DonnaM » Design


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:

Absorbing information from other fields

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

In the past week or so I’ve come across many situations where a comment or question has been posed by someone in ‘our field’, and someone has responded from a related field. Unfortunately the comment from the relation has been something like “I can’t believe your field doesn’t know that – we’ve known it and have been writing about it for years”.

It always comes across in that condescending tone – the tone that says ‘gosh, I can’t believe how stupid you all are’.

Although I understand how this happens – you can be so deeply involved in what you know that you can’t believe other people don’t know it – it is unfair, unrealistic and conceited to to expect everyone to chase your precious knowledge. In many cases people don’t even know your field is interested, in some cases they don’t know how you describe it, in some cases you just haven’t made your information easily available.

But gosh, there is so much to know. I have been doing information architecture and interaction design work for seven years, professionally, non-stop. I have done many projects, studied, taught and mentored. I have read hundreds of books on many topics. I regularly read stack of blogs. And every single day I find something new that would help me do my work and that I wish I knew before (e.g. last week Andrew told me about Peter Drucker, but he didn’t make me feel small about it). It is just not possible to know everything relevant.

So if you see someone naively interested in something you already know there are two ways to tackle it. You can take the self-centred view and get huffy about the fact that these idiotic people don’t know what you know; or you can take a user-centred view and look at how you (or your field) has communicated and made information available, then do something to fix that (yes, that was the leadingest* answer I have ever written).

And guess what – you can also politely help the person who is keen to know about your area of speciality. Given them some decent resources to follow up and some smart people to talk to. Use their enthusiasm to spread the word in their field.

Your word will get out, you can stop feeling superior and the world will be a smarter place.

(* leadingest is not a word, but for some reason it makes me feel like Bruce Sterling)

Design is similar across domains

Monday, February 5th, 2007

I’ve had some time off over the last 3 weeks (though I really don’t know what time off means in my life of client-community-business work) and have finally had a chance to start some weaving again (as a friend once said – “I knew you were a computer geek, but didn’t know you were a fabric geek”).

Anyway, I’ve been working on a new weaving project and having spent so much time thinking about the nature of design in the last year or so was struck by how similar the design process is across domains.

In working through the design process, here’s what I’ve had to think about:

  • Goals: I want a scarf to wear at the IA Summit. Not just any scarf, but one that reflects the summit visual identity.
  • Time constraints: I have to finish it before summit, not much point otherwise.
  • Cost constraints: It goes without saying that I have no budget.
  • Resource constraints: I want to use yarn already in my stash. And I think I’d like to use silk, which imposes its own character on the design.
  • Innovative: It doesn’t need to be the next best thing, but should be unique and definitely not copied from something else.
  • Skills: I need all my foundation weaving skills – understanding of weave structures, colour theory, understanding of how fibre works, how to use my loom. Without those, I have no chance of creating something great.
  • Planning: Weaving is a highly planned activity. I have to figure out everything before I touch the loom – yardages, colour sequences, threading patterns, treadling tie-ups
  • Prototyping: I really should create a prototype before I weave the whole thing – this would give me a chance to check what will happen with the fabric and that it works as expected. As in most development processes, I’m going to skip this due to time constraints (it would take me an extra couple of weeks) and resource constraints (I don’t have enough yarn to waste). Of course, the risk is that I’ll mess up the whole thing and have no output instead.
  • Documentation: The end result of the design process is a written down plan. In theory, I could hand this off to someone else to weave. In practice, I’ll weave it myself, and the documentation is useful if I ever want to repeat the design.

So off I go…back into the studio.

Maybe later this week I’ll tell you how I once designed and prototyped an orchard…

Thinking about thinking

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

Shhh…don’t tell anyone, but this is a bit of a ramble (it’s a good one though)

I just finished reading the latest instalment in Christopher Fahey’s series about user research and combined with a recent discussion with a potential interviewer about my interests, a journal article I recently wrote, a presentation I’m doing next week, came out here as a post about some important stuff I’ve been thinking about for a while.

In the past year or so I’ve been doing a lot more teaching – via mentoring, speaking & writing – which means I’ve been spending loads of time thinking about how to teach people to do what I do.

I’ve always had difficulty with the idea that teaching methods teaches people how to design. It never made sense to me. But our industry’s focus on methods & techniques made me figure I was just being my odd self and that if I taught methods well enough, people would get it.

But I’ve now spent enough time thinking about this to realise my gut feeling was right all along. And I’m going to be bold and tell you that methods and techniques are a poor and very small part of a designer’s tool-set. They just happen to be easy to define, teach and communicate, so they proliferate in our teaching and writing.

The real key is in teaching people how to think. How to observe the right things. How to mush together the outcomes from techniques in their brains, shake them around and have something good emerge. How to make creative leaps and know they are good.

I haven’t seen so much of this idea written down in our field, but there are some gems – Christopher’s user research series, Peter’s discussion of ‘IA thinking‘ in the closing plenary at the IA Summit, Shane’s ‘deep thought‘ article from a few years ago. Yes, there are probably loads more, but they are swamped by the description-of-a-method articles.

So where does this leave me? I’m in the middle of writing a book, planning a bunch more speaking/workshops and just about to start a new contract in which I lead a new user-centred design effort. In doing these things, I’m not going to fall into the method-as-answer trap. I’m going to do my utmost to help people realise that thinking is important, that creativity is valuable and that methods are just a small subset of the arrows in our quiver.