The surprising truth about what motivates us

Here's a brilliant video on what motivates us. I guarantee you won't look away from the screen while it's on.

Then you'll have some food for thought when it's done.

Looking beyond the obvious

Smashing Mag has a roundup of 10 usability findings and guidelines, most of which do make sense. But a quick look through the comments provides a warning that not all the tip roundups that show up on the various web design ezines and then get referenced endlessly on twitter and other blog posts should be taken at face value.

Take the one for instance on placement of labels in relation to fields in a form. The Smashing Mag article points to one article that declares it should be this way. A commenter, Juan Lanus, who evidently knows a little more on the topic provided a link to a discussion on the same topic where some people who've really researched the topic weigh in. Look for the comment by Caroline Jarrett, author of "Forms that work: Designing web forms for usability". Caroline says that she'll contact "Dr Kathryn Summers of the University of Baltimore [who] is definitely the expert in designing forms for people with low literacy." And in a follow-up comment, she reports back Dr. Summers' advice.

It's definitely worth the time to read for those who are interested in the subject of usability and provides the perfect illustration of why a site like IXDA may be much more useful for web designers to peruse and hang out at rather than Smashing Magazine.

And sure enough, the advice given in the quick tip is not entirely accurate. There's more to be said ... whole books' worth, evidently.

Design Link Roundup

» Okay, I admit this first one isn't directly related to web design other than its potential to integrate hand-written design drawings and notes and thoughts with notes on online material in whatever form which would be a boon to any designer. If I'm really honest, it's just pure geek gadget appeal. Go check out the video on the new still-semi-secret Microsoft Courier tablet gadget. Two geek thumbs up here.

» There is a new online design collaboration tool that offers a lot,

It's very well put together. You can use it for free for up to 3 private projects and unlimited public projects. Or for unlimited private projects you can switch to their monthly subscription format which for right now is on a unique kind of sale: you pay what you choose to pay for a monthly fee via Paypal.

» In checking some info for someone else, I looked at some of Apache's documentation on htaccess and was surprised to note that the documentation appears to have been re-written and re-organized since I last referenced it which was at least 3 years ago, perhaps more. (A quick check of Wayback Machine reveals it must have been sometime in 2005 since it was redone as of Feb. 2006 which sounds about right.) Guess I should check back a little more often.

» If the Apache documentation doesn't meet your needs, Joseph Pecoraro has provided a terrific alternative in these two very clearly written tutorials on htaccess and one of its most powerful aspects, mod_rewrite. These tutorials are both available on Nettuts but Joseph has added some additional material at his website, try out here and created a zip file of the examples so that you can download them and see just how he did them.

» One of my WiseWomen colleagues also recommended this tutorial on URL Rewriting for Beginners with accompanying downloadable cheat sheets by Dave Child on mod_rewrite and regular expressions.

» Tim Brown at Nice Web Type has a tutorial on how to create text with a gradient via CSS and typekit and without using any images. It's pretty straightforward and another great tool to add to the CSS toolkit.

» Elliot Jay Stock penned a little rant on the misuse of its versus it's and it brought a tide of comments in agreement including my own.

It always amazes me when I arrive on a web designer/developer's website and find such misspellings, particularly on the landing page. A recent one which shall go unnamed had 5 such misspellings including the classic it's when it should have been its. I broke down and sent that web developer an email using their contact form mentioning the misspellings.

I know that not all web developers profess to be expert copy writers as well but for heaven's sake, use a spell checker. Or get someone you know to be a "bit of a pedant" to proofread your website.

I think web designers and developers need to understand that their site is, in a very real way, their resume that they're sending to a potential employer. And as someone who worked in executive recruiting for some time, I can tell you that resumes with misspellings and basic grammar errors get discarded.

I'm sure websites do too for just the same reasons. Pay attention to detail including the spelling and grammar on your website.

Design Link Roundup

» From Ross Johnson's 3.7 Design blog comes a dissection of web typography technique in "10 Examples of Beautiful CSS Typography and how they did it...". If you choose only one link to check out, choose this one. He does a great job exploring how subtle CSS changes produce very effective headlines and copy.

» Nathan at Unit Interactive has compiled a list of web font stacks that any web designer serious about typography will appreciate. What's a web font stack? Why is this list so good? Well, check out his explanation of stacks and how he organizes them. The value add on his list of suggested font stack combinations is his identification whether they're better for "paragraphs and body copy" or "headlines and titles".

