: the PithHelmet and SafariStand haxies both allow custom stylesheets, or alternatively, a Greasemonkey style user script can employed via GreaseKit. The latter is my favoured solution on my Helvetireader theme, as it can allow for more prescriptive domain rules, just like the Mozilla @-moz-document method. User scripts are also the solution supported by the widest range of browsers. What now? Hopefully I’ve given you enough information for you to be able start making your own styles. If you want to go straight in and tackle the ‘Holy Grail’, then off with you to GMail – I get more requests to theme that than anything else! If you’re a site author and want to encourage this sort of tom foolery, a good way is to provide a unique class or ID name with the body tag: <body id="journal" class="hicksdesign-co-uk"> This makes it very easy to write rules that only apply to that particular site. If you wanted to use Safari without any of the haxies mentioned above, this method means you can include rules in a general CSS file (chosen via Preferences > Advanced > Stylesheet) without affecting other sites. One final revelation on user styling – it’s not just for web sites. You can tweak the UI of Firefox itself with the userChrome.css. You’ll need to use the in-built DOM Inspector instead of Firebug to inspect the window chrome, instead of a page. Great if you want to make small tweaks (changing the size of tab text for example) without creating a full blown theme. 2008 Jon Hicks jonhicks 2008-12-03T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/user-styling/ process
107 Using Google App Engine as Your Own Content Delivery Network Do you remember, years ago, when hosting was expensive, domain names were the province of the rich, and you hosted your web pages on Geocities? It seems odd to me now that there was a time when each and every geek didn’t have his own top-level domain and super hosting setup. But as the parts became more and more affordable a man could become an outcast if he didn’t have his own slightly surreal-sounding TLD. And so it will be in the future when people realise with surprise there was a time before affordable content delivery networks. A content delivery network, or CDN, is a system of servers spread around the world, serving files from the nearest physical location. Instead of waiting for a file to find its way from a server farm in Silicon Valley 8,000 kilometres away, I can receive it from London, Dublin, or Paris, cutting down the time I wait. The big names — Google, Yahoo, Amazon, et al — use CDNs for their sites, but they’ve always been far too expensive for us mere mortals. Until now. There’s a service out there ready for you to use as your very own CDN. You have the company’s blessing, you won’t need to write a line of code, and — best of all — it’s free. The name? Google App Engine. In this article you’ll find out how to set up a CDN on Google App Engine. You’ll get the development software running on your own computer, tell App Engine what files to serve, upload them to a web site, and give everyone round the world access to them. Creating your first Google App Engine project Before we do anything else, you’ll need to download the Google App Engine software development kit (SDK). You’ll need Python 2.5 too — you won’t be writing any Python code but the App Engine SDK will need it to run on your computer. If you don’t have Python, App Engine will install it for you (if you use Mac OS X 10.5 or a Linux-based OS you’ll have Python; if you use Windows you won’t). Done that? Excellent, because that’s the hardest step. The rest is plain sailing. You’ll need to choose a unique ‘application id’ — nothing more than a name — for your project. Make sure it consists only of lowercase letters and numbers. For this article I’ll use 24ways2008, but you can choose anything you like. On your computer, create a folder named after your application id. This folder can be anywhere you want: your desktop, your documents folder, or wherever you usually keep your web files. Within your new folder, create a folder called assets, and within that folder create three folders called images, css, and javascript. These three folders are the ones you’ll fill with files and serve from your content delivery network. You can have other folders too, if you like. That will leave you with a folder structure like this: 24ways2008/ assets/ css/ images/ javascript/ Now you need to put a few files in these folders, so we can later see our CDN in action. You can put anything you want in these folders, but for this example we’ll include an HTML file, a style sheet, an image, and a Javascript library. In the top-level folder (the one I’ve called 24ways2008), create a file called index.html. Fill this with any content you want. In the assets/css folder, create a file named core.css and throw in a couple of CSS rules for good measure. In the assets/images directory save any image that takes your fancy — I’ve used the silver badge from the App Engine download page. Finally, to fill the JavaScript folder, add in this jQuery library file. If you’ve got the time and the inclination, you can build a page that uses all these elements. So now we should have a set of files and folders that look something like this: 24ways2008/ assets/ index.html css/ core.css images/ appengine-silver-120x30.gif javascript/ jquery-1.2.6.min.js Which leaves us with one last file to create. This is the important one: it tells App Engine what to do with your files. It’s named app.yaml, it sits at the top-level (inside the folder I’ve named 24ways2008), and it needs to include these lines: application: 24ways2008 version: 1 runtime: python api_version: 1 handlers: - url: / static_files: assets/index.html upload: assets/index.html - url: / static_dir: assets You need to make sure you change 24ways2008 on the first line to whatever you chose as your application id, but otherwise the content of your app.yaml file should be identical. And with that, you’ve created your first App Engine project. If you want it, you can download a zip file containing my project. Testing your project As it stands, your project is ready to be uploaded to App Engine. But we couldn’t call ourselves professionals if we didn’t test it, could we? So, let’s put that downloaded SDK to good use and run the project from your own computer. One of the files you’ll find App Engine installed is named dev_appserver.py, a Python script used to simulate App Engine on your computer. You’ll find lots of information on how to do this in the documentation on the development web server, but it boils down to running the script like so (the space and the dot at the end are important): dev_appserver.py . You’ll need to run this from the command-line: Mac users can run the Terminal application, Linux users can run their favourite shell, and Windows users will need to run it via the Command Prompt (open the Start menu, choose ‘Run…’, type ‘cmd‘, and click ‘OK’). Before you run the script you’ll need to make sure you’re in the project folder — in my case, as I saved it to my desktop I can go there by typing cd ~/Desktop/24ways2008 in my Mac’s Terminal app; if you’re using Windows you can type cd "C:\Documents and Settings\username\Desktop\24ways2008" If that’s successful, you’ll see a few lines of output, the last looking something like this: INFO 2008-11-22 14:35:00,830 dev_appserver_main.py] Running application 24ways2008 on port 8080: http://localhost:8080 Now you can power up your favourite browser, point it to http://localhost:8080/, and you’ll see the page you saved as index.html. You’ll also find your CSS file at http://localhost:8080/css/core.css. In fact, anything you put inside the assets folder in the project will be accessible from this domain. You’re running our own App Engine web server! Note that no-one else will be able to see your files: localhost is a special domain that you can only see from your computer — and once you stop the development server (by pressing Control–C) you’ll not be able to see the files in your browser until you start it again. You might notice a new file has turned up in your project: index.yaml. App Engine creates this file when you run the development server, and it’s for internal App Engine use only. If you delete it there are no ill effects, but it will reappear when you next run the development server. If you’re using version control (e.g. Subversion) there’s no need to keep a copy in your repository. So you’ve tested your project and you’ve seen it working on your own machine; now all you need to do is upload your project and the world will be able to see your files too. Uploading your project If you don’t have a Google account, create one and then sign in to App Engine. Tell Google about your new project by clicking on the ‘Create an Application’ button. Enter your application id, give the application a