Blog for August 2007

The Social Gamer

The stereotype of the gamer being a practical troglodyte sitting in the dark glued to his computer monitor embedded firmly in a virtual world may not be completely accurate. In this BBC editorial, Margaret Robertson states that while the stereotype is generally correct, it is incomplete and slightly flawed. She goes on to indicate that she herself is a gamer but unlike the stereotype, she is not asocial, and neither are those with whom she plays. I would definitely agree with her on this point. I play World of Warcraft like her, and while I consider myself a bit of an introvert, I am by no means asocial. As the members of my gaming guild can attest to, I am sometimes very vocal and conversational during my game play. The whole idea of an MMORPG is to allow players to socialize.

Ms. Robertson mentions in jokes and socializing outside of gaming. This is also true in my case. Most of the players in my particular guild live in the same city. From time to time we schedule real world events, like movie nights or parties. It is fun to meet the people behind the characters. I have made some good friends in WoW. Hanging out in the real world is just as fun as in game, because we have a common interest, and even if we don’t always have much else to talk about there is always the game as a catalyst.

So don’t look at us sitting in the dark brooding. Look at us sitting in the dark talking to other people sitting in the dark with a common view of the world. We use our imaginations like jocks use their muscles. Its our world, come on in and join us.

From Print to Web, Getting Started

If you follow the web development blog circuit, you will have undoubtedly read Khoi Vihn’s recent article about making the leap from print to web design. If you haven’t read it yet, do so. It is a really great article and will help you get rolling. Much of what I am going to discuss in this writing is based on our experiences (which I have been meaning to write up for about 3 years now, thanks for the nudge Khoi!), so let’s get started.

Accept It. Then Give Up Some Control

One of the first things we usually discuss with any traditional print designer is that print and the web are different. Yes, they are obviously different mediums, but that is not the main difference.

When you develop for print (and I have done many print projects) you get complete control over the finished product. From font choice to kerning, page dimensions to ink coverage, you are the only one that sets those parameters. When you send your proof to the printer, and do your pre-press, you can make any last minute adjustments to the final product before it goes to print. Once printed that piece will live forever with the exact specifications you created and settled on during your design process. This is not so with the web.

Designing for the web means you will have inherently less control over the end product than you might be used to. Given all of the different possibilities you might find on a visitor’s computer, OS, installed fonts, screen resolution, web browser, screen gamma (how light or dark their display might be), just to name a few. One of the key things you will need to embrace is that designing for the web is much more fluid than anything you have ever done. Your web site will look different from computer to computer. It will look different and that is ok.

Learn the Basics

In my years of making my way into web development, I would buy every book that I could get my hands on. I would read them away from the computer and then race back to my desk late in the day and try out what I had learned. Mind you this was back in 1995, so there were only a handful of decent web development books, and most of them revolved around syntax, but that didn’t stop me.

As Visual Lizard progressed, we got asked to develop some print projects. I took them on like any starving artist would do by saying, "Sure!". I would then race to the local book store and buy any books on print design that I could find. I learned the basics of font manipulation, selection and how important letter spacing and line height are to the presentation and legibility of type on a page (coincidentally it is very important to type on a screen too!), what PMS stands for and how to use it. I learned about paper weights. I learned about the importance of pre-press checks and I learned how awful Quark Express was. Once I found Freehand, Quark was never talked about again. I have a great appreciation and love for print design and how designers create their print art. In another time, I would likely have been a print designer.

The single biggest thing you can do for making your way from print design into web design is learn a little about HTML and CSS. The basics of are very easy to learn. Learn to code it by hand. Don’t use a WYSIWYG editor like DreamWeaver or iWeb (in OS X).

Learning the very basics will help in several ways. Firstly, it will give you knowledge and understanding of some of the contraints you are forced to face in web design. This will translate into you feeling more comfortable with doing web design work. You will also begin to look at it as a seperate medium and not just a second rate, loose translation, of your print design skills.

Secondly, you will gain an understanding of what is possible under normal web development conditions. This will help you think around some of the basic interface design issues you will come across. Creating pixel perfect comps will become less important than determining how a visitor is going to interact with your search results, or where they will be thinking about looking when they want to return to the home page of your site.

