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Final Reflections On A Website Design Project

In my first post three months ago, I outlined my personal learning objectives for this module.  I discussed how I wanted to:

  • develop an understanding of the theory behind web design and
  • to acquire technical skills  to support the delivery of a user-centred information service.

 In this post, I will consider the extent to which I have fulfilled these objectives.

1. DEVELOPING AN UNDERSTANDING OF INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE AND UX DESIGN THEORY

UX design cartoon

I was initially sceptical about website design, as I had associated the word “design” with advertising. I wasn’t convinced that there would be much substance or theory to what I thought was a product-centred industry.  I was proved wrong; Although Bowles and Box (2011) highlight the potential difficulties that UX designers can encounter in the workplace (both in an organisation or an agency), they emphasise that the evidence-based arguments which a UX designer relies upon have the credibility required to deliver a sound, user-centred product.  As a result of this project, I have revised my opinion; information architecture/UX design is a reflective, evidence-based practice which really does put the user at the centre of its activities.

2. ACQUIRING TECHNICAL SKILLS

By Exploring and Assessing Software…

Netbeans logoI have experimented with a range of software; it’s been challenging to explore tools and use them to produce the different elements of our design process in a short space of time.  However, on reflection, I think that the usability criteria that we have applied to developing our website also apply to the usability of software; I can now see that software should be intuitive with good support documentation.  Consequently, some of my preferred tools have included Netbeans and WordPress.  Interestingly, this has led me to consider the role of librarians in “training” people to use referencing software or to search databases with overly complicated interfaces.  This perpetuates a product-centred approach which users should not accept!

And Through Learning To Code…

Learning to code using Jon Duckett's book

With no previous experience of coding I was unsure about how to tackle this aspect of the module.  However, I have learnt basic coding in HTML and CSS.  By using a logical and step-by-step approach, I have been surprised at what I have been able to produce.  I am pragmatic about what I need to learn; why re-invent the wheel when there is a wealth of resources available with the snippets of code available for creating rounded corners, horizontal secondary navigation bars and scrolling imagery?  I am confident that I can now read and write basic code and I am able to use resource materials from authors such as Duckett (2011), McFarland (2009) and W3schools.

And By Exploring Content Management Systems (CMS)…

Wordpress logoWorking on this project has made me increasingly aware of the extensive use of CMSs in the workplace.  As we designed a flat site, I think that my task in the forthcoming weeks will be to review the website I recently created to experiment with CMSs; I will focus in particular on switching the CMS from Drupal to WordPress and experiment with customising a template, as I think that this would be of relevance for a future role in an information environment.

BUT THERE WAS UNEXPECTED LEARNING, TOO…

You Don’t Have to be Able to Draw to be a Designer

One up sketching exercise for creating a wireframe

I had mistakenly believed that drawing skills were essential to design.  However, reading about the application of design in a wider context  (Papanek, 1985) and activities such as the “Six Up” and “One-Up” sketching exercises as suggested by Bowles and Box (2011) have made me realise that the generation of design ideas is not exclusive to the artistically-gifted.  I can see the value of using sketching exercises for generating ideas in a wide range of contexts.

Collaborative Working Works!

Teamwork wordleDysfunctionality in a team causes anxiety and stress for all concerned.  On this occasion, I  collaborated with colleagues who were from diverse backgrounds but who crucially, shared a commitment to the project; this resulted in us working effectively as a team.  We all had the opportunity to contribute to every stage of the process.  Basic IT skills were essential for this module, as was an appreciation of the implicit boundaries for support when working as a team on an academic task.  This was understood by the majority of the group at the outset of the project and I hope that it was accepted by all by the end.  Overall, I think that the website is evidence of our synergistic relationship; I found the democratic aspect of the work rewarding and in the future I would like to continue working in a similar way.

Iteration (kaizen) is good

Homer Simpson saying d'oh“Iteration” has been a key word throughout the project.  As discussed in previous posts, we iterated  ideas, wireframes, prototypes and the pre-launch website on the basis of user research and team decisions.  I think that in general, learning from big mistakes can be difficult, whereas learning from smaller errors is more manageable, less costly and more likely to produce successful results.   Team members agreed that all individual pieces of work would be subject to group iteration.  Working iteratively enabled us to develop collective responsibility for fulfilling the project aims.   I was able to trust and rely on team members and enjoyed the positive energy in our meetings.

WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE?

As outlined above, I have exceeded my personal learning objectives for this module; I now need to reflect on my skills and future career path in an information environment.  But as I wrote in my first post, I intend to approach this new scenario in the same way as I build Lego.  One brick at a time.

Blue lego brick

REFERENCES

Bowles, C. and Box, J. 2011. Undercover user experience : learn how to do great UX work with tiny budgets, no time, and limited support. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Duckett, J. 2011. HTML and CSS: design and build websites. Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley and Sons

McFarland, D. 2009. CSS: the missing manual. 2nd ed. Sebastapol, CA: O’Reilly Media

Papanek, V. 1985. Design for the real world: human ecology and social change. London: Thames and Hudson.

Learning to code is like learning to read

It’s just like learning a new language…

Learning English

I remember learning to read in English; my class teacher presented me with a thin A5 “beginners’ reading book” from the Infants’ department.  I was 9 years old and had left my home in Milan as a fluent reader and writer in Italian as well as being a fluent speaker of Marathi.  Needless to say, during that first year, I amassed a collection of unread “easy-readers” in my desk.  In the meantime, I spent my time in the local library, tussling with the social and linguistic complexities of Paddington Bear and The Famous Five.  Thirty six years later, I have become fluent in several more languages and worked as a primary teacher; a positive outcome to a rather sorry start to my English education.  This experience came to mind when I undertook a coding workshop as part of this week’s lecture.  It was evident that I was encountering a familiar problem; I needed to learn to read.  Again.

Learning HTML and CSS

Of course, HTML and CSS are strictly not languages, they are simply a way of adding context, style and structure to text so that it can be displayed in a web browser.  Nonetheless, as with a language, the pages of code needed to be understood and used to communicate something.  My strategy at the age of 45 was the same as that which I used at the age of 9. Firstly, I ignored the complex details and looked at the broad meaning of the written code.  (As with any language, you do not need to know every word to understand the meaning of a sentence.)  Secondly, I trotted off to the Library where I found some accessible manuals and online references (dictionaries and grammar books).  Lastly, I am spending time trying to build a basic understanding using contexts, phrases and expressions borrowed from web designers (native speakers).

Enjoying Learning

As with any of the languages I speak, there are major gaps in what I understand and can currently achieve using HTML and CSS.  However, I am heartened by the fact that a year after dispensing with my “beginners’ reading book” I finished  the “The Hobbit”. I don’t know if I will make similar progress with coding but in the meantime, I am enjoying learning and I am rather pleased with my achievement to date:

First Page

REFERENCES

Duckett, J. 2011. HTML and CSS: design and build websites. Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley and Sons

McFarland, D. 2009. CSS: the missing manual. 2nd ed. Sebastapol, CA: O’Reilly Media