ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

The Age of Designer’s Revenge

8/16/2011 6:33:25 PM

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Photo by Dan DeLuca

Back in 2004, when Transvaal Aquapark collapsed in Moscow, I remember reading a very long rant by some structural engineer about what she thought was a global root of the problem. I couldn’t find that post right now, but I remember the point of it vividly.

In USSR no one really cared how buildings looked. It was important that they don’t collapse and primitively serve their purpose. Structural engineering was way above than architecture in the ranks. Architects were sort of oppressed by engineers.

Sounds familiar?

Then Soviet Union collapsed and suddenly everyone wanted their buildings to be pretty. The balance between architects and structural engineers switched. And architects held a grudge from being abused and disregarded for all these years. So they started oppressing and disregarding engineers. The point of that lady was that it got to the point where engineers had no say in what makes sense and what doesn’t, which eventually led to tragedy.

If we take a look at software engineering, it’s difficult not to see the parallels with soviet structure engineering. Programmers “oppressed” designers for decades. In engineering driven companies like Google or Microsoft this is probably still the case. Listen to this episode of “This Developer’s Life” where Microsoft’s designer Michael Bach complains about this still being the case and mentions the Douglas Bowman’s post (linked above) about Google. But look at Windows Phone and you will see that the situation is changing.

This post was inspired by this tweet by Aral Balkan.

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Aral is a well known user experience designer and speaker from UK. His talks are really inspirational and very well presented (even if a true geeky developer could argue that he is selling common sense ;).

Immediately after seeing this tweet I’ve remembered that architecture/engineering rant from 7 years ago. If you’ve never lived in USSR you’ve probably never seen this transformation. But worst type of tyrant is someone who was oppressed before and is holding a grudge. Or is this the only possible type?

So we’ve oppressed designers for decades. Some of them are definitely holding a grudge. And it seems that now is their turn to rule. Hopefully it won’t result in any global tragedies, but we, developers, should prepare to be abused. Or, you know … switch to user experience design.

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Automatic Defaults

6/27/2008 6:06:20 PM

ryanair-hertz Every time I go to car rental sub-site of Ryanair.com I get frustrated with smarty-pants "Pick up Country" dropdown. As you can see on the screenshot, it automatically selects pickup country by visitor's IP address (or something like that).

Now I don't know how many people fly from UK to UK or from Germany to Germany, but I know for sure that you just can't fly with Ryanair from Lithuania to Lithuania. So this automatic selection super-feature is at the very least useless and in reality it's annoying. As I said you can't fly from Lithuania to Lithuania with Ryanair and what are the chances that when you're already in Lithuania you will go to Ryanair.com to rent a car? I think something like 1:10000. On the other hand automatic selection in "Country of Residence" is actually a nice little feature which probably works correctly 99% of the time.

So what should be in that pickup country dropdown by default?

The most obvious option is the message "Choose one" like in that "Pick up Location" box. And by the way there's only one Ryanair "location" in Lithuania so why the hell it's not selected by default? While just leaving "Choose one" seems most logical to me and easiest to "implement", I accept that it might be not fancy enough for someone at Ryanair. In this case they could've determined my location and then get the most popular destination from that location and make it the default.

Are there any other logical default values for that dropdown? I don't know. What I know is that seeing my own country there annoys me. In most cases no AI is better than seriously flawed AI.

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Web Development Project Roles

6/5/2008 11:19:50 AM

I've just read a 37signals article "Why we skip Photoshop". It argues for the idea of designing sites in HTML/CSS right away skipping the "static mockup" phase. This reminded me of a thought I get every time I see some products, articles, demonstrations, etc. aiming at separating presentation from business logic.

In a typical small size web development projects there are 3 main roles of (implementation) participants:

  1. Designer
  2. HTML/CSS coder
  3. Business logic coder

Now the 37signals article assumes that "Designer" and "HTML/CSS coder" are either one and the same person or at least inseparable pair. In my world (In small-to-medium web projects that I worked on during the last 10 years) I've seen projects where:

  • each role was performed by different person (or a group)
  • "HTML/CSS coder" and "Business logic coder" were the same person (or group)
  • all 3 roles were performed by a single person

But I have never worked on a project where "Designer" and "HTML/CSS coder" were combined into one role and business logic coder was someone else.

Am I living in a different world? Probably. Cause you can see this tendency in tools too. In Microsoft's demos you can often see a pattern where developer works in one tool - "Visual Studio", and graphic design/HTML/CSS/XAML is done in another (single) suite - "Expression Studio". From my perspective this leaves only 2 major roles - presentation specialist and business logic developer. I think this is wrong. I've seen many good graphic designers who had basic knowledge how web works but had no idea about HTML or at least didn't waste their time learning quirks in CSS implementation in different browsers.

Probably for large corporations this is not an issue but if you take a small company with 3 technical employees (designer, html coder and developer) you can't get separate graphics tools for designer and HTML coder. You end up buying 2 copies of Photoshop or Fireworks or Expression Studio or whatever when designer only needs creative tools and HTML coder needs technical tools for cutting parts of the design according to his implementation.

Why do I have to get a Photoshop behemoth only to be able to cut (without compromises) what my designer has done in it? I want ImageReady separated back into a standalone product. But there's probably something wrong with me cause this seems to be a global trend.

Am I old fashioned or just crazy? What is your process?

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Web Designers

4/15/2008 11:19:19 AM

It's time for some bitching and whining.

Some time ago I had a meeting with potential client who has ordered site design from a well known local ad agency and wanted my company to program the eshop. He showed me printed mockups of the site which were quite nice visually.

Later, as we talked further, he emailed me the same mockups in jpeg. I've noticed that content part of the site (a static width design) was 1300+ pixels wide. I informed the client that this is way too wide for a site and asked to make the design fit into 960 pixels. A couple of weeks later I've received new mockups where all that was done was the whole design proportionally resized to fit into 960 pixels.

When I pointed out that in some elements font sizes became unacceptably small (one button had text on it with 4px high font!) I got a few emails from the ad agency's project manager and then a call from a higher executive who in quite arrogant way tried to convince me that I can't make these judgements from JPG mockups but I have to get their magnificent CorelDraw file and everything will be fine. To my note that 4 pixels is 4 pixels and it's not enough for the text to be readable no matter how crisp it is, he responded with typical print designer gibberish talking about centimeters, 72 DPI, 150 DPI and other crap that has totally no relevance in web/screen design. He also noted that client has signed out on the design when they demonstrated it to him in their office (most likely on a shiny Apple's 30" screen with 500% zoom). I understood that I have no chance to convince these people to admit that they know nothing about web (after all they are well known ad agency!) and listen to my free advice. So I decided just to make a mockup web site with the design and show it to the client so he sees it in "field" conditions. We'll see how it goes.

After the conversation I was curious to find the origin of the 72 DPI tale so I googled it and found a perfect article - "Say No to 72 dpi" - which should be mandatory to every print designer before he or she is allowed to do anything for the web or screen. I suggest you read it even if you have a good idea what pixel is. It's hilarious. And definitely bookmark it so you can send it if you ever have a conversation like mine. After all since the web is total mainstream these days more and more people start designing web sites and print designers are leading the pack since the already know everything about design. And definitely more than those arrogant programmers!

Bonus design tip: Did you know that you can change black-gray-white-greenish site template to black-gray-white-bluish by simply swapping B and G values in RGB colors? :) This is what I did to convert the theme of my personal blog to this one.

kick it on DotNetKicks.com

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