65+ lists of jQuery plugins

No web design blog is complete nowadays without a post or two recommending particular jQuery plugins. However, it can sometimes be a pain trying to find a plugin you remember reading about months ago when you want to use it for a particular job. It’s also very useful to be able to compare what  plugins are available for a specific task and which come best recommended from other designers. Below is a “list of lists” of plugin recommendations I’ve put together which draws together resources to make locating and evaluating plugins easier.

Big categorised lists of jQuery plugins

These are probably the most useful lists for reference as they helpfully divide the plugins into categories.

The official jQuery plugins repository
http://plugins.jquery.com/

45+ new jQuery techniques for good user experience (Smashing Magazine)
http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/01/15/45-new-jquery-techniques-for-a-good-user-experience/

Noupe has several categorised lists:

jQueryPlugins.com – An entire site dedicated to jQuery plugins with categories for user interface, navigation, forms and extensions.
http://www.jqueryplugins.com/categories/

240 plugins jQuery (Sastgroup.com)
http://www.sastgroup.com/jquery/240-plugins-jquery

jQuery plugins (Chirill Trescencov)
http://www.chirill.com/archives/11-Jquery-Plugins.html

100 popular jQuery examples, plugins and tutorials (Template Lite)
http://www.templatelite.com/100-popular-jquery-plugins/

The ultimate jQuery plugin list (Kollermedia)
http://www.kollermedia.at/archive/2007/11/21/the-ultimate-jquery-plugin-list/

JQuery at its best (Spicy News)
http://www.spicyexpress.net/general/jquerry-at-it-best-downloadable-jquerry-plugins-and-widgets-for-you-2/

jQuery plugins for forms

25+ jQuery plugins that enhance and beautify HTML form elements (Queness)
http://www.queness.com/post/204/25-jquery-plugins-that-enhance-and-beautify-html-form-elements

10 top jQuery plugins for form usability (Steve Reynolds)
http://www.reynoldsftw.com/2009/01/top-10-jquery-plugins-for-form-usability/

7 jQuery plugins to manipulate TEXTAREAs (Steve Reynolds)
http://www.reynoldsftw.com/2009/03/7-jquery-plugins-to-manipulate-textareas/

10 best jQuery datepickers plugins (AjaxLine)
http://www.ajaxline.com/10-best-jquery-datepickers-plugins

How to make your forms better with jQuery (Cool Javascripts)
http://cool-javascripts.com/jquery/how-to-make-your-forms-better-with-jquery.html

jQuery plugins for images

14 jQuery plugins for working with images (Six Revisions)
http://sixrevisions.com/resources/14-jquery-plugins-for-working-with-images/

10 jQuery plugins for manipulating images (Cool Javascripts)
http://cool-javascripts.com/effects/10-jquery-plugins-for-manipulating-images.html

10 jQuery plugins for showing image gallery (Cool Javascripts)
http://cool-javascripts.com/galleries/10-jquery-plugins-for-showing-image-gallery.html

Top 14 jQuery photo slideshow / gallery plugins (Blueprint Design Studio)
http://blueprintds.com/2009/01/20/top-14-jquery-photo-slideshow-gallery-plugins/

6 image manipulation plugins for jQuery you should know about (Shiny Blog)
http://blog.shinylittlething.com/2009/02/20/image-manipulation-jquery-plugins/

10 best jQuery sliders (AjaxLine)
http://www.ajaxline.com/10-best-jquery-sliders

3 wonderful jQuery plugins to play with images (Baj Pakhi)
http://www.shahin.co.nr/3-wonderful-jquery-plugins-to-play-with-images/

jQuery plugins for menus

10 best jQuery menu plugins (AjaxLine)
http://www.ajaxline.com/10-best-jquery-menu-plugins

11 jQuery plugins to enhance HTML dropdowns (Steve Reynolds)
http://www.reynoldsftw.com/2009/03/11-jquery-plugins-to-enhance-html-dropdowns/

3 jQuery plugins to show context menu (Cool Javascripts)
http://cool-javascripts.com/jquery/3-jquery-plugins-to-show-context-menu.html

