Project Management for Web Sites

January 31, 2007 at 4:52 pm | Posted in General, Management | Leave a comment

Developing Web sites, whether it be for Internet, intranet, or extranet purposes, one thing is certainly clear: Having the right project-management process is essential. I’m not talking about your average skill sets of being organized and knowledgeable about the project. I’m talking about the detailed thought process involved that makes professional Web developers stand out from the rest.

Whether you are an actual programmer or not doesn’t matter, but understanding programming and what is involved does. There are certain criteria for project managers who deal with the Web that differ from people who manage projects of a different nature. The best way I can summarize how to be the best manager of a project geared for the Web is to sanely have multiple personality disorder. By this I mean you really need to put yourself into many people’s shoes and be able to think like them in order to develop a Web-based project from start to finish. Solid, professional project management is more than the task of wearing many hats. It goes much deeper. Professionals need to be able to completely shift mindsets and think from several different perspectives, and that’s what makes them so successful. Let’s take a typical Web site and break down the process.

Continue Reading Project Management for Web Sites…

What Is Creativity?

January 30, 2007 at 3:26 pm | Posted in Design, General | Leave a comment

Much of the thinking done in formal education focuses on the skills of analysis, teaching students how to understand claims, follow or create a logical argument, figure out the answer, eliminate the incorrect paths, and focus on the correct one. However, there is another kind of thinking, which focuses on exploring ideas, generating possibilities, looking for many right answers rather than just one. Both of these kinds of thinking, Critical and Creative thinking are important to a successful working life, yet the latter seems to get ignored.

In an activity like problem solving, both kinds of thinking are important to us. First, we must analyze the problem; then we must generate possible solutions; next we must choose and implement the best solution; and finally we must evaluate the effectiveness of the solution. As you can see, this process reveals an alternation between the two kinds of thinking. In practice, both kinds of thinking operate together much of the time and are not really independent of each other.

What is Creativity?

An ability. A simple definition is that creativity is the ability to imagine or invent something new. However, it’s not the ability to create out of nothing, but the ability to generate new ideas by combining, changing or reapplying existing ideas. Some ideas are astonishing and brilliant, while others are just simple and good practical ideas which no one seems to have thought of yet.

Believe it or not, everyone has substantial creative ability. Look at how creative children are. In adults, creativity has too often been suppressed through education, but it is still there and can be reawakened. Often all that’s needed to be creative is to make a commitment to creativity and to take the time for it.

An attitude. Creativity is also an attitude: the ability to accept change and newness, a willingness to play with ideas and possibilities, a flexibility of outlook, the habit of enjoying the good, while looking for ways to improve it. We are socialized into accepting only a small number of permitted or normal things, like chocolate-covered strawberries, for example. A creative person would realize that there are other possibilities.

A Process. Creative people work hard and continually to improve ideas and solutions, by making gradual alterations and refinements to their works. Contrary to the mythology surrounding creativity, very, very few works of creative excellence are produced with a single stroke of brilliance or in a frenzy of rapid activity. Much closer to the real truth are the stories of companies who had to take the invention away form the inventor in order to market it because the inventor would have kept on tweaking and fiddling with it, always trying to make it better.

A creative person knows that there’s always room for improvement and knows that there’s never only one answer for a given problem.

For further reading, I suggest taking a look at Psychologist Jay Brand’s article, “Creativity Demystified”.

Original Article: dA News

The Component Solution Analysis

January 30, 2007 at 1:05 pm | Posted in Management | Leave a comment

I read the most interesting and well informed article today posted by Webinion. It’s about time loss due to unproductive meetings. Give it a read it’s really worth it.

The Unspoken Rules Of Design

January 30, 2007 at 10:05 am | Posted in Design | Leave a comment

1. The less time you have the more useless your computer will become

2. If you have two versions of a photo, the wrong one will make its way to the printer.

3. Promises made by the sales staff have no basis in studio reality.

4. The sales staff will promise anything.

5. If the text consists of two words, one will be misspelled.

6. Speed.Quality. Affordability. Pick two.

7. Proof readers are useless.

8. The index entry you leave out will be the first one the client looks under.

9. If three designs are shown to a client, your least favourite will be chosen or any combination of worst components of each.

