Community links: Open source motivations edition

What’s more fun to do over the weekend then catch up on WordPress community links? Set up the Christmas tree? Clean out the gutters? Shovel the driveway?

Alright, if you have to. Chores are chores. But when you’re done, reward yourself with a hot coffee and a good dose of WordPress reading. We have a truckload of links for you, so settle in.

The full list of links is after the jump.

In blog posts this week:

There were a few WordPress resources posted fresh this week too:

Finally, in WordPress tutorials this week:

Wow, that may be a record for number of WordPress related links in a roundup post (for us). Who gets the plaque?

That’s it for links this week. If you run across something link worthy, don’t hesitate to let us know about it. If it’s worth a story we’ll jump on it, and if it’s best suited for a community news post it will show up in this space next week.

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I propose a Theme Design Review Team

A weekly editorial, from Ryan Imel the editor of WPCandy

Anyone who has ever submitted a theme to the WordPress.org Theme Directory has, in one way or another, run up against the theme review guidelines. I have. While it can be a pain in the butt sometimes (Why must my theme use widgets again? Hulk smash!), it’s understandable why they are there. Standards need to be maintained, or else craziness will ensue. (See also: cats, dogs, living together.)

It’s important to keep the quality of the code up, and to meet expectations when it comes to how a theme behaves on the backend. Sure, okay, I can buy into that.

But why don’t we have a set of guidelines and a review team for theme design?

First hand experience

A month or two back we launched something called Theme Finder. It’s really cryptic, what it does: it helps you find themes. We’re still improving it, but one thing that we do weekly is add new themes. Typically 50-100 each week. And our favorite thing to do is add free themes to it. After all, who doesn’t love free WordPress themes?

Like anyone else, we save hard things for last. Sue us, we’re human. And there are a few directories of themes that we put off at first, because the size was a bit daunting. One of those directories was the WordPress.org Theme Directory, which is currently sporting about 1,295 themes. That’s more themes than we have in Theme Finder right now. That’s a lot of themes.

But we’re not a group to shirk hard work (at least not forever) so recently we rolled up our sleeves, cracked open the .org directory, and…

We were completely, totally underwhelmed.

After compiling all sorts of awesome themes of all shapes and sizes, all colors and prices, we’d like to think we have a pretty good eye for solid theme design. And the themes in the directory, we learned, are mostly awful.

A special kind of awful

I’m sure the code of the themes in the directory are all top notch, or at least up to code. But I wouldn’t know, because you couldn’t make me click download on 90% of those theme pages. I won’t do it. The designs, the concepts behind the themes, are just awful.

It’s not just the design, but the originality that’s the issue. So many themes are clearly just tweaks of Kubrick, Twenty Ten, Sandbox, or another widely available (and perfectly fine) theme. Beginning theme developers should still use these themes to practice, but perhaps they should keep the downloads to only their own blogs, instead of WordPress.org.

There are a few really well done themes in there. But these are the exception, not the rule.

But maybe they should be the rule.

Maybe we need a Theme Design Review Team: a crew of highly qualified theme designers (perhaps volunteers from commercial WordPress theme shops?) to screen and approve theme submissions for quality and originality.

Just think about what that could look like.

I'm not saying this is what we need. But if we do, then I get to be the sexy one. Yes, Simon.

If it’s important that WordPress.org users can download and use themes without trouble, it should be important that the themes they are getting will give the best experience to those user’s sites as well.

A brave new world

Instituting this sort of review team and process would no doubt result in the removal of the majority of themes on the WordPress.org directory. But that’s okay.

Which would you rather have: 1,200+ themes that you couldn’t be paid to use, or 100 highly original, cornerstone themes?

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Why Percentage-Based Designs Don’t Work in Every Browser

Here’s a rule any web designer can live by: Your designs don’t need to look exactly the same in every browser, they just need to look good in every browser.

It’s a maxim that will spare you many a hair-pulling hour. That said, there some things you would expect to be the same across browsers that aren’t. One such problem that’s likely to crop up more often as designers jump on the responsive, flexible-width bandwagon is percentage-width CSS rules.

According to the spec, browsers, given a percentage width, would simply render the width of the page based on the size of the container element. And, in fact, that’s what browsers do, but how they do it varies quite a bit. As a result, percentage-based widths are often displayed quite differently across web browsers.

Developer Steffan Williams recently ran into this problem when trying to create a percentage-based version of his Gridinator CSS framework. Williams created a container

<div>

with a width of 940 pixels and then wanted to create a 12 column grid within that container. Do the math and you end up with columns set to a width of 6.38298 percent.

Pull that up in Firefox or Internet Explorer 6/7 and you’ll see what you expect to see. In Safari, Chrome and Opera, however, you’ll see something different. IE 8 and 9 are also slightly off.

The problem is not a new one; developer John Resig pointed this out years ago. But as Williams notes, it’s odd that browser behavior when rendering percentage-width grids is still so inconsistent across vendors, especially given how much today’s browsers tout their CSS 3 support.

The problem isn’t necessarily a simple case of Firefox and IE being right and the others wrong. As Opera CTO and CSS creator Håkon Wium Lie tells Webmonkey, the problem is “the CSS specification does not require a certain level of precision for floating point numbers.”