8 amazing jQuery accordions (Cats Who Code)
http://www.catswhocode.com/blog/8-amazing-jquery-accordions

jQuery plugins for tables/charts

jQuery plugins to show data in table format or chart format (Cool Javascripts)
http://cool-javascripts.com/jquery/jquery-plugins-to-show-data-in-table-format-or-chart-format.html

jQuery plugins for browser issue fixes

15 jQuery plugins to fix and beautify browser issues (DevSnippets)

http://devsnippets.com/reviews/15-jquery-plugins-to-fix-and-beautify-browser-issues.html

jQuery plugins for use with other stuff …

Power of WordPress and jQuery: 30+ great plugins (Noupe)
http://www.noupe.com/jquery/the-power-of-wordpress-and-jquery-30-useful-plugins-tutorials.html

jQuery plugins for SEO (Tim Nash)
http://www.timnash.co.uk/04/2008/jquery-seo/

8 jQuery plugins that utilize Google APIs (Steve Reynolds)
http://www.reynoldsftw.com/2009/03/8-jquery-plugins-that-utilize-google-apis/

7 of my favourite jQuery plugins for use with ASP.NET (Encosia)
http://encosia.com/2008/10/19/7-of-my-favorite-jquery-plugins-for-use-with-aspnet/

Great jQuery plugins for Drupal (DrupalSN)
http://drupalsn.com/learn-drupal/drupal-tutorials/great-jquery-plugins-drupal

6 jQuery plugins to use within your content in a Learning Management System (Random Syntax)
http://www.randomsyntax.com/2008/10/12/6-jquery-plugins-to-use-within-your-content-in-a-learning-management-system/

General listings of favourite or best jQuery plugins

Personal selections of the best plugins for web design and development. It’s quite fun to browse through these and compare & contrast people’s choices.

37 phenomenal jQuery plugins and demos for developers (Speckyboy)
http://speckyboy.com/2008/12/10/37-phenomenal-jquery-plugins-and-demos-for-developers/

30 awesome design enhancing jQuery plugins (Line 25)
http://line25.com/articles/30-awesome-design-enhancing-jquery-plugins

20 most interesting jQuery plugins – February 2009 (AjaxLine)
http://www.ajaxline.com/20-most-interesting-jquery-plugins-february-2009

20 jQuery plugins for unforgettable user experience (DevSnippets)
http://devsnippets.com/jquery-posts/20-jquery-plugins-for-unforgettable-user-experience.html

20 amazing jQuery plugins and 65 excellent jQuery resources (Speckyboy)
http://speckyboy.com/2008/07/21/20-amazing-jquery-plugins-and-65-excellent-jquery-resources/

Using jQuery to style design elements: 20 impressive plugins (DevSnippets)
http://devsnippets.com/reviews/using-jquery-to-style-design-elements-20-impressive-plugins.html

10 best jQuery plugins – March 2009 (AjaxLine)
http://www.ajaxline.com/10-best-jquery-plugins-march-2009

10+ most interesting and useful JQuery plugins – January 2009 (AjaxLine)
http://www.ajaxline.com/10-most-interesting-and-useful-jquery-plugins-january-2009

10+ useful jQuery plugins (AjaxLine)
http://www.ajaxline.com/10-useful-jquery-plugins

10 useful JQuery plugins (Enhance the User Experience)
http://enhance.qd-creative.co.uk/2008/06/11/10-useful-jquery-plugins/

Top 10 jQuery plugins and resources (LogicPool)
http://logicpool.com/archives/123

10 must have jQuery plugins and extensions (Front-End Book)
http://frontendbook.com/10-must-have-jquery-plugins-and-extensions

10 most useful and essential jQuery plugins (Microgeist)
http://microgeist.com/2009/02/10-most-useful-and-essential-jquery-plugins/

10 jQuery plugins every developer can’t live without (Refresh Events)
http://www.refresh-events.ca/blog/2009/03/16/10-jquery-plugins-every-developer-cant-live-without/

10 quick win jQuery plugins (Steve Reynolds)
http://www.reynoldsftw.com/2009/02/10-quick-win-jquery-plugins/

10 Über cool jQuery plugins (Invisible Window)
http://www.invisiblewindow.com/web-development/10-ber-cool-jquery-plugins

10 jQuery essentials (php four)
http://www.phpfour.com/blog/2007/06/jquery-essentials/

7 jQuery plugins to really enhance users experience (Shiny Blog)
http://blog.shinylittlething.com/2009/02/24/jquery-plugins-to-enhance-users-experience/