Having this basic understanding is essential.

What Else Do You Need to Know?

The breadth of knowledge one can accumulate when it comes to web design is almost infinite (I’ll cover some more of the basic stuff in a future post). Trying to learn it all, or small parts of it completely, can be a lifelong endeavour. When moving from print to web, the only other small piece of advice I can give you about making the transition is to love what you are doing. If you don’t like the web, or find web sites just functional, but don’t find yourself curious about how they work, then web design is probably not for you.

However, if you find yourself constantly peaking at the source of the pages you visit, wondering how that effect was achieved or just looking at web sites and thinking to yourself that you could create a better design, then you are going to enjoy designing for the web.

Like anything in life, if you love it, it becomes part of you. Love the failings and love the successes. Enjoy crafting designs that aren’t rigid and you will go a long way!

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. We are always happy to lend some advice to people interested in our field of work.

Blog Action Day 2007

A neat little concept attempting to re-ignite conversation about climate change.

"On October 15th, bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind - the environment. Every blogger will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic. Our aim is to get everyone talking towards a better future." Source:

Whether or not it’ll make a difference we’ll just have to wait and see!

Can a Lizard be The Canine Idol

Sydney, (one time office mascot) couldn’t take all the posers being displayed online for the Winnipeg Free Press Canine Idol Contest so she decided to post herself so that a "real dog" might be showcased.

Rumour has it that she has already eaten 6 of the other contestants... (Good Girl... thats a Good Girl!!)

Always the life of the party, Sydney has just been released from detox for the third time. She’s fought off the demons, found the Lord and wants to make a difference as a positive role model for little pups everywhere.

Register and vote for Pedro---I mean Sydney!!!

Daily Links

iPhone Buzz - Love/hate relationships for usability

There is buzz all over the internet about the future of the new revolutionary iPhone. Some of that buzz caught the eye of professional interactive developers, Ryan Hefner & Joseph Schmitt, at Fantasy-Interactive in New York to discuss various usability snags present in the iPhone as part three of their “Usability Uckups” series.

The first point they bring up is about stealing focus (sometimes referred to as focus stealing). What is meant by focus stealing in the world of computer applications is that a program not in focus (ie. minimized in the background) places a window in the foreground and redirects all keyboard input to that window. An example of this is when a user is in  the middle of a phone call on the iPhone and the user receives a new text message, the “new message” window steals focus and won’t let you hang up your phone call until you have taped a button recognizing that there is a new alert message. This could be somewhat annoying if you receive a ton of messages while talking on the phone for extended periods of time. One snag when sending a message is that it takes a couple seconds to send a message and during these precious seconds you can see the message you are about to send. If you happen to have made a mistake in your message there is no way to quickly exit out of sending the message so that you can go back and fix it.

When a user is viewing a PDF in the iPhone’s mail program the ability to view that PDF horizontally is not present. This can be very annoying for a user reading a ten page document when the user is forced to shuffle across the screen with his/her fingers after every couple of words because the user had to zoom in so far that the type is legible. The main point that they bring up in regards to this is that their should be universal horizontal view switcher in all applications. They brought up how in mobile version of Safari it is very frustrating scrolling down an extensively long blog page for example. The solution they proposed is to use a two-finger (or even a three finger scroll) to enable scrolling at a faster rate down the page. Macbook pro’s utilize similar technology on the trackpad and if the Macbook can sense two fingers on the trackpad then the iPhone can most certainly as well!

Personally I think that it’s only a matter of time until these usability snags are solved and options are put in place for the user to avoid focus stealing while in a phone call. The iPhone is a new one of a kind product on the market and as the years progress so will the phone and so will its interface. The biggest question I have on the back of my mind is: do we really need to bring all this functionality with us where ever we go?

Other buzz: (someone beat us to it! there’s all ready a site dedicated to the topic!) (the buzz can even affect the stock markets) (don’t like AT&T?)

iPhone Predictions the Right and the Dead Wrong (Power full CSS3 Properties)

the list goes on...

Daily Links