» Megan McDermott at A Padded Cell put together a "Complete Guide to Pre-Installed Fonts in Linux, Mac, and Windows". It's useful if you want to vary the fonts used in your design but need to pay attention to the variety of fonts available to viewers of your site. One note: the list was published in late 2007 and does not include the fonts which come along with a standard install of Vista. has a list of the Vista fonts.

» Carrying on with the typography theme, there's this 5-part tutorial from Mark Boulton, "Five simple steps to better typography". It's not new but his integration of typography with basic web design points is a good intro for those who aren't at all familiar with print typography basics. This is another blog where some of the commenters are as well-known as the writer and the comments educational as well.

» If you found yourself wondering what some of the terms meant, the glossary from the award-winning The Evolution of Type site by design group mediumbold will be useful.

» For those seriously interested in learning more about accessible web design, here's a comprehensive introduction to the craft: Dive Into Accessibility It's a 30-day education plan with a tutorial each day which introduces a new accessibility point or concept. Well worth the time.

» Here's two more tips on improving typography appearance on Win XP systems:

- Turn on Cleartype on Win XP with following steps: Right-click Desktop > select Properties > select Appearance > select Effects > click the second Check Box > select Clear Type from the drop down

- Download the new Vista fonts by installing the free PowerPoint Viewer 2007 which includes the new fonts. [via Lifehacker]

The Twitterverse v0.9

For those who like to see complex relationships in a visual, graphic form, check out this map of the Twitterverse as of May 2009.

The Twitterverse v0.9
by @BrianSolis & @Jess3

Click on image to enlarge

Design Link Roundup

» This app, MyFontbook, has just rated its own link on my bookmarklets lineup. It's something every web designer will appreciate. Definitely worth taking the time to do the free registration. Interface is very intuitive. Do check out the video on using it.

» Jon Raasch has a great summary of the current methods of embedding custom fonts and the pro's and con's of each.

» Alexandra at Design Notes has uncovered some interesting new jquery scripts. [via @andysowards]

» From time to time, issues with caching come up on our wisewomen list. After doing some searching the last time around, I ran across this backgrounder on caching that is the best thing I've seen for an all-around intro.

Check out the Table of Contents

  1. What's a Web Cache? Why do people use them?
  2. Kinds of Web Caches
    1. Browser Caches
    2. Proxy Caches
  3. Aren't Web Caches bad for me? Why should I help them?
  4. How Web Caches Work
  5. How (and how not) to Control Caches
    1. HTML Meta Tags vs. HTTP Headers
    2. Pragma HTTP Headers (and why they don't work)
    3. Controlling Freshness with theExpires HTTP Header
    4. Cache-Control HTTP Headers
    5. Validators and Validation
  6. Tips for Building a Cache-Aware Site
  7. Writing Cache-Aware Scripts
  8. Frequently Asked Questions
  9. Implementation Notes -- Web Servers
  10. Implementation Notes -- Server-Side Scripting
  11. References and Further Information
  12. About This Document

» Just for Fridays, do stop by "There, I Fixed It: Epic Kludges + Jury Rigs" and have a good laugh. Page back through the older entries if you've never visited before. There's some real "brainiacs" out there... just the ones for which the Darwin awards were created.

Web Design Geek Humor

I tweeted about this video a month or so ago. And since then I've run across mention of it 5 or 6 times including another one today.

Scofield Editorial did a clever job scripting the dilemma of a creative services vendor confronted with clients who want cadillac websites for bicycle prices.

Mozilla Labs' Bespin

Warning: This is definitely geek material. The people at Mozilla Labs have a marvelous vision and they've put out the first alpha release for the rest of us to poke at, play with and contribute to (if you have the skills).

Imagine being able to sit down at any computer anywhere and have access to your entire coding environment and collaborate with anyone else anywhere simultaneously. That's what Bespin does.

This video walks through Bespin and some of its features.

There's more information available at the Mozilla Labs site and if you're so inclined, you can register and take Bespin for a spin yourself. I should note that this is an alpha release so it's not ready for prime-time use but its potential for long-distance collaboration is really interesting.

creatively developing

The other day my husband and I, both geeks according to our kids, got into a discussion on the differences between the development processes that were in vogue when we were first both active in IT and how the process and its placement within a company or process ownership has changed since then. It's a discussion we've had a number of times before in various forms. He's no longer in IT but that doesn't mean that he doesn't develop software tools for himself and others to use. And they're tools that follow this development process.

