New Semester Begins… Time to Get To Work.

Bradley is back in session. I have two classes I’m teaching this semester, so it’s going to be a busy one. MM365 Designing with Web Standards, this is one I have taught for 3 years now. It’s focused around CSS, XHTML and some simple JS, with an emphasis on using best practives and writing markup that validates. It’s a great class and one that serves the students pretty well. After that on Tuesdays, I am very happy to teach my MM491 Mashups and RIAs class… This is going to be great. I have a group of students I will be helping to learn Flex, AJAX and using Webservices to make web mashups… what gets better than that?

While I prepare for that (I have to build a few presentations, stat!), why don’t you take some time and watch this video that was taken at 360Flex’s keynote… It has some hot Thermo action in it at about 45:00. Hot stuff, indeed.

The Aurora Interface: How It Will Be?

Though many of you may have seen this already, I would be remiss in not showing the rest of the readers here this amazing new interface concept from Adaptive Path and The Mozilla Labs.


Aurora (Part 1) from Adaptive Path on Vimeo.

This video was released a couple of weeks ago and represents some key concepts that are sure to come to fruition sooner rather than later. The fact that the browser serves as the primary user interface that is interacted with in the system is pretty similar to how many users are just now working with their PCs today. This trend is sure to continue with the move towards RIA and other semi connected technology. Many people simply don’t need any app that can’t be done as well or even better online than as a desktop binary app.

In addition to this basic use case, there is a significant interface advancement depicted in the video worth noting. The 3D spacial view shown is like Apple’s Time Machine but for all content, contacts and communications that have taken place in the user’s recent history. I want this now! I frequently use the “recent items” menu for apps, files, iChat conversations and server connections. The spacial view’s clustering functionality is a “stack”-like way of grouping content and other interactions by their subject matter and is so very very needed. I currently have a desktop with about 30-40 files and folders containing more content, some of them 3-4 levels deep with associated. All of these are related in some way to a project or series of otherdocuments I have in my user Documents directory… you can imagine how overgrown this gets from time to time. With a loose, time-based virtual association like this, the arbitrary location of the files is removed from your view, supplanting the need for spatial orientation with something more compatible with how your memory works.

Again, if you haven’t dug into the blog posts by the Adaptive Path team and you fancy yourself interested in UI design, you owe it to yourself to take a couple hours to read this series of posts. Is this how it will be? How far is this type of UI off in the future? Well, if you look back to Sun’s excellent StarFire concept, which I blogged about here, some things in it may never happen. It certainly doesn’t hurt to entertain the thoughts of how it could be, though.

The Effects of ECMAScript 4′s Abandonment on Pedagogy of Rich Media Development Languages

The Oslo meeting that determined that ECMAScript 4 will not be the next generation of JavaScript, has been blogged extensively lately. Grant Skinner, Mike Chambers, John Resig, Hank Williams, and Ryan Stewart have all weighed in on this along with Dave McAllister on the Open at Adobe team. A good lengthy description on the groups decision is here in a letter to the Es4 list. It appears the namespaces and packages features of ECMAScript 4, among others were not palatable to a few members on the board, so the more advanced spec of ECMAScript 4 is being shelved to make way for the more incremental update of ECMAScript 3.1 instead. You can get the nitty gritty details on that in this Google Spreadsheet.

While this is not a big deal for the future of Flash as a viable and valuable development platform in professional circles (Adobe has already stating they will not backpedal and cutback on AS3 or AS4′s current or future features because of this decision), this does affect academia and even ongoing professional development from a pedagogical standpoint, effectively cutting off Actionscript 3 as a natural progression/extension of client side scripting to teach students and to serve as a bridge to higher level languages and vice versa. ECMA Script 4 simply served as a better path to bring students into OOP and high-level languages. The change is subtle, no doubt. It does, however, water down the linkage between the languages in a school curriculum. This does open the door for Processing.org’s Applet Development tool, Processing, to serve as a better fit for this purpose in a development learning progression. What do other instructors out think on this? I’d like to hear it.

Furthermore, this exchange serves as yet another opening salvo in browser wars 2.0. With no clear path to HTML5, the next XHTML spec still in limbo, and no real uptake by browser developers on CSS3, it’s only fitting that the behavioral layer’s future get neutered in order to serve MS and stagnate the web again. Adobe and Mozilla already had functional VMs that would run ECMA script 4, so it seems apparent to many out there that this is a stonewalling on MS’s part to buy time to build a new engine, or block ECMAScript’s advancement in general. It looks like that the W3C may very well need to create another new task force (ala The Dreamweaver TaskForce) to get things moving before they get locked up again like in 1999.

This “Harmony”, as the compromise seems to have been called, looks to be more of a placation to me.

Sorry to do this to you all, but I just couldn’t resist.

Yes… here is the video that ensures that Obama can’t win in November. The GOP will use any means they can to besmirch him. This is pure mudslinging politics at it’s worst… Just watch:

Ouch!

Announcing My Upcoming Presentation: Developers Are From Mars, Designers Are From Venus

cd2 is a new user group in the Chicago area that is focused on nurturing the collaboration between designers & developers and the importance of the user experience. I’m proud to be speaking at their next gathering on September 3rd. From the site:

Designers Are From Venus, Developers Are From Mars
Wheres the love? Well, often when two coworkers from very different backgrounds are expected to work together, it can be tough to find. Designers and developers can indeed get along with a little foresight on process and understanding of the obstacles along the projects path. Join Chad Udell in discovering some of those key differences and learn how to overcome them in order to create a blissful state of collaboration.

