You’re not in the wrong place. This is still me. It’s been at least five years since I did a major redesign of this blog, and over those years I’ve painted myself into a few design corners. I’ve been meaning to figure out a way to slowly tweak my design into something new and fresh and modern, but my old theme had so many complexities that I decided instead to just rip the bandage right off. This is the basis for a new look. It’s a bit sparse at the moment, but I’ll be refining it in the coming months. For now, enjoy a simpler look and feel.
December 20 While I’ve definitely made a lot of minor tweaks to this blog’s look-and-style in times passed, I realized the other day that I’ve been using basically the same design template for the last four and a half years. For a guy who used to update and change the look of this thing every couple months, that’s a long stretch without much more than some gentle nudging. I don’t think I’m ready to completely overhaul it at this point, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t given some thought to how I would do that — and if I would do that. I mean, this blog is going to turn 16 next year. It will be old enough to drive. I almost feel like it has hit a kind of classic maturity (at least in design) and I’m not sure I ever really want to mess with it any more than at the gentle nudging and tweaking level. That said, there are so many new design paradigms out there that I’m locked out of using because I’ve painted myself into a metaphorical corner. Ahhhh! It will be a tough call, but maybe I’ll think of something wild and crazy to work towards — a BIG tweak — for the fifth anniversary of this template.
Those of you who know where I work may be happy to know that we’re neck-deep here in the challenges of designing a responsive mobile website (in a cost-effective manner, no less!) As such, and since this blog serves a multi-faceted purpose, one of which is as a kind of sandbox for my own personal code-based experimentation, I’ve been playing with a few design tricks I’ve been thinking a lot about, once again resulting in the subtle tweaking of the look-and-feel of this site. Responsive design is tricky: you are essentially building multiple websites that overlap with each other — same content, different look — but that need to resemble each other enough that users just think things are shuffling around… which they are… but in clever ways that maximize screen real estate. In short, you change one thing and two more things break. You fix those and some other bit pops out like a cartoon pimple in a completely unexpected place over here. Yoink! I don’t seek your pity, just your patience if something doesn’t look quite right.
With Karin out of town, I was stuck at home with –y’know– dad responsibilities, and so I spent the better part of my evening last night doing some minor tweaks to my blog template. It’s a small thing, yeah, but it should make it a lot more “touchable.” Whaaaa..?? Well, rather than just have great big gorgeous feature imagery on my front page with itty-bitty word-titles that you click to navigate to the article, now every time there is a picture associated with an article, that whole image is clickable. It’s a bigger target for your little finger. Again… small thing, but with a big usability impact, particularly if you’re reading this blog on a tablet or a phone. Enjoy!
What posts in June? Oh, thooooose thirty posts in June… again. It seems that for the fourth year in a row I’ve climbed aboard the daily blogging train and continued that monumental, multi-year writing effort to string a topic or idea across the vast reaches of years. Each day a new post on a new topic, but on the same blog-per-day topic as last year, creating another set of Those 30 Posts in June. Today, that post just happens to be:
June 17th // Something You Are Working At
Three years to the day of this exact same theme of post I’m in an almost nearly identical position as I was then.
I wrote a post three years ago today on the topic of my big project at work of re-organizing the corporate intranet system. And what I’d optimistically presumed would be a year-long project, turned into nearly two and a half years (with a short break for some other priority stuff in the middle) of effort that culminated in a much-lauded relaunch of a jumbled file system into neat-and-tidy, revitalized internal communications tool that is saving time and effort… and probably as a result tax money (but then no one specifically measures that.)
Three years later I’m heads-down, all systems go, on yet another project spin-up. You may have noticed that I’ve been focussing a lot on the mobile aspects of my own blog lately. That’s not accidental. I’ve often said that of the many reasons I tend a personal website, one reason fairly high on that list is as a sandbox for my own professional development. After all, it’s all well and good to READ about mobile design standards. It’s another thing to re-purpose a content managed template, live and on-the-fly, into a responsive design. It’s another thing to think about mobile content in the context of actual real-live webpages. It’s another thing to stumble, trip, and yet keep on running when you encounter not-so-obvious roadblocks that no one overtly mentions and you’d never think to search for…
These same systems that I tend to professionally each day — pruning, tweaking, refining, defining, organizing, and honing to the as-close-to-perfection-as-we-can-ness that we strive for — these same systems are increasingly accessed by hundreds of thousands of people on the go. On phones. On tablets. On apps.
And I’m working on another big ol’ project to make that experience a little more friendly. Or at least some pre-work to make that project a little more focused. It will take time to do it right, and as usual, it will be done as efficiently and step-wise as possible. I just hope that in more three years (or preferably much, much sooner) I’ll be talking about THIS project in the past tense, too.
No one has complained about the up-tick in the quantity of random photos posted on this blog. If you were tuning in over the weekend, you probably noticed that I was firing off random photo goodness into the front page feed of this blog. Some of those were me simply having fun with a new toy. But others were legitimate testing… testing that is not quite done. The new features let me post quick photos by sending an email with a photo attached to a super-secret, white-list-enabled email account. The blog checks in and pulls whatever message is waiting there and turns it into a blog post. Groovy, right? It sure is, but getting the thing fine-tuned to behave just right, re-sizing things appropriately and putting the right bit of text where it is expected to be, has been a lot of trial and error. And more it yet to come over the following week. Let me know if you encounter major issues… but also if you are enjoying the photo gush, too.
