Tag Archives: design

BOOK REVIEW: Designing With Web Standards, 3rd Ed.

dwws3rd

In 2005 I adopted web standards to improve my skills in web design and make that a major component of my work, and the book that really drove it all home was Jeffrey Zeldman‘s Designing With Web Standards. Part pundit, part teacher, Zeldman walked me and many others through web standards and turned the discipline into the gold standard for building websites. This point was made clear in 2006 when I wrote a less-than-exuberant review for a piece of software and the creators responded by pointing out my personal website does not validate with XHTML Strict.

Now it is 2010, HTML5 is emerging and Zeldman has written the third edition of Designing With Web Standards with the help of Ethan Marcotte, who also wrote a bit of Handcrafted CSS. As a reader of a previous version, I found the new third edition to be less useful than the first because much of the old material still exists in the new edition. Many chapters are the same or similar and new game-changing technologies, such as CSS3 and HTML5, are covered but still in the early stages of adoption. XHTML, the central language of web standards, hasn’t changed much at all in the past decade. The next decade will be more important, as XHTML is supplanted by HTML5 and browsers really begin to converge on one standard (even Internet Explorer).

Zeldman’s writing is sharp and clear as always, and the third edition is an essential read for those new to web design or web standards. For experienced web designers who know web standards, the third edition is a great refresher but not too different from the first or second editions.

Designing With Web Standards, 3rd Ed.
Jeffrey Zeldman with Ethan Marcotte
Published by New Riders
US$49.95
Rating: 8/10

Interesting Creative Projects At Talenthouse

I was notified that Talenthouse, a website that brings creative projects to the creative professional community, has some new high-profile projects from Dr. Dre, Naomi Campbell, Nokia and Adidas. The website launched last year and is relaunching this year, and at first it seemed to me just another place for creative professionals to give their work away for free—payment is at the recipient’s discretion. However, there’s some deals and high-profile exposure to be made so it’s worth looking at for the marketing potential. Here’s the press release.

PRESS RELEASE

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA (October 27, 2009) – Talenthouse, the leading platform for creative collaboration, today announced that Beats by Dr. Dre, Naomi Campbell, Nokia and Adidas were among the Creative Invites with the aim to discover new talent, design new products and create original content. They are among major artists and brands who have embraced the Talenthouse vision to enable emerging artists from all disciplines around the world to secure recognition and compensation.
Unique to the platform is the “Creative Invite” – where an artist or brand invites the Talenthouse community to collaborate on a professional piece of work.

Creative Invites provide opportunities for emerging artists throughout the world to shortcut the usual career path by collaborating with established artists or brands and gaining recognition and compensation for their work. Talenthouse, unlike many other sites, protects the artists interests and therefore does not take an ownership position in any of the artwork submitted.

In each sponsored Creative Invite funds will be divided between all the artists who participate. One artist will be selected to work directly with the hosting artist or brand. The Talenthouse community and the participating artists individual peers are involved in determining the best work. However, the final winner is being selected by the inviting artist or brand.

“We believe that all artists of the world should have the opportunity to be recognized and compensated for their work” says Amos Pizzey, founder of Talenthouse. “That’s why we are here and why global brands and industry icons are supporting our vision.”

Today, the global creative community is invited to collaborate with:

  • Dr. Dre, the legendary music producer, has teamed up with Talenthouse to find the next promotional video for his successful Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. This invite is open to all aspiring video/film makers interested in creating an artistic, hip and edgy 30-60 second video clip that reflects the Beats by Dre overall mission that “sound matters.”
  • Naomi Campbell, the internationally renowned supermodel, has created two “Creative Invites” exclusive to the Talenthouse community. The first challenge is to find the next international fashion photographer. The second challenge Naomi Campbell has set is to discover the next international fashion model, female or male. The two winners from both categories will have the opportunity to work with a major fashion magazine.
  • adidas, one of the world’s most iconic sports and lifestyle brands is inviting designers from the Talenthouse community to customize a pair of adidas iD2 goggles to be worn by Olympic athletes participating in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The winner designers will be sent several pairs of the iD2 goggles as the challenge also requires the designers to actually implement their design onto the goggles which will then worn by athletes during the Olympics and featured on the adidas eyewear website.
  • Nokia, the global leader in mobile communications, is looking for an outstanding videographer with an eye for talent and an ear for music to work on a high profile global entertainment project. Nokia and Talenthouse invite all videographers around the globe to submit examples of their past work and the community will decide who gets to participate in this global one-off.