name, and agree to the terms and conditions. That’s it. All we need do now is upload the files. Open your Mac OS X Terminal, Windows Command Prompt, or Linux shell window again, move to the project folder, and type (again, the space and the dot at the end are important): appcfg.py update . Enter your email address and password when prompted, and let App Engine do it’s thing. It’ll take no more than a few seconds, but in that time App Engine will have done the equivalent of logging in to an FTP server and copying files across. It’s fairly understated, but you now have your own project up and running. You can see mine at http://24ways2008.appspot.com/, and everyone can see yours at http://your-application-id.appspot.com/. Your files are being served up over Google’s content delivery network, at no cost to you! Benefits of using Google App Engine The benefits of App Engine as a CDN are obvious: your own server doesn’t suck up the bandwidth, while your visitors will appreciate a faster site. But there are also less obvious benefits. First, once you’ve set up your site, updating it is an absolute breeze. Each time you update a file (or a batch of files) you need only run appcfg.py to see the changes appear on your site. To paraphrase Joel Spolsky, a good web site must be able to be updated in a single step. Many designers and developers can’t make that claim, but with App Engine, you can. App Engine also allows multiple people to work on one application. If you want a friend to be able to upload files to your site you can let him do so without giving him usernames and passwords — all he needs is his own Google account. App Engine also gives you a log of all actions taken by collaborators, so you can see who’s made updates, and when. Another bonus is the simple version control App Engine offers. Do you remember the file named app.yaml you created a while back? The second line looked like this: version: 1 If you change the version number to 2 (or 3, or 4, etc), App Engine will keep a copy of the last version you uploaded. If anything goes wrong with your latest version, you can tell App Engine to revert back to that last saved version. It’s no proper version control system, but it could get you out of a sticky situation. One last thing to note: if you’re not happy using your-application-id.appspot.com as your domain, App Engine will quite happily use any domain you own. The weak points of Google App Engine In the right circumstances, App Engine can be a real boon. I run my own site using the method I’ve discussed above, and I’m very happy with it. But App Engine does have its disadvantages, most notably those discussed by Aral Balkan in his post ‘Why Google App Engine is broken and what Google must do to fix it‘. Aral found the biggest problems while using App Engine as a web application platform; I wouldn’t recommend using it as such either (at least for now) but for our purposes as a CDN for static files, it’s much more worthy. Still, App Engine has two shortcomings you should be aware of. The first is that you can’t host a file larger than one megabyte. If you want to use App Engine to host that 4.3MB download for your latest-and-greatest desktop software, you’re out of luck. The only solution is to stick to smaller files. The second problem is the quota system. Google’s own documentation says you’re allowed 650,000 requests a day and 10,000 megabytes of bandwidth in and out (20,000 megabytes in total), which should be plenty for most sites. But people have seen sites shut down temporarily for breaching quotas — in some cases after inexplicable jumps in Google’s server CPU usage. Aral, who’s seen it happen to his own sites, seemed genuinely frustrated by this, and if you measure your hits in the hundreds of thousands and don’t want to worry about uptime, App Engine isn’t for you. That said, for most of us, App Engine offers a fantastic resource: the ability to host files on Google’s own content delivery network, at no charge. Conclusion If you’ve come this far, you’ve seen how to create a Google App Engine project and host your own files on Google’s CDN. You’ve seen the great advantages App Engine offers — an excellent content delivery network, the ability to update your site with a single command, multiple authors, simple version control, and the use of your own domain — and you’ve come across some of its weaknesses — most importantly the limit on file sizes and the quota system. All that’s left to do is upload those applications — but not before you’ve finished your Christmas shopping. 2008 Matt Riggott mattriggott 2008-12-06T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/using-google-app-engine-as-your-own-cdn/ process
113 What Your Turkey Can Teach You About Project Management The problem with project management is that everyone thinks it’s boring. Well, that’s not really the problem. The problem is that everyone thinks it’s boring but it’s still really important. Project management is what lets you deliver your art – whether that be design or development. In the same way, a Christmas dinner cooked by a brilliant chef with no organizational skills is disastrous – courses arrive in the wrong order, some things are cold whilst others are raw and generally it’s a trip to the ER waiting to happen. Continuing the Christmas dinner theme, here are my top tips for successful projects, wrapped up in a nice little festive analogy. Enjoy! Tip 1: Know What You’re Aiming For (Turkey? Ham? Both??) The underlying cause for the failure of so many projects is mismatched expectations. Christmas dinner cannot be a success if you serve glazed ham and your guests view turkey as the essential Christmas dinner ingredient. It doesn’t matter how delicious and well executed your glazed ham is, it’s still fundamentally just not turkey. You might win one or two adventurous souls over, but the rest will go home disappointed. Add to the mix the fact that most web design projects are nowhere near as emotive as Christmas dinner (trust me, a ham vs turkey debate will rage much longer than a fixed vs fluid debate in normal human circles) and the problem is compounded. In particular, as technologists, we forget that our ability to precisely imagine the outcome of a project, be it a website, a piece of software, or similar, is much more keenly developed than the average customer of such projects. So what’s the solution? Get very clear, from the very beginning, on exactly what the project is about. What are you trying to achieve? How will you measure success? Is the presence of turkey a critical success factor? Summarize all this information in some form of document (in PM-speak, it’s called a Project Initiation Document typically). Ideally, get the people who are the real decision makers to sign their agreement to that summary in their own blood. Well, you get the picture, I suppose actual blood is not strictly necessary, but a bit of gothic music to set the tone can be useful! Tip 2: Plan at the Right Level of Detail Hugely detailed and useless Gantt charts are a personal bugbear of mine. For any project, you should plan at the appropriate level of detail (and in an appropriate format) for the project itself. In our Christmas dinner example, it may be perfectly fine to have a list of tasks for the preparation work, but for the intricate interplay of oven availability and cooking times, something more complex is usually due. Having cooked roast dinners for fourteen in a student house where only the top oven and two of the rings on the hob actually worked, I can attest to the need for sequence diagrams in some of these situations! The mistake many small teams make is to end up with a project plan that is really the amalgamation of their individual todo lists. What is needed is a project plan that will: reflect reality be easy to update help to track progress (i.e. are we on track or not?) A good approach is to break your project into stages (each representing something tangible) and then into deliverables (again, something tangible for each milestone, else you’ll never know if you’ve hit it or not!). My personal rule of thumb is that the level of granularity needed on most projects is 2-3 days – i.e. we should never be more than two to three days from a definitive milestone which will either be complete or not. The added advantage of this approach is that if find yourself off track, you can only be two to three days off track… much easier to make up than if you went weeks or even months working hard but not actually delivering what was needed! In our Christmas dinner example, there are a number of critical milestones – a tick list of questions. Do we have all the ingredients? Check. Has the turkey been basted? Check. On the actual day, the sequencing and timing will mean more specific questions: It’s 12pm. Are the Brussels sprouts cooked to death yet? Check. (Allowing for the extra hour of