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Archive for April, 2011

Stop Launching Blogs – It’s About Quality Not QuantityStop Launching Blogs – It’s About Quality Not Quantity

Nowadays, for each web designer or developer is awful not to have a good connection to the Internet; much more I believe that there are few days in their life when they do not read a post or see an inspirational article from various blogs.

Blogs represent an inestimable resource for everyone who needs help and it is almost impossible not to find out the information you need by referring to such sources. Another huge advantage of blogs is the access of every person to the complete and accurate information that sometimes, in addition to the hard work and strong will, can replace university studies. I know many developers and designers who have finished amazing projects and have many customers, people who don’t have any studies in the field, but their passion and the never ending hours spent in front of the computer made them truly professionals.

From the perspective of a freelance web designer, I can’t say that there are topics in this niche which aren’t covered on these blogs, so you better throw away your courses and start reading blogs.

It does seem like the perfect solution, the boring courses could be easily replaced by blog posts, the process of learning becoming more entertaining. Is it true? I believe that only partially; think of this: there are so many blogs related to web design and development, but who are the authors of the posts? If the posts are so many and of high quality, then only the best designers and developers are writing, but when have they time to write? Plus, if they are really pros, don’t they have many projects to finish?

Due to the great number of blogs and posts contained by each blog, sometimes the quality is neglected in favor of the quantity; the spiders of the search engines “are feeding” with fresh content and, in this way, to be higher on search engines it is a must. Blogging has become a serious job and it implies a great responsibility because there could be people who appreciate the posts as being relevant, with correct information, applying the methods learnt in reality. Perhaps I am too subjective, but in the near future, a blogger will be considered a “half teacher”, his posts being very similar to a lesson. I have the faith, and the majority of the bloggers community does the same, that a stronger responsibility is required when any post is published. The great number of blogs sends a very positive message, the designers and developers are trying to become better and better, but there is the risk of neglecting the value of the posts, as usually quality work needs time and many resources.

This article has as main purpose to analyze the number of blogs and their quality in depth. Please feel free to share your ideas with us; the more opinions, the more reliable will be the conclusions.

First of all, surely there are needed more and more blogs and posts! A smaller number of blogs means that the competition is decreasing and it is the subtle death of quality; every blog grabs specific target readers and, step by step, the quality and maybe the number of the posts are decreasing as well. This is a nightmare and nobody wants it to turn into reality. It is a sad fact finding that, in the last period, many blogs have appeared, which can easily be tagged as amateurish; plus, it is very annoying to search for the needed piece of information, “Google” it , find a proper title but the content of the post to be of a low quality.

Bloggers should pay special attention to certain things, as they are responsible for their post; once again, I want to emphasize that what they are writing could influence other people. In my opinion, I believe that overall, the quality of the posts is high, but there are few posts which are not that interesting or present a certain point of view incorrectly. Another interesting fact is the competition between bloggers and, usually, the more authors exist, the stronger becomes the competition.

A detailed analysis of the positive and negative sides of the increasing number of blogs guarantees us a better understanding of the phenomenon.

The Positive Side

instantShift - Stop Launching Blogs – Its About Quality Not Quantity

A lot of information at hand, fully covering every needs and requirements

A great number of blogs available increases the chance of finding all the details required for a project. The posts, due to their great number, will cover everything, so it is very hard not to find what you need. I noticed that, in the last period, the inspirational showcases are enjoyed by the readers and this is a step further, you have the necessary resources, but also the sources of inspiration.

Multiple points of view on various problems

Many bloggers means many opinions, some of them looking similar while others being exactly the opposite. This duality is vital and quite beneficial for the existence of the blog, but it has the vantage of developing new ideas and trends. The Nazi regime, as all dictatorships, considered that one person is always right and it was a mistake which costs millions of lives, so don’t apply it when it comes to blogs or other things related to it.

The concept of web design, but generally speaking the one of design, is a subjective matter and to catalogue an opinion as being totally wrong, you being the only one who is right, is a complete error. Freelancing is also a very subjective domain; some tips could work very well for some and be the worst strategy for others.

Multiple perspectives are important and, to put the novices in the posture of taking their own decisions, self judgment is required. The raw information is good, but all becomes static and somehow the brains of the readers aren’t required to make an effort. My personal opinion: “controversy is the fuel of creativity” (let me know if you agree with me or not!)

Assure a better variety of subjects

instantShift - Stop Launching Blogs – Its About Quality Not Quantity

There are blogs that won’t allow all people to share their own opinions on different subjects. This can have various interpretations: for example, the positive side, in which the competition is stimulated, but nobody knows, maybe some valuable posts aren’t even published. In this context, it seems that a higher number of blogs is advantageous for both readers and writers; for the ones who can ignore some amateurish posts, all this is a positive thing. Many blogs include a wide range of subjects so everything is covered.