Artists can log onto www.talenthouse.com to participate in the Creative Invites.

The Talenthouse launch today marks the beginning of a new era. By the end of 2010 the platform will have rewarded more than 1 Million artists for their work. “We offer artists exceptional, life changing opportunities. Direct access to global brands, to leading icons. Now its in their hands to reshape their industries forever”, says Roman Scharf, Talenthouse CEO.

About Talenthouse

Talenthouse is the leading platform for creative collaboration, providing artists opportunities for recognition and compensation. Talenthouse embraces artists at every level of their career, as well as all supporters of the arts. Attracted by the potential for discovering, collaborating with and mentoring emerging talent, many global brands and acclaimed industry icons are involved with Talenthouse by hosting Creative Invites. Brands choose Talenthouse to engage in a dialogue with their audience in a targeted, relevant and credible context. Talenthouse currently focuses on film, fashion, music, art and photography.
For more information please visit www.talenthouse.com.

Cederholm’s “Handcrafted CSS” Is An Enjoyable Read

handcraftedcss

I never did get a chance to review Dan Cederholm‘s Bulletproof Web Design, but I know the reputation it has in the web design community. That’s why I was excited to grab a copy of his newest book, Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design. Handcrafted CSS is a very good book: well-designed, full of both hands-on projects and commentary, and also well-written.

New techniques require new books

Handcrafted CSS is really a book about a handful of new CSS techniques that weren’t feasible when Bulletproof Web Design was written. A new batch of modern browsers and some designer ingenuity have given Dan new cutting-edge techniques to write about, including new methods for creating rounded corners, parallax scrolling, improved floats and more. Ethan Marcotte also writes a chapter on his own contribution, a fluid grid-based layout.

Some of these techniques are browser-specific: modern browsers like Firefox and Safari make several of Dan’s techniques possible, but old version of Internet Explorer ignore the code because the browser is just plain lousy. Dan advocates progressive enhancement, adding the improvements for those who can enjoy them and allowing the site to degrade—but still work—for everyone else. Handcrafted CSS even has a chapter on this topic (“Do Websites Need to Look Exactly the Same in Every Browser?”). A few years ago, most of my clients would have answered “yes” to this question; today, my clients seem to understand that Internet Explorer doesn’t allow them the web’s full potential.

Leaves you wanting more

Handcrafted CSS lacks a larger perspective that I hoped would be included. For example, in Chapter 2 Dan explores two vendor-specific extensions: -webkit-border-radius and -moz-border-radius. These extensions allow CSS to apply and control rounded corners in Mozilla and Safari browsers. Chapter 2 is a wonderful read and makes the popular “rounded corner” design easy to execute, but it left me wanting to read more about vendor-specific extensions. Handcrafted CSS is focused on specific projects and techniques to the detriment of the broader theory and techniques, and I think some of “the big picture” could have been included without making the book much larger or expensive. It would have also made the book more accessible to beginners, though a book on advanced CSS techniques is not a bad thing for advanced users. This all is a minor complaint though, because the material is so good.

The cutting edge

I would recommend Handcrafted CSS for any experienced web designer working with CSS today. Like Dan says in the book, the cutting edge continues to move forward and new techniques must be learned to stay current and maintain true craftsmanship. I really like the “craftsmanship” angle that Dan sticks to throughout the book, and the DVD (available separately or together) and companion website (used in all chapters and exercises) make this a very hands-on book as well as a good read without them.

I also think that beginner and intermediate designers will benefit from Handcrafted CSS, though this is not a book from which to learn CSS. It’s written to expand your knowledge of the cutting edge and employ new CSS techniques that weren’t practical just a few years ago. I’m already looking forward to Dan’s next book, which will surely be needed just a few years from now.

Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design
Dan Cederholm with Ethan Marcotte
Published by New Riders
US$39.99
Rating: 9/10

BOOK REVIEW: From Design Into Print

Cover image
Cover image

I’ve seen Sandee Cohen’s writing many times over the years in InDesign Magazine and heard her speak at The InDesign Conference a few years ago, but From Design Into Print is the first book of hers I’ve reviewed. It’s a good book with Sandee’s usual wit and comprehensive knowledge of the industry, and it’s well-written and well-designed.

Great for newcomers

I was struck by how useful From Design Into Print would have been for me in 1999, when I started my career at a local newspaper. The company gave me a copy of Newspaper Ads That Make Sales Jump: A How-to Guide but From Design Into Print would have been much more pertinent to my everyday work preparing images and layouts for printing. There are also projects and quizzes at the end of every chapter, but I found the projects so broad and intensive that they didn’t hold my interest. One project asks the reader to pick up a magazine and study the dot patterns in printed images, but why not just print some pattern close-ups right there and explain their qualities? Fortunately, project topics are usually explored elsewhere in the book.

Comprehensive

One difference between From Design Into Print and a similar production guide from ten years ago is the inclusion of chapters on image sources (digital photography, stock photos and clip art) and some new technologies (PDF, Acrobat and other applications). This book shouldn’t be considered just a book on printing: it encompasses the full production workflow, which I think it vital since designers are called to do much more today than in the past. The only things I think could have been expanded were the sections on PDF/X specifications, which can demystify the whole PDF export process, and color correction, which is vital to print production but is not really discussed in From Design Into Print.

A few mistakes

The information and techniques in From Design Into Print is pretty much free of errors, but there were enough spelling mistakes to make me notice. Ironically, three of them are on page 261 in the paragraphs about errata and fixing spelling mistakes after printing. Sandee tells me one is intentional (read the passage and you’ll know why). I’m not too bothered by harmless typos but there are also a couple product names that are misspelled, and that is more serious. The worst is Apple Aperture, misspelled “Apperture” twice in the same section.

Despite these flubs, From Design Into Print is an excellent book overall—one I would give to any designer new in the field. The tools for print production are available to everyone today but there’s still craft and skill involved in printing the dots and vectors that make up the printed page. From Design Into Print teaches the craft very well.

From Design Into Print: Preparing Graphics and Text for Professional Printing
Sandee Cohen
Published by Peachpit Press
US$34.99
Rating: 8/10

Reviewing An Old Favorite: Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think

Don't Make Me Think
Don't Make Me Think

Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think left a big impact on me when I first read it several years ago. I knew the basics of writing and designing for web usability but Don’t Make Me Think crystallized the subject in a way that appealed to both web designers and users who didn’t know HTML but did know a bad website when they saw one.

The second edition, which was published in 2006, offers a few new chapters on accessibility and user “goodwill” but leaves out some of the chapters on user testing (though they can be found online at www.sensible.com/secondedition). I re-read the book recently and was surprised by the experience: Don’t Make Me Think is still a great book, still a classic, but it is beginning to look dated.

Many of the examples shown are either ancient (see Yahoo!, circa 1999, on page 27) or no longer exist (Productopia.com, which is studied in detail on page 118–121). This is bound to happen to any book, but Don’t Make Me Think is four years old in its current edition and the first edition was published way back in 2000. Web design has changed so much since then and it’s time for Steve to revise Don’t Make Me Think to acknowledge the changing landscape.

Don’t Make Me Think also makes assumptions about average users that I think could be revisited. I think Steve is still mostly correct in describing users’ behaviors as comparable to firemen making snap decisions, but some more specific behaviors and assumptions deserve another look. One is the notion that users don’t expect to reach a homepage by clicking on the logo at the top of a page. Another is the assumption that pull-down menus are bad for usability: I personally agree with this one but they are often effective for quick access when users don’t need to scan a long navigation. I’d be very interested in seeing a third edition of this book that takes another look at users’ “default” behaviors.

