Apps for apps sake
Thursday, August 19, 2010 | Author: Jo Goodwin
Everyone is at it aren't they? "Lets make an app - that's what the kids want, right?" It reminds me of the days when people added in a splash screen because it was the new thing to do.

If an app doesn't fit into at least one of the following categories it shouldn't be an app - it should be an optimised mobile site.

1. It does something useful with the fact it knows your location

2. It it sends you regular useful information

3. Is fun

If you take a step back. look at your shiney new app and realise it's just giving information, much like a normal website, it SHOULD be a website (optimised for mobile obviously). Otherwise all you are doing is creating a closed platform which relies on somebody looking for and downloading your particular app. In the case of the itunes store this means them knowing it's name too.
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"To define is to limit" (Oscar Wilde)
Tuesday, April 28, 2009 | Author: Jo Goodwin
Ok, so I'm sure Wilde wouldn't be over joyed at his work being used in the context of web development, but he had a point and it applies to the wireframe process. Yes, wireframes can limit creativity but they also limit scope creep. So should we use them and what other solutions are there?

I use wireframes a lot and find them pretty useful for defining functionality for developers, keeping a project in scope and helping clients to understand functionality. Plus they are good for understanding user interaction before a build.

The problem with them is that not only do they limit creativity/innovation in house but clients also can find it difficult to think of wireframes as just defining functional spec rather than design, making it hard for them to except new layouts/designs. Another problem is that often the wireframing process can mean that an Information Architect can end up defining a site's functionality with little involvement from the rest of the team - who do after all hold a lot of useful information.

So what are the solutions to these problems? One idea is to abandon wireframes and give clients, designers and developers a written spec with a written visual guide e.g. content area should take 50% of the page. Although this is it can make it easy to miss functionality out of a spec. A wireframe can be used as a "thinking device", before writing out the tech spec to help solve this problem, but functionality can still be easy to miss in a build if a spec is simply written down. Wireframe abandonment perhaps isn't the perfect solution for the client either - wireframes help them to visualise functions and ideas too. It can also help the client get stakeholder buy in for sign off.

So if wireframe abandonment isn't the perfect solution, we need another solution. Maybe it's the approach we take to wireframes that needs to be reviewed. How detailed should they be? Just how much do we pin down functionality? Who should be involved? Who shouldn't be involved? When should they be involved? How are wireframes presented to the client? How much of the site is wireframed?

It would be a nice have "one solution fits all" ideal. That's not going to happen, so it would be good to have a solution that works most of the time. I still don't know what that is - I would like to know if there are any other good alternatives to wireframes being used out there though. I will investigate and experiment!

If you haven't come across wireframes before read this: "Introduction to wireframes" and for further reading go to Wireframes Magazine.
Is that a wheel you have there?
Monday, March 23, 2009 | Author: Jo Goodwin
My recent revelation is that open source/off the shelf is, in general, better. It gives the client much better value for money and it should give an agency more free time to innovate rather than reinventing the wheel.

Good for the client
  1. Cost
    As client you get more for your buck. With plenty of ready made plugins ready to be popped in at minimal cost, why would you pay to get these things especially built for you? It's also likely that clients can cut down on training costs by employing content editors who already know their system.
  2. Choice
    If I'm going to buy shampoo, ideally I want a carefully selected range suiting all possible hair needs from frizzy, silky smooth to super duppa 80s go go volume. I don't want to wait for somebody to mix up my own special shampoo or indeed pay for it. I need the money for the conditioner too.
  3. No tie in
    Best of all the clients are not tied in. There are loads of agencies using the same CMSs. A client can keep using the same agency because they are good not because they are locked into using their bespoke system.