10. If two designs are shown, a third will be requested. If provided, then one of the first two will be chosen.

11. If you ask for more copy it will be sent as a Jpeg. If you ask for images they will send PowerPoint presentations.

12. Clients don’t have their company logo in a usable print ready format so don’t bother asking.

13. The best designs never survive contact with the client.

14. Your best idea is already copyrighted.

15. There is no stock photo ever made that matches the image you have in your head

16. Creative inspiration flows in inverse proportion to the distance from the studio.

17. Doctors, astronauts, and plumbers need training to do their jobs, but anyone with a computer is a graphic designer

18. The client’s disk won’t run on your equipment & when it does will contain unusable copyrighted images

19. If you purchase new equipment to read your client’s disk, it will be the last disk of that type you will ever receive

20. Your client will often not like your design but not quite know why.

21. Computer crashes always happen exactly 30 seconds before saving.

22. A client who knows exactly what he wants is worse than one that has no idea.

23. Clients who do not provide content upfront will complain about the use of dummy layout Copy

24. Everything has to be done immediately, deadlines are incredibly important unless client has to provide materials or approve your work

25. The customer is always right?

A New Ball To Juggle

January 30, 2007 at 8:24 am | Posted in Coding, Design | 1 Comment

A few days ago, I recently received a Microsoft automatic update containing Internet Explorer 7. This automatic roll-out coincides with the release of their new Vista operating system for purchase earlier in the month. However, I didn’t really appreciate the full ramifications of the roll-out until yesterday, and earlier this morning.

One of the more important technical aspects of developing websites is the support for the W3C’s CSS standards amongst the myriad of browsers available to the public. Microsoft haven’t had a very good track record with their support of standardised CSS, and considering that Internet Explorer 6 is the dominant browser among the Internet user-base, the standardised CSS support of IE 7.0 was a hot topic.

The current list of CSS bug fixes in IE 7 is quite long, and on the surface, this may appear to be a very good thing for web developers. However, as stated earlier, there are quite a few ramifications that I personally didn’t really consider, the lack of full compliance aside.

I was on the way to a meeting with a client, in an attempt to finalise a run-away project. 5 minutes after leaving my office, I recieved a call on my mobile from said client.

“It all looks wrong”

Long story short, what had happened is the client had also received the same update that I had received a few days ago, containing IE 7 . Subsequently, his optimised-for-IE-6 website had broken. While most of the errors were picked up by my developing primarily for Firefox and using an alternate style sheet for IE 6, there were still a few quirky things that broke, layer padding and margins to be specific. And the client, in all rights, pointed out these errors, and refused to meet until they were fixed, citing that they were “simple, common sense layout stuff.”

I ask how many developers in the community employed CSS hacks to get around annoying IE 6 bugs. From my experience learning CSS, hacks are very prolific, and many developers opted to use hacks over using alternate style sheets. The release of IE 7 will likely break many websites designed and coded using CSS hacks, and these websites will need to be fixed, especially when the client finds out when they check next. And, considering the previously linked stats, IE 7 is by no means the dominant browser yet – IE 6 still reigns. And likely will for a while. Why?

Going back to my experience, upon hearing that the website had broken due to a forced release of IE 7, I thought:
That’s easy. I’ll just install the update I had been sitting on and restart my computer and I’ll just fix it, easy as that. Until the IE 7 install started checking the validity of my Windows XP install. Which lead me to find out that 22.3% of all XP installs are pirated. Which, to me, is a huge percentage.
What that means in a nutshell is that roughly 10% of your IE 6 users will not be able to upgrade to IE 7.0.

10% may not seem like a lot, but as of January, 45.3% of users are still using IE 6 or earlier, and the current trends show a 3% change per month since October last year, which was when the final Release Candidate of IE 7 was released for public consumption.