Rocket Surgery Made Easy
Rocket Surgery Made Easy

Don’t Make Me Think is still a valuable book for any web designer, and years later I still find myself using Steve’s ideas to describe web usability to clients. I hear Steve plans to have a new book out before year’s end, Rocket Surgery Made Easy. It’s listed as a “do-it-yourself guide to finding and fixing usability problems,” and might incorporate some of the user testing chapters pulled from Don’t Make Me Think. Perhaps it will address some of the new possibilities and pitfalls in web usability that have developed in the last decade.

Adobe Web Apps, Part 2: BrowserLab

Adobe has become more and more aggressive in the field of web applications, producing various services like Photoshop Express and Acrobat.com to complement their shrink-wrapped software. According to Devin Fernandez, Senior Product Manager for Dreamweaver, the company’s “hosted services” strategy takes advantage of the convenience and quick development times inherent in online applications. Shorter production times means that these applications can be developed and improved faster and more often.

Betas for two new online applications were announced recently by Adobe. One is InContext Editing, a streamlined online content editing system that’s handy for Dreamweaver users. The first part of this series comprises an analysis and review of InContext Editing. The other application is BrowserLab, a service that allows website testing for multiple browsers. This practice is essential for any web designer and any tool that makes the process easier deserves a look.

Pain points

Adobe looks for “pain points” when developing products: I’ve heard this phrase more than a few times during various demos and discussions over the years. BrowserLab is Adobe’s response to several of customers’ pain points: speed, convenience, simplicity and productivity. BrowserLab is designed to improve these four points for users. The browser emulator concept is not new—BrowserCam and browsershots.org are two services similar to BrowserLab—but Adobe hopes to improve on the concept.

BrowserLab is currently in limited distribution. Adobe planned to accept only 3,500 users for the initial preview but demand was high enough that this was increased to 8,300. The service is being tweaked and improved in preparation for a full launch, at which point it will become a paid service. For now the development team is focused on improving stability and performance.

The BrowserLab experience

BrowserLab has the same professional black/gray design as most of Adobe’s other web applications. The application is easy to use, though BrowserLab has relatively few functions and doesn’t need much user interface to be effective. There are only three view modes: 1-up, 2-up and onion skin view. Onion skinning overlays one browser image on another, which is a good way to see small differences between browsers. Users can also zoom anywhere from 75% to 200% to get a close view of the results.

Onion skinning overlays one browser result with another—in this example, Designorati.com is being tested with Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 7.
Onion skinning overlays one browser result with another—in this example, Designorati.com is being tested with Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 7.

I like using BrowserLab, but for a product like this the big question is whether or not it can faithfully test all the browsers you need tested. At this time BrowserLab can emulate four modern browsers and one browser that I consider non-modern:

  • Internet Explorer 6 for Windows
  • Internet Explorer 7 for Windows
  • Firefox 2 for Windows and Mac
  • Firefox 3 for Windows and Mac
  • Safari 3 for Mac
BrowserLab already has most of the browsers I test for, and several others are in the works.
BrowserLab already has most of the browsers I test for, and several others are in the works.

Internet Explorer 8, Safari 4, Opera and Chrome and next up for addition to BrowserLab. I think BrowserLab needs to emulate all these browsers in order to be successful: the ability to test all needed browsers in one application is what will make BrowserLab popular. Fortunately, the BrowserLab team tells me they are working on this right now. For now BrowserLab has a limited browser set, and that’s one reason why I still use bonafide web browsers to test my websites. Dreamweaver’s Live View is also a nice tool for website testing, but it’s not always accurate.

Another reason why I test in actual browsers is because BrowserLab is not a browser emulator: it works by screen-capturing websites in various browsers and displaying the resulting images. These images are not interactive, so you can’t test JavaScript or CSS interactivity and you can’t see Flash or other animations. Flash can also give BrowserLab a false image: in one test, BrowserLab showed a Flash animation’s mask did not work in Firefox 3 for Windows. I checked it out in that browser and learned the browser applied the mask a split-second after rendering the rest of the page. BrowserLab captured the screen too soon to reveal this. Scott Fegette, Technical Product Manager for Dreamweaver tells me the BrowserLab team is looking to actual emulation of browsers in a web application, but for now they are going to stay with screen captures.