This means browsers are free to round your carefully computed percentages up or down as they see fit. According to Lie, Opera considers the result of Williams’ experiment to be a bug. Same with the WebKit project, the engine that handles rendering in both Safari and Chrome, though in Webkit’s case the bug has been unassigned since 2006. But really, there is no right or wrong here, just different ways of rounding.

Fortunately, for most of your stylesheets, the differences in each browsers’ floating point precision will not result in visible differences on the screens of various devices. However, as Williams’ experiment shows, it’s easy to write a page where those very small differences in rounding become visible when compounded — like a grid-based layout.

What irks Williams and others is that these problems are old and well-known, and yet most browser vendors have still made no move to fix them. Instead, they focus on supporting the shiny new features in CSS 3.

We certainly wouldn’t want to suggest that browsers should stop innovating and supporting the latest and greatest standards-based tools, but sometimes it’s worth postponing playtime with the newest toys to make sure the foundations are solid. In this case, Opera, Safari and Chrome have some cracks showing, and it’s high time they fix them.

Until they do, we suggest you learn to live with the slightly different rendering behaviors in those browsers. After all, pixel-perfect cross-browser support is never going to happen. Given that the web of the future will have even more mobile phones, tablets, and small screen laptops, responsive designs and fluid grids are a trend we expect to grow.

There are also some workarounds. For example, you can use ems instead of percentages, which render much more consistently across browsers. Opera’s Lie also points out that the CSS Working Group has several specifications in draft to address the need for grid-based design, including multi-column text and the CSS Template Layout Module, though neither are widely supported at the moment.

iPad photo by Jim Merithew/Wired

See Also:

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Transparent CSS Sprites


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One of the most useful front-end development techniques of recent years is the humble “CSS Sprites”. The technique was popularised by Dave Shea on A List Apart in 2004 with his article CSS Sprites: Image Slicing’s Kiss of Death. CSS Sprites are a relatively simple technique once you understand the fundamentals and it can be applied in all manner of ways. A common use is for a graphic intensive navigation, but it can also be useful for buttons or even styling headings with the corporate font.

Sprites are simply a collection of images which are merged together to create a single file. You then use CSS, changing the

background-position

the image, to display the correct part of the image you need. I often use the analogy of a large object passing a window — you only see what is within the frame.

Over the last couple of years CSS Sprites has been one of the most widely adopted CSS-related techniques. Popularised by the Yahoo’s research and documentation around speeding up your website, many high profile websites implement the technique, including Google and Amazon. There are numerous tutorials which help you get to grips with the techniques and sprite generators which help you create the graphics themselves.

The Benefits and Potential Problems

CSS Sprites have become a de-facto way of improving the speed of your website or web application. Merging multiple images in to a single file can quickly reduce the number of HTTP requests needed on a typical website. Most browsers only allow for two concurrent connections to a single domain so although individual files can be large, the overall request and response times are considerably lower. Combining images with similar hues also means the colour and compression information is only need once, instead of per file, which can mean an overall reduced file size when compared to the files individually.

The benefits of reduced file size and HTTP requests are often publicised, but potential problems are rarely ever discussed. One of the main techinical issues with CSS Sprites is memory usage which is explained in the article “To Sprite Or Not To Sprite”. Another issue is the maintenance of the sprites, the images and the CSS, both of which can become rather complicated.

A Technological Solution

A common practice in solving slow-down in computing seems to simply throw in more hardware. We all know hardware prices are dropping all the time, so this seems like a reasonable solution. However, I feel there is a fundamental flaw with this philosophy and ingrained mentality. Developers have access to more computing power and as such they code their applications to be handled in these environments. With each new feature the application becomes slower and slower, but this problem has already has a solution — upgrade your hardware. This is an endless cycle.

Many of the user interfaces people come across today are on the Web. This means the user has to download most of the related material (images, CSS, JavaScript) before interacting with the content, so the same philosophy must be applied to the Web. Websites, or more recently web applications, are becoming more complex, even replacing many desktop applications, therefore the user must first download more and more information before beginning their experience.

Although file sizes required to view a website have increased dramatically over recent years, more and more people are upgrading their Internet connections, with broadband becoming the norm in many countries. This cycle conforms to the hardware upgrade philosophy and in theory should negate any potential user experience problems.

However, web developers are falling in to the same trap which many application developers have before. As layouts become more complex, more images are required and so the developer creates more images — even if they are sprites. This seems like a reasonable assertion, but it doesn’t mean it is the best solution.

A Twist on the Technique

Due to the limitations of the Web, there have been many inventive solutions to problems. But the Web isn’t the only place where there can be very tight limitations. Innovation strives on limitation. A great example of this was in the iconic game Super Mario Brothers where the bushes were just recoloured clouds.

This very simple but extremely effective implementation made me think about how to reuse common interface elements, trick the user to believe something the same is different!

Now on to the twist, this idea is to create a transparent sprite allowing the

background-color

to show through. If you are familiar with CSS Sprites, you should be able to grasp this twist relatively easily.

Simply, an image with a transparent “knocked-out” transparent center is placed over a background colour. Changing the background colour changes the appearance of the element. The only thing you need to pay attention to is that the colour surrounding the transparent part of the image matches the background in which you are using the techinque. This stops the background colour bleeding in to other parts of your image.

Anyway, this technique is much easier to understand in an example…

Example

The following example is only made up of three images. One for all the font samples, one image for both sets of droplets, including hover and active states, and one for the all buttons.