Good for the agency
  1. Cost
    Think of a open source/off the shelf system as your P.A. doing all the jobs you don't want to. Because you have a library of ready made plugins to choose from for all the "normal" tasks, you have time to actually put some of those more exciting innovative ideas into action. Hopefully that means clients will come back for more too.
  2. Support
    Whether you are using an open source system or a "paid for" system, you get a support network. You no longer just have to rely on your internal staff for the answer, again giving them more time to think up "new stuff". It also means you can employ people who will instantly know the systems you are using - great when you have that big job to be finished and your head honcho developer has just caught the flu.
  3. Your client isn't tied in
    Yes, this is a good thing. It challenges you to keep a closer eye on the competition and push yourselves to give the best client service possible.
Of you will always be asked to build a website that can't use a ready built CMS. This is when you do need a tailored/bespoke system especially for the client and a nice big budget. But most of the time it's a waste of time and money for everyone.
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Wednesday, March 04, 2009 | Author: Jo Goodwin
Cutely Chair by Osian Batyka WilliamsMy pearl of "wisdom" for today:

"A slick website without useful content is like a designer chair, that cannot be sat upon. It won’t be used"

Of course this is unless the site is based around a social media tool, which some what puts a spanner in the works...I suppose that's still content though; it's just user generated. Then again...what about interactive addictive gamey type stuff....arrggh my head. Time for a re-think...

...some time later...after some thought:

"A slick website without useful content is like a designer chair, that cannot be sat upon. It won’t be used" (terms and conditions apply)

Maybe we should be asking content is still king when we have social media? Is UGC still content or is it a conversation? At the moment, I'm thinking conversation but, if I'm honest, I'm yet to apply any real thought to this....nope I'm already swaying back to content. What a conundrum.

P.s. I should say that apparently the above chair is apparently just doesn't look it. So that's my theory completely blown out of the water.
Find more info about chair designer Osian Batyka-Williams, here.
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Right hand blindness
Wednesday, February 25, 2009 | Author: Jo Goodwin
I was being a guinea pig for some usability testing today and we noticed something very interesting. The site we were testing was a traditional 3 column design i.e. left hand nav, content and then call to actions on the right hand side. As a user I completely ignored the right hand column.

Now this could just be me; I am known to be awkward at times but it got me thinking. I'm wondering with some of the popular sites such as facebook and google using the right hand column for advertising, if users are sub-consciously ignoring it.

As users we don't like to think to much - our brain has become adept to looking for patterns and following conventions to save time and find the information we need as quickly as possible. Thanks to in page advertising, maybe the right hand column is becoming something we ignore as it takes up unnecessary thinking time.
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Open Souce Food - nice Web 2.0
Monday, February 02, 2009 | Author: Jo Goodwin
Ok, so the other week a did have a bit of a "rant" about web 2.0 sites. I've been feeling like a bit of a kill joy so I wanted to say when somebody gets it right, it's great - I stumbled across a site which demonstrates this perfectly. Yong Fook's Open Source Food, which allows people to upload and share recipes, takes a large scoop of usability, a generous spoonful of glorious design and carefully blends in social media to create an all round satisfying experience. The site does nothing revolutionary but what it does, it does very very well.

Everything is simple and beautiful. Some nice features include auto tagging UGC content, the banner ad being made up of UGC images and the search is lovely. I like the fact you become a pro through votes from fellow members, not payment and that each individual user has their own RSS feed. It's extremely easy to share content, post content and contribute content. Plus the process of building up an online community has really been considered.

Although I'm not one of those lucky iphone owners, the site is apparently nicely optimised for said phone. You can read more about that at

So there it is, a whole blog post without a moan in sight! Although saying that some of the google ads could have been better placed. Ho hum.
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Helping clients to keep you content
Thursday, January 22, 2009 | Author: Jo Goodwin
CMS systems are now pretty standard for any company's website - they bascially let clients control their own content. For a designer this can be the equivalent of sending first your child off to school and hoping that all that hard work won’t be undone by the spotty kid teaching them to say c*nt on the first day.

There are plenty of pros in letting clients control their own content but it can be dangerous in the wrong hands. The last thing you want is for a slick cool site to be ruined by a pixelated,stretched JPEG and badly formatted text. I’ve been thinking about this and believe it’s absolutely essential that everyone using CMS systems aren’t only trained on how to use them technically but also how to use them to good effect. I have perhaps thought about this a little too much and come with the following analogy.

“We are landscape gardeners who spend days cutting the hedges, trimming the grass, installing the water feature and preparing the compost so it's all just right. We then hand it over to the client, to plant the flowers in the beds. If they know nothing about gardening, all the flowers die or look out of place and any visitor’s attention will be drawn to the crappy flowers rather than the marvellous water feature and neatly trimmed grass. As expert gardeners, it’s our responsibility to teach them to dig out the weeds and how to make flowers blossom.”
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