Top: A website I designed, tested in BrowserLab. Bottom: The same website viewed with the same browser being tested in BrowserLab. The Flash graphic and headlines (styled with sIFR 3) are not visible in BrowserLab but do work online.
Top: A website I designed, tested in BrowserLab. Bottom: The same website viewed with the same browser being tested in BrowserLab. The Flash graphic and headlines (styled with sIFR 3) are not visible in BrowserLab but do work online.

Top: A website I designed, tested in BrowserLab. Bottom: The same website viewed with the same browser being tested in BrowserLab. The Flash graphic and headlines (styled with sIFR 3) are not visible in BrowserLab but do work online.

Still, BrowserLab is a handy tool if my computer’s unavailable, and it’s online so I can use it anywhere. I want to see more available browsers (such as Internet Explorer 8) and it would be nice to be able to mark a particular capture as a model and have BrowserLab show where other browsers fail to duplicate it, but I think BrowserLab is on its way to becoming a good tool for web designers.

One more thing for Dreamweaver users

Dreamweaver users can leverage BrowserLab even further with an extension that allows screen capturing and testing directly from Dreamweaver CS4. The BrowserLab extension requires Extension Manager 2.1 and comes in two parts, but completing the installation process will add a BrowserLab panel to Dreamweaver CS4. From there users can send a local or server copy of the active page to BrowserLab for viewing. The combination of Dreamweaver’s Live View and BrowserLab allows users to preview dynamic interfaces, including JavaScript and Ajax, and also preview websites from behind a firewall. Other service-based solutions can’t do this.

Adobe Web Apps, Part 1: InContext Editing

Adobe has become more and more aggressive in the field of web applications, producing various services like Photoshop Express and Acrobat.com to complement their shrink-wrapped software. According to Devin Fernandez, Senior Product Manager for Dreamweaver, the company’s “hosted services” strategy takes advantage of the convenience and quick development times inherent in online applications. Shorter production times means that these applications can be developed and improved faster and more often.

Betas for two new online applications were announced recently. One is BrowserLab, a service that allows website testing for multiple browsers. This practice is essential for any web designer and in the second part of this series I analyze and review BrowserLab. The other is InContext Editing, which I first saw last year at Adobe headquarters in San Jose and has since been upgraded to version 1.5 in late April.

InContext Editing

InContext Editing is a streamlined online content editing system deployable by Dreamweaver CS4 or the InContext Editing website, incontextediting.adobe.com. While many content management systems are proprietary and others like Drupal are open source and web-based, InContext Editing is a standalone web application so it doesn’t require extra code or installed software to work—all it requires is a modern browser. The user interface has the same gray design style found in BrowserLab and other Adobe web applications, and it looks good and works well.

Editing with InContext Editing is simple and effective.
Editing with InContext Editing is simple and effective.

InContext Editing has more functionality than BrowserLab but that also creates some weak user interface elements: for example, in order to reconfigure a website’s settings you have to click its Manage Users button, which then takes you a screen where the Configure Site button resides. It makes more sense to have both buttons available from the main window. Another example is the Remove Site button, which I had to use when one of my client’s websites launched and the testing site was no longer valid. It’s possible to remove a site from InContext Editing, but it’s not clear that all users must be deleted and all invitations rescinded before the Remove Site button reveals itself.

Managing users with InContext Editing is easy, but it can be hard sometimes to find what you need to administer users or site settings.
Managing users with InContext Editing is easy, but it can be hard sometimes to find what you need to administer users or site settings.