The Images

Fonts
The font image contains transparent typefaces on a white background, meaning they aren’t viewable on a white background. Save the file from the example, open it in your favourite graphics editor and you will see the transparent typefaces.

Drops
The drops image is used on the example above as the colour picker. A single graphic containing the gradient drop on the two different backgrounds, so the

background-color

is masked out correctly. The image contains all three states used in modern interactive interfaces — static, hover/focus, pressed/active.

Button
The button technique is the most flexible and probably most useful way to use this technique. A simple sprite image containing two states — static and hover/focus — which is then placed over text to create the button. Simply adding a

background-color

will make every use of this button the same style across your application or website.

Below is some CSS which styles simple fixed width buttons with a grey background colour, but also has two different treatments, “warning” and “go”, which have red and green background colours respectively.

a.button {
  display: block;
  width: 80px; height: 30px;
  margin: 0 20px;
  font-size: 14px; line-height: 30px; color: #fff;
  text-align: center; text-decoration: none;
  background: #4a4a4a url(button.png) no-repeat 0 0;
}
a.button:hover,
a.button:focus,
a.button:active {
  background-position: 0 -40px;
}
a.button.warning {
  background-color: #ea1d22;
}
a.button.go {
  background-color: #309721;
}

The CSS above produces the following buttons:

Conclusion

This techinque could be useful when providing a range of themes for a website. You could create one set of buttons and icons then add the background colour which best suits the selected theme.

Although this technique will never be as broadly useful as the original CSS Sprites, the idea can be useful for websites which allow user theming. The technique could also be used when creating HTML mockups, allowing you to easily update colours based on client feedback.

The main benefit this technique has is that it reduces the number of HTTP requests. But it also reduces browser memory usage compared with what would be needed if you created a larger sprite to handle all the colours you need.

I would like to mention one caveat though, IE6, because it does not natively support transparent PNGs. There are PNG fixes, but none1 of these support

background-position

which is needed if you are using this technique with CSS sprites, such as with the buttons and droplets above. However, you could provide a slightly less optimal experience using GIFs instead.

1. The IE PNG Fix from TwinHelix does include support for

background-position

, but the solution requires JavaScript.

Further Resources

If you are interested in any aspect of CSS Sprites, check out the following extra resources.

Below are a list of links used within the article:


© Trevor Morris for Smashing Magazine, 2010. | Permalink | Post a comment | Add to del.icio.us | Digg this | Stumble on StumbleUpon! | Tweet it! | Submit to Reddit | Forum Smashing Magazine
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Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

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During my last job with a large corporation, people started to get laid off. Many fellow creatives came to me, as they had no idea what they would do if they were let go. I had come to that small city from New York and my experience was varied and impressive to those who started their careers with this company. Their parents had hoped for their own children to work there and eventually retire in the same homey place. They were anchored in this town that held no other industries. Like layoffs in a town that has a steel mill, there weren’t many options to those looking for work.

“You’re creative,” I would tell people before my turn came in the next to last round of layoffs (which is some comfort). “You can do so many things that are creative. If you get pushed out the door, make your own projects!” Then advise them where to go and spend the rest of the day creating a book, or painting a series for a gallery show, or create postcards, greeting cards, dolls and websites. This was usually followed by the persons to whom I was speaking to, to ask about something they obviously wanted to explore; leading to a discussion, usually joined by others as well, on how to achieve it. The dividing line is how badly does one want it?

Take The Initiative!

Tailor in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

Tailor (A) gives creative (B) a snappy new “power suit”, SO irresistible that the client (C) hugs the suit (D) causing it to hit paddle (E), smashing expensive vase (G) and wasting a perfectly goof head of cabbage (I). Further destruction reigns havoc (K – P), dousing all competitors with a toxic chemical (Q). Illustration by Rube Goldberg.

I’m a big believer in self-propelled initiatives. It’s how I make a living. Writing for Smashing Magazine is an initiative. Everything is done before Smashing ever sees it. Authors have to come up with the idea, research it for presentation, get the approval and then write it and submit it. It’s initiative. As with what you may perceive as easy to pitch an article, most initiatives are simple!

All of my career I’ve had people come to me to relay that they have written a book and need a cover or images for the inside so they can send it to a publisher. I tell them they don’t need all that. Just send in the manuscript with a self-addressed-stamped-envelope (many publishers have digital submissions on their sites) and the publisher will choose cover designers and illustrators themselves.

Some people smile at the realization that their dreams were an easy step closer. Some didn’t believe me and insisted I design something for them (and draw, because I’m an “artsy-type!”). I look over the pages and tell them it’s an idea that shouldn’t be “set aside lightly”. They smile and then I tell them it should be “thrown with great force” (with apologies to Dorothy Parker). Some people want it to be done for them. Maybe it’s the prompting of a contest or a “might-as-well-take-it” project.

Would you rather be working on a low-paying project that is screwing you up at every turn or invest in yourself with the time put towards your dream project? It’s not hard coming up with an idea and creating the images, code or what-have-you. The difficult part is making yourself do it and then selling it and that’s where most people fail.

One of my recent favorite self-initiative stories was about an injured creative with time on his hands and a need for income. Dave is a designer at the Iconfactory and responsible for the ultimate Twitter icon Ollie the Twitterrific bird; he had broke his foot while playing soccer over the Fourth of July. That meant that the poor guy was relegated to staying off his feet at home. Rather than wallow in self-pity, he decided to use the opportunity to keep himself from going completely Rear Window and offer up his design skills to the large Web community — and successfully so!