You can check out the site for the rest of the details here. Many thanks to the people at CD2UG for inviting me to speak to the rest of the members. I’m looking forward to the opportunity. I encourage you to visit their site and RSVP.

A Designer’s Perspective on Why America is F***ed (Graphically).

A rambling yet somehow strangely coherent spiel on how America’s graphic heritage is being washed away by FastSigns and other commoditized design factories. Some good points here, and it looks as though there is a lot more to come. Warning… the language is a tad NSFW.


Why Amierca is F***ed

Kuler API Tutorial Added to Adobe’s Developer Connection

The article I wrote for Computer Arts has recently been added to the Adobe Developer Center. Check it out here. Thanks for the heads up Sami. I’ve also been informed that some big changes are coming for the API as well. Exciting stuff indeed. It’s great to see all the cool stuff people are making with Kuler.

As a sidenote, A.Viary recently granted access to their color palette generation tool, Toucan. One amazing feature to note about Toucan is the very brilliant “Color Deficiency Preview” tool. This seemingly innocuous panel could be overlooked quite easily… however, if you are developing an application that needs to be section 508 compliant or your user base is known to have color perception disabilities you should definitely consider using a tool like this to help you make appropriate palette choice for functional elements, etc.

Take a look at the very slick interface (the color deficiency ‘protanopy’ is depicted in the bottom panel):

Aviary\'s Toucan Application

The A.viary is shaping to be a very nice suite of RIAs. Great job, indeed. BTW… I have 5 invites, comment here to get one.

Like A Fish Needs A Bicycle: RIA and SEO

Much has been written about the recent announcement of Google and Adobe working together to make Flash content indexed and searchable. Much written, with no real concrete answers. Lots of tests (A very good one done by Peter Elst), a contest held by Ryan Stewart (Flexmagically Searchable, FTW!), and some well formed opinions from SurviveStyle and YourSeoPlan. John Dowdell has also tackled the topic via comments on several sites as well as a post on his site.

While the idea of having rich media crawlable by a juggernaut like Google is indeed exciting, I’m not holding my breath waiting for the results to materialize. With SWFObject and the other myriad Javascript embed methods, the use of XML and AMF to retrieve dynamic data and all the other things that are going on in a modern Flash/Flex RIA, a panacea seems near impossible to imagine after over a decade of less than stellar results in this area.

It sounds a tad overdramatic, and I know this. But let’s just reflect for a moment on how it’s come to this. It’s a matter of purpose and function of the media you are creating. When designing an experience site or CMS powered brouchureware site you obviously are not making the same sorts of design decisions you might be making in a state/screen based RIA. They are just two completely different beasts. These two basic groups of sites (yes, I’m oversimplifying) Experience/Brouchware sites and RIA havem completely different needs. Because of this, the tools and techniques you use to build them are most likely going to be different. Standard sites are built for searchability and accessiblity by the widest range of users, because making sure the sites are found is of paramount importance! RIAs often have a narrower audience and are built to replace a desktop app or minimize clicks over a basic web application… making the tasks at hand as easy as possible is the key here.

You can kind of see where this is going… I very rarely would recommend using a rich media tool to build an average B2C or B2B site that doesn’t need rich media functionality. Rolling your companies marketing message up in a binary blob that requires a plugin, or burying it in a heap of JavaScript seems like commercial suicide. Poor indexing, potentially poorer performance in comparison with Plain Old HTML, incompatibility with plugin versions, market penetration, the mobile users, etc, etc… For this reason, unless you are a major player in your industry who has little need for keyword density simply because of your domain name and real world brandname recognition (think Nike, Apple, Disney, etc), you should think twice about using a tool like Flash or Silverlight to build your public website. If you get a site from me, and you fall into the average company size and profile, you are probably going to get a site designed with standards in mind. Something that degrades gracefully, something that uses semantic markup. You get the idea. Flash might be sprinkled throughout for visualizations or other enhancements, but the bulk of the site is going to be pretty much straightforward best practices based design.

On the other hand, often an RIA doesn’t necessarily require indexing at all. Indexing interior views of a mail app or information dashboard doesn’t seem logical. Strange question arise when you think about this, too.. security, landing pages, transitions, breadcrumbs, etc. For cases where an RIA does need to be indexed, maybe a SWFAddress method of enabling deep linking might be adequate to serve as signposts. For Flash based experience sites, a Google sitemap and some very clever use of WebServices feeding SWFObject/SWFaddress enabled Flash and AJAX may also work for you (Check out the recently relaunched BobDylan.com, built by some friends of mine to see the results of this. A nod to Brian and Steve on that one. Great work indeed.)

In conclusion, I’m optimistic but not overly so for the future of indexed rich media. Without a very detailed spec and best practices documentation, tests like Peter’s and contests like Ryan’s are going to be about the extent of success in this arena for the immediate time frame. Reading the comments at Peter’s post kinda confirms this for me. Lots of confusion and lack of knowledge about how this all interfaces with typical search engine directives like robots.txt etc… It’s all a very new area, so I’m thinking things will become more apparent soon.