The other difficulty I had with InContext Editing is some difficulty handling content modified with JavaScript or Ajax. I learned this after using InContext Editing with a website modified with sIFR 3, which replaces text with Flash text so designers can use fonts beyond standard web fonts. InContext Editing was set up to edit a content block with only headings and paragraphs, but it said it could not function because prohibited tags were in the content block. I learned after some troubleshooting that sIFR, which was modifying the headings, caused the fatal error even though the HTML code was not modified. InContext Editing works well for simple webpages running standard HTML code, but scripts and dynamic content can make it incompatible. Adobe hopes to improve InContext Editing’s handling of these components in the future.

Despite these usability issues, and what seems to be a lot of time loading pages and building editing screens, InContext Editing is a handy tool for web designers whose clients have small pages and want to revise some content. I like that it’s simple, quick, and doesn’t require any software installation. It’s supposed to be so easy that anyone can use it, but there’s a learning curve and I had to consult with the help files a few times.

InContext Editing + Contribute?

One thing that excited me about InContext Editing was the possibility of using it in tandem with Contribute. One of my clients in particular already uses Contribute in-house for content management and the combination of Contribute and InContext Editing would have allowed them to edit content inside and outside the office. However, it seems that Contribute CS4 will not allow editing if InContext Editing code is detected on a page. Adobe’s position is that InContext Editing is designed to make simple updates to basic webpages, while Contribute is designed for more sophisticated webpages and workgroups.

Two benefits for Dreamweaver users

Adobe has made both BrowserLab and InContext Editing especially tempting for Dreamweaver CS4 users. InContext Editing is easily deployed by Dreamweaver CS4, with editable and repeating regions available with a click in the InContext Editing panel. You can also manage the CSS classes available to clients with this panel. The code for InContext Editing regions is quite clean, with a single div tag around the editable content:

< div ice:editable="*" > Content here < /div > (spaces added for clarity)

Editable regions can be inserted with Dreamweaver CS4, very much like template editable regions.
Editable regions can be inserted with Dreamweaver CS4, very much like template editable regions.

The asterisk property for the “editable” attribute allows all available HTML formatting in InContext Editing, including strong/em, indenting, creating lists, inserting images and more. The web designer, working with Dreamweaver CS4, can restrict these however he or she chooses. Regions can also be created directly with InContext Editing from the web browser. The other treat for Dreamweaver CS4 users is the ability to set up a keyboard shortcut for invoking InContext Editing within a web browser—however, it involves editing a JavaScript file and looks like anyone with an HTML editor (or a text editor) can hack it. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Open the ice.conf.js file. If you use Dreamweaver to set up a website for InContext Editing, this will be found in includes/ice/ by default.
  2. Rewrite the PC keyboard shortcut (found in line 43) and the Mac keyboard shortcut (found in line 60).

The future of InContext Editing

I’m curious to see how InContext Editing fares in the future, given the many choices available to web designers for editing and managing content. Adobe is currently meeting with InContext Editing customers for feedback for a version 2 to be released in the future, but we’ll see how that turns out. It’s hard to say how much InContext Editing will change from version 1 to version 2, but I think InContext Editing’s simplicity and its browser-based ease of use gives it a lot of potential. More robust editing and management tools will help InContext Editing secure a place in the web designer’s toolkit.

BOOK REVIEW: ActionScript 3.0 Classroom In A Book

as3-classroom

Remember “Training From The Source”? This was the name of Macromedia‘s official line of training books for Dreamweaver, Flash and other design applications. When ActionScript 2.0 was released I bought the book Flash MX 2004 ActionScript Training From The Source to learn that new version of the Flash programming language. I carried that large book through many airports and conferences, chipping away at its pages over the course of a few years.

By the time I was finished with that book, ActionScript had moved forward again to version 3.0, Macromedia was no more (having been acquired by Adobe) and “Training From The Source” was folded into Adobe’s own “Classroom In A Book” series. I thought it fitting to review the series recently with a look at ActionScript 3.0 for Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom In A Book.

Small, compact, solid

Compared to the Training From The Source book, which was a large book in both page count and size, Classroom In A Book is smaller in both respects. I actually appreciate the smaller size because it increases portability. The book design is sharp, with a matte finish cover that is easier to handle and a clear layout design that aids learning. I was surprised the author, Chris Florio, had a laid-back, informal writing style—one would expect a workbook like this to have a no-nonsense tone—but I could appreciate a bit of levity after working on the exercises for hours at a time.