Self-initiative is not easy for most people. Working for someone else provides a regular paycheck, security, after a fashion, and someone telling you what to do. No self-motivational projects needed. As one person commented on a past article on crowdsourcing,

“I recently participated in the LG “Design the Future” contest (yeah, I didn’t win)… but rarely do I get the chance to design a cell phone like product… it was a great exercise in creativity and it really let me flex my muscle… and they had some substantial cash prices (first prize was $20,000)… I feel like competitions like that are great for the industry. The rules were pretty relaxed and it really let people go hog wild and show off what they can do. Too often you’re forced to roll with the clients vision. It’s great to have a contest that let’s you be you.”

As I was arguing the pros and cons of crowdsourcing in that article, I just had to reply for his edification:

“I understand your point, but let me play devil’s advocate and explore another option. So you submitted something you really enjoyed designing and it stretched your creativity. You loved your final submission. You didn’t win and the client, I assume, owns it anyway. What if you had designed it but not submitted it and then sought out companies that might purchase the rights to the design? You would have taken a cue to create your own initiative and owned the product rights.”

Was the prize worth giving away all rights to the winner? What would the client have paid a design firm or freelancer to do the work? I’m guessing that the prize cost was considerably less than the one that would have run the company. So, who was the real winner? Which avenue held a better chance for him? The odds of him winning the contest and giving up the idea anyway without winning, or the odds of him being able to sell the design on the open market, or  maybe not, but owning it to try again? I can’t say.

Persistence in selling the idea and protecting it can be daunting. Even though, sometimes even an e-mail comes back right away that says, “I love it!”… and a check eventually arrives. (Note: you shouldn’t participate in such speculative design work as a professional in the first place and here is why — Smashing Editorial)

What Will Get You Started?

Tidalwave in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

A tidal wave of ideas or bills (A) will motivate another creative nearby to foolishly open an umbrella (E) in a lame attempt to hold back the flood, causing what looks like a giant earring (H) to fall and pull the hammer (J) so it strikes a piece of metal (K), waking up the baby (L) who must be rocked to sleep (N) by a trained and poorly-paid dog (M), causing the attached backscratcher (O) to tear at your flesh until you decide it’s better to get off your rear and do something. Illustration by Rube Goldberg.

Your idea. Your dream. No one will do it for you. Even if you have to work at something non-creative — use the money to live, but make your dream the priority. Crappy job gets in the way of your dream? Find another crappy job! They’re everywhere and except for the slaughterhouse idea, they won’t drain your creativity. Have the idea? Now set your plan. Just like your previous boss who had always made projects go around and around, it’s finally time to make your own plan, knowing it will work better, and make it happen!

First, research who your customer is. Using Web sources or going to stores are the best way to find out some helpful examples of consumer habits (yes, marketing people never leave the office, they rely too much on figures supplied to them). See what people are buying and talk to them. I used to go to stores that carried products made by the company for which I worked for, and watched what people bought or didn’t and asked them why.

I would smile as I approached them, excuse myself and explain what I was working on and gathered their opinions. This is probably why my products sometimes sold very well. Know your consumer base!

Also, figure out costs and how you will cover them. You may need a loan or investors. What website and functionality will you need? Packaging, having stock, shipping, advertising, taxes? Is your dream project for you to start a business or do you want someone else to produce it? If you are producing it yourself, you can get a business loan, but you are about to take many, many risks. Get legal and financial advice next. It’s well worth the money and will give you the final tally of whether or not this will be your dream or nightmare.

If you are creating something to pitch to a company for their purchase or licensing a property (certain photos for calendars and cards, for instance), there are a similar but different set of rules.

Start with the idea and marketing, create a style guide and/or presentation. A friend of mine wanted to publish a graphic novel for a pitch for a property she was trying to sell but couldn’t afford upfront fees for an artist and writer and printer, so I told her to use a WordPress blog to post her promotional material that she already had and that would give her a great presentation — the easy way.

Research which company you think would want to take on the project. Again, go online or to a store and look around. Want to really impress potential clients? Ask the store’s permission to set everything up; take videos of shoppers and their answers. What better way to produce proof of a need and then give clients the means to fulfill it!? Let your imagination run wild! As with the man who was so excited by the contest he entered, stretch yourself creatively.

Found the perfect prospect? Do your research and find the people you need to reach. There are many business networking sites. Search the company and find people and their titles. Get addresses and phone numbers. Call the receptionist and ask her/him who is the head of marketing or if they have an R & D contact person. If they don’t know, ask to speak to the secretary of the VP of marketing. Maybe she/he can get you closer. Also, use your network. Do any of your contacts know someone you are trying to reach?

Sounds difficult? It isn’t really; just keep in mind that it takes a lot of persistence, patience, as well as a good sense of humor. Once you lost one of those, you won’t make it.

A Non-Disclosure Agreement Is Standard

Feeding in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

While feeding yourself (A), the spoon pulls the string (B), flipping a piece of drilled iron into the head of a parrot (E), who is knocked unconscious and knocks it’s beak into a bowl (G) which spills parrot food into a bucket (H) that sets of fireworks (K) inside your house with a razor sharp sickle (L) attached to it, cutting the string (M) and forcing you to remember the paperwork to enforce your rights by smacking you in the face with a contract repeatedly! Illustration by Rube Goldberg.

