The Design Hinterlands

2 August 2006

I’ve found a community I want to join! It’s the growing creative class in Memphis.

Memphis would not make anyone’s list of global centers of design excellence in any field, much less web design. In fact, Memphis is probably one of those places where the nephew’s FrontPage site is good enough for eight out of ten small businesses (i.e. fewer than 50 employees). Memphis is a place where price always trumps any other criteria for purchasing anything.

A few of the weblogs written by people in this area actually strive for valid (X)HTML mark-up. Many of them are excellent political, lifestyle or gossip blogs. Apparently, there’s even a gathering of bloggers from time to time. However, there isn’t a great deal of discussion—that I’ve been able to locate—involving web standards, design tools and techniques or sites free of tables and spacer gifs.

Perhaps that is changing! Our local fish wrap ran an article this weekend about tech firms that use blogs to connect with others. The article specifically mentioned the following blogs, firms and people in Memphis:

Weblogs I read are written by people who are hitting all the latest conferences for the best and brightest. While those conference attendees are looking at next-generation technologies and techniques, Memphis wrestles with how to become one of the so-called Smart Cities.

Contrary to popular notions, some of the leaders of the march to creativity in Memphis are not twenty-something. Rather, there is a blend of leaders who have caught the vision that Richard Florida has described for urban centers along with the young creatives who are actually getting it done. The beauty of this blend is that it isn’t limited to specific age, gender or other demographic data. Those with a willingness to grasp the ideas can drive the growth of and focus on creativity.

There appears to be a practical side to all of this as well. People who are leading the efforts here are profit-minded capitalists who have recognized a better way of providing products and services to customers. They understand what Jeff Cornwall explains in Revisiting Self-Interest. Whether one sees self-interest from the perspective of the designer or the designer’s client, the rewards are congruent.

Take web sites as the example. The hierarchy of enlightened web design creativity looks something like this:

  1. Creatives using standards-based design for all their work.
  2. Web site designers who found a tool and use it free of any concern for web standards.
  3. Ad agencies who added a web site design department without understanding the medium.
  4. The nieces and nephews with a copy of FrontPage or Dreamweaver.

Each of these groups is creative. Each of these groups makes a (handsome) living. However, only one of the groups is fostering the growth of their businesses, growing their clients’ businesses and leading a community to see creativity, design and the role of standards in a completely different way. That’s a community I want to join!

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CSS Laundry List

7 March 2006

The time has come to dive deeply into CSS, XHTML, standards, doctypes, validation…again! I’ve produced a laundry list of embellishments I’d like to make to this website. Most stem from a suggestion or request from readers.

You’ve read here many times that I have a mental block when it comes to spanning the connections between a tag in a template, XHTML in an article and the CSS that styles both. A simple example is in order. Styling Links

What you’re looking at when you click on the thumbnail is a section of my home page. You’re seeing the tags from the Web Developer Toolbar (for Firefox) produced by Chris Pederick. The challenge for me is understanding how to observe that image and go into the stylesheet for the page and make appropriate changes to alter the way links appear within articles.

Please understand—I don’t want to alter the way a link appears in the navbar, in the titles of articles, in the sidebar or anywhere else on the page. I do however want to style the links within an article differently from their existing (obscure) styling.

I know people who see this, visualize the change, find the appropriate selector and change it in less than 30 seconds. For me, this will amount to a half day of trial-and-error digging, research, reading and tedium. That’s the frustrating part about not being a designer with deep skills in web development.

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Inspired Solutions

26 January 2006

As I heard the story told, it went something like this:

Henry Ford’s assembly line went down. Teams of engineers tried everything to no avail. Losing money by the minute, Ford called Thomas Edison. Edison arrives, spots the problem and instructs the engineers. Ford’s dollars start flowing again. Two weeks later Edison sends Ford a bill for $10,000. Ford replies by letter that Edison was only on site for a few hours and he (Ford) needs an itemized invoice. By return mail Edison provides this itemized invoice:

  • Time on site......$100.00
  • Know-how.......$9900.00
  • Total due......$10,000.00

It’s a story representative of what a designer or expert in any field faces when billing for services. Read what Andy Rutledge has to say about staring at ceiling tiles and billing for your results.

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I Asked They Answered

16 January 2006

In the Textpattern support forum I asked, How did you learn CSS? Do you have advice for someone who wants to learn how to properly “write CSS” and position elements on the screen?

  1. a book or books
  2. strictly by doing; is there a sample problem you’d recommend?
  3. an online site or tutorial
  4. a software tutorial (e.g. StyleMaster or TopStyle?)
  5. by asking questions and getting answers
  6. a tutor
  7. a certain set of tools/software/websites
  8. some other way

They responded:

As a bonus, I learned of Hemingway, a template for another weblog application. I’m hoping that the Textpattern Theme Competition produces some templates like that one!

UPDATE: Resources for learning CSS continue to come in. One writer pointed to the following people and links:

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An Official Design Competition

9 January 2006

Complete with sponsors, rules and a deadline, there’s now a template design competition for Textpattern. Reviewing designs will be a great way to learn the details of Textpattern’s tags, forms, sections and pages.

If you’re a designer looking for new business, this might be an excellent community to support.

Many thanks to Tom Fadial for making it all happen!

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