A different approach to ActionScript training

Classroom In A Book has roughly half the pages of its Training From The Source predecessor, so either ActionScript 3.0 is less complex than version 2.0 or the book doesn’t cover everything. It’s actually a combination of three things:

  • ActionScript 3.0 really is less complex than ActionScript 2.0, though it’s more verbose; the distinction is comparable to HTML and the more strict XHTML. Syntax is streamlined and coding skills apply to everything in a more uniform way.
  • Classroom In A Book doesn’t cover everything. Some topics such as CSS aren’t covered at all, while others (like classes) aren’t covered in their entirety. That might be a good thing, since ActionScript has always been a large language with many classes and elements. It seems this book is designed to teach essential ActionScript skills and leave minutiae to other resources.
  • Classroom In A Book is project-oriented, while Training From The Source was skill-oriented. Both books have projects to work on (and ship with a CD-ROM full of good project materials) but Training From The Source focused on skills such as handling text fields, XML, conditional logic, debugging and so on. Classroom In A Book thinks more in terms of building preloaders, loading content, creating quizzes and working with XML and video. Both approaches are good and Classroom In A Book teaches a great deal if one completes the exercises, but it’s not necessarily a compendium of ActionScript knowledge like Training From The Source was. It complements other sources such as the ActionScript 3.0 reference files, accessible directly from Flash.

Conclusion

ActionScript 3.0 for Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom In A Book is worth buying, and particularly helpful for new Flash users who don’t know ActionScript or experienced Flash users who have not yet upgraded their skills to include ActionScript 3.0. The language really has made a sea change from ActionScript 2.0 and learning it requires training. Classroom In A Book is a good place to start.

ActionScript 3.0 for Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom In A Book
Published by Adobe Press
US$54.99
Rating: 9/10

BOOK REVIEW: Search Engine Optimization for Flash

seo-flash

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Flash was the red-hot new technology for the Web. Designers were building user-unfriendly splash screens and sometimes building complete websites all in Flash. Eventually a counter-movement developed that steered designers back toward semantic HTML markup, web standards and other lean, user-friendly web design methods.

One of the claims made against 100% Flash websites was that they are not indexed by search engines, since they cannot read text set in Flash. This never made sense to me because my own website at jeremyschultz.com is 100% Flash and it is indexed very well—some of the work in my client portfolio actually scores higher than my clients’ websites or names. One can only conclude that Flash can co-exist with a well-optimized website, and Todd Perkins‘ book Search Engine Optimization for Flash explains why.

Working with Flash

SEO for Flash had a lot of great information I didn’t know about—for example, Adobe has given Google and Yahoo! a special version of Flash Player that allows those search engines to index Flash text and links with no problem. Flash applications and movies can be optimized for search engines just like a regular HTML page—it’s just done differently, and it gets more complicated with JavaScript, AJAX and dynamic content are thrown into the equation. SEO for Flash details all the techniques needed to maximize search engine optimization for a variety of Flash projects. It goes even farther by including a chapter on optimizing Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) built with Flex, an application development program that uses the same ActionScript as Flash. This was an unexpected inclusion.

What brings the book together is the final chapter on optimizing a Flash website. Over 40 pages were devoted to this chapter and it tackles real-world examples, so it may be the most useful segment of the whole book. Some books make the mistake of teaching guidelines and techniques without applying them—which then requires the reader to practice and figure out how it’s done. SEO for Flash gives the reader more insight into this critical step of the process, such as focusing optimization efforts on searchable text, deep links and shared data sources.

Where’s the files?

I really love this book—it debunks several myths, does a great job teaching its readers and focuses on a neglected segment of web design. However, there is one glaring flaw: there are several exercises throughout the book that refer to Flash, HTML and XML files. Unfortunately, these files are quite hard to find. The book does not come with a disk and the online version (available at safari.oreilly.com) does not link to them. The files are actually found on the book’s page in O’Reilly’s online catalog under the term “Examples.” The download is a large ZIP file, which makes me wonder why the publisher doesn’t break the exercises down into smaller packets for easy access and hyperlinking.