It’s standard to either have your own Non-Disclosure Agreement or pick up a copy of Tad Crawford’s book on contracts and forms. Bigger companies will insist on using their own. Bigger corporations, to their own detriment, usually have no access point for outside ideas. They are afraid your idea may be something they are working on and they will be sued down the line. Middle-sized companies will just tell you they happen to be working on the same idea. Document your contacts and submissions well.

I was recently told over a dozen product designs would not be used. I later heard the products were available in every catalog world-wide. Did they think my price would go up if I found out how well the work did? You bet it will! Keep your expectations high (expect the middle to low high) when negotiating. A recent question came in from an artist in Mexico who ran across a sleazy representative in the United States who was basically ripping her off for one of her licensed characters. She had jumped at the chance because it was her first time working in a licensing arrangement. I hope she followed my advice.

As with any business transaction… think! Anyone who rushes your decision is up to something. Do your research and see what you find.

Bless The Web And All Who Surf It!

Extended in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

Extended and dangerous hook (A) catches old fashion sign (B), causing electrical shorts that start a fire and the boot to swing back, kicking the football (C) over the goal post (D) and into a colander (E) which tips the watering can (G) to soak the creative’s back, pants and shoes, which will lead to misunderstandings and new nicknames. The string (I) pulls open the cage (J) allowing the bird (K) to go to eat the worm (M), as the bird had been starved in retaliation for all the Twitter fails, causing the shade to be pulled down (N), which reminds the creative to mail that proposal in his pocket. Using theiWeb only takes half the steps. Illustration by Rube Goldberg.

The Web holds a billion of possibilities. As I mentioned about my friend who built a blog, rather then going through the costs of print, you can hardly lose with a great idea and the ability to bring it to life on the Web. With e-commerce made so easy, how can you not have a site that sells something? At least most of the people I know have a Cafepress or Zazzle “shop”.

When I first started with web design, back in the days when processors ran on mud and sticks… and fire, which was new, I put up sites for my infamous chili recipe, one for each of my kids, a site for toy collectors, and it went on. Why? The Web was young and there were probably only 73 sites live and forty of them were mine!

Use your down time. Partner with friends and split the rewards. Ever hear of a group of social outcasts who got together and created something called “The Onion?” No? I haven’t either, but I do hear good things and that they crawled their way up to be, I believe, the number one humor site in the world. It must have started with an idea and someone’s dream.

(ik) (vf)


© Speider Schneider for Smashing Magazine, 2010. | Permalink | Post a comment | Add to del.icio.us | Digg this | Stumble on StumbleUpon! | Tweet it! | Submit to Reddit | Forum Smashing Magazine
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Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audience’s Attention


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Let’s say you’re driving down the freeway at 65mph and you see the roadside plastered with advertising posters on both sides. Some small, some large, all meant in some measure to cause you to remember a brand or identity, to keep that company name in your mind. The more saturated the roadside becomes with advertisements, the more the brand has to be distinctively creative, unique and memorable.

Generally, the eye-catching ads are mostly the ones with witty taglines that are easy and fun to remember. As much as the colors of the images and fonts being used are important to make it easy on the eyes, the idea actually has to be unique and simple enough to be separated from other commercials.

Billboard Mainimage in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention
Photo credit: Randy Harris

The same principle applies to any website. Though a user won’t necessarily be passing by your site at 65 mph, there is a certain bounce rate — visitors who leave your site shortly after entering it. For many websites, these rates are much too high. This poses a very similar challenge to those who design billboards. You have a very short amount of time to capture your audience’s attention and to keep it for long. With that in mind, here are some principles for developing billboard-style Web designs.

Creative and Unique

An important piece to the billboard website puzzle is creative and unique design. This can be intertwined within the other principles, and when done effectively, can be the sole reason for viewers to dig deeper into your site.

Hey Indy
Creative and fun, heyindy.com breaks the mold of an ordinary, plain and boring website. Complete with customized illustrations, drawings and playful typography, each page engages users, making them feel comfortable on the site. Notice how well the illustration on the top fits with the tagline of the site. Hey Indy creates websites, illustrations and animations and uses the “mixtape” metaphor to attract client’s attention. The site is not obtrusive, but inviting instead. A very personal, attractive design.

Indy in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Dropr
This online service uses a nice typographic poster with playful typography on the front page to explain what it does. The design is attractive and inviting, although a plain simple text message could have worked just as well to deliver the message to the visitors. The interesting part are the animated clouds on the left side with colorful water drops. Very nice use of metaphor contained in the title of the service. An original and unique design.

Dropr in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

TVLCORPs
Interested yet? Though the tagline shown on the web design below does not really say what this company does, the layout is creative and compelling; the strong, vivid contrast is more than enough to turn some heads. Notice how “UX/UI” stands out on the site, focusing the visitor’s attention on the ‘services’ section of the page.

Dreams in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

{ ro:newmedia }
Sometimes it’s a good idea to risk an unusual design approach — be it exaggerated typography, striking color combinations or unusual design layouts. The latter is the case in point for ro:newmedia’s website. The layout is very unusual and original, and therefore memorable. Colorful large spinning circles look like an overlay of the site layout and appear vividly against the dark background. A downside: the font size of the text on the page could be a bit larger.