boiling to go from soft and green to mushy and brown… Yeuch!) Tip 3: Actively Manage Risks and Issues A risk is something that could go wrong. An issue is something that has already gone wrong. Risks and issues are where project management superstars are born. Anyone can manage things when everything is going according to plan; it’s what you do when Cousin Jim refuses to eat anything but strawberry jam sandwiches that sorts the men from the boys. The key with a Christmas dinner, as with any project, is to have contingency plans for the most likely and most damaging risks. These depend on your own particular situation, but some examples might be: RISK CONTINGENCY PLAN Cousin Jim is a picky eater. Have strawberry jam and sliced white bread on hand to placate. Prime organic turkey might not be available at Waitrose on Christmas eve. Shop in advance! You live somewhere remote that seems to lose power around Christmas on a disturbingly regular basis. (number of options here depending on how far you want to go…) Buy a backup generator. Invent a new cooking method using only candles. Stock up on “Christmas dinner in a tin”. Your mother in law is likely to be annoying. Bottle of sherry at the ready (whether it’s for you or her, you can decide!). The point of planning in advance is so that most of your issues don’t blindside you – you can spring into action with the contingency plan immediately. This leaves you with plenty of ingenuity and ability to cope in reserve for those truly unexpected events. Back in your regular projects, you should have a risk management plan (developed at the beginning of the project and regularly reviewed) as well as an issue list, tracking open, in progress and closed issues. Importantly, your issue list should be separate from any kind of bug list – issues are at a project level, bugs are at a technical level. Tip 4: Have a Project Board A project board consists of the overall sponsor of your project (often, but not always, the guy with the cheque book) and typically a business expert and a technical expert to help advise the sponsor. The project board is the entity that is meant to make the big, critical decisions. As a project manager, your role is to prepare a recommendation, but leave the actual decision up to the board. Admittedly this is where our Christmas dinner analogy has to stretch the most, but if you imagine that instead of just cooking for your family you are the caterer preparing a Christmas feast for a company. In this case, you obviously want to please the diners who will be eating the food, but key decisions are likely to be taken by whoever is organizing the event. They, in turn, will involve the boss if there are really big decisions that would affect the project drastically – for instance, having to move it to January, or it exceeding the set budget by a significant amount. Most projects suffer from not having a project board to consult for these major decisions, or from having the wrong people selected. The first ailment is eased by ensuring that you have a functioning project board, with whom you either meet regularly to update on status, or where there is a special process for convening the board if they are needed. The second problem is a little more subtle. Key questions to ask yourself are: Who is funding this project? Who has the authority to stop the project if it was the right thing to do? Who are the right business and technical advisors? Who are the folks who don’t look like they are powerful on the org chart, but in fact might scupper this project? (e.g. administrators, tech support, personal assistants…) Tip 5: Finish Unequivocably and Well No one is ever uncertain as to when Christmas dinner ends. Once the flaming pudding has been consumed and the cheese tray picked at, the end of the dinner is heralded by groaning and everyone collapsing in their chairs. Different households have different rituals, so you might only open your presents after Christmas dinner (unlikely if you have small children!), or you might round off the afternoon watching the Queen’s speech (in Britland, certainly) or if you live in warmer climes you might round off Christmas dinner with a swim (which was our tradition in Cape Town – after 30 mins of food settling so you didn’t get cramp, of course!). The problem with projects is that they are one time efforts and so nowhere near as ritualized. Unless you have been incredibly lucky, you’ve probably worked on a project where you thought you were finished but seemed unable to lose your “zombie customers” – those folks who just didn’t realise it was over and kept coming back with more and more requests. You might even have fallen prey to this yourself, believing that the website going live was the end of the project and not realising that a number of things still needed to be wrapped up. The essence of this final tip is to inject some of that end-of-Christmas finality ritual into your projects. Find your own ritual for closing down projects – more than just sending the customer the invoice and archiving the files. Consider things like documentation, support structure handover and training to make sure that those zombies are going to the right people (hopefully not you!). So, to summarise: Make sure you start your projects well – with an agreed (written) vision of what you’re trying to achieve. Plan your projects at the right level of detail and in an appropriate format – never be more than a few days away from knowing for sure whether you’re on track or not. Plan for likely and important risks and make sure you track and resolve those you actually encounter. Institute a project board, made up of the people with the real power over your project. Create rituals for closing projects well – don’t leave anyone in doubt that the project has been delivered, or of who they should go to for further help. 2008 Meri Williams meriwilliams 2008-12-16T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2008/what-your-turkey-can-teach-you-about-project-management/ business
187 A New Year's Resolution The end of 2009 is fast approaching. Yet another year has passed in a split second. Our Web Designing careers are one year older and it’s time to reflect on the highs and lows of 2009. What was your greatest achievement and what could you have done better? Perhaps, even more importantly, what are your goals for 2010? Something that I noticed in 2009 is that being a web designer 24/7; it’s easy to get consumed by the web. It’s easy to get caught up in the blog posts, CSS galleries, web trends and Twitter! Living in this bubble can lead to one’s work becoming stale, boring and basically like everyone else’s work on the web. No designer wants this. So, I say on 1st January 2010 let’s make it our New Year’s resolution to create something different, something special or even ground-breaking! Make it your goal to break the mold of current web design trends and light the way for your fellow web designer comrades! Of course I wouldn’t let you embark on the New Year empty handed. To help you on your way I’ve compiled a few thoughts and ideas to get your brains ticking! Don’t design for the web, just design A key factor in creating something original and fresh for the web is to stop thinking in terms of web design. The first thing we need to do is forget the notion of headers, footers, side bars etc. A website doesn’t necessarily need any of these, so even before we’ve started we’ve already limited our design possibilities by thinking in these very conventional and generally accepted web terms. The browser window is a 2D canvas like any other and we can do with it what we like. With this in mind we can approach web design from a fresh perspective. We can take inspiration for web design from editorial design, packaging design, comics, poster design, album artwork, motion design, street signage and anything else you can think of. Web design is way more than the just the web and by taking this more wide angled view of what web design is and can be you’ll find there are a thousand more exiting design possibilities. Note: Try leaving the wire framing till after you’ve gone to town with some initial design concepts. You might find it helps keep your head out of that ‘web space’ a little bit longer, thus enabling you to think more freely about your design. Really go crazy with these as you can always pull it back into line later. The key is to think big initially and then work backwards. There’s no point restricting your creativity early on because your technical knowledge can foresee problems down the line. You can always sort these problems out later on… let your creative juices flow! Inspiration can come from anywhere! (Photo: modomatic) Try something new! Progress in web design or in any design discipline is a sort of evolution. Design trends and solutions merge and mutate to create new design trends and hopefully better solutions. This is fine but the real leaps are made when someone has the guts to do something different. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. To create truly original work you have to be prepared to get it wrong and that’s hard to do. When you’re faced with this challenge just remind yourself that in web design there is rarely a ‘best way to do something’, or why would we ever do it any other way? If you do this and get it right the pay off can be immense. Not only will you work stand out from the crowd by a mile, you will have become a trend setter as opposed to a trend follower. Tell a story with your design Great web design is way more than just the aesthetics, functionality or usability. Great web design goes beyond the pixels on the screen. For your website to make a real impact on it’s users it has to connect with them emotionally. So, whether your website is promoting your own company or selling cheese it needs to move people. You need to weave a story into your design. It’s this story that your users will connect with. To do this the main ingredients of your design need to be strongly connected. In my head those main ingredients are Copy, Graphic Design, Typography, imagery and colour. Copy Strong meaningful copy is the backbone to most great web design work. Pay special attention to strap lines and headlines as these are often the sparks that start the fire. All the other elements can be inspired by this backbone of strong copy. Graphic Design Use the copy to influence how you treat the page with your graphic design. Let the design echo the words. Typography What really excites me about typography isn’t the general text presentation on a page, most half decent web designer have a grasp of this already. What excites me is the potential there is to base a whole design on words and letters. Using the strong copy you already have, one has the opportunity the customise, distort, build and arrange words and letters to create beautiful and powerful compositions that can be the basis for an entire site design. Get creative with Typography (Photo: Pam Sattler) Imagery and Colour With clever use of imagery (photographs or illustrations) and colour you further have the chance to deepen the story you are weaving into your design. The key is to use meaningful imagery, don’t to insert generic imagery for the sake of filling space… it’s just a wasted opportunity. Remember, the main elements of your design combined are greater than the sum of their parts. Whatever design decisions you make on a page, make them for a good reason. It’s not good enough to try and seduce your users with slick and shiny web pages. For your site to leave a lasting impression on the user you need to make that emotional connection. Telling the Story (Advertising Agency: Tita, Milano, Italy, Art Director: Emanuele Basso) Go one step further So you’ve almost finished your latest website design. You’ve fulfilled the brief, you’re happy with the result and you’re pretty sure your client will be too. It’s at this point we should ask ourselves “Can I push this further”? What touches could you add to the site that’ll take it beyond what was required and into something exceptional? The truth is, to produce exceptional work we need to do more than is required of us. We need to answer the brief and then some! Go back through your site and make a note of what enhancements could be made to make the site not just good but outstanding. It might be revisiting a couple of pages that were neglected in the design process, it might be adding some CSS 3 gloss for the users that can benefit from it or it might just be adding some clever little easter eggs to show that you care. These touches will soon add up and make a massive difference to the finished product. So, go one step further… take it further than you anyone else will. Then your work will stand out for sure. Parting message I love being a designer for many of reasons but the main one being that with every new project we embark on we have the chance to express ourselves. We have the chance to create something special, something that people will talk about. It’s this chance that drives us onwards day after day, year after year. So in 2010 shout louder than you ever have before, take chances, try something new and above all design your socks off! 2009 Mike Kus mikekus 2009-12-10T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2009/a-new-years-resolution/ business
170 A Pet Project is For Life, Not Just for Christmas I’m excited: as December rolls on, I’m winding down from client work and indulging in a big pet project I’ve been dreaming up for quite some time, with the aim of releasing it early next year. I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for pet projects and currently have a few in the works: the big one, two collaborations with friends, and my continuing (and completely un-web-related) attempt at music. But when I think about the other designers and developers out there whose work I admire, one thing becomes obvious: they’ve all got pet projects! Look around the web and you’ll see that anyone worth their salt has some sort of side project on the go. If you don’t have yours yet, now’s the time! Have a pet project to collaborate with your friends It’s not uncommon to find me staring at my screen, looking at beautiful websites my friends have made, grinning inanely because I feel so honoured to know such talented individuals. But one thing really frustrates me: I hardly ever get to work with these people! Sure, there are times when it’s possible to do so, but due to various project situations, it’s a rarity. So, in order to work with my friends, I’ve found the best way is to instigate the collaboration outside of client work; in other words, have a pet project together! Free from the hard realities of budgets, time restraints, and client demands, you and your friends can come up with something purely for your own pleasures. If you’ve been looking for an excuse to work with other designers or developers whose work you love, the pet project is that excuse. They don’t necessarily have to be friends, either: if the respect is mutual, it can be a great way of breaking the ice and getting to know someone. Figure 1: A forthcoming secret love-child from myself and Tim Van Damme Have a pet project to escape from your day job We all like to moan about our clients and bosses, don’t we? But if leaving your job or firing your evil client just isn’t an option, why not escape from all that and pour your creative energies into something you genuinely enjoy? It’s not just about reacting to negativity, either: a pet project is a great way to give yourself a bit of variety. As web designers, our day-to-day work forces us to work within a set of web-related contraints and sometimes it can be demoralising to spend so many hours fixing IE bugs. The perfect antidote? Go and do some print design! If it’s not possible in your day job or client work, the pet project is the perfect place to exercise your other creative muscles. Yes, print design (or your chosen alternative) has its own constraints, but if they’re different to those you experience on a daily basis, it’ll be a welcome relief and you’ll return to your regular work feeling refreshed. Figure 2: Ligature, Loop & Stem, from Scott Boms & Luke Dorny Have a pet project to fulfill your own needs Many pet projects come into being because the designers and/or developers behind them are looking for a tool to accomplish a task and find that it doesn’t exist, thus prompting them to create their own solution. In fact, the very app I’m using to write this article — Ommwriter, from Herraiz Soto & Co — was originally a tool they’d created for their internal staff, before releasing it to the public so that it could be enjoyed by others. Just last week, Tina Roth Eisenberg launched Teux Deux, a pet project she’d designed to meet her own requirements for a to-do list, having found that no existing apps fulfilled her needs. Oh, and it was a collaboration with her studio mate Cameron. Remember what I was saying about working with your friends? Figure 3: Teux Deux, the GTD pet project that launched just last week Have a pet project to help people out Ommwriter and Teux Deux are free for anyone to use. Let’s just think about that for a moment: the creators have invested their time and effort in the project, and then given it away to be used by others. That’s very cool and something we’re used to seeing a lot of in the web community (how lucky we are)! People love free stuff and giving away the fruits of your labour will earn you major kudos. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with making some money, either — more on that in a second. Figure 4: Dan Rubin‘s extremely helpful Make Photoshop Faster Have a pet project to raise your profile So, giving away free stuff earns you kudos. And kudos usually helps you raise your profile in the industry. We all like a bit of shameless fame, don’t we? But seriously, if you want to become well known, make something cool. It could be free (to buy you the love and respect of the community) or it could be purchasable (if you’ve made something that’s cool enough to deserve hard-earned cash), but ultimately it needs to be something that people will love. Figure 5: Type designer Jos Buivenga has shot to fame thanks to his beautiful typefaces and ‘freemium’ business model If you’re a developer with no design skills, team up with a good designer so that the design community appreciate its aesthetic. If you’re a designer with no development skills, team up with a good developer so that it works. Oh, and not that I’d recommend you ever do this for selfish reasons, but collaborating with someone you admire — whose work is well-respected by the community — will also help raise your profile. Have a pet project to make money In spite of our best hippy-esque intentions to give away free stuff to the masses, there’s also nothing wrong with making a bit of money from your pet project. In fact, if your project involves you having to make a considerable financial investment, it’s probably a good idea to try and recoup those costs in some way. Figure 6: The success of Shaun Inman‘s various pet projects — Mint, Fever, Horror Vacui, etc. — have allowed him to give up client work entirely. A very common way to do that in both the online and offline worlds is to get some sort of advertising. For a slightly different approach, try contacting a company who are relevant to your audience and ask them if they’d be interesting in sponsoring your project, which would usually just mean having their brand associated with yours in some way. This is still a form of advertising but tends to allow for a more tasteful implementation, so it’s worth pursuing. Advertising is a great way to cover your own costs and keep things free for your audience, but when costs are considerably higher (like if you’re producing a magazine with high production values, for instance), there’s nothing wrong with charging people for your product. But, as I mentioned above, you’ve got to be positive that it’s worth paying for! Have a pet project just for fun Sometimes there’s a very good reason for having a pet project — and sometimes even a viable business reason — but actually you don’t need any reason at all. Wanting to have fun is just as worthy a motivation, and if you’re not going to have fun doing it, then what’s the point? Assuming that almost all pet projects are designed, developed, written, printed, marketed and supported in our free time, why not do something enjoyable? Figure 7: Jessica Hische‘s beautiful Daily Drop Cap In conclusion The fact that you’re reading 24 ways shows that you have a passion for the web, and that’s something I’m happy to see in abundance throughout our community. Passion is a term that’s thrown about all over the place, but it really is evident in the work that people do. It’s perhaps most evident, however, in the pet projects that people create. Don’t forget that the very site you’re reading this article on is… a pet project. If you’ve yet to do so, make it a new year’s resolution for 2010 to have your own pet project so that you can collaborate with your friends, escape from your day job, fulfil your own needs, help people out, raise your profile, make money, and — above all — have fun. 2009 Elliot Jay Stocks elliotjaystocks 2009-12-18T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2009/a-pet-project-is-for-life-not-just-for-christmas/ business
182 Breaking Out The Edges of The Browser HTML5 contains more than just the new entities for a more meaningful document, it also contains an arsenal of JavaScript APIs. So many in fact, that some APIs have outgrown the HTML5 spec’s backyard and have been sent away to grow up all on their own and been given the prestigious honour of being specs in their own right. So when I refer to (bendy finger quote) “HTML5”, I mean the HTML5 specification and a handful of other specifications that help us authors build web applications. Examples of those specs I would include in the umbrella term would be: geolocation, web storage, web databases, web sockets and web workers, to name a few. For all you guys and gals, on this special 2009 series of 24 ways, I’m just going to focus on data storage and offline applications: boldly taking your browser where no browser has gone before! Web Storage The Web Storage API is basically cookies on steroids, a unhealthy dosage of steroids. Cookies are always a pain to work with. First of all you have the problem of setting, changing and deleting them. Typically solved by Googling and blindly relying on PPK’s solution. If that wasn’t enough, there’s the 4Kb limit that some of you have hit when you really don’t want to. The Web Storage API gets around all of the hoops you have to jump through with cookies. Storage supports around 5Mb of data per domain (the spec’s recommendation, but it’s open to the browsers to implement anything they like) and splits in to two types of storage objects: sessionStorage – available to all pages on that domain while the window remains open localStorage – available on the domain until manually removed Support Ignoring beta browsers for our support list, below is a list of the major browsers and their support for the Web Storage API: Latest: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari (desktop & mobile/iPhone) Partial: Google Chrome (only supports localStorage) Not supported: Opera (as of 10.10) Usage Both sessionStorage and localStorage support the same interface for accessing their contents, so for these examples I’ll use localStorage. The storage interface includes the following methods: setItem(key, value) getItem(key) key(index) removeItem(key) clear() In the simple example below, we’ll use setItem and getItem to store and retrieve data: localStorage.setItem('name', 'Remy'); alert( localStorage.getItem('name') ); Using alert boxes can be a pretty lame way of debugging. Conveniently Safari (and Chrome) include database tab in their debugging tools (cmd+alt+i), so you can get a visual handle on the state of your data: Viewing localStorage As far as I know only Safari has this view on stored data natively in the browser. There may be a Firefox plugin (but I’ve not found it yet!) and IE… well that’s just IE. Even though we’ve used setItem and getItem, there’s also a few other ways you can set and access the data. In the example below, we’re accessing the stored value directly using an expando and equally, you can also set values this way: localStorage.name = "Remy"; alert( localStorage.name ); // shows "Remy" The Web Storage API also has a key method, which is zero based, and returns the key in which data has been stored. This should also be in the same order that you set the keys, for example: alert( localStorage.getItem(localStorage.key(0)) ); // shows "Remy" I mention the key() method because it’s not an unlikely name for a stored value. This can cause serious problems though. When selecting the names for your keys, you need to be sure you don’t take one of the method names that are already on the storage object, like key, clear, etc. As there are no warnings when you try to overwrite the methods, it means when you come to access the key() method, the call breaks as key is a string value and not a function. You can try this yourself by creating a new stored value using localStorage.key = "foo" and you’ll see that the Safari debugger breaks because it relies on the key() method to enumerate each of the stored values. Usage Notes Currently all browsers only support storing strings. This also means if you store a numeric, it will get converted to a string: localStorage.setItem('count', 31); alert(typeof localStorage.getItem('count')); // shows "string" This also means you can’t store more complicated objects natively with the storage objects. To get around this, you can use Douglas Crockford’s JSON parser (though Firefox 3.5 has JSON parsing support baked in to the browser – yay!) json2.js to convert the object to a stringified JSON object: var person = { name: 'Remy', height: 'short', location: 'Brighton, UK' }; localStorage.setItem('person', JSON.stringify(person)); alert( JSON.parse(localStorage.getItem('person')).name ); // shows "Remy" Alternatives There are a few solutions out there that provide storage solutions that detect the Web Storage API, and if it’s not available, fall back to different technologies (for instance, using a flash object to store data). One comprehensive version of this is Dojo’s storage library. I’m personally more of a fan of libraries that plug missing functionality under the same namespace, just as Crockford’s JSON parser does (above). For those interested it what that might