Right column navigation

It’s a brave person who challenges design conventions…

“Traditionally navigation on the web either appears on the left or at the top. Right hand navigation has somewhat been frowned upon. However, more recently this trend seems to have been changing with more websites adopting it. I think this is partly due to blogs, which seem to have right hand navigation by default. However, it has always struck me as strange that the convention is towards left. If you think about it there are a lot of good reasons for right hand navigation…

  • It puts the content first visually
  • Your cursor naturally hovers near the scrollbars on the right
  • We are familiar with right hand navigation from tabs in books
  • We know from usability research that whether navigation is on the left or right, it makes no difference in the time it takes to complete a task

Overall I am hugely in favor of right hand navigation and I am glad to see it becoming more popular.”

From: Emerging Design Trends

What do you think? Agree or disagree?

Consumer Unfriendly

Sometimes people don’t know what is good for them.

Here’s an example:

You cannot replace the battery in the iPhone. Because of this Apple have been able to make the iPhone much lighter and thinner than it would be if the design needed to incorporate a removable battery cover and place the battery in a position where it could be easily removed. As Steven Johnson points out, Apple are betting that a smaller phone with fewer moving parts is worth the trade off.

Another one:

You cannot use HTML formatting when describing stuff you are selling on Trade Me. Everybody wants their listing to stand out, so this is commonly requested. However, when everybody can make their listing stand out no one actually stands out – it’s just an arms race. Trade Me prefers a consistent layout where information always appears in the same location. The alternative is eBay, where every listing looks different and typically looks like a bomb just went off with different fonts, multi-coloured text and animated graphics everywhere.

Can you think of others?

Colour Blender

Here is a nice tool to use to create a simple colour palette for a website (courtesy of Rob Howard):

http://colorblender.com/

Simply enter the details of one colour that you like and the tool will suggest a palette of other complimentary colours to use.

Here is another tip: if you have a photograph or logo as part of your site design you can pick out one of the colours from the image to use as the starting colour.

For example, the palette I use on this site is based on RGB 239/227/181, which is one of the colours in the photo in the header.

Enjoy :-)

Mac-curious

I’ve been Mac-curious for a while, I guess.

All of the cool kids have one.

At Kiwi Foo Camp earlier this year there were so many Apples it was like an orchard!

What was I missing out on?

I’ve been using Windows ever since I bought my first PC in 19961994. I didn’t (and don’t) consider Windows to be broken. On top of that I was obviously at the back of the queue when they handed out the Apple kool-aid … I still don’t even own an iPod.

But, they say a change is as good as a holiday, so I took the opportunity when I moved to Xero to try switching.

A month in and I’m hooked.

I have found that most of my assumptions were wrong.

For starters, I was surprised to find that it didn’t cost much more. I priced up a Dell and sent the details to a couple of Apple fanboys. The challenge for them was to convince me to buy an Apple instead. Actually it was pretty easy for them. I’d always assumed that Macs were more expensive. While it’s true that you can buy a much cheaper PC, when you compare like with like (Apples with not-Apples?) there is not a great difference.

OS X has been a surprise too.

I didn’t expect to rave about an operating system.

And I know that there are lots of people who don’t like it. Phil for one has taken the time to document the specific things that frustrated him.

But, I love it. It took me a few weeks to get through the valley of despair – or more accurately the valley of unfamiliar keyboard shortcuts. But, now I’m there I find I’m spending much less time fighting with software and more time getting on with things. It feels like the operating system has melted into the background compared to what I’m used to.

And I haven’t had any trouble finding software to use. Like Nic I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover a healthy industry of small application developers creating great software for OS X. My favourites so far are Yojimbo (which has replaced my hitherto dependence on OneNote), VLC, and Quicksilver. And of course Firefox (I’ve also tried Camino, but in the end went back to Firefox for the add-ons). If you’re into Getting Things Done then Actiontastic is also worth keeping an eye on (although it’s not quite there yet for me). I’m also keeping an eye out for VMWare and Pixelmator.

The switch has also highlighted to me how much of my software now resides on the net and so is independent of the operating system – Gmail, Google Reader, WordPress, Xero, etc etc.

I’ve heard a number of people say that OS X isn’t suitable for business use. Now I can understand why.

Microsoft Office for the Mac is a pale imitation of the Windows equivalent. Entourage is especially painful. I’ve failed to get our Exchange server working with OS X Mail, so for now I’m stuck with it.

I’ve started to learn Omni Graffle and Keynote, but I’m still a bit of a novice with both, so I’m not as productive.

So, until the new Mac version of Microsoft Office comes out I’m resorting to running Vista on Parallels for some of this stuff. It’s a bit of a security blanket, but I’m cool with that. It’s a feature. As Marc Andreessen points out, with a Mac you effectively get three operating systems in one (OS X, Unix under the covers, and Windows in Parallels/BootCamp). Or, for a slightly more fanboy spin on the same point: “… all computers can run Windows, but some, the special ones from Apple, also run Mac OS X.” (from John Gruber).

I haven’t tried to do any development yet – although I know plenty of great developers who are Mac users, so I don’t expect any problems and again, with Parallels and/or BootCamp the development languages and environments I am more familiar with are only a mouse click away.

Of course, the hardware itself is super sexy. As Amnon said about the Dell when I sent him the comparison: “How will you live with yourself with that monstrosity in the house?” The only downside is I have had to upgrade my laptop bag to match!

As a long time ThinkPad user I wondered how I’d go with the track pad (I always thought I was more of a nipple man!) but I haven’t had any problems adjusting. I’m now addicted to the two-finger scroll.

Downsides?

Choosing the right time to buy seems to be a secret art. I was all ready to go until a friend pointed out that there would be a new version out shortly. I realise that Apple manage to generate a lot of buzz via their rumour mill. But, I have to wonder if they don’t create a fair bit of bad-will (is that a word?) when they make sudden leaps forward in their product lines. Take, as an example, this comment from the MacRumours.com forums following the announcement of the new MacBookPro range:

“NOOOOOOOOO! I’ve just bought my new Macbook Pro! Loving it alot. But now……. a little less.”

To get around this I got a temporary machine from Rentamac for a couple of months until the new model was released. This would also be a good option if you’re not totally sure that you’ll want to stick with a Mac.

Would I recommend it?

Definitely give it a try.

I can also recommend a Mac to anybody who is looking to opt out of providing tech support to their extended family. I got an iMac to replace Mum & Dad’s old PC, and I can now honestly say I don’t know how to fix any problems they have when they call. Although, so far to be fair there haven’t been any to fix!

Now, about that iPod … :-)

Cartoon from: Hugh McLeod

[Blogged from SuperHappyDevHouse Aotearoa!]

Design matters

Do you remember what MP3 players were like before the iPod was invented?

I wonder if the same will be true of the smart phone:

“The iPhone won’t do anything that can’t be done with devices that are currently on the market. For that reason it won’t appeal to gadget freaks, but the Apple’s innovations on the user interface will ensure that the iPhone appeals to those who would otherwise not have considered buying a smart device.

Remember that digital music players already existed long before the iPod, but the iPod has been hugely successful because everything before it was perceived as being awkward to use and best left to those with a good understanding of the underlying technology.”

From: http://www.geekzone.co.nz/forums.asp?forumid=40&topicid=14275

As it happens, design matters.

If people don’t think it’s easy to use it’s unlikely to be used.

Touchy feely

This coming week is the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in the US.

Expect the buzz around the upcoming launch of the iPhone to reach fever pitch by the time Steve Jobs takes the stage.

Check out this competition, where people had to make their own iPhone advert (via Michael Gregg). Amazing free publicity for a product which isn’t even released yet.

This entry is a bit wacky:

I could swear those are kiwi accents too. :-)

And so the anticipation builds.

Meanwhile, for those sitting on the Windows side of the fence (or for that matter Apple fan boys in NZ who will no doubt be waiting a while for the local release of iPhone) … no need to feel totally left out of all this touchy feely stuff.

Check out the just launched HTC Touch, which runs Windows Mobile and has a touch screen interface.

Sounds great in theory. But when you look closely at the photos of the physical design of the phone or see the user interface in action, it seems to lack the final 1% which makes the iPhone appear magical.

As Joel Spolsky wrote this week: it’s a games of inches.

Yellow is the new black

Yellow Pages have put up a beta of their new website:

www.yellow.co.nz

As previously noted they seem to have dropped the “pages” part of their name.

As far as I can tell, apart from a bit of lipstick, the site is the same old site we all don’t love:

It’s still just an online version of the printed directory. Most listings contain only a phone number and an address, not even a description of the business. You actually get more information from the hard-copy where at least they allow graphics etc (although you can view the ad from the printed directory by clicking on the ‘view ad’ link).

There is so much more useful information that businesses could include in their online listing. Imagine, for example, if they allowed restaurants to list their menu.

They don’t cater for browse dominant users. To view the category hierarchy I need to click a link and then I end up in a horrible control which lists every leaf category alphabetically.

Their category hierarchy continues to be a complete dogs breakfast. There are too many leaf categories and consequently the structure is too deep and too fragmented. The structure is also unbalanced. ‘Business Services’ is a top-level category – covering everything from ‘Accountants’ to ‘Security Guards’. ‘Funeral Arrangements’ is also a top-level category, although it has only seven sub-categories which hare all leaf categories.

I can’t list a new ad online. Hello?

The search is still way more complex than it needs to be. Google allows me to find any page on the whole internet using a single text box. That should be the benchmark. Really, who is going to search for businesses “within 100 kms”?

They’ve added “My Address Book” functionality, but don’t allow me to add comments. I’m completely disconnected from all of the other people searching on the site. Where is the “other people searching for this found these listings useful” functionality?

Oh well. Maybe in the next version?