Ro in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Pixelmator
Much different than the standard, pasted screenshot, Pixelmator works the sleek, elegant interface of their application directly into the design of their page.

Pixelmator in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Relogik
What makes this particular site effective is its ability to draw the eye to the name of the product or service they are showcasing. In this case, it works well to give the company name an afterthought as well as making the product more prominent.

Relogik in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Made My Day
One more test to run is to assume how much impact a particular site has on a reader, if they were to take a quick glance and look away. Ask yourself: If you were to carry out your day from that point, what were you to still remember about that particular site? The large orange circle elegantly integrated into this composition does an excellent job of leaving a style for returning visitors to remember.

Mademyday in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Compelling Headlines

A good design only goes as far as the content it contains. For this reason, it’s vital to go beyond average with your copy text. If you’ve seen a billboard advertisement or two, you may remember the tag lines featured on them. Short and to the point, they’re meant to get you to remember a certain brand.

Many large corporations don’t even use ad copy, but rely solely on their logo and identity to remain effective. One has even gone as far as making their billboard a working sundial in this respect. Though we should all aspire to having a brand of our own this influential, it’s recommended that you stick to clear and powerful copy text along with your design to help capture your readers. Here are some examples of compelling headlines:

Ryan & Sofia
Ryan and Sofia combine hand-drawn design elements with a compelling headline, all supported by a very informal, emotional language and choice of layout. The message is strong and clear, and therefore very appealing.

Marriage in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Comwerks Interactive
This design agency uses a clear and simple language to communicate the purpose of the website. Cute illustrations make a website look less formal and much more engaging. The purpose is clear and the client list immediately proves that the design agency indeed builds cool stuff. A downside: the text on the images in the slideshow would benefit from not being embedded in the images.

Cool-stuff in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Camera+
Clear, contrasting colors only add to the effectiveness of the headline given on this website. In a clear and elegant manner, a reader is quickly able to glance at this website and know its purpose.

Camera in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Just Dot
Sticking to the billboard clarity, Just Dot provides a clever design and tagline to attract readers. Along with a creative chalkboard theme, this site features neat and clean navigation to help guide readers through the site.

Justdot in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Jeroen Homan
In clear and impacting typography, this site screams out its purpose distinctly. In today’s fast-lane crowd of web-surfers, such clear and impacting titles are a must-have for a captivating and inviting website. This of course, is the case as long as the amount of content allows for this.

Jeroenhoman in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

DBA Products
An important part of capturing your reader’s attention is in engaging in a conversation. When one reads, “Think before you write” a first reaction is to wonder about what is actually meant by that phrase. Firstly, attention is captured. Secondly, a reader eye is lead to the bottom left corner where they can view a video to learn more.

Dba Products in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Clever and Poignant

Not every billboard is meant to be humorous, however, almost all strive in some way to get a point across in a not-so-ordinary fashion. Consider the last few advertisements you’ve seen. If they were selling toothpaste, did the ad simply state “Buy this Toothpaste” or was there something creative and direct to get you to remember that particular brand?

In Web design, the same principle can be applied. With the hundreds, if not thousands, of websites we’re exposed to overall, trends can be seen which are all too often followed. But because the Web is ever changing, simply following trends can lead to a site becoming outdated the moment it’s published.

How can this be avoided? Once again, we can look back at billboard advertisements. What makes many of them effective is their ability to deliver something creative, or other than what the average person was expecting to see.

Tea Round
Complete with high-quality images, Tea Round’s website captures attention, while incorporating a creative tagline.

Tea Round in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Spring: Supporting Biodiversity
This particular tagline is effective because it engages you with a question. Notice how the question is not “Do you support biodiversity?” but rather “What will you do to support biodiversity?” which places the reader in a position to feel as though they need to take action!

Spring in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Tapbots
Another element to creating memorable billboard-style web designs, is the product or service itself. Short and snappy names are just as, if not more important, than the tagline. “Calcbot” is much easier to say and much more memorable than something like “Calculator Application for iPhone.”

Tapbots in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Pointy
Featuring a vibrant color scheme and typestyle, Pointy successfully merges creative typography with a compelling and challenging headline. Along with the headline is a clear next action for the reader to take: “Let’s talk”.

Kawartha in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Powerfully Branded

Though it’s already been touched a bit thus far, branding is another important piece to powerful Web design which deserves further attention. As with the toothpaste example, a billboard’s purpose may in the end be to generate sales, but just as important is the building of the brand the company is advertising. After all, you can get dozens of different brands of toothpaste, just as there are a multitude of of websites out there, so how is one among the crowd to be remembered? Building a brand through a Web design is the very mark or entity visitors remember you by.

Nike®
Showing the importance of subtle repetition, Nike® combines a creative display of their shoes, while giving viewers multiple views of their logo.

Nike in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

McCafé®
With every cup featuring the McDonald’s® and McCafé® logo, a viewer can be grabbed by the quality of the product, while remembering the brand correlating to it.

Mccafe in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Coca-Cola®
The Coca-Cola&reg website is a billboard in action. Complete with the clean logo and bottle, with the clear and simple tagline, the brand is very easy to remember.

Cocacola in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

What Does a Brand Have to do with a Website Anyway?