Despite this, Search Engine Optimization for Flash is a great resource for Flash designers building projects for the Web. Todd does a fine job explaining all the important techniques for optimizing Flash content for search engines, and given Flash’s evolution from a cool animation tool to a content delivery application I think it’s important for all Flash designers to understand how to maximize search engine optimization for their projects.

Search Engine Optimization for Flash
Todd Perkins
Published by O’Reilly
US$29.99
Rating: 9/10

BOOK REVIEW: “Do Good Design” Not A Typical Design Book

dogooddesign

At a publishing company I used to work for, I was asked to produce an invitation for an award ceremony honoring community activists. I’ve always been bothered to the point of activism by the sheer volume of waste paper and media our society produces daily, so I had the idea to design an invitation that was stamped upon waste cardboard rather than printed on pristine paper. Unfortunately, someone at the company didn’t like that idea and the project was given to another, less maverick designer.

Maybe I was onto something after all.

Do Good Design: How Designers Can Change The World is a unique book. It’s the only graphic design book I can think of that considers the ethical ramifications of design and treats it as a tool for good or evil—and argues that our world is suffering from serious maladies brought about by the subversion of design for evil purposes. Almost no designers think about such things—they’re too busy learning the new features of Photoshop CS4 or updating their LinkedIn profiles to get more clients and more money. Perhaps that’s why I think this book is an essential read for everyone in the industry.

The big problems: overconsumption and the end of the world

Author David B. Berman, who has become known as an advocate of “good design” in his native Ontario, believes graphic design does far more than anyone realizes to shape our perceptions of the world and control our behaviors, and in the past century designers have unwittingly contributed to a world of overconsumption and environmental destruction that will eventually lead to an unsustainable way of life. Exhibit Number One in Berman’s argument of the power of design is the Palm Beach County ballot used in the 2000 U.S. election: this ballot was so poorly designed that many people mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore—swinging that county’s vote to George W. Bush and setting the United States up for eight years of war, death and outrage.

Buy the book if only for the international perspective

Berman traveled to a wide variety of countries around the world while writing Do Good Design, and I encourage American designers to buy this book if only to learn more about what American graphic design, branding and lifestyle are doing to the world. Did you know…?:

  • Thousands of Third World schools, orphanages and public signage sport the Coca-Cola logo. It costs Coca-Cola only $200 to brand an entire village.
  • Americans know Hugo Boss as the high-end clothing company. Most Americans don’t know that Hugo Boss himself designed the Nazi SS and Hitler Youth uniforms during World War II.
  • Taipei 101, one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, is so large and heavy—700,000 tons—that it’s believed to have increased the instance of earthquakes across Taipei.

Berman’s thesis is that the drive for overbranding and overconsumption is due to graphic design, in particular American design and product development. Do Good Design looks at the thesis in a fascinating way, with around-the-globe observations and plenty of preaching. If you want to remain in your bubble of preconceptions about design and the world, don’t read this book.

A call for activism

For Berman, it’s not enough for readers to simply read Do Good Design and go back to the usual work for the usual clients. The last section of the book is a toolkit of sustainable design practices, manifestos from various organizations and a general push to become a “good design” activist. This is going to make some readers uncomfortable, but that’s what makes this book unique. There are a variety of small actions mentioned that will move things in the right direction. Others actions—such as pressing for sustainable design in the workplace—are more complicated. Berman thinks bosses and company owners will work with designers, but I think they’re just as likely to fire you if you start advocating changes they don’t want.

Do Good Design is a hard book to rate because it’s not necessarily perfect: it can be preachy and readers who don’t like being pressed to change may not like the last 30 pages. However, Berman’s message is too important to ignore and I encourage every designer to read this book and maybe change the world. My rating reflects the importance of Berman’s message.

Do Good Design: How Designers Can Change The World
David B. Berman
Published by New Riders and AIGA
Rating: 10/10
US$24.99