Start with a small idea. Throw it up. Use it for a little bit. Decide what else it needs to be more effective. Add that in. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

This diagram was the start of our discussion. As soon as I saw it, I knew he would appreciate what it communicated.

iterative development process diagram
Click for larger image

The diagram comes courtesy of Ben Malbon of Made By Many and the Powerpoint slides from his talk at the IPA Game Changers conference posted at Slideshare which is an interesting resource all on its own but that's another post.

It's a development process that works well with web design and development. And its philosophy is supported by the Agile Manifesto.

agile manifesto screen shot
Click for larger image

The left side elements are definitely my preferred mode of working, particularly the emphasis on 'individuals and interaction' and 'customer collaboration'. And 'working software' is always better than lots of pretty books and presentations that promise life will be better when you install xyz but don't actually deliver. Though I must add, as a former maintainer of systems and websites whose creator had long departed the scene, that some documentation is always of value.

Connecting with Influentials

Some time ago I did some reading and research in preparation for some work with clients in the advocacy and political arenas. What I found confirmed my experiences in the volunteer world and in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 election cycles. It underscored the importance of connecting with people who frequent and participate in political websites, most of whom are influentials.

Who are influentials? Influentials are the Americans who "tell their neighbors what to buy, which politicians to support, and where to vacation," according to Ed Keller and Jon Berry, authors of the book, The Influentials.

Reader for reader, users of political websites are more influential than readers of even the New York Times online site ( The survey research firm Roper ASW reported that 50% of the New York Times website users are influentials. But according to a subsequent study by George Washington University's Institute of Politics, Democracy & the Internet (GW IPDI), almost 70% of people interested in political web sites are "influentials."

These influentials are the opinion leaders and "change agents" of society -- the people who are actively engaged in creating change in their communities, workplaces, and the marketplace. Educated, and in positions of power and leadership in their work and their communities, they are the leaders who are looked to by friends and colleagues.

The George Washington IPDI study notes that these percentages mean that online political people "are nearly seven times more likely than average citizens to serve as opinion leaders among their friends, relatives and colleagues, and are disproportionately likely to exert a 'multiplier effect' outward to the public at large."

In contrast, when considering the American population as a whole, only 10% of Americans qualify as influentials, or opinion leaders. [pdf]

The GW IPDI study noted five major characteristics that influentials share:

  • Foremost is their activism, which manifests itself through involvement in community civic and political activities. This common denominator cuts across the lives of all Influentials.
  • Influentials are connected. They are the joiners and networkers. They have ties, usually strong ties, to more groups and organizations than the average American. When Influentials make a recommendation, they usually broadcast it to a large network of friends, relatives and acquaintances.
  • Influentials have influence. "Because they know many people and soak up a large amount of information, Influentials stand out as smart, informed sources of advice and insight. They know a lot about some things and something about a lot of things, and if they don't know the answer, they probably know someone who does." Others look up to them for advice and opinions. Half of Influentials have graduated from college, and one in five has done postgraduate work. As the authors put it, "The Influentials' high level of education is probably a significant factor in their influence, giving them the ability to analyze problems and express positions in ways that are persuasive to others."
  • Influentials' active minds seek out information--"In some ways, they are like human parallel processors, taking in information, rating it, sorting it, sifting out the element that's useful or interesting, and storing it away for future purpose." They are also opinionated. They don't hold back when they find something they like or don't like.
  • Influentials are trendsetters, often tending to be two to five years ahead of the rest of society. Over the years, RoperASW has found that Influentials have been "predictive of changing political winds, and were, for example, early critics of Richard Nixon."

These are the people that you want to attract to your online presence when they go seeking information. Not only are they more likely to act on what they find, they'll encourage others to do so.

Whether your goal is to advertise your services, sell your products, advocate for your cause or enlist people in a campaign, you want to design your online web presence to appeal to and capture the attention of these influentials.


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Recent Entries

The surprising truth about what motivates us
Here's a brilliant video on what motivates us. I guarantee you won't look away from the screen while it's on.…
Looking beyond the obvious
Smashing Mag has a roundup of 10 usability findings and guidelines, most of which do make sense. But a quick…
Design Link Roundup
» Okay, I admit this first one isn't directly related to web design other than its potential to integrate hand-written…
Design Link Roundup
» From Ross Johnson's 3.7 Design blog comes a dissection of web typography technique in "10 Examples of Beautiful CSS…
The Twitterverse v0.9
For those who like to see complex relationships in a visual, graphic form, check out this map of the Twitterverse…