Even if the website you’re developing doesn’t have the sole purpose of making money, a brand is still very important. Brands are essential for goading visitors to come back time and time again. Consider some of the recent advertisements you’ve seen. If there is a company you know and love, would you say you’re much more apt to spend time looking at that advertisement, as oppose to the dozens of others you’ve never seen before, or the ones that don’t interest you? The same applies for websites.

Eye-catching, yet tactful

There are countless sites on the web that will undoubtedly catch your attention, but only for the worse. Poor, outdated design, or a heap of flashing animated gifs will only increase your bounce-rate. Appealing sites achieve a balance between capturing reader’s attention and providing an adequate amount of useful information. Something to keep in mind: the design is a key piece of your website, but if it distracts away from the aimed content, it no longer serves its purpose!

Megumi
With jaw-dropping elegance and simplicity, this web design effectively brands their name, gives a brief tour, all while keeping the design clean and clear.

Megumi in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

MailChimp
MailChimp’s website design is bold and clean, and it sticks to a consistent color scheme. Bright, complimenting colors are used while making the main content readable.

Mailchimp in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Row to the Pole
Still retaining a subdued and clean typestyle and color scheme, this site is still able to feature a commanding headline. Communication, clarity, and balanced design are all utilized exceptionally on this layout.

Row To The Pole in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Clean, Simple and Straight to the point

Of course, one of the options is also as simple as simplicity. Not to say we cannot be creative in our delivery, but a saturation of text and images, especially on a home page, can motivate our viewers to click that back button! Here we’ll take a look at some good billboard-style websites that have captured the essence of simplicity to attract readers:

Less
Less has a clean and well-designed interface. Complete with a clever tagline, this application shows you a screenshot of exactly what they’re offering to you. It doesn’t get much clearer than this.

Less in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Courier Mac App
Complete with a well crafted icon, Courier clearly depicts their application with cool, soft colors, yet elegantly displaying the showcased application. The catchy subtitle also assists with remembering the name. Something to take note of as well is the fact that the “download” and “purchase” buttons are clearly displayed at the top of the page.

Courier in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

We Are Omazing
With a simplistic approach, this site integrates the imagery and style into the tagline. Branding is in effect as a memorable name is complimented with readable design.

Omazing in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Clarity and Contrast

Pivotal to any design, good contrast is a must. While subtle typefaces and graphics have their place in design, strong contrast is important to quickly direct a reader’s attention or get them to remember something particular. If viewers have to hunt around for what you do or what you offer – more than likely they will not stick around for long. Make it easy for your readers to know what you’re about from the very beginning.

Charles Elena
Don’t be afraid to go big with your text. This site sports an effectively large Sans-Serif font to grab the attention of its readers and to get them to remember what they do. The design isn’t necessarily strong and vivid, but the message is communicated very clearly.

Charles Elena in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Live Books
There are many different features listed on Live Book’s website, but one thing that’s executed exceptionally well is its clarity. There’s no mystery here, you know exactly what they offer.

Live-books1 in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Conclusion

In an age where advertisements saturate our market, it becomes all the more visible of the need for creative and effective design. As we’ve explored here, good design goes beyond making things look nice, or following trends, but rather effectively capturing the audience of those whom we wish to view the site. In the end, what action viewers do, or do not take, can come down to the finest details of the decisions made by the Web developer.

Feel free to share your opinions or experiences in the comment section below!

Bonus Billboard Template Download

In addition to the concepts explored here, you can download your free billboard website/image template for displaying your billboard-style design. Place any 440px wide image into the code provided, or modify it yourself for a great way to display your images. See some samples below:

Billboard Temp in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention
Smashing Billboard in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention
Smashinglogo Billboard in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention

Download the template for free

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© Thomas McGee for Smashing Magazine, 2010. | Permalink | Post a comment | Add to del.icio.us | Digg this | Stumble on StumbleUpon! | Tweet it! | Submit to Reddit | Forum Smashing Magazine
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Microsoft Giving Up On Silverlight, Joining HTML5 Party

We now have further confirmation that Microsoft is giving up on its Silverlight rich Internet application platform. Bob Muglia, Microsoft’s president in charge of server and tools, told ZDNet that the company is “shifting away” from Silverlight as a cross-platform development framework, and pushing the HTML5 web standard instead.

There’s been plenty of evidence to suggest this was the case. After all, with the launch of Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft has fully embraced and touted many of HTML5′s features. But it doesn’t just stop there; Microsoft will be leveraging HTML5 for the latest version of its Bing search engine, and is using H.264-encoded HTML5 video in lieu of Silverlight Smooth Streaming for delivery of live video on its Xbox 360 game console.

Microsoft will continue to develop and lean on Silverlight, especially for application development on its recently launched Windows Phone 7 operating system for mobile devices. However, Muglia told ZDNet, “HTML is the only true cross-platform solution for everything, including (Apple’s) iOS platform.”

That Microsoft would align itself with Apple, especially in the embrace of a web standard, might seem peculiar to some. After all, the two software makers have been battling for decades in the PC space, and now are bumping heads in mobile as Microsoft tries to offer up a compelling alternative to Apple’s iPhone.

But it also makes sense that Microsoft would begin de-emphasizing Silverlight as a cross-platform development platform. Despite some of the advances Microsoft was able to push with its development, including HTTP and adaptive bit rate streaming, it wasn’t able to dethrone Flash as the de facto rich Internet application and video platform on the web. And with the emergence of HTML5, it was no longer a matter of playing second fiddle to Adobe, but lagging behind a web standard that was also being rapidly adopted.

To see what Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch has to say about adoption of HTML5 and its positioning against Flash, come see him speak at NewTeeVee Live on November 10 in San Francisco.

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Apple Has Already Won the Flash-HTML5 War

A majority of web video is now HTML5-ready, according to new research from MeFeedia, showing that web standards — and Apple — are winning the day when it comes to how video is delivered and viewed online. The research shows that the amount of video viewable in an HTML5 video player has doubled in the last five months and now accounts for 54 percent of all video content online.

It’s important to note that HTML5 video is not replacing Flash video on the web, but augmenting it; most HTML5 videos today are available through a universal embed code that auto-detects the device requesting the video and serves up the appropriate version. That means for most of these videos, there are at least two versions — one Flash and one HTML5  – stored online.

It’s not only HTML5-ready web browsers that are pushing the envelope; it’s a multitude of mobile devices, which have caused publishers to rethink the formats for delivering online videos. The biggest proponent in the move to HTML5 video has been Apple, which refused to support Adobe’s Flash on its iOS devices — including the iPhone and iPad — meaning that publishers that wanted to have videos on those devices would have to turn to standards-based, in-browser delivery.

The launch of the iPad, in particular, has been instrumental in leading this change. Despite the iPhone being HTML5-only for years, the amount of video available through the nascent web standard in January was just 10 percent. But owing to the iPad’s larger screen real estate and its propensity to be used as a video consumption device, many more publishers were forced to jump on board. At the time it was launched, just one-quarter of web video was available in an HTML5 video player. Now it’s up to more than half of all web videos.

The iPad has been the biggest driver of HTML5 video, but all mobile devices should benefit from the change. Despite the fact that newer Android-based devices come with Flash pre-installed, theoretically giving them access to all the web’s video, our own tests have shown that it’s not always a great experience. In fact, sometimes it’s shockingly bad.

While launching the video in a separate Flash player might help, Flash is still a processor hog and mobile devices don’t really have the gigahertz, nor the spare battery power, to keep Flash happy. HTML5, which delivers video natively (without extra software) is leaner. That’s bad news for Adobe, which has been banking on embedding the Flash player into mobile and connected TV devices. But if a native HTML5 implementation is available for most videos online, it might be smarter for those videos to be delivered in HTML5 than in Flash. Why waste cycles and power if a device doesn’t need to?

It seems that even Adobe has conceded this point, recently rolling out an HTML5 video player widget that serves up standards-based video to devices that don’t support Flash. The widget works by trying to serve up HTML5 video, but defaults to Flash when the standard isn’t supported. With mobile viewing growing in importance, that delivery scenario may be the future for most web video, which leaves Adobe Flash hanging on by its fingernails (or rather, a widget).

To learn more about Adobe’s plans for HTML5, come see CTO Kevin Lynch at this year’s NewTeeVee Live on Nov. 10 in San Francisco.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Cameron Russell.

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VLC Makes Its Way to the iPhone, iPod Touch

VLC has made its way fully onto iOS with this week’s release for the iPhone and iPod Touch. The open-source, multi-platform video player will allow Apple’s mobile device users to play a number of different video formats, from DiVX to AVI and more.

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vlc-for-iphone.png

This latest version of VLC works on the iPhone 4 and 3GS, as well as the iPod Touch 3rd and 4th generation. This version of VLC allows users a greater flexibility by providing support for more file types as well as allowing them to delete files directly from the app, rather than resorting to using iTunes on their computer.

The app first broke onto iOS in late September with an iPad app, surprising many. As we mentioned when the iPad app was approved, it seems that after Apple clarified its App Store guidelines, it moved to a more liberal policy.

9 to 5 Mac took a look at the app and offered up an early review of the features, which you can see below.

VLC 1.1.0 is available in the App Store.

Discuss

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The Evolution of News – Jeff Jarvis

Complete video at: fora.tv Technology journalists Jeff Jarvis and Michael Arrington discuss the future of news reporting. Jarvis predicts a widespread shift from large, mainstream multimedia outlets to small, “hyper-local” communities of news gatherers. —– Panelists Jeff Jarvis (Buzzmachine), Carolyn McCall (Guardian), Michael Arrington (TechCrunch), and Tyler Brule (Monocle) discuss the evolving world of online publication, debating whether or not print media can survive in this era of digital media. Jeff Jarvis is an American journalist. He is the former television critic for TV Guide and People magazine, creator of Entertainment Weekly, Sunday editor and associate publisher of the New York Daily News, and a columnist on the San Francisco Examiner. Until recently he was president and creative director of Advance Internet, the online arm of Advance Publications, where he developed the children’s educational site “Yuckiest Site on the Internet” with Susan Mernit. Jarvis currently consults for Advance Internet. He has also consulted for the New York Times Company at About.com, where he worked on content development and strategy. In 2006 he became an associate professor at City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, directing its new media program. He has a fortnightly column in the MediaGuardian supplement of the British newspaper The Guardian. J. Michael Arrington is a entrepreneur and was the maintainer of TechCrunch, a blog covering the Silicon

Author: ForaTv
Duration: 218
Published: 2009-02-18 00:21:22
The Evolution of News – Jeff Jarvis

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