More possibilities for bloggers

Honestly, the key of this dilemma is tolerance; we are all human beings so any mistakes can be forgiven. Great bloggers should remember that they weren’t born specialists, that in the beginning everything was very hard to realize and maybe irritating, that they were amateurs at that moment!!! Probably, for someone who is experienced, the post of an amateur is boring, without relevance and not so well written, but this doesn’t mean he shouldn’t post! Anyway, please be tolerant, each of us can make mistakes, don’t forget it!

More extra money for more people

instantShift - Stop Launching Blogs – Its About Quality Not Quantity

It’s not a shame or even a bad situation, but the great majority of the blogs brings some extra money to the owners, which of course could be shared with the authors. Fewer blogs means that the revenues from advertising are taken by fewer people who can share them or not with the authors (fewer blogs involve less people who can adopt a common strategy, not satisfactory for the authors, but very advantageous for them).The actual situation is very good: there are enough quality blogs, but sure fact, there are some others which aren’t so impressive and these will be selected by a natural selection.

Blogging has become the joy of the entire community

Having large communities of bloggers who share their ideas about design and development is a huge step further; it allows all potential lovers of these fields to express what they want and this is fabulous. In this way, the Internet evolves to a democratic structure; the opinions and trends are based on the agreement of the majority.

Now Let’s See The Negative Side

instantShift - Stop Launching Blogs – Its About Quality Not Quantity

The information can sometimes be not very relevant or even correct

A small number of blogs doesn’t mean that the information from here is totally clear and correct. The design and development are very complex concepts and these are related to other fields, that are also very complicated and, because of that, a blog, to be a very reliable and complete resource, should have posts that cover all of these aspects. There are certain blogs that can’t have very well presented and explained all these, so I really believe that, in an online world with fewer blogs, surely there would be some aspects which aren’t very clear and worst, even not presented.

A higher number of blogs isn’t equivalent to a higher quality and quantity of information

On the other hand, we are living this situation: a great number of blogs doesn’t assure the perfect or the most accurate information, but we have the possibilities to select the websites we like or the ones which have good resources. It is an influence from the laws of economy which said that a great offer is beneficial for the public, all the providers should come with amazing products to attract the customers, which in our case are the readers. People with a lot of free time surely enjoy the abundance of the blogs because they have at hand many resources (some very interesting and some less), but who can afford to have so much free time?

A small but interesting extension: personally, every day I am amazed at the relevance of the search engines and the ingenuity of the guys behind these powerful tools, but sometimes these could go wrong. Probably, the best remedy of this situation is social media; a blog which is spreading with the help of social media is 100% a very good one. In this case, people who have no time to waste, could use the services of the social networks; usually to occupy a better position on these networks means that it was the action of a lot of people which are interested in proposing interesting websites or blogs. In a more pragmatic and not professionally expression, social media is word of mouth in an online medium, so pay attention to it. In a nutshell, use social media to find the best blogs, posts or resources; these are submitted, voted or proposed by the people who have the same interests as you; it is much recommended to reward this service, when you find something interesting or high quality don’t forget to share it with your friends.

In spite of these aspects, some people could find that there are three positive aspects in a world with fewer blogs.

instantShift - Stop Launching Blogs – Its About Quality Not Quantity

  • 1. Fewer blogs means more competitive bloggersTo be quite honest, even if I am a blogger and I might not be advantaged, it is obvious that a small number of blogs will increase the competition amongst the bloggers and the principal effect is the improvement of the quality of the posts. The most important blogs usually are paying the authors of the posts and sometimes, maybe in the days when the projects are missing, writing a quality post is a good source of extra income. The financial aspect is another important factor that should be taken into consideration when we talk about bloggers and the competition between them; a small number of blogs (but the same audience!!!) means that the total revenues are divided between fewer blogs and that could lead to a better system of payment for the authors, another point which contributes to the quality of the posts.
  • 2. Paradoxically, easier to find the proper informationOn the other hand, a small number of blogs isn’t equivalent to less information; the blogs which are still “on air” can became mini-Wikipedias, fully equipped with good resources. In this case, a simple search on some blogs could reveal accurate and relevant resources for everyone.
  • 3. The certitude of high quality postsI emphasized above the accountability of the bloggers about their posts, which can’t present mistakes or wrong advice, because there could be people who really consider these posts as being correct and written to be followed by the less experienced in this niche. A strong competition will reduce dramatically any mistake in every post; both the blogs and the bloggers should be more competitive to resist in a very difficult medium.

Which is the best solution? Should we be very skeptic about the possibilities of a new blog or should we warmly regard any new apparition? I believe it is almost no good answer, any opinion should be very carefully taken into consideration and added to the final balance.