look like, I’ve mocked together a simple implementation of sessionStorage. Note that it’s incomplete (because it’s missing the key method), and it could be refactored to not using the JSON stringify (but you would need to ensure that the values were properly and safely encoded): // requires json2.js for all browsers other than Firefox 3.5 if (!window.sessionStorage && JSON) { window.sessionStorage = (function () { // window.top.name ensures top level, and supports around 2Mb var data = window.top.name ? JSON.parse(window.top.name) : {}; return { setItem: function (key, value) { data[key] = value+""; // force to string window.top.name = JSON.stringify(data); }, removeItem: function (key) { delete data[key]; window.top.name = JSON.stringify(data); }, getItem: function (key) { return data[key] || null; }, clear: function () { data = {}; window.top.name = ''; } }; })(); } Now that we’ve cracked the cookie jar with our oversized Web Storage API, let’s have a look at how we take our applications offline entirely. Offline Applications Offline applications is (still) part of the HTML5 specification. It allows developers to build a web app and have it still function without an internet connection. The app is access via the same URL as it would be if the user were online, but the contents (or what the developer specifies) is served up to the browser from a local cache. From there it’s just an everyday stroll through open web technologies, i.e. you still have access to the Web Storage API and anything else you can do without a web connection. For this section, I’ll refer you to a prototype demo I wrote recently of a contrived Rubik’s cube (contrived because it doesn’t work and it only works in Safari because I’m using 3D transforms). Offline Rubik’s cube Support Support for offline applications is still fairly limited, but the possibilities of offline applications is pretty exciting, particularly as we’re seeing mobile support and support in applications such as Fluid (and I would expect other render engine wrapping apps). Support currently, is as follows: Latest: Safari (desktop & mobile/iPhone) Sort of: Firefox‡ Not supported: Internet Explorer, Opera, Google Chrome ‡ Firefox 3.5 was released to include offline support, but in fact has bugs where it doesn’t work properly (certainly on the Mac), Minefield (Firefox beta) has resolved the bug. Usage The status of the application’s cache can be tested from the window.applicationCache object. However, we’ll first look at how to enable your app for offline access. You need to create a manifest file, which will tell the browser what to cache, and then we point our web page to that cache: <!DOCTYPE html> <html manifest="remy.manifest"> <!-- continues ... --> For the manifest to be properly read by the browser, your server needs to serve the .manifest files as text/manifest by adding the following to your mime.types: text/cache-manifest manifest Next we need to populate our manifest file so the browser can read it: CACHE MANIFEST /demo/rubiks/index.html /demo/rubiks/style.css /demo/rubiks/jquery.min.js /demo/rubiks/rubiks.js # version 15 The first line of the manifest must read CACHE MANIFEST. Then subsequent lines tell the browser what to cache. The HTML5 spec recommends that you include the calling web page (in my case index.html), but it’s not required. If I didn’t include index.html, the browser would cache it as part of the offline resources. These resources are implicitly under the CACHE namespace (which you can specify any number of times if you want to). In addition, there are two further namespaces: NETWORK and FALLBACK. NETWORK is a whitelist namespace that tells the browser not to cache this resource and always try to request it through the network. FALLBACK tells the browser that whilst in offline mode, if the resource isn’t available, it should return the fallback resource. Finally, in my example I’ve included a comment with a version number. This is because once you include a manifest, the only way you can tell the browser to reload the resources is if the manifest contents changes. So I’ve included a version number in the manifest which I can change forcing the browser to reload all of the assets. How it works If you’re building an app that makes use of the offline cache, I would strongly recommend that you add the manifest last. The browser implementations are very new, so can sometimes get a bit tricky to debug since once the resources are cached, they really stick in the browser. These are the steps that happen during a request for an app with a manifest: Browser: sends request for your app.html Server: serves all associated resources with app.html – as normal Browser: notices that app.html has a manifest, it re-request the assets in the manifest Server: serves the requested manifest assets (again) Browser: window.applicationCache has a status of UPDATEREADY Browser: reloads Browser: only request manifest file (which doesn’t show on the net requests panel) Server: responds with 304 Not Modified on the manifest file Browser: serves all the cached resources locally What might also add confusion to this process, is that the way the browsers work (currently) is if there is a cache already in place, it will use this first over updated resources. So if your manifest has changed, the browser will have already loaded the offline cache, so the user will only see the updated on the next reload. This may seem a bit convoluted, but you can also trigger some of this manually through the applicationCache methods which can ease some of this pain. If you bind to the online event you can manually try to update the offline cache. If the cache has then updated, swap the updated resources in to the cache and the next time the app loads it will be up to date. You could also prompt your user to reload the app (which is just a refresh) if there’s an update available. For example (though this is just pseudo code): addEvent(applicationCache, 'updateready', function () { applicationCache.swapCache(); tellUserToRefresh(); }); addEvent(window, 'online', function () { applicationCache.update(); }); Breaking out of the Browser So that’s two different technologies that you can use to break out of the traditional browser/web page model and get your apps working in a more application-ny way. There’s loads more in the HTML5 and non-HTML5 APIs to play with, so take your Christmas break to check them out! 2009 Remy Sharp remysharp 2009-12-02T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2009/breaking-out-the-edges-of-the-browser/ code
192 Cleaner Code with CSS3 Selectors The parts of CSS3 that seem to grab the most column inches on blogs and in articles are the shiny bits. Rounded corners, text shadow and new ways to achieve CSS layouts are all exciting and bring with them all kinds of possibilities for web design. However what really gets me, as a developer, excited is a bit more mundane. In this article I’m going to take a look at some of the ways our front and back-end code will be simplified by CSS3, by looking at the ways we achieve certain visual effects now in comparison to how we will achieve them in a glorious, CSS3-supported future. I’m also going to demonstrate how we can use these selectors now with a little help from JavaScript – which can work out very useful if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t change markup that is being output by some server-side code. The wonder of nth-child So why does nth-child get me so excited? Here is a really common situation, the designer would like the tables in the application to look like this: Setting every other table row to a different colour is a common way to enhance readability of long rows. The tried and tested way to implement this is by adding a class to every other row. If you are writing the markup for your table by hand this is a bit of a nuisance, and if you stick a row in the middle you have to change the rows the class is applied to. If your markup is generated by your content management system then you need to get the server-side code to add that class – if you have access to that code. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> <html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"> <head> <title>Striping every other row - using classes</title> <style type="text/css"> body { padding: 40px; margin: 0; font: 0.9em Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; } table { border-collapse: collapse; border: 1px solid #124412; width: 600px; } th { border: 1px solid #124412; background-color: #334f33; color: #fff; padding: 0.4em; text-align: left; } td { padding: 0.4em; } tr.odd td { background-color: #86B486; } </style> </head> <body> <table> <tr> <th>Name</th> <th>Cards sent</th> <th>Cards received</th> <th>Cards written but not sent</th> </tr> <tr> <td>Ann</td> <td>40</td> <td>28</td> <td>4</td> </tr> <tr class="odd"> <td>Joe</td> <td>2</td> <td>27</td> <td>29</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Paul</td> <td>5</td> <td>35</td> <td>2</td> </tr> <tr class="odd"> <td>Louise</td> <td>65</td> <td>65</td> <td>0</td> </tr> </table> </body> </html> View Example 1 This situation is something I deal with on almost every project, and apart from being an extra thing to do, it just isn’t ideal having the server-side code squirt classes into the markup for purely presentational reasons. This is where the nth-child pseudo-class selector comes in. The server-side code creates a valid HTML table for the data, and the CSS then selects the odd rows with the following selector: tr:nth-child(odd) td { background-color: #86B486; } View Example 2 The odd and even keywords are very handy in this situation – however you can also use a multiplier here. 2n would be equivalent to the keyword ‘odd’ 3n would select every third row and so on. Browser support Sadly, nth-child has pretty poor browser support. It is not supported in Internet Explorer 8 and has somewhat buggy support in some other browsers. Firefox 3.5 does have support. In some situations however, you might want to consider using JavaScript to add this support to browsers that don’t have it. This can be very useful if you are dealing with a Content Management System where you have no ability to change the server-side code to add classes into the markup. I’m going to use jQuery in these examples as it is very simple to use the same CSS selector used in the CSS to target elements with jQuery – however you could use any library or write your own function to do the same job. In the CSS I have added the original class selector to the nth-child selector: tr:nth-child(odd) td, tr.odd td { background-color: #86B486; } Then I am adding some jQuery to add a class to the markup once the document has loaded – using the very same nth-child selector that works for browsers that support it. <script src="http://code.jquery.com/jquery-latest.js"></script> <script> $(document).ready(function(){ $("tr:nth-child(odd)").addClass("odd"); }); </script> View Example 3 We could just add a background colour to the element using jQuery, however I prefer not to mix that information into the JavaScript as if we change the colour on our table rows I would need to remember to change it both in the CSS and in the JavaScript. Doing something different with the last element So here’s another thing that we often deal with. You have a list of items all floated left with a right hand margin on each element constrained within a fixed width layout. If each element has the right margin applied the margin on the final element will cause the set to become too wide forcing that last item down to the next row as shown in the below example where I have used a grey border to indicate the fixed width. Currently we have two ways to deal with this. We can put a negative right margin on the list, the same width as the space between the elements. This means that the extra margin on the final element fills that space and the item doesn’t drop down. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> <html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"> <head> <title>The last item is different</title> <style type="text/css"> body { padding: 40px; margin: 0; font: 0.9em Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; } div#wrapper { width: 740px; float: left; border: 5px solid #ccc; } ul.gallery { margin: 0 -10px 0 0; padding: 0; list-style: none; } ul.gallery li { float: left; width: 240px; margin: 0 10px 10px 0; } </style> </head> <body> <div id="wrapper"> <ul class="gallery"> <li><img src="xmas1.jpg" alt="baubles" /></li> <li><img src="xmas2.jpg" alt="star" /></li> <li><img src="xmas3.jpg" alt="wreath" /></li> </ul> </div> </body> </html> View Example 4 The other solution will be to put a class on the final element and in the CSS remove the margin for this class. ul.gallery li.last { margin-right: 0; } This second solution may not be easy if the content is generated from server-side code that you don’t have access to change. It could all be so different. In CSS3 we have marvellously common-sense selectors such as last-child, meaning that we can simply add rules for the last list item. ul.gallery li:last-child { margin-right: 0; } View Example 5 This removed the margin on the li which is the last-child of the ul with a class of gallery. No messing about sticking classes on the last item, or pushing the width of the item out wit a negative margin. If this list of items repeated ad infinitum then you could also use nth-child for this task. Creating a rule that makes every 3rd element margin-less. ul.gallery li:nth-child(3n) { margin-right: 0; } View Example 6 A similar example is where the designer has added borders to the bottom of each element – but the last item does not have a border or is in some other way different. Again, only a class added to the last element will save you here if you cannot rely on using the last-child selector. Browser support for last-child The situation for last-child is similar to that of nth-child, in that there is no support in Internet Explorer 8. However, once again it is very simple to replicate the functionality using jQuery. Adding our .last class to the last list item. $("ul.gallery li:last-child").addClass("last"); We could also use the nth-child selector to add the .last class to every third list item. $("ul.gallery li:nth-child(3n)").addClass("last"); View Example 7 Fun with forms Styling forms can be a bit of a trial, made difficult by the fact that any CSS applied to the input element will effect text fields, submit buttons, checkboxes and radio buttons. As developers we are left adding classes to our form fields to differentiate them. In most builds all of my text fields have a simple class of text whereas I wouldn’t dream of adding a class of para to every paragraph element in a document. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> <html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"> <head> <title>Syling form fields</title> <style type="text/css"> body { padding: 40px; margin: 0; font: 0.9em Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; } form div { clear: left; padding: 0 0 0.8em 0; } form label { float: left; width: 120px; } form .text, form textarea { border:1px solid #333; padding: 0.2em; width: 400px; } form .button { border: 1px solid #333; background-color: #eee; color: #000; padding: 0.1em; } </style> </head> <body> <h1>Send your Christmas list to Santa</h1> <form method="post" action="" id="christmas-list"> <div><label for="fName">Name</label> <input type="text" name="fName" id="fName" class="text" /></div> <div><label for="fEmail">Email address</label> <input type="text" name="fEmail" id="fEmail" class="text" /></div> <div><label for="fList">Your list</label> <textarea name="fList" id="fList" rows="10" cols="30"></textarea></div> <div><input type="submit" name="btnSubmit" id="btnSubmit" value="Submit" class="button" ></div> </form> </body> </html> View Example 8 Attribute selectors provide a way of targeting elements by looking at the attributes of those elements. Unlike the other examples in this article which are CSS3 selectors, the attribute selector is actually a CSS2.1 selector – it just doesn’t get much use because of lack of support in Internet Explorer 6. Using attribute selectors we can write rules for text inputs and form buttons without needing to add any classes to the markup. For example after removing the text and button classes from my text and submit button input elements I can use the following rules to target them: form input[type="text"] { border: 1px solid #333; padding: 0.2em; width: 400px; } form input[type="submit"]{ border: 1px solid #333; background-color: #eee; color: #000; padding: 0.1em; } View Example 9 Another problem that I encounter with forms is where I am using CSS to position my labels and form elements by floating the labels. This works fine as long as I want all of my labels to be floated, however sometimes we get a set of radio buttons or a checkbox, and I don’t want the label field to be floated. As you can see in the below example the label for the checkbox is squashed up into the space used for the other labels, yet it makes more sense for the checkbox to display after the text. I could use a class on this label element however CSS3 lets me to target the label attribute directly by looking at the value of the for attribute. label[for="fOptIn"] { float: none; width: auto; } Being able to precisely target attributes in this way is incredibly useful, and once IE6 is no longer an issue this will really help to clean up our markup and save us from having to create all kinds of special cases when generating this markup on the server-side. Browser support The news for attribute selectors is actually pretty good with Internet Explorer 7+, Firefox 2+ and all other