7 jQuery plugins that made our lives easier at ON Networks (Nick Lewis)
http://www.nicklewis.org/node/949

The 6 most useful jQuery plugins (Flexible Developments)
http://calisza.wordpress.com/2008/08/26/6-most-useful-jquery-plugins/

5 useful jQuery plugins which saved me a lot of work (Dev Blog)
http://nik.chankov.net/2009/03/17/5-useful-jquery-plugins-which-saved-me-a-lot-of-work/

Five jQuery plugins that are a joy to use (Pathfinder Development)
http://www.pathf.com/blogs/2008/07/five-jquery-plugins-that-are-a-joy-to-use/

4 cool jQuery plugins (DesignerFied)
http://designerfied.com/138/4-cool-jquery-plugins.html

4 jQuery plugins (Fresh)
http://welikeitfresh.com/2008/12/16/4-jquery-plugins/

Top 3 jQuery plugins for web designers and developers (Noam Web Design Blog)
http://www.noamdesign.com/Web-Design-Blog/top-3-jquery-plugins-for-web-designers/

List of useful jQuery plugins (Mark Grabanski)
http://marcgrabanski.com/article/list-of-useful-jquery-plugins

jQuery Plugins – Best for Web Designers (Hidden Pixels)
http://hiddenpixels.com/javascript/jquery-plugins-web-designers/

My favourite jQuery plugins (Simple.Friendly.Solutions.)
http://www.migliorisi.com/Blog/post/My-favorite-jQuery-Plugins.aspx

The best web 2.0 jQuery javascript plugins (Wiliam)
http://www.wiliam.com.au/wiliam-blog/the-best-web-2-jquery-javascript-plugins

Top jQuery plugins for web 2.0 effects (Website Ideas)
http://www.website-ideas.co.uk/2008/09/25/top-jquery-plugins-for-web-20-effects/

Must have jQuery plugins (SKFox)
http://skfox.com/2008/07/11/must-have-jquery-plugins-july-2008/

jQuery plugin favorites (Cody Lindley)
http://codylindley.com/Webdev/319/jquery-plugin

jQuery plugins (Caty’s Blog)
http://blogs.catydesign-studio.com/2009/03/12/jquery-plugins/

Review: Sexy Web Design

Sexy Web Design is a very readable look at the process of web design which walks the reader through a small example design project for an events site. The title’s a bit deceptive, as the emphasis isn’t just on pretty looks. There’s also plenty of advice about how designers can work with usability and accessibility in mind.

The author focuses purely on the pre-coding design stage of building a site.  However, he takes the sensible view that someone designing a website  needs to understand implementation issues so that the design won’t be unnecessarily difficult to code once the Photoshop comps are complete.

The book covers the whole of this design process, starting with getting an effective brief out of  clients. There’s good advice here about asking clients which sites they like or dislike and why – which it’s rightly said can be as informative as a design brief in itself.  There follows a good discussion on wireframing and an excellent section on aesthetics. The latter has a very succinct summary of best practice regarding layout and composition, with good links to  tools for choosing colour schemes and using grids.

Some of the most interesting parts of the book are the tips on how to effectively present your designs to clients via Photoshop comps and mock-up sites. This should be of particular help to a lot of people starting out, as compiling deliverables is an area which doesn’t tend to get a lot of coverage in other books.

As well as the designs for the example  site, there are well-chosen screen-shots from real sites which enrich the book a lot. Throughout, the author emphasises the importance of attention to detail and the designer’s responsibility to push at boundaries, while respecting useful conventions.

Sexy Web Design by Elliot Jay Stocks is published by Sitepoint.

Review: Drupal 6 Themes

Drupal 6 Themes

There’s an ever-growing number of decent books appearing about Drupal, covering in detail various aspects of this complex CMS and catering to different experience levels and levels of coding ability. ‘Drupal 6 Themes’ by Ric Shreves fills a niche for detailed coverage of Drupal’s theming functionality for users with decent HTML and CSS skills, and maybe a little bit of PHP. It’s a book that I think designers and web managers wanting to add Drupal to their skill-set can get a lot out of reading and it’ll certainly help a lot if you’re starting out on the labour of wrangling with the design of a site based on a theme someone else created.

