Web Design Digest – April 2004

April 23rd, 2004

Here’s this month’s digest of all the important web design related stuff I’ve harvested from blogs around the world.

Opera, IBM voice (High)
Opera is to get a built in screanreader The browser will continue to be freely available (sponsored by advertisers). This raises the possibility of the browser becoming choice for people with visual impairments since the alternative, Jaws, is quite expensive. However, the Opera screen-reader wont read all other applications like Jaws does so I wonder if it is really that likely to be adopted by the visually impaired? However, that said, the browser will also accept vocal instructions. So, using the IBM Via Voice technology, we could find that more people with mobility impairment start to use the browser since they don’t need to use a mouse or keyboard anymore. The browser is standards compliant and now has fairly solid DOM support so even if more people start using it, our standards-based web sites are already compatible.
To use http:// or not? (low)
While HTTP is currently the most common way to deliver HTML, it could conceivably change in the future. Using scheme inheritance for links will prevent you from having to change them if or when things move away from HTTP. OK, so this isn’t a massive issue right now but whilst we’re thinking along the lines of future compliance it’s certainly worth keeping this notion on the back burner. The implications for the whole web are massive since billions of pages reference pages using the http:// method. This wont happen overnight and wont come quietly.
Contribute/Dreamweaver workflow (High)
In order to effectively work with Dreamweaver and Contribute it is essential to configure Dreamweaver properly. This involves enabling check in/out and ticking the ‘enable Contribute Integration’ box. If the developer uses both Dreamweaver and Contribute s/he should have different check in/out names for each piece of software. This will avoid message telling you that you’ve already got something checked out! This article contains the complete workflow step by step. It’s worth downloading, printing out and sticking to.
MAC built in Screen Reader! (High)

Speech technology is to be integrated into new versions of the Apple Macintosh operating system, providing blind and vision-impaired users with access to its computers for the first time, technology giant Apple has announced.

Spoken Interface includes voice output, sound cues, and enhanced keyboard functions to help users navigate through desktop items, menus, toolbars, palettes and other on- screen objects that were previously unavailable to them, and to help them use applications more easily. According to Apple, Spoken Interface will be integrated into the next major release of the operating system OSX.

For many blind computer users this will be their first chance to access Mac applications, since most developers of text-to-speech screen readers have focused their efforts on desktop computers running Windows.

In particular, the new Macs will open up possibilities for blind people to use sound recording and editing equipment which is generally perceived as the music industry standard, Bosher said. "In recording studios Macs rather than PCs are the computers of choice. They are everywhere," he said.

The implications of this could be huge for the largely PC-orientated public sector. Since organisations like the Open University make it policy to not support Mac users in any capacity maybe this news will prompt a re-think?