For those who continue to be curious about the design aspects of this blog, you may have noticed a subtle change in font that accompanied the week-and-a-bit ago switchover to a responsive template. I took the opportunity of fussing with the look-and-feel to swap out the prevailing use of “Arial” throughout this blog and replaced it with the new open source font from Intel Clear Sans. “Clear Sans is a versatile OpenType font for screen, print, and Web. It strikes a balance between contemporary, professional, and stylish expression and thoroughly functional purpose.” I like the look, and it gives a slightly more modern feel to the blog (I think) particularly since it offers a slightly broader range of legibility, particularly at reduced sizes and on mobile devices. I know fonts and typography are not exactly everyone’s cup-o-tea, but I’m finding the deeper I get into design and usability work, the more meaningful font-knowledge and awareness is becoming for me. I’m a font-nerd, I know.
I’m not a huge fan of responsive design, y’know the kind: when websites wibble-and-wobble around and change their look-and-feel, shape and content depending on how big your browser window happens to be. My lack of fandom probably accounts for my (up-til-now) complete lack of understanding of the technical side of it all. I just never bothered. But people apparently like it and I was given (professional) cause (and arguably “light” direction) to figure it all out. So, in other words, if you’re wondering why suddenly this site is using a nearly-identical, but now moderately-responsive template… it’s because I needed to learn. It’s because I needed a guinea pig. And you’re reading it. What do you think: nailed it? Or needs work? What do you expect from a website that responds to your viewing window?
I’ve been playing around with various content types on this blog over the last week. Surprised? Not really, huh. I’m somewhat obsessed with continual iterative changes, after all. If I’m not updating, altering, changing, bumping, polishing, wobbling, or otherwise tweaking this blog, I kinda feel like I’m letting down a big chunk of the reason I operate it in the first place: to learn and grow in the field of web development, design, and social media. So, again it should be no big surprise that I’ve added yet another change to this site: reviews. I’ve tossed around the idea of reviews for a while, but didn’t want to make them a core part of this site. But I’ve been doing them (such as…) and looking for an interesting way to integrate them so that they fit with my other standard content types. You’ll probably see a few of them pop up over the coming weeks, and that’s just me fine-tuning until I settle on a design and style. It gives me a way to actually quantitatively comment on something, but not in any sort of rigid way. Let me know what you think. And as always, it’s just me and my little opinion.
So, this is what happens when you’re stuck hanging out at the office late into the evening waiting patiently for your turn in a website deployment process…
I’ve been killing time, and as I wanted to watch a movie that happened to be on my phone while I waited for that fateful email to arrive letting me know my role in this process was a go. But I needed a stand. I mean, who wants to watch a movie on a phone that is just laying there flat on a desk?
So, this is what I built using just a paper clip and some blue-tack.
The blue-tack sticks to the desk and to the phone, while the paper clip provides the angular support frame for the slightly-leaning stand. All of this combines to provide a sturdy, yet temporary prop for an ideal and comfortable viewing angle for the iPhone screen at it’s horizonal/landscape orientation.
And it worked pretty awesome too… provided I put the volume-buttons on the top edge and not the bottom. Y’know… because that caused a bit of sound-based chaos.
I know… almost too cool for words, right? All it needs is an Apple logo.
One month ’til Xmas: Guess it’s time to decorate the blog for the holidays.
As the summer bleeds into some chilly autumn days, and I spend more and more time refocusing on those upcoming long winter days de-crypting work project requests, I’ve been turning my thoughts back to writing for my quasi-professional blog, the FooBarn — and subsequently doing a little more spouting off on the information management topics I’m paid to espouse. Here’s a sampler.
FooBarn’s Foo Maxim #001 (a cross-post…)
It might not seem so at the start, but implementing technology is almost always easier than building business processes that work effectively.
Or, at least that’s my opinion. The opinion of a a guy who codes a little in his spare time and is usually pretty comfortable around technology. The opinion of a guy who works daily to grok business needs and convert them into technological outcomes. The opinion of a guy who usually ends up adapting his technology “solution” way more times than necessary because the business process that blossomed far too organically later in the design flow didn’t quite line up with what was in the minds that requested said technology far too early.
In business, we design an algorithm — a step-by-step procedure — or a series of the same, that converts a business need into a result. A request is converted into an action. A transaction is converted into a service. A complaint is converted into a fix. And all of these procedures involve many moving parts: people, money, paperwork, and information.
In technology, we tend to design algorithms that convert the same sorts of things: a request into an action, transaction into a sale, et cetera. And good technology isn’t — and here’s the key — a stand-alone element. Good technology, at least in a business setting, is a smaller piece of a larger business process.
That’s all well and good, you say, and we know that… don’t we?
Sure, many people do know this. Many people get it. But even the best managers come to me and say things such as: “We want to have a website for this” or “how can we integrate social media better?”
And the confused looks I get…
And the confused looks I get when the “web guy” asks them why exactly they need a website, or what benefit they are hoping to get from using a discussion forum, or what message are they hoping to put out on Twitter that warrants the quantity of work required to do so — those looks get me every time.
See, technology is usually the easy part. If the business process is well understood, then building the technology is a matter of finding an algorithm that converts one thing into another thing. A website might be “required” when a business is trying to provide authoritative information, structured data, or access to downloadable forms to users. A discussion forum might be highly useful when the business process calls for a clear need for providing informal interactive support and discussion between customers and the business. And despite my almost uniform reluctance to recommend it, social media platforms do have a clear place in business for things like clear-headed and balanced reaction to quickly moving or controversial topics of interest to clients and customers.
Novel technology is a challenge, of course, but it’s a challenge that is almost always supported, direct, and manageable if the person implementing that technology understands the exact need — the starting point and ending point for what that technology is trying to accomplish — before the technology is designed to begin with.
Trying to wrap a business process around the vague desire to include an existing technology, on the other hand: can anyone say “square peg into a round hole?”