With those sort of statistics, it doesn’t make much sense to replace IE 6 CSS hacks in favor of IE 7 valid CSS, due to the fact that at least 20% of the current viewers of broken websites will not be able to upgrade at all. The likelihood of those 22.3% of people running out and buying a legitimate copy of Windows XP is pretty low, considering they have Windows Vista to pick up, and their computers likely can’t run Windows Vista well enough yet. People don’t like buying software that has already been superseded. What it essentially means is that these people will stick with IE 6 until they upgrade their computer some time later this year, or next year.

Microsoft have attempted to do a good thing with the release of IE 7, especially for web developers, increasing their standards support. However, things will not pan out quite as smoothly as most developers thought. Microsoft have introduced yet another ball to juggle in the browser compliance world. Before it used to be Firefox and IE 6 and below, now it will be Firefox, IE 7 and IE 6 and below.

Creative Briefs

January 29, 2007 at 2:10 pm | Posted in Management | Leave a comment

A project starts with someone uncovering a need he or she thinks a project can satisfy. In most projects the person uncovering the need doesn’t have the resources or skills to satisfy the need. In web development terms this is when the client approaches the webdeveloper to build him a new website.

When iniating a new project with a client it’s important to understand the clients needs. If you don’t understand his needs you might end up developing a site that doesn’t meet the true need or you could end up creating a project that ends up costing more then it saves.

For these reasons before starting a project you need to fully understand the scope and needs of the client. This is best captured in a Creative Brief.

The creative brief is a document which is created by the development team outlining the visual and conceptual goals. Use a client questionnaire to help determine adjectives which describe the site in tone and style. The brief can be a simple one page document or can be a multiple page document outlining specific marketing goals and strategy along with the standard visual direction. The purpose of this document is to state in verbal terms the way the audience/user will perceive the site. Additional information (target audience, communication strategy, tone, etc.) helps the visual designer and information architect set the proper tone for the site.

A decent creative brief might take a few hours to complete but by planning a new project properly in the begging it might saves your many more hours in development time. It took me quite a while to understand this concept which seems so simple now. Having things like a sitemap, colour schematic and competitive analysis close at hand means that the developers have a lot less to work out. A good creative brief is formulated by asking the client the correct questions. The system I developed for the company I work for include questions like :

  • How will you measure the success of the newly designed website? For example: Unique hits, feedback, brand recognition, sales, ecommerce sales
  • What is a typical task the user might perform on the new site? For example: register, log-on, search for information, buy a specific product, send their email address, call for more information, etc.
  • Who are your competitors and what do you think about their websites?
  • List competitive URLs if possible:
  • Name a few website URLs you like:

The best is to think of what information you need to make your job easier and what questions would supply you with that information.

The point is that the more information you have to reference from while designing and coding the site the less errors there are. A major time waster is the when you take a proof design to a client and he rejects it. That means that a lot of time has been wasted creating a proof that was not wanted. If you can get as close as possible to the clients needs on the first proof you will waste less time on the next one, if there even is a next one.

A good creative brief will also give you a scope on what type of personnel you will need to work on the project and how to organise your budget accordingly.

A Short Intro

January 29, 2007 at 12:10 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment

An Introspective On Web Development for Web Developers by Web Developers. It was an initiative started by Tim Gittos and Johann Schwella.

Both Tim and Johann have been working in the Web Development industry for a few years and now have decided to share their knowledge of the web, production and development with the internet community. The mission is to create a blog that will be read by, inform and inspire all the people working in the web development community. We are also looking for more contributors to help make this blog even more helpful to the community and improve our industry. If you are interested in submitting articles let as know.

A short bios on Tim:

  • Tim is a web-designer/developer and hobby artist/illustrator. He is Australian by birth, and currently lives in Perth, Western Australia. He has experience in developing in PHP/ASP/MySQL/Actionscript 2.0 and has been developing websites for 4 years.

A short bios on Johann:

  • Johann is the production manager for Shapeshift New Media. He has been working as a project manager for the last few years and has extensive knowledge on systems, systems management, time management, production schedules and production management. Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa and spent time working in London, UK. He also at various stages lived in Belguim, Scotland and the Netherlands.

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