Contribute Developer Centre (High)
This site is becoming more and more invaluable as a source of Contribute related resources. For example, articles include: Automatic Tables of Contents in Contribute pages, Styled Headings for Authors and Users, Integrating Dreamweaver with Contribute and Getting up to speed with Contribute in 10 minutes. Also included is the quick guide in PDF format as it comes with the installation CD. This site should be the first place we point people who use the software to administrate their sites.
A British Standard for the Accessibility of e-Learning Systems and Content (PDF) (Medium)
From: The document presents a standard for best practices and use of Accessibility Meta-data. It recognises the diversity and complexity inherent in the wide range and individual nature of users and disabilities along with the wide range of technologies, operating systems etc. It suggests that by evolving standards of metadata understood by all machines and people alike we might be able to achieve some degree of universality. Whilst the document itself doesn’t provide any solutions it does raise the issue for future discussion and development. The OU representative is Martyn Cooper. Other organisations involved are AbilityNet, RNIB, RNID, TechDIS, SCOPE, SKILL, DSA Reading, NLN, XLN, X4L and other Universities.
Web Accessibility and UK Law: Telling It Like It Is (High)
Discussion here. The article outlines exactly what DDA covers with relation to web sites. It explains the commonly held misconceptions amongst web developers over the act. This involves what you’re likely to be taken to court for, case law and whether we should follow the RNIB’s lead. The most interesting part is the discussion that follows on from the article. Definitely the place to go for answers.
Why Content Management Fails (By Jeffrey Veen) (Low)
Explores the myths of that utopian Content Management System that all medium to large organisations long for: It doesn’t exist. The basic problem is an obvious one: 1 system does not suit all. Budgets are a problem and getting people to buy into the system are a problem. The solution that he suggests is this:
Once you have a proven and smooth editorial process in place, and have
a strong team managing that content, you can start to think about
making them more efficient with technology. Outline your process, sit
down with CMS vendors and say, “Look, here are the steps that we have in place to create and maintain our content. Here are the tools we use to do our jobs. None of this is going to change. Can you help us be more efficient and effective?”
Six steps to better user interviews (Medium)
How to conduct better usability interviews. Suggests that highly structure interviews don’t work. A more fluid interview will yield better results. So, instead of conducting a strict Q/A type of interview, have a sheet of nouns and keywords that you want to weave into the discussion at the most natural point. Cross each off as and when it is dealt with. Make the interviewee elaborate on his/her thoughts. Never rush the interview or work to strict timing.
Card sorting – A definitive guide (High)
Thoroughly examines the concept of card sorting as a method of defining navigational and organisation structures within a site. When designing a complex site with loads of pages and content, this process may help with the organisation and labeling of things.
Don’t Forget to Architect the Home Page (High)
Explores the notion of the home page. What’s its purpose and what should it contain. Suggests that people rarely enter through the front door these days thanks to the likes of Google. The home page should contain the same navigation, look and feel of the rest of the site, not be standalone. It shouldn’t be all things to all people. Users don’t care what page they’re on they just want to get to their goal. Simple navigation structure is paramount – integrated, not stand-alone.
PHP for designers (Low)
The importance of PHP as a scripting language lies in the fact that is is free, open source, cross-platform and relatively easy to understand. It fully integrates with Apache and MySQL and will always have a massive support base.
Optimizing Your Chances with Accessibility (Medium)
Some background and a little ‘how to’. Includes references to audio content and how to make content available to both man and machine. Useful as a reference.
The designer is dead, long live the designer (Medium)
An article on usability. Explores the importance of aesthetics in web design. How design aids the visual users – better usability through design. We shouldn’t forget the majority of people who are stimulated visually. Also tackles the issue of readability in web interfaces.
Separating behavior and structure (High)
We already seperate content from design using XHTML and CSS. But what of the behavioral layer? This article explains that further separating scripting from structure will aid usability and accessibility. The basic premise is to stop writing javascript instructions into HTML files. This is especially important for people who use onmouseover and onmouseout statements in HTML files. The solution lies within…
The best web development tool ever (High)
…a pen and a piece of paper! This article from Evolt suggest we hold back before we begin designing and building a site and think the thing through on paper. An approach I always use and in my own opinion will speed your design process up tenfold.
Gurus -vs- bloggers (Low)
A kind of celebrity deathmatch face off contest between the so called ‘gurus’ and bloggers. What this article does suggest is that the gurus are slipping way behind in the web usability stakes. In all their attending of conferences etc they no longer work the field and as such are no longer the experts.
Developing with web standards – recommendations and best practices (High)
One to bookmark. All the information you need on how to implement web standard best practices on your web sites. Talks about presentation and structure, XHTML, CSS, Accessibility and more.
Formal Investigation: web accessibility (High)
The report is summarised on The Register. 1000 UK sites were examined to find out if they could face legal action over their lack of accessibility! 81% failed automated testing for level A accessibility. "swathes of businesses may not be complying with existing equal access laws". This report is worth reading in full.
RNIB speaks out following DRC Report (Medium)
The DRC recommendation that the Government should ‘facilitate the establishment of a code of practice for accessible web site development’ is being strongly endorsed by RNIB. Hopefully this will move forward and the government will do just that.
Numbered list pairs (High)
More from Simplebits on proper document semantics. This article discusses the pros and cons of three different methods. The method we use is not actually mentioned until the first comment in the discussion. However, I still think that this method is not the greatest and would welcome a majority decision from this article on which is best.
Ten questions for Eric Meyer (Low)
This Q/A article explains that the revised ‘Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide’ book has been thoroughly updated to include new chapters and revisions of the old ones. A book well worth your money for sure!
The World Wide Web is not enough (Low)
Bizarre rant from somebody who completely rejects web standards as being a real pain that quash creativity and are actually holding back the web. Ill informed and negative but an opposing point of view nonetheless.
Inman Flash Replacement Technique (High)
An amazing alternative the the Farhner Image Replacement Technique (FIR). Enables you to use any font on people’s browsers using flash. Also works with images turned off, CSS turned off and javascript turned off (plus some combinations). I’ll need to work with this a bit to see exactly how well it works but it’s already causing a bit of a buzz.
CSS Drop Shadows II: Fuzzy Shadows (High)
This technique enables designers to specify consistent shadow effects across photos that can be chaged sitewide when the site is redesigned. The bonus of this technique is that the web designer will not need to go and manually edit potentially thousands of images in order to ‘look good’ in a redesign. Maybe we would have shyed away from using shadwo effects for this very reason. This new technique is definitely useful. However, it may not be ideal since it still requires the designer to add extra <DIV> tags into the (X)HTML. Andy Budd uses a similar technique on the photos on his site.