modern browsers all having support. As I have already mentioned this is a CSS2.1 selector and so we really should expect to be able to use it as we head into 2010! Internet Explorer 7 has slightly buggy support and will fail on the label example shown above however I discovered a workaround in the Sitepoint CSS reference comments. Adding the selector label[htmlFor="fOptIn"] to the correct selector will create a match for IE7. IE6 does not support these selector but, once again, you can use jQuery to plug the holes in IE6 support. The following jQuery will add the text and button classes to your fields and also add a checks class to the label for the checkbox, which you can use to remove the float and width for this element. $('form input[type="submit"]').addClass("button"); $('form input[type="text"]').addClass("text"); $('label[for="fOptIn"]').addClass("checks"); View Example 10 The selectors I’ve used in this article are easy to overlook as we do have ways to achieve these things currently. As developers – especially when we have frameworks and existing code that cope with these situations – it is easy to carry on as we always have done. I think that the time has come to start to clean up our front and backend code and replace our reliance on classes with these more advanced selectors. With the help of a little JavaScript almost all users will still get the full effect and, where we are dealing with purely visual effects, there is definitely a case to be made for not worrying about the very small percentage of people with old browsers and no JavaScript. They will still receive a readable website, it may just be missing some of the finesse offered to the modern browsing experience. 2009 Rachel Andrew rachelandrew 2009-12-20T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2009/cleaner-code-with-css3-selectors/ code
191 CSS Animations Friend: You should learn how to write CSS! Me: … Friend: CSS; Cascading Style Sheets. If you’re serious about web design, that’s the next thing you should learn. Me: What’s wrong with <font> tags? That was 8 years ago. Thanks to the hard work of Jeffrey, Andy, Andy, Cameron, Colly, Dan and many others, learning how to decently markup a website and write lightweight stylesheets was surprisingly easy. They made it so easy even a complete idiot (OH HAI) was able to quickly master it. And then… nothing. For a long time, it seemed like there wasn’t happening anything in the land of CSS, time stood still. Once you knew the basics, there wasn’t anything new to keep up with. It looked like a great band split, but people just kept re-releasing their music in various “Best Of!” or “Remastered!” albums. Fast forward a couple of years to late 2006. On the official WebKit blog Surfin’ Safari, there’s an article about something called CSS animations. Great new stuff to play with, but only supported by nightly builds (read: very, very beta) of WebKit. In the following months, they release other goodies, like CSS gradients, CSS reflections, CSS masks, and even more CSS animation sexiness. Whoa, looks like the band got back together, found their second youth, and went into overdrive! The problem was that if you wanted to listen to their new albums, you had to own some kind of new high-tech player no one on earth (besides some early adopters) owned. Back in the time machine. It is now late 2009, close to Christmas. Things have changed. Browsers supporting these new toys are widely available left and right. Even non-techies are using these advanced browsers to surf the web on a daily basis! Epic win? Almost, but at least this gives us enough reason to start learning how we could use all this new CSS voodoo. On Monday, Natalie Downe showed you a good tutorial on Going Nuts with CSS Transitions. Today, I’m taking it one step further… Howto: A basic spinner No matter how fast internet tubes or servers are, we’ll always need spinners to indicate something’s happening behind the scenes. Up until now, people would go to some site, pick one of the available templates, customize their foreground and background colors, and download a beautiful GIF image. There are some downsides to this though: It’s only _semi_-transparent: If you change your mind and pick a slightly different background color, you need to go back to the site, set all the parameters again, and replace your current image. There isn’t even a way to pick an image or gradient as background. Limited number of frames, probable to keep the file-size as small as possible (don’t forget this thing needs to be loaded before whatever process is finished in the background), and you don’t have that 24 frames per second smoothness. This is just too fucking easy. As a front-end code geek, there must be a “cooler” way to do this! What do we need to make a spinner with CSS animations? One image, and one element on our webpage we can hook on to. Yes, that’s it. I created a simple transparent PNG that looks it might be a spinner, and for the element on the page, I wrote this piece of genius HTML: <p id="spinner">Please wait while we do what we do best.</p> Looks semantic enough to me! Here’s the basic HTML I’m using to position the element in the center of the screen, and make the text inside it disappear: #spinner { position: absolute; top: 50%; left: 50%; margin: -100px 0 0 -100px; height: 200px; width: 200px; text-indent: 250px; white-space: nowrap; overflow: hidden; } Cool, but now we don’t see anything. Let’s pull rabbit number one out of the hat: -webkit-mask-image (accompanied by the previously mentioned transparent PNG image): #spinner { ... -webkit-mask-image: url(../img/spinner.png); } By now you should be feeling like a magician already. Oh, wait, we still have a blank screen, looks like we left something in the hat (tip: not rabbit droppings): #spinner { ... -webkit-mask-image: url(../img/spinner.png); background-color: #000; } Nice! What we’ve done right here is telling the element to clip onto the PNG. It’s a lot like clipping layers in Photoshop. So, spinners, they move, right? Into the hat again, and look what we pull out this time: CSS animations! #spinner { ... -webkit-mask-image: url(../img/spinner.png); background-color: #000; -webkit-animation-name: spinnerRotate; -webkit-animation-duration: 2s; -webkit-animation-iteration-count: infinite; -webkit-animation-timing-function: linear; } Some explanation: -webkit-animation-name: Name of the animation we’ll be defining later. -webkit-animation-duration: The timespan of the animation. -webkit-animation-iteration-count: Repeat once, a defined number of times or infinitely? -webkit-animation-timing-function: Linear is the one you’ll be using mostly. Other options are ease-in, ease-out, ease-in-out… Let’s define spinnerRotate: @-webkit-keyframes spinnerRotate { from { -webkit-transform:rotate(0deg); } to { -webkit-transform:rotate(360deg); } } En Anglais: Rotate #spinner starting at 0 degrees, ending at 360 degrees, over a timespan of 2 seconds, at a constant speed, and keep repeating this animation forever. That’s it! See it in action on the demo page. Note: these examples only work when you’re using a WebKit-based browser like Safari, Mobile Safari or Google Chrome. I’m confident though that Mozilla and Opera will try their very best catching up with all this new CSS goodness soon. When looking at this example, you see the possibilities are endless. Another advantage is you can change the look of it entirely by only changing a couple of lines of CSS, instead of re-creating and re-downloading the image from some website smelling like web 2.0 gone bad. I made another demo that shows how great it is to be able to change background and foreground colors (even on the fly!). So there you have it, a smoothly animated, fully transparent and completely customizable spinner. Cool? I think so. (Ladies?) But you can do a lot more with CSS animations than just create pretty spinners. Since I was fooling around with it anyway, I decided to test how far you can push this, space is the final limit, right? Conclusion CSS has never been more exciting than it is right now. I’m even prepared to say CSS is “cool” again, both for the more experienced front-end developers as for the new designers discovering CSS every day now. But… Remember when Javascript became popular? Remember when Flash became popular? Every time we’re been given new toys, some people aren’t ashamed to use it in a way you can barely call constructive. I’m thinking of Geocities websites, loaded with glowing blocks of text, moving images, bad color usage… In the wise words of Stan Lee: With great power there must also come great responsibility! A sprinkle of CSS animations is better than a bucket load. Apply with care. 2009 Tim Van Damme timvandamme 2009-12-15T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2009/css-animations/ code
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