The book’s well written with a sensible structure, moving from general discussions of how theming in Drupal works to specific demonstrations of how to modify existing themes and build new ones from scratch. There’s a very clear explanation of the best ways to employ intercepts and overrides to achieve style changes and useful coverage of theming Drupal’s forms.

One of the most difficult things about changing the look of Drupal sites is the sheer number of CSS and template files you usually have to wade through. This book includes a short introduction to tools which can help with this – like Devel’s Theme Developer module, and the Firebug and Web Developer extensions for Firefox. There’s also detailed listings of Drupal’s theming elements and core CSS files.

Overall, this is a good solid read which can really enhance a new or intermediate Drupal user’s appreciation of how to get the most of theming. However, theming isn’t the only thing you need to master to get a Drupal site looking exactly the way you want. For an all-round understanding of  Drupal’s front-end, I’d also recommend you look at O’Reilly’s recent Using Drupal as well, which has demonstrations of using CCK and Views – as well as a good chapter on theming (although it doesn’t go into as much detail as this book). There’s also a forthcoming book on Front End Drupal due out next month which I definitely want to pick up.

Drupal 6 Themes: Create New Themes for Your Drupal 6 Site with Clean Layout and Powerful CSS Styling by Ric Shreves is published by Packt Publishing.

Related posts

I looked at a number of other starter resources for getting to grips with Drupal this January in a post on Learning Drupal.

Review: Forms that Work – Designing Web Forms for Usability

My first thought on seeing that there was a whole book on web form usability was – “How could anyone write a whole 200 pages just about how to design forms?”  My scepticism wasn’t entirely dispelled by Steve Krug’s introduction, where he describes one of the authors as “someone who can talk for an hour about whether to use colons at the end of labels and make it interesting”.  I really found this quite difficult to believe.

Thankfully, there’s only one page in Forms that Work about whether to use colons at the end of labels. However, there’s actually an awful lot else that you can explore about form design which is potentially useful and this book certainly covers most of the areas I can think of.

The first couple of  chapters look at persuading people to answer forms and how to ask for the right information. There’s a focus on understanding who is going to answer your form and on ensuring that you’re trying to get information which is really needed. The advice about asking the specific people who are going to work with the information what they need and checking if the organisation already holds the information you’re asking for are things that seem obvious, but which often seem to be overlooked in practice.

The following sections cover how to make questions easy to answer and how to write useful instructions. This includes guidance on using plain language and avoiding negative questions. Chapters follow on choosing form controls and making the form flow easily, with common-sense advice on meeting users’ expectations about how controls work, breaking up long forms by topic and avoiding surprising users with sudden changes.

The visual design of forms is discussed next. The authors advise not to stress too much over minute details. The principal guidance here is to put labels where users will see them, indicate required fields and choose legible text. To make a form look easy, there is advice on applying logos and branding to forms and on making forms look tidy and organised with grids and grouping.  Finally there’s a concluding chapter on usability testing which the authors are very keen on. I found the most interesting advice here to be that the authors find testing forms with more than five users usually leads to diminishing returns.

Overall, it’s a nicely designed book which also includes cartoons, case studies and a useful list of further reading with helpful comments.

“Forms that Work” is about usability rather than coding, so there’s nothing here about how to achieve some of the recommendations with CSS.  If you’re interested in this, then there’s a good free collection of links you could usefully explore in the Smashing Magazine article: CSS-Based Forms: Modern Solutions.

Forms that Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability is by Caroline Jarrett and Gerry Gaffney. It’s published by Morgan Kaufmann.

Oh, and apparently it doesn’t matter much either way if you use colons at the end of labels (p.132), but if you want a rule to follow, then use them (p. 140).

Related posts

See also my review of Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works. This is from the same publisher, shares the same overall book design and covers web writing apart from forms – making it a nice companion volume to “Forms that Work”.

Review: Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click?

Neuro Web Design reviews some of what neuroscientists now know about the brain and looks at how we can use this knowledge to develop more effective websites.  The main argument of the book is that people are not in conscious control of a lot of their behaviour and that web designers can benefit from  engaging directly with website visitors on an unconscious level.

Many of the suggestions made by the author are things which you will probably already regard as common- sense good practice. However it’s still interesting to follow through the scientific reasoning produced for why certain methods  of design and content production are more effective.

