Fun with Drupal Gardens

October 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Screen capture of Drupal Gardens website As a beginning web developer, learning how to build sweet websites with Drupal can be intimidating.  Starting with Drupal Gardens is a great way to play with the functionality of the CMS  without starting completely from scratch. It’s a hosted web development platform so you don’t need to bother registering a domain or finding hosting services to get started. But you can migrate the site you build to your own domain once you’re done. I set up a basic blog using Drupal Gardens in about 10 minutes. (Playing with the functionality is a different story – you can get lost in the features for hours.)

The most intriguing feature to me was the “simple view” which allows you to create a custom page by pulling a specified type of content from other areas of the site using metatags. It seems like a great way for online news sites, for example, to repackage existing content in new and useful ways. Stories that go stale after a few days could perhaps be pulled into topical pages that provide a history of a certain issue.

Form vs. function in interactive design

October 5, 2010 Leave a comment

In the first session of Charlie Levenson‘s Business Strategies for New Media seminar we got into a heated discussion spurred by this quiz question:

The MOST important factor in interactive media project design is…
a. The intended audience.
b. The available budget.
c. Required functionality.
d. Deadlines for implementation.

Most of us felt that (a) was the correct answer. As developers we must always consider the user first when designing a site. Or as Charlie says, “It’s the user, stupid!” Ask first: who is your audience, what do you want to communicate and what do you want them to do?

But one of my classmates, who has a background in fine arts, argued for (c). Under Bauhaus design principles, she said, form follows function. Function is first.

This ignores the role of the user in Bauhaus. Functionality by Bauhaus principles is entirely based on purpose and usability.  A good design works for the user.

The more important application of Bauhaus to web design is this question of form vs. function. You can have an ugly website that works really well. But is that the best user experience?

Smashing Magazine has an interesting post about the application of Bauhaus principles to web design. Here’s its conclusion:

“Better questions come from your criteria for success. What aspects of your design are critical to success? When time or resources is limited, what design trade-offs would least harm the design’s success? Sometimes, certain aesthetics will have to be abandoned, and sometimes certain functionality will have to be abandoned. Sometimes both aesthetics and functionality will need to be compromised.”

Writing for the web

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Part of our first assignment for Web Development this week was to read five chapters in “Interact with Web Standards.” Erin Anderson‘s overview on writing for the web was the most immediately useful — ie take this and run with it now before you ever learn drupal.

Interact with Web Standards book cover.

Web Development class textbook.

If you’re a writer who wants to be a web writer, Anderson provides a great overview of the job description. And for those of us with a dead-tree background it highlights the finer points of how writing for the web is different than writing. A journalist whose stories are posted on the web, isn’t necessarily a web journalist.

Here’s my 30-second take-away:

-Web users scan, they don’t read. Or if they do read, they need a compelling reason.

-They’re goal-oriented and the information you provide should support decision-making.

– So, web copy should be broken into chunks and longer texts should have periodic headings that keep readers interested and engaged.

– Copy should be sprinkled with keywords and the head and subheds should lead with keywords.

– Readers should have something TO DO when they’re done.

What are some news sites that are also good web writing? Are they online-only sites or do traditional print publishers adapt well for the web?

Jonathan Stray argues in his blog post, Designing Journalism to be Used, that no news sites right now really accomplish the true purpose of journalism — to facilitate action as well as to inform. In other words, by Anderson’s definition, journalists are poor web writers.

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