My personal opinion is based on a strong tolerance and on an active dialogue. I strongly recommend for everyone who is really prepared to bring to the market a new blog, to be really prepared for it, or else don’t do it! This is reason behind my opinion: if somebody is a master of design or any other domain, it is very good for the entire community for that person to share his/her opinions, all the amateurs learn from a pro and this is the perfect situation. Every beginning is quite difficult so I believe it is not a serious problem for a new blog to have few posts which aren’t high quality, but it shouldn’t be a routine, it should be an exception. With the passing of time, reducing any mistake in all the posts is a sign of professionalism but it implies a lot of tolerance. A strong interaction between the authors and the readers has as a result a constantly improvement of the posts; even if the Internet has made the entire world very small, we are very different and it is quite normal to have very diverse opinions. I don’t know if a common opinion is a good thing, but it’s not a bad result to have multiple voices over a specific problem, the sublime effort is to listen carefully to all the people and their thoughts and only after a period of thinking to embrace an idea. We shouldn’t ignore any new appearance, much more, it is for the sake of the web to encourage any new ideas, but we shouldn’t tolerate the amateurish websites, these ones are introduced to the Internet only to make some extra money from farm links or from Google system of publicity.

A good idea for a designer, developer or any freelancer who want to starts a new blog is to gain before its launching great experience as a blogger; I could bet with anyone that this is the best solution. Being an active blogger is a good way to stay connected with a lot of other great bloggers and owners of cool blogs. The more experience you cumulate, the easier it becomes for you to bring much traffic to your blog; following this idea surely is a solution to have many good blogs with very interesting ideas. This is my opinion and it can be wrong, feel free to share your ideas with me because I am very interested in what you believe!

Six tips for dealing with underachievers

Here are six of my favorite tips for helping motivate chronic underachievers. These work in almost any situation or job role:

1. Recognize that you, as supervisor, are in the best position to deal with your less-than-perfect performers. It’s tempting to call in HR or even an outsider to “fix” the issue when people are involved, but you know Paul, and the job requirements, best.

2. Deal with it head on. This is the time to flex your manager muscles. I’m not saying that you should lose your composure, but you need to tell Paul that he is not performing satisfactorily.  Find out if anything’s wrong, if there are problems you need to know about it.  That includes stuff outside of work.

3. Verify his perspective – Does he clearly know what his performance metrics are?   Use open-ended questions starting (with Who?, What?, Where?, When?, and How?) and drill down to ascertain he understands his role and what’s expected quantitatively.  How does he regard his performance?  You may find out he thinks he’s doing as much or more than others already.

4. Right tools in the tool chest? Poorly performing Paul may have problems with his tools of the trade.  This is a common issue for those working with computers.

5. Team players may not be playing well together. Every department head has seen how certain people simply rub each other the wrong way. Track performance history to see if new co-workers’ arrivals impacted the performance or productivity as far back as possible.

6. Leadership issue? This is often the issue. It’s possible that you’re the problem.  How often do you discuss goals, objectives, and results openly in a team environment?  The best leaders do and their team members recognize it. So, share successes and failures openly.  Salute the good performers and encourage everyone to up their game. Help weak players to understand that they need to improve because they’re holding the team back.

Investigation into a Freelancer’s Workday Schedule

It’s for these major reasons that your average freelancer finds it difficult to balance their workday. Spending some time listing out your tasks and providing a brief schedule will dramatically influence the flow of your work sessions.

Below I’ve gone into an investigation towards some of the key points in a freelance worker’s average day. These ideas should help newbies in the field to adapt and provide a blueprint for their own time schedule. Granted there are a lot of freelance designers and developers today, so the process of working has been split.

Incremental Focus

When sitting down to begin working mindset will be the true patron over all. If you’re going in to work with a poor mindset you’ll often have a difficult time focusing. This may not be the case with some projects, however if you find yourself working countless hours at a time it’s healthy to slow down and provide break points for yourself.

Ideally writing or digitally creating a fixed time schedule will help you blend into the mold without too much resistance. Whenever you’re changing the natural flow things will seem awkward at first. By having an alarm or Master Tasks List you have something physical to place attention towards. This will stop you from tiring away for so many hours and draining creative thought.

Staring at a computer screen for more than a few hours at a time will often result in depression and deflated moods. It’s good to stretch and move around the room every 30-60 minutes to keep blood flowing. In this way project work will seem effortless and much less stressful if you plan enough increments of working time.

Experiments with Working Hours

Many freelancers from around the globe have recognized the freedom provided with remote project work. Whether working as a digital artist, writer, web designer, or programmer the same concepts are applied. Wherever you have a computer and Internet access is potentially your own mobile office space.

Try setting yourself up for differing schedules and figure out which times of day you enjoy working. Each of us will hold a different opinion and have limitations based on external variables, such as family and social activities. I often find younger freelancers with an active night life tend to work during the later afternoon and evening hours while sleeping in late.

However if you find yourself naturally waking up early there’s nothing better than starting off your day with the sunrise. Many creative energies are flowing at this time and as artists we’re very receptive to this atmosphere.

As a recommendation I’d suggest planning a week ahead for a few days of testing. Purposefully shift your schedule and experiment with the many different working times. Finding the right fit for yourself will not only affect your mood but also certainly improve the quality of your project work.