Among the things you learn about:

  • Reviews and ratings can influence people very strongly because of their need for social validation.
  • You can take advantage of people’s desire for reciprocity to influence website visitors to do what you want, even if it’s just by giving them free (useful) information.
  • Invoking a fear of scarcity can make people feel that your products are more desirable.
  • Providing too many choices can be bad and lead to people making no choice at all.
  • You should list the product which you want people to buy first in product listings, because the “order effect” leads people to believe “first is best”.
  • Using the words “you” and “yours” involves readers by speaking to their self-centred unconscious mind.
  • The concept of personas and people’s need to be consistent can be used to influence website users’ behaviour.
  • The principles of similarity, attractiveness and association can catch people’s attention and link them emotionally to your site.
  • Pictures and stories make powerful website content because they talk directly to the unconscious.

The book’s engagingly written and very short, so you can easily read it all in one sitting. Despite being initially sceptical about whether it could teach me anything useful, I did end up finding it quite interesting and a worthwhile read.

Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click? (Voices That Matter) by Susan M. Weinschenk Ph.D. is published by New Riders.

Review: Everything you know about CSS is wrong!

It must be said to start with that the title of this book is a bit overstated. Rather than ‘Everything you know about CSS is wrong!’, it would be more appropriately called ‘Some of the things you know about CSS layout techniques will be out of date in the near future (arguably)’. However I can see that this wouldn’t sell as many copies. It would also fail to capture the polemical flavour of the authors’ central argument: that web designers should seize the opportunity offered by the imminent release of Internet Explorer 8 to embrace CSS display tables for layout and abandon rubbishy old floats and faux columns for good.

In making a case for this,  the authors put across some nice points about how CSS layout techniques we have come to take for granted make simple layout tasks a heck of a lot more complicated than they really should be. This is a valid topic which a lot of books about CSS tend to skirt around. The book also contains  a short introduction to the CSS table display properties, a simple set of examples, discussion of the pros and cons of using them (mostly the pros though) and a chapter on considering older browsers. To conclude there is a look forward to the layout options that will be available (eventually) in CSS3.

The major criticism the book tends to provoke (one the authors foresee, but don’t entirely manage to assuage) is that it is  too soon to start using layout techniques which are unsupported by IE6 and, especially, by IE7. If we haven’t got rid of IE6 yet, which has been around since 2001, then how long will it take before we can really ignore IE7? The authors’ suggestion of providing simplified versions of designs for the most popular browser is unlikely to go down well with a lot of clients.

There also seem to be potential accessibility problems with CSS display tables unless the designer is careful. The authors downplay the importance of source order for accessibility, quoting research stating that “the source order of a web page is likely to be of little relevance to the majority of screen reader users”. I guess I might accept that for simple layout tables like the ones demonstrated in this book. However the major accessibility problems in traditional HTML table layouts were caused by endlessly nested tables messing up source order utterly and making pages impenetrable to  a screen reader user. If this kind of situation isn’t going to be repeated, then CSS display tables presumably need to be nested in moderation and care needs to be taken that content spread across cells reads in an acceptable order when linearised.

On the plus side,  it is always nice to know about another way of doing things and CSS display tables are a solid addition to anyone’s skill set for when you eventually find yourself in the lucky position of not having to bother about IE6 or 7.

In general, I found the book  a refreshing read. It provides a coherent argument,  is well written in a concise way and provokes you to question fundamental aspects of how you work. Not many web design or IT books manage this and it would be nice if more of them did.

Everything You Know About CSS is Wrong! by Rachel Andrew and Kevin Yank is published by Sitepoint.

10 favourite web design books

As a break from reviewing new books, this is a quick list of older web design books which I’ve enjoyed a lot.

Web Design

Designing with Web Standards – I read the first edition of Jeffrey Zeldman’s book in 2003 when I was  pretty fed up with the unsatisfying business of learning endless display hacks for different browsers, which web design then seemed mainly to consist of.  I  liked the whole idea that web standards offered a more coherent future for web development and the author’s coherently-argued narrative and gradualist approach made it all seem more realisable.

The Zen of CSS Design – Really opened my eyes to what could be done with CSS. Lots of really pretty stuff.

Bulletproof Web Design and CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standards Solutions – 2 very well-thumbed books on web design which I keep coming back to.

