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Archive for February, 2008

Website user experience & CSS workshop

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

I’m very excited to announce that I’m teaching a new workshop with Russ Weakley. It’s called “Website user experience & CSS workshop: Designing for usability, building for the future“. It will be run in Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, in late March and April.
I’m teaching the day on user experience, and Russ is teaching on CSS, which is lucky for you as I’m pretty good at ux and Russ is awesomely good at teaching CSS.

I’m really looking forward to it – I’ve wanted to go to one of Russ’ tutorials for a couple of years. And I love teaching user experience design for the web – I’ve spent a lot of time doing it, and a lot of time thinking about what I’ve learned and how to best share it.

I hope to see you, or your colleagues, there. Please pass details on to anyone you think may benefit.

Workshop description

A hands-on workshop with user experience expert, Donna Maurer, and CSS
expert, Russ Weakley.

Over two full days you will build detailed websites layouts from the ground up – starting with page layout, navigation and form design; and ending with clean markup and elegant styling using XHTML/CSS.

Day 1: Planning and designing the user experience – Donna Maurer

On day one you will plan and design a website – focusing on the user experience: designing the navigation, page layout and forms.

You will:

  • learn techniques to understand your users, and prepare user scenarios
  • understand your content with content analysis methods
  • create an effective and usable site structure (information architecture)
  • design a range of navigation methods
  • create page layouts for content, home, index and special pages
  • design simple forms

For each step, Donna will outline the fundamentals and show examples from small and large website projects. But most of the time will be hands-on -you work on your own project, ask questions and discuss with the group.

Day 2: Building beautiful sites using CSS – Russ Weakley

On day two you will build your website from the ground up – starting with structural markup, adding accessible markup and then styling your layout using CSS.

You will learn:

  • how to create well structured, accessible markup
  • the basics of CSS including rule sets, selectors, shorthand rules, inheritance and the cascade.
  • how to structure efficient CSS files
  • how to create a full CSS layout from a flat graphic mockup
  • how to deal with browser issues including specific browsers such as IE5,IE6 and IE7.
  • how to create a resolution dependent layout
  • how to create CSS for printing and hand held devices


Canberra – Monday 31 March and Tuesday 1 April

Melbourne – Thursday 3 April and Friday 4 April

Sydney – Monday 28 April and Tuesday 29 April

Brisbane – Thursday 1 May and Friday 2 May


More information and registration here:

It’s not about you

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

In the last few weeks I’ve been in different situations that all reminded me of a key principle in any persuasive communication – no matter whether it be writing, designing, pitching or delivering a report. It is a principle that is absolutely key, and all so easy to forget…

The situations I found myself in were something like this:

  • I was writing my new ‘Why choose me‘ page. I started out writing about how fabulous I am and why you should hire me (yes, that’s crude, but go see what most consultants do). Even to me it was boring and dumb and flat and I hated it. So I thought about why I hated it and what I needed to write instead.
  • I was helping someone interview candidates for a website manager job. One person really got up my nose – when asked ‘Why do you want this job’ he explained how he wanted to work in a new domain, how he needed a change and how interesting it would be. I spent some time thinking about why he annoyed me so much.
  • I was struggling with a content rewrite for a client. It was hard to understand, dense overly-complex and really dull. It was potentially an incredibly interesting topic turned deadly.

On reflection on the similarities between these situations, I realised the problem – in each situation the writer/interviewee talked about themselves and how great they were, instead of talking about the person they were talking to. And I remembered something that I already knew:

Nothing is about you. Everything is about the reader/listener.

I think it was Kathy Sierra who really nailed this a few years ago (and who I would like to thank for her many ideas and insights). She put it so eloquently:

who kick's ass

This is the key to every single piece of communication. No-one cares about you, but they do care about what you can do for them.

Remember it, embed it, do everything you can to make other people shine; and good things will come your way automatically.

A big change: From MT to WP

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

I was given a wonderful, if slightly geeky, christmas gift this year – a year’s hosting with a new provider. Of course, a new host meant work – I had to move my website and weblog to the new host.

I was happy to rebuild my website from scratch as it needed it anyway, and chose to use wordpress as I knew it could do what I wanted to do. But when thinking about moving my blog, the decision was much harder.

I’ve been blogging since 2002, and have used movable type for the whole time, upgrading regularly and remaining up to date with how it works. I’ve also used it for other projects – the biggest one being the IA Summit website. So I had a level of commitment that meant that it was my natural choice.

In rebuilding my blog, I had only two requirements:

  • I didn’t want to break all my inward links
  • I didn’t really want to start my templates from scratch, because my time and brain-power are a bit short at the moment

That’s not too big an ask is it? With those two simple requirements, I decided to stick with movabletype, thinking the second criteria was a done deal and the first should be OK given I had upgraded many times without breaking links.

In a funny co-incidence, the morning of the grand rebuild I had an email from the MT folks saying there was a new version. Cool – I wouldn’t have to upgrade within a few days.

So I downloaded the install files and uploaded them to my host. Time-consuming, but relatively easy.

Then things started to go pear-shaped…

I’ve installed wordpress a few times in the last few years and think the ’5-minute install’ is a pretty grand thing. I knew MT had a few more steps and wasn’t worried about it taking a bit longer. I followed the install wizard, which I thought odd given I’d always just updated the config file. Wizards should be less geeky than their direct-edit counterparts but this one so wasn’t:

  • I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out two different types of file paths. I wish I had a screen shot of the interface or error messages, but believe me that this was one of the worst interfaces I’ve ever come across and the silly process of trial and error pushed me to the edge of my tolerance. And there was no help text.
  • For email notifications I had to choose between SMTP or formmail (with no explanation beyond that) and fill in a bunch of fields. What-the!

But I took a deep breath, calmed down (something very hard for me) and continued. I finally got it installed (after an hour of working through the ‘wizard’).

Given my number one criteria was not to break links, and given I had been using MT since 2002 (with urls like 000123.html) my first job was to change the URL path to numeric (I know these don’t make great URLs, but really didn’t want to redirect). I dug around the interface for ages looking for the piece that let me customise the URL. I couldn’t find it. So I went to the official help and the support site. I couldn’t find it. After another hour of digging around, the camel’s back broke. I’d completely had enough.

From a simple, useful, usable blogging tool in 2002 MT had become a bloated, useless, unusable tool in 2008. I could no longer use it.

I deleted the MT files from my server (another hour) and changed to WordPress. In 15 minutes I had installed, configured and imported my content. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to build a redirect file, which ended up taking much less time than the stuffing around with MT.

I won’t be going back to MT any time soon. Perhaps never. The ridiculous amount of complexity and lack of flexibility just proved too hard. They’ve completely lost me. I’m now a wordpress girl through and through. And happy being so.