Making the Aberystwyth SSAGO Website

Many Moons ago the webmaster of a AberSSAGO asked me to redo their club website for them. Having a familiarity of the club through a good friend called AberMary (who many readers of this blog also know as Fearless Guider) I wanted the club to put its best foot forward so I thought “‘what the hey’ I could do with a bubbly and friendly piece to add to my portfolio” and got involved Continue reading Making the Aberystwyth SSAGO Website

Blog Design 3 and a bit

Hello to those previous few reading in RSS programs, I know there aren’t many of you but still you’re always welcome on the site, boot up your browser and drop by for a visit. If you’re viewing this post in a browser then you’re already looking at the improved site layout, it’s not a completely new layout but it certainly is easier to use than before and feels smoother on the eyes. Although, ironically, I have actually made the header image rougher, the sand it now grainy which changed the complete dynamic of the image, I applied this to the fire circle as well, hopefully I’ll find sometime to draw in some cooking equipment oneday…

Besides the cosmetic changes there are some usability improvements, I’ve tried to stick to as many intuitive practices as I can without making the site feel too corporate, which is what most tutorials on website design tend to do. I always try anything I add to the site first and if it works for me I keep it, what I’d really like to know is if it works for you. I’ve highlighted some of the noticeable changes below.

Design

I’ve always tried to treat this blog informally, trying out new styles without fear that a client will demand a refund or a potential employer will shun me. The transparency effect on the sidebars didn’t sit well and using a translucent image meant that if the site didn’t load quick enough then the background colour would just jump in a the end so I’m not using that effect any more. At least I know that the technique works for the most part and its potential limitations with current browser technology. Although nobody has mentioned it on here verbally its been mentioned that being too experimental has made using the site less enjoyable, as much as I have learned to date I’m going to start keeping my blog to a higher standard.

Twitter / Microblogging

I’ve added some asides, or microblog, to the sidebar. Mostly these will be one liners making updates to the site more frequent for you and more convenient for me as I won’t have to spend as much time making a substantial article. This is simply an import of my status updates on my twitter. As with all twitter updates these will be limited to the usual 140 characters which means a clean cut between my main and micro blogs.

Comments

I’m archiving the microblog encase Twitter changes its license or becomes a paid service, something although unlikely has happened in the past. With this new microblogging section the article layout is made a little bit ka-ka by the small content so I’ve just listed the date and text of each one and styled each mircopost like the comments beneath them making them a linear read. There is a new field on the comment form allowing you to subscribe be emailed about new comments on each blog post, similar to watching a topic on a forum.

Twavatars

With the new popularity of Twitter, and their gorgeous API I’ve plugged into a lot of their features. Now when you make a comment anywhere on my blog automatically either your Gravatar, which commenter’s on other blogs should already know about or use your Twitter Avatar (Twavatar) will be shown next to your comment.

Related/Recent posts

Having the ‘related posts’ out of the way in a posts sidebar for easy read through meant it didn’t get used much so its now between the article and the comment form, same thing for the recent posts sidebar block. Hopefully new visitors won’t forget to comment if they go to explore the older content.

Tweaks

  • Archive pages now show more posts so you can find what you’re looking for sooner.
  • Teasers are longer so you get a better feel of each post.
  • There is a links page for all the links in my sidebar, if yours is wrong or you’re not in there drop me a line.
  • Some of the custom coding is sleeker so the site loads faster.

Planning enough time to do it

Most people like to find all options they have available to them, weigh the pros and cons of each one with the best possible result being the desired outcome. However, there is one variable of the outcome that is often neglected, the duration to reach the outcome. Instead of discussing the plan, if the first suggestion is reinforced with agreement by another automatically more often than not something some work will begin. It might not be the best choice but something is being made whilst a better idea is being decided upon. The something that is getting done if put forward by someone sufficiently clever will more than likely be relatively close to the best idea when it’s determined. Also it will most likely be able to get adapted to work before the completion of starting it from scratch in the present moment.

The development cycle for software is very similar, there is always the discussion of whether it would be quicker to adapt something that already exists, i.e. the time to learn its structure and behaviour versus the time to work out your own and build it. In smaller systems the first option is often the quickest and in larger systems it is easier to make your own.

This is the argument the committee in my head is having at the moment over making CMS, I wasn’t going to tell anyone about it but I typed most of it out anyway in a comment I was going to make at KCNB and I thought that I’d rather keep it for posterity here and drop a trackback to her.

Hazel, the owner of KCNB, is coding a game as a degree project, she’s a little perturbed about spending so much time planning and using the scrum development method. In a nutshell to adhere to its methodology you say what you are going to do and do it in the time allotted.

Accordingly you need to workout, usually in length what you can do before you do it which often means a lot of unproductive talk followed by anticipated achievements which can be very reassuring to the person looking at the bottom-line of missing a deadline.