From a personal perspective, I’d like to include  The Art and Science of Web Design by Jeffrey Veen published back in 2000.  I borrowed this from the library at college in 2001 while doing an MSc in Information Systems. I read it through in an afternoon, totally caught up in it.  A lot of its advice is definitely outdated now, but it was well written and a great read at the time.

Usability

Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability – Fun to read and re-read. A real-life feel to the examples and some great graphics and cartoons which you can use with clients or project team members to explain points.

Designing Web Usability– Another book which I read at college as part of a module on user interface design which focused mainly on web usability. I felt like I got more out of this book than from everything else in the module combined. It’s powerfully (if somewhat prescriptively) argued and made a great cover-to-cover read at the time.

Accessibility

Building Accessible Websites – Well written with a friendly authorial voice and a pragmatic approach to accessible design. Also had a nice selection of resources on the accompanying CD.

Search and navigation

Ambient findability – I always enjoy well-written stuff about search and this is one of the most satisfying reads on the subject.

Information Architecture for the Word Wide Web – I read the original (shorter) version at college and enjoyed it a lot – then read the second, much larger, edition a couple of years ago. A really comprehensive look at navigation and search which gives you a lot to think about.

Review: Universal Design for Web Applications

Universal Design for Web Applications summarises a unified approach for designing web content so that it works better for people with disabilities and users of mobile devices. The authors identify an “overlap in needs and constraints between mobile and accessibility design”. They propose “universal design” as an approach which deals with both to provide “the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people possible”.

The pairing of mobile design with accessible design is a neat way of improving the marketability of design techniques which help people with disabilities. There’s some nice points made about the similarities between the difficulties of web-browsing on an iPhone and the problems which people with fine-motor disabilities or less-than perfect-vision can have when browsing on a PC or Mac. The authors go so far as to say that: “It could be that the current crop of mobile devices is the best thing to happen to people with disabilities for a long time. When else have millions of people stood in line with $199 or €129 or £99 in hand to purchase a functional disability?”

With an admirable brevity, the book neatly summarises the basic techniques required to meet level A compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. There are chapters advising on metadata, separating design from structure with CSS, proper use of tables, video and audio, scripting accessible menus, accessible Ajax and Rich Internet Applications. The Ajax section includes an introduction to the basics of the W3C/WAI Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) specification. The final parts of the book include plenty of links to useful resources and a 20-point checklist of questions to ask about your site which could be of real practical benefit.

The authors avoid being too doctrinaire – for example, the use of layout tables in email design is pragmatically accepted, as email clients currently make it impossible to get predictable results out of CSS.

The book is a good little introduction to accessible design and newcomers to the field should get a lot out of it. Even readers who already know a lot about accessibility may find the odd tip which is useful to them, especially if they want to sell accessible design to clients via examples of its benefits to users of mobile devices.

Universal Design for Web Applications: Web Applications That Reach Everyone is by Wendy Chisholm and Matt May. It’s published by O’Reilly.

Review: Letting Go of the Words – Writing Web Content that Works

Letting Go of the WordsThere are plenty of resources available nowadays about writing for the web and how it differs from writing for print. However, no other work I’ve seen comes closer to being a ‘one-stop shop’ for advice on web writing than Janice Redish’s Letting Go of the Words. It’s a nicely-produced book with well-chosen screen-shots and an easy-to-read style. The focus is on practical advice with a sensible emphasis on simplicity and focusing on website users’ expectations. It reads like a companion volume to Steve Krug’s excellent usability volume Don’t Make Me Think!, and Krug provides a fun foreword to this book.

The first two chapters focus on web content and web audiences in a broad sense. They review what good web writing consists of and how to focus on the specific needs of your site’s users. This includes a useful introduction to the use of personas and scenarios for user-centred design.

The book then looks in detail at writing good home pages, pathway pages and information pages. The coverage of pathway pages is particularly interesting, as this is a part of websites which doesn’t tend to get a lot of attention.

Some of the best stuff in the book is in the middle chapters which are primarily about the writing process itself. This includes sections about focusing on essential messages and tuning up your sentences. This is the part of the book where the title “Letting Go of the Words” comes to make most sense. There’s an emphasis on cutting away unnecessary verbiage and addressing users directly with short simple sentences, using words they would use themselves. There’s also a section on designing your web pages for easy use, which has some sensible advice about how design can impact upon the readability of web text.