Approve Time Blocks for Clients

When you’ve got some time set aside for phone calls and IM chats it makes getting work done ten times easier. With so many interruptions all day long it’s no surprise we find ourselves stressed and multitasking constantly.

If you feel comfortable set your IM status idle or busy during work hours. This will inform your clients that you are indeed online but unable to hold a conversation at that moment. This may save you the aggravation from a few phone calls as well. However when building a professional network of clients it’s best to let them know up front about your contact hours.

You should also plan this into your day at times where you feel a natural break. I know many freelancers who choose to break for the day around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. This provides them plenty of cool-down time to relax and take care of slightly extraneous activities. These could include e-mail messages or even taking phone calls from potential or past clients.

Record Important Tasks

If you have a difficult time with procrastination this is likely caused from overwhelming projects. If you find yourself struggling with creativity in design and writing, a simple shift in your awareness and schedule times can often be a quick fix.

Spend a few minutes writing down each task you must accomplish. This means going into detail where instead of just “create a Photoshop mockup” explain which bits and pieces you’ll need. Bookmark inspirational galleries and icons for later use. Using an online service such as Delicious or Instapaper will save you loads of time and keep things organized.

If you number each task based on importance this gives your mind some categorization to build off. In this way it’s much easier knowing which project to tackle first and how to handle the rest of your day come late afternoon. Whether written physically on paper or stored digitally online it’s a simple process to add new tasks and update current ones.

Conclusion

These simple tips have come out of the time I’ve spent investigating the unique schedules of freelance workers. Graphic designers and Webmasters alike find themselves facing very similar challenges. As you begin to freelance professionally the burden of financial and legal business sense seems to fall on your head.

If you apply even one of these concepts into your workday I’m sure you’ll begin to notice the benefits within a few days. Change never comes easily and it requires a bit of trudging along to see any results. But working independently provides some of the best opportunities for growth and keeps you out of the 9-5 office lifestyle.

CSS3 Linear Gradient Syntax Breakdown

This is not going to be an extensive post, but just something to serve as a quick reference, along with some interesting points from the spec.

In another post, I’ll break down CSS3 radial gradients, but for now I’ll just focus on linear, to keep things simple.

The Bare Minimum for All Supporting Browsers

To get a linear gradient to work in all supporting browsers, this is how you do it:

#element {
	background: -moz-linear-gradient(black, white); /* FF 3.6+ */
	background: -ms-linear-gradient(black, white); /* IE10 */
	background: -webkit-gradient(linear, left top, left bottom, color-stop(0%, #000000), color-stop(100%, #ffffff)); /* Safari 4+, Chrome 2+ */
	background: -webkit-linear-gradient(black, white); /* Safari 5.1+, Chrome 10+ */
	background: -o-linear-gradient(black, white); /* Opera 11.10 */
	filter: progid:DXImageTransform.Microsoft.gradient(startColorstr='#000000', endColorstr='#ffffff'); /* IE6 & IE7 */
	-ms-filter: "progid:DXImageTransform.Microsoft.gradient(startColorstr='#000000', endColorstr='#ffffff')"; /* IE8+ */
	background: linear-gradient(black, white); /* the standard */
}

Which will produce the following gradient:

I’ve included the IE filter syntax, for those who find this page through a search, and need it, but this post isn’t really about that, so I won’t discuss it.

Couple of things to note about the ‘bare minimum’ code above: First, all I’ve declared are two colors — the start and end of the gradient. That’s all you need for a simple linear gradient. Second, to conform to best practices, I’ve listed the standard syntax last. This future-proofs the code, to ensure that the viewing browser will always be displaying the page based on the standard implementation.

Finally, I’ve also included the old syntax for WebKit-based browsers, as well as the updated version. I won’t be talking about the old syntax here, but do realize that it should be included for full compatibility.

The Full Syntax Simplified

Here’s the same example, but with the full syntax (and without all the proprietary stuff), so we can break it down:

#element {
background: linear-gradient(top, black 0%, white 100%);
}

The above code (with all the necessary proprietary prefixes) will produce the exact same result as the simple ‘black, white’ example from above. Let’s see what each part does.

The Gradient Angle or Starting Point

Where you see the word “top”, you have one of two options: You can declare the angle that the gradient will take, or you can tell it where to start. In this example, we tell it to start at the top, which would be equivalent to an angle of “-90deg”. So this would produce the same result:

#element {
background: linear-gradient(-90deg, black 0%, white 100%);
}

You would also get the same result displayed if you used an angle of “270deg”, which is equivalent to “-90deg”.

So you can use one of the positional keywords (top, right, left, bottom) or else just give it a specific angle numerically, and it will figure out where to start.

The Color Stops and Positions

With a simple linear gradient, you just need two color stops, without specifying positions (as shown in my first code example). But in my extended example, you’ll notice I’ve included the position of each color, in percentage values.

This tells the browser where the full version of the color will begin (not where the gradient gradually starts to fade). The browser will naturally figure out the actual gradient; you just have to tell it where the “gradual change” should completely “stop”. In the example above, the “gradual change” stops right at the bottom of the element, so you don’t really see much (if any) full white in that element.

If we changed the value to 50% for the white “stop”, the result would look like this:

So the “white” now “stops” at 50%, and the rest is solid white.

Adding Color Stops

To add color stops is nothing overly complicated; just add as many comma-separated values as you want. Here’s the CSS for a rainbow:

#element {
background: linear-gradient(top, red 0%, orange 15%, yellow 30%, green 45%, blue 60%, indigo 75%, violet 100%);
}

And here’s the result:

Browser Support

All things considered, browser support for linear gradients is pretty good. But more than likely, depending on your target audience, unless you’re using a simple two-color gradient, then potentially around 20-60% of users won’t see the gradient (naturally, because of IE6-8).

Chrome has supported linear gradients since (I believe) version 2. Starting with version 10, Chrome now supports the simplified syntax. The other browser versions that support linear gradients are: Firefox 3.6+, Opera 11.10+, and now Internet Explorer 10 Platform Preview supports linear gradients using the -ms- prefix.

Mobile support for linear gradients includes: iOS 3.2+, Opera Mini 5+, Opera Mobile 10+, and Android Browser 2.1+.

As far as I know, no browser supports linear gradients using only the standard syntax.

Some Closing Points

Here are some points of note for linear gradients:

  • CSS3 gradients are not properties; they are images rendered as such by the browser
  • You can use a gradient anywhere you would use url(image.jpg) in your CSS
  • The syntax that creates the gradient is actually a function that takes the various values as arguments; see how the spec explains it
  • You can also specify a repeating linear gradient, which could come in handy in certain cases
  • The percentage values for the color stop positions can also be expressed in pixels
  • For the color stops, negative percentage values (e.g. -20%) and percentages higher than 100% are perfectly valid

Anything else about linear gradients that I’ve missed here? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it.

SEO specialists, meet Panda, Google’s newest search bear

Any IT professional who’s spent time supporting websites has, at one time or another, been asked to help improve a site’s visibility. Some of the best-conceived websites around simply aren’t discoverable without some attention to SEO.

The situation periodically degenerates into a cat and mouse game, with tricksters (”black hat” search optimizers) trying to second-guess Google’s techniques, and Google responding by trying to defeat those tricks. The process, as Google’s core ranking team of Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts write in their blog, is “constant tuning,” since its Google’s Search technology is a major factor in fostering what they benevolently term “a healthy web ecosystem.”

A recent, widely reported (the New York Times headlined the story “The Dirty Little Secrets of Search“) incident concerned JCPenney’s search rankings during the 2010 holiday season. For the common phrases “dresses,” “bedding,” “area rugs,” and even “grommet top curtains” reporter David Segal mused, some sites other than JCPenney should have broken through, but JCPenney owned the top spot or was very near the top every time. This gaming of the Google Search system was achieved by proliferating external site references to JCPenney pages – most of them speciously connected to the subject at hand. Google calls this tactic “doorway pages,” but another way to think of the web roadmap created by such links (e.g., nuclear.engineeringaddict.com), is that they are anti-semantic networks. Google made “manual” corrections to its rankings of JCPenney pages after being contacted by the Times.

10 challenges facing IT

1: Customer service

IT suffers from a bad reputation when it comes to satisfying customer needs. Unfortunately, it is often well deserved. Too many times, the work is done incorrectly or not to the customer’s requirements — and it is the customer who ultimately determines what is good customer service and what is not.

My dad recently needed a new hard drive installed and he asked to have his personal Quicken files removed from the old drive. He received the computer with a new drive and a hefty service fee but without the critical files he asked for. It left me wondering what type of computer repair shop couldn’t accomplish my dad’s simple request.

Corporate IT has similar challenges with its customer service. There may be a lot of truth to the statement “The customer needs to be told what they want.” However, the tone of the “recommendation” by the computer expert often comes across as arrogant. The customer may be ignorant but they are rarely stupid — and they don’t like being treated as such. A little better bedside manner offering education and choice is far preferable to a simple “you need this” approach to customer service.

Challenge #1: Improve customer service by listening to and meeting the client’s needs. Make customer service job number one.

2: Human resources

Burnout is an ever increasing concern as budgets become tighter and workloads increase. Creative ways need to be found to reduce stress and revitalize tired workers. More vacation time, sabbaticals, temporarily reduced responsibilities — anything that can give the IT professional a break should be considered. This might seem costly, but losing a valued employee due to burnout can be far more costly.

It has always bothered me when I or a fellow workmate requested a transfer only to have the request ignored or denied, seemingly without any thoughtful consideration. Organizational structures are not conducive to employee sharing and growth. Managers just don’t want to give up a key member of their staff. The truly exceptional companies find ways to maximize their employees’ full potential. After all, what is a company if not its people and their skills?

Challenge #2: Develop creative ways to minimize stress, satisfy employee needs, and match corporate needs to employee goals.

3: Productivity

First came the mainframes, then the minicomputers, PCs, and the Internet. Each was a tremendous technological leap that greatly increased user productivity. What will be the next great productivity innovation? The cloud? Mobile computing? Can these technologies deliver real, significant productivity gains? The law of unintended consequences warns that issues will arise with the introduction of any new technology. To name a few, security and privacy for cloud services and increased stress and burnout for employees tethered to mobile devices 24×7. Until these concerns are resolved, any productivity gains must be carefully weighed against the negatives before mainstream adoption.

Challenge #3: Make the best use of new technologies like cloud and mobile computing but search out additional ways to increase productivity.

4: Complexity

If you look at the progression of software from the introduction of the IBM PC to today’s systems, one obvious trend is irrefutable: The IT world has gotten increasingly complex. The complexity is rapidly reaching a point of critical mass, where one single developer can no longer know everything needed to be proficient at his or her job. Because of this, teamwork is more important than ever. Forget KISS— it’s a complex world and it is getting more complicated every day.

Challenge #4: Manage and tame the complexity beast.

5: Obsolescence

Everything from the PC you are using to the skills needed to perform your job seem to become obsolete in three to five years. As costs continue to be scrutinized, IT needs to find a way to reduce the costs of obsolescence. Expect Microsoft to continue the trend of planned obsolescence as it adheres to a regular release cycle. But upgrading to every new release of Windows may be one of the first costs to go. It is getting harder for companies to justify the costs without real documented productivity increases.

Obsolescence poses another problem: Which development software will still be around 10 years from now? Pick the wrong horse and you may be faced with the same challenge as those who were still supporting OS/2 in the late 1990s. OS/2 experts were as rare as original IBM PCs by then, but IBM was more than willing to help — for a considerable price.

Challenge #5: Increase the productive life of systems, software, and equipment.

6: Budgets

Meeting budget constraints is tough even in the best of times. It is especially challenging during hard times. Most IT budgets are expected to grow in 2011, but they continue to be tight. The growth of cloud computing and mobile technology will require more attention and resources. Managers will be faced with the tough decisions of how best to meet existing budget needs while still planning for the future.

Challenge #6: Accomplish more with budgets similar to last year.

7: Marketing/public relations

Aside from a handful of tech companies like Apple and Google, IT suffers from a poor public relations image. It may be an honest assessment for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to state, “If people want to wait they really can. But I’d definitely deploy Vista.” But when a statement like that leads to headlines like “Ballmer says it’s okay to skip Windows Vista,” you have a problem. Analytical thinkers make poor marketers.

Hiring a PR firm can be well worth the expense, but even then a nasty faux pas can occur. South By SouthWest Interactive engaged Ink PR to meet its marketing needs. Ink PR came up with this speaker’s tip for South By SouthWest Interactive ’s green rooms: “A speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the topic, yet short enough to be interesting.” It has been said that any publicity is good publicity. But ask South By SouthWest Interactive if it thinks Ink PR’s marketing gaffe was good for its corporate image.

Challenge #7: If you don’t have the expertise, hire marketing and PR experts who can get it right.

8: Multinational operations

The global economy is upon us. It is increasingly common to find offices and data centers in countries halfway around the world. And with this transition come a number of challenges. Travel, language, and time zone differences are all issues that must be addressed. But far and away the greatest challenge will likely be overcoming the cultural differences and changing the “us versus them” mindset. Emotions run high for those who have been affected by outsourcing. Salary differences between countries can lead to resentment. Both are difficult people problems to solve.

Challenge #8: Instill a culture of teamwork among international team members with diverse backgrounds and varying ethnicities.

9: The mobile generation

I noted my dislike for mobile devices. I didn’t like the electronic leashes that constantly tied me to work when I needed some downtime. The mobile generation appears to be poised to overtake the PC generation as users spend more time using their mobile devices. However, a caveat should be included in any discussion of the onset of the mobile generation. Any productivity gains achieved using mobile technology in the workplace may be more than offset by the additional burdens placed on the IT workforce during nonworking hours.

Challenge #9: Make use of mobile technology without tearing down the virtual wall between work and family and leisure time.

10: Data storage and retrieval

It is not obvious since most data needs are short-term, but there is trouble lurking in those data archives. Perhaps you are an unknowing victim of this silent crisis in the making. If you have important files on those old 5 1/4-inch floppies and you need to go back and retrieve one, you may be out of luck. Chances are that that the data is no longer readable and the device you need to read the media has long since been tossed into the trash bin. Or, as in my case, turning on the old antique microcomputer to read my single-sided, single-density floppies might lead to a fireand the quick end of your weekend data retrieval project.

As our data ages, it needs to be continually transferred to fresh media. The problem is bit rot, and it happens with every type of media, from disk drives to DVDs. Shelf life varies by media type and manufacturer. Magnetic tape is claimed to be the best, with a shelf life of up to 30 years in optimal conditions, but even it eventually succumbs to the ravages of time.

Challenge #10: Determine what data, if any, is susceptible to bit rot and transfer to new media before it becomes a problem.

The bottom line

Throughout this article, I have written about IT as if it were some amorphous creature existing out there, somewhere. It’s not. IT is you. Youwill have to address these challenges, and that can be a daunting task. But what can you do personally? IT has met challenges like these in the past and it has been the creative, out-of-the-box thinkers who have been most successful. New ways of doing business will be required. You can be part of this change by doing your job to the best of your ability. You can also recognize how your job can be changed to meet these challenges, no matter how small the part you may play — and that can make a big difference company-wide. Answering the following questions will assist in finding ways that you can help.

  • What can you do to:
  • Improve your customer service?
  • Reduce employee stress?
  • Increase your productivity?
  • Simplify your job?
  • Make your tools useful longer?
  • Lower costs to meet budgets?
  • Improve client relationships?
  • Work better with international peers?
  • Follow reasonable corporate mobile device use?
  • Prevent data loss due to bit rot?

Turning each of these challenges into opportunities is the hallmark of the most successful companies. Meeting these challenges is what will eventually separate the winners from the losers.

Lessons from mobile web design

Mobile development is all the rage, and the interactive industry is in great turmoil as countless tablets and smartphones come to market.

Mobile app development gets most of the attention, while the mobile web somewhat quietly creeps along. But the mobile web is making progress every day as more and more developers launch mobile-optimized interfaces.

The great thing about the mobile web is that it is fundamentally built with all of the same tools used in traditional web design and development.

This makes it far more approachable than app development. Also, many users will want to visit a company’s website on the go, without necessarily needing a full-blown app.

Building websites optimized for mobile is so similar yet so different then designing for the desktop. Certain factors take on a far more significant role. For example, screen size variations, user attention spans and usability issues are more critical then ever.

These same issues are ever present on the desktop but are sometimes easier to overlook. Here we’ll look at some lessons to learn from the optimization that is happening on the mobile web. The lessons can directly inform how we design and how we think about traditional web design and website architecture.

Simplified navigation on mobile websites

One of the first things that becomes evident when digging into mobile websites is the extreme simplification of the navigation. Navigation not only becomes very prominent and central on a mobile website, but is also quite often trimmed down substantially to focus on only the most critical elements.

I find it amazing how top-level navigation can be boiled down to two to four items on most mobile websites. Of course, I recognize that the content on a mobile website is quite often optimized for the intended audience. For example, Truth Tabernacle Church has six options in its main navigation, only one of which has made it into the navigation for the mobile version; and the one that made it (“Contact”) is the focus of the entire home page.

The content that didn’t make it into the mobile version is, of course, still entirely relevant. The mobile interface is intended to catch people trying to find the church or check out the service times or simply contact them. These are the most likely objectives of the mobile surfer. Those hitting the full website on a desktop computer are as likely to want those things as they are to want to research the church to see whether it is the sort of place they would like to visit.

So, what is the lesson to learn? Don’t these two interfaces target totally different audiences and have totally different purposes? Perhaps, but we can learn a lot from the extreme focus of the mobile interface. Notice how everything is about the actions you can take? The church has eliminated all of the navigation elements that feel like boxes to check off.

One interesting element is the “About” navigation option on the full website. The mobile website may be optimized for people on the go, but there is no reason to assume that they wouldn’t be interested in reading about the church and its beliefs. Someone may have mentioned the church to you in passing, prompting you to look it up on your phone.

So, the navigation option for this element should be changed. What if, instead, it communicated something like, “What you should know about us”? While a bit long, it reflects a more helpful attitude. A general “About” bucket feels like a place to hold all of the information that no one reads. “A visitor’s guide to our church” feels a lot more useful and targeted.

The simplicity and focus of the mobile interface shows that everything must have a purpose to earn a slot on the website. If the same were true of the full website, we would be less inclined to fill it with seemingly important content and more inclined to make sure everything has a clear function.

This reflects a very task-oriented mentality. Every option challenges the user to take some active step. It is as though every passive option has been purged and reduced to actionable items on the mobile website. This leads us to the next lesson: be extremely task-oriented.

Mobile websites are task-oriented

With a task-oriented mindset, let’s reconsider the full website. While the home page is beautifully designed, the call to action is far less evident. The content is full of bits of information waiting for you to decide to be interested.

For example, the large banner highlighting a coming event fails to call me to some kind of action; very passive. With a task-oriented mentality, we could vastly improve on the “Read more” call to action. This could be as simple as making the call to action much more prominent; for example, a large button in a contrasting orange. Additionally, the call could be changed to “Learn more and sign up.”

Another example is the welcome message. I appreciate the intention and the message being communicated here. The message shows that real people are behind the website, and it attempts to make the page feel personal. But again, let’s dissect this with a task-oriented mentality. A great follow-up to an introduction like this would be a clear call to action encouraging visitors to take the next step. After all, the only people who will be reading this are newcomers. Current members will skip right past this to things like the event calendar. So, offer a conversion point for users, like “Ask us a hard question” or “What to expect when you visit.”

By contrast, the “Special guest” box is fantastic. It addresses key issues and drives people to dig deeper. I only wonder whether it could be a more prominent element of the page. Again, members will get to where they need to go; so focusing on those who are new to the website and the church would go a long way to maximizing the opportunity.

I know I am really beating this website up, but it is not because I dislike it or think that it doesn’t serve its function. My goal is only to challenge our thinking and our preconceived notions of what a website should look like and do. I actually commend this church for having a beautiful and functional website, with a mobile extension to boot!

Mobile websites dramatically shrink their content

Another obvious lesson related to paring down the navigation is that mobile websites invariably shrink their content. Not only are the number of options reduced to the core functionality and purpose of the website, but the copy is vastly reduced, too.

In some cases, much of the copy is eliminated entirely! This begs the question, is this content necessary on the full website if the mobile version functions well without it? Divi Aruba is a great example of this. The alluring marketing speak laid overtop the photo might seem like a must-have element for the home page, but it has been nuked on the micro mobile website.

On the mobile version, the logo is placed on top of the same image, and yet it still conveys the exact same message: if you want to go some place like this, read on. Why not use this prominent spot to drive people to the desired action? Surely the designers know what is the most critical element for converting visitors to customers. Put this information to work, and drive people there with a prominent call to action instead of fluffy marketing speak.

All the good stuff, sans fluff

This leads us to the next lesson: lose the fluff. The next example is a positive demonstration of this. Travel Tex is a travel information website for the state of Texas. It has a clear purpose and audience in mind. Fortunately, the designers have fully embraced the fluffy-less mindset.

Not only does the mini mobile website focus entirely on the topic at hand and the key actionable items, but so does the full website! What a relief to see almost no fluff at all. Including something dreary like a history of Texas would be all too tempting. If people wanted a history lesson, they wouldn’t come this website. You will be hard pressed to find content that is not relevant to this website’s singular purpose.

Get into the habit of questioning everything. This is the only way to really boil a website down to its critical elements, which is exactly what happens on a good mobile website. Tough choices are made and otherwise valuable content is cut in order to streamline the website. Call fluff for what it is and nuke it!

Branding is king on the mobile web

I am all about creativity on the web. In fact, many of the greatest changes in the industry have come about as a result of a refusal to stick to the status quo. But there is a time and place for everything. So many designers use their assignments as an excuse to release their creative juices, for no other purpose than to do something creative. This turns the website into a design for the designer, not for the client and their needs. This is one thing the mobile web warns against rather boldly.

Branding is incredibly consistent on the mobile web, and one of the most consistent parts is the placement of the logo. On mobile websites, you won’t find any crazy logos at the bottom with fixed footers. Functionality is king, and logos always appear at the top. Can you imagine hitting a mobile website and not seeing the logo right away? Yet this is commonplace on many full websites.

Here are a few websites that, while minimal and lacking in mind-blowing style, are rich in branding that can’t be missed.

The lesson here can have a profound impact on how you approach your work and on the fundamental value you pose to your clients. For every designer who figures out that the client’s needs should be their entire purpose for the project, there is another who wants to show the world how creative and original they are.

Like anyone else involved in the production of a website, the web designer should be single-minded in serving the client, helping their business and improving the bottom line. With every element you put on a mobile website, considers its role and the benefit it will bring. Apply this mentality to everything you do, and you will soon find a strong ally in your client.

The more we embrace the needs of the client and do everything we can to bring value to their website, the more we will see a fundamental shift in our work. We will go from building “cool stuff” to looking at everything from the client’s perspective. Does this feature stand to increase their profit? How can the design be changed to improve their business? If a byproduct of your work is more money for the client, then you will find opportunity everywhere.

Websites without the gimmicks

One of the greatest achievements of the mobile web is the total lack of gimmicks. To be fair, there is a time and place for gimmicks on the web. In fact, I dedicate whole sections of my books to them. But the lack of gimmicks on mobile websites demonstrates that these seemingly great ideas serve no real purpose.

Everything that goes on a mobile website should go through several filters. Is the content relevant and utterly useful? Is the content critical, and does it serve the core purpose of the website? Is the website easy to use and understand? Is the navigation unconventional? If so, is it critical to the function of the website? The answer may well be yes, but more often than not, it will be a decisive no.

Some gimmicks that are noticeably absent from mobile development are splash screens, unusual navigation, meaningless animations and interactivity, inline scrolling regions, odd layouts and fixed-width layouts. The efficiency of the mobile web is amazing.

Conclusion

As you can see, we have a number of lessons to learn from the mobile web; particularly, its ability to reveal unnecessary elements of a website. As with many things in life, a slight change in perspective often opens our eyes to the true value of things we have long taken for granted.

I am not suggesting that we have lost sight of the purpose of the web. Rather, I am proposing that we adopt a far more strategic mentality.