The method I was primarily taught was the RUP which in a nutshell is making a broad plan incrementally more accurate until the problem becomes little manageable chunks which don’t necessarily need the attention of the starting team.

This means 4 people could do the planning but 20 could do the coding as their bit only requires them to know what goes in and what must come out. Whereas the scrum method is best suited to having those who start a project finishing it aswell as newbies brought in would take a long time to see what their doing in the grand scheme of things, this also means that the man-hours of work can not be distributed in the home stretch.

Working on my own I write the plan as I go, moulding and adapting it as I need, however working as part of a team that aren’t mind readers I find it best to create documents and drawings to show my intentions, and if someone has the same idea as me I immediately back them up to get going, not because I think I know best but because if 2 people have the same idea to solve the problem is can’t be that bad of an idea and its mostly likely simple “which is the ultimate sophistication” (Da Vinci).

Both planning frameworks have pros and cons but sometimes its best to make it up as you go along, its risky but experience and talent with a little luck can sometimes reach the finish line quicker even though they’ve actually done more work (coding) and less planning than another team that have done less coding but more planning. It’s all a balancing act between a time intensive plan making a beautiful and efficient system versus a slapped together quick’n’dirty one.

Specific vs Generic Coded Solutions

Years ago I threw up a phpBB to keep a few hundred people I met at a Scout camp talking. We quickly formed a community and the demands on the site grew so it keep up with the growth I hacked it to bits to add in extra functionality and static pages but it was hard work and I knew a CMS would make the process easier already having the basics a community site would want built in. I did some rigorous testing on 6 different open source website managers back in 2005 and I couldn’t find one that could be easily integrated so I used the most promising and hacked them together and several years down the road it still works. Just.

Last month I had another look, this time with the objective of transferring all data to the new system, having glanced at 22 platforms I often find it has the applications I want but lacks somewhere else. For instance the CMS required manual edits which are a lot slower and hassling than instead of click and go plugins or the templating system was {SMARTY} based when I’m a designer that’s not afraid of coded layouts. There were a couple other little things but those were at the top of my list.

So once again I still can’t find what I want meaning I’ll be forever working with a medium I’m not entirely satisfied with or I can make one myself. Its a pretty big task to undertake, hundreds of man hours of coding and research not to mention risky. The most important issue is security, with one person making the software you have one set of eyes bug swatting and security hole filling, its hard work and many hands (and eyes) make light work. I don’t know if I’d want to put at risk 4 years worth of community bonding using home-made software that has only been given okay by the person that made it.

There would need to be quite a lot of dedication on my part, it’ll be a year long project (at least) to get everything done I want with the next busy period coming in 4 months and 12 months. Saying that if I had started in 2005 imagine how much I could’ve done by now (although I probably wouldn’t be as good at other things). Its certainly not the quickest way to solve the problem, when each CMS out there has its own community of hundreds/thousands of developers working on modifications similar to what I want that could be downloaded an installed that same day.

I could speed things along by opening up the project to others but if they’re worse programmers than me it weakens the project and the better ones would open up my box of code, laugh, and carry on their merry way meanwhile I continue working alone slowly solving a problem in an inferior way.

There is another fun side to look at, with a public CMS there would be logos and website design galore which I could concentrate on which would be quite nice. However once the name, logo and branding are sorted it’ll just be more and more web design which is quite constricting comparing to the blank canvas of print work.

With the third rung of my graphic design career ladder looming overhead I probably shouldn’t be focusing on coding it can’t fill up my portfolio. I suppose it’ll be a hobby for a while, which for some means it’ll never be made to my full potential but at least the trying will be fun, and hopefully keep my plugin skills improving, heck if I write enough plugins and bind them together with string maybe it’ll be enough?

I suppose going with the Witwicky family motto: “No sacrifice, no victory”. I have to risk sacrificing a lot of my time to achieve a success and popularity.

If you happen to be interested making a CMS for code savy graphic designers feel free to get in contact and start up a dialogue.

Birds of a Feather

Gang shows calling!” The Milton Keynes Gang show is starting rehearsals and auditions next week. It’s been a few years since I’ve been in the cast, regardless I’m still looking forward to it, hopefully I’ll be getting a few dance roles and not so many vocals, what can I say I’ve never really been any good at singing *shrug*.

Continue reading Birds of a Feather

Blog Design the Third

With the move to this new location I had hoped to get this envisioned theme up and running from the get go, however it took a little longer than I would like to get everything drawn just right and displayed just so.

There are still the odd things to tweak and the header image will grow; I’ll be putting more of my favourite things onto my little island. So far I’ve got, camping, Frisbee, UK and beaches/seaside I guess we’ll see just how much I can cram on there in time.

Continue reading Blog Design the Third