Later chapters look at using lists and tables, headings, effective use of illustrations and writing meaningful links. The section on links is particularly useful, providing guidelines and examples you can usefully hand on to any content authors who are addicted to using “Click here”.

Finally the concluding section has good advice on drafting, working with reviewers and creating a style guide. There are additional special sections on writing online press releases and legal information which will be useful for a lot of corporate sites where these ubiquitous sections are often badly realised.

In general, I’d recommend this as a guide to web writing to anyone involved with creating websites, but its non-technical nature could make it especially useful as a resource for authors contributing to an organisation’s website via a content management system. If you can’t afford to send your web authors on courses about writing for the web or haven’t got time to write extensive guidance for them yourselves, then buying a copy of this book and sharing it around would be a great way to help them start thinking appropriately about how to approach online content creation.

Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That Works is by Janice (Ginny) Redish and is published by Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.

Review: Refactoring HTML

Refactoring HTMLThere’s nothing more dispiriting than being stuck with maintaining an old website with hundreds of pages of rubbishy “Netscape 4″-era code. There can be an overwhelming number of things which need fixing or updating. You may well be tempted to think it not worth trying to improve things incrementally and instead plan for a major redesign at some indeterminate point in the future – which maybe you’ll never get the time or the money to undertake.

If you find yourself in this situation, then Elliotte Rusty Harold’s book Refactoring HTML: Improving the design of existing web applications will be a good antidote to “wait for the redesign” paralysis. The book encourages taking a gradual approach to converting your website to a modern standards-compliant state, rather than trying to do everything at once. I think this is a great area to write a book about, since it fulfils a need a lot of website managers will have. Designing and building new sites is fun and there are an awful lot of books available about this creation process. Maintenance and incremental improvement of old sites is distinctly unsexy in comparison and gets much less shelf-space.

The book is a compendium of stuff, most of which you’ll probably already know you should be doing. It’s arranged with subjects listed in a cookbook fashion – covering why you want to make each change, potential trade-offs and the mechanics of how to carry out each improvement. The first chapter is an introduction to the subject of refactoring, which is a programming concept that may be new to a lot of web designers.

“Refactoring is the gradual improvement of a code base by making small changes that don’t modify a program’s behaviour, usually with the help of some kind of automated tool. The goal of refactoring is to remove the accumulated cruft of years of legacy code and produce cleaner code that is easier to maintain, easier to debug, and easier to add new features to.” From “Refactoring HTML”

In the second chapter, there is a thorough overview of automated tools you can use for refactoring. A lot of the information here is going to be of more use if you’re a programmer. However, the discussion of regular expressions should be of use to anyone who has to deal with outdated HTML code. It’s backed up by an appendix which provides a beginner’s guide to regular expressions. Throughout the book there are specific regular expressions supplied for fixing particular problems which will be hugely useful to non-programmers like me who find writing their own regular expressions a pain.

Chapters 3 and 4 cover all the aspects of well-formedness and validity in HTML documents. The author is sensibly not insistent upon validation for its own sake and on several occasions gives examples of times when it may be pragmatically better to go for an invalid option. He also points out where the standards don’t actually make much sense – the rule that block quotes can’t be within paragraphs is one example discussed which has always really annoyed me.

Chapter 5 covers layout, with some discussion of replacing table layouts and frames-based layouts with CSS. However this is definitely not a design-oriented book and its CSS advice is limited to providing some basic layouts and advising that CSS is ‘very much a technique for full-time professionals”.

The book continues with a nice-to-see chapter on accessibility and a section on web applications. The latter includes an interesting section on Web Forms 2.0 types as well as solid advice on older topics, like when to use POST or GET and the need to escape all user input. Finally, there’s a chapter on content which – like the section on layout – is pretty basic. Still, it’s nice to see an emphasis on the need for correct spelling in a book that seems to be aimed primarily at coders.

Refactoring HTML as a whole is certainly useful for anyone managing a badly-coded site, especially if they haven’t thought much about ways to semi-automate testing and improvements.

Refactoring HTML: Improving the design of existing web applications by Elliotte Rusty Harold is published by Addison-Wesley.

Requirements gathering for web projects

The process of requirements gathering can be difficult at times, but is obviously essential if you want to build a solid foundation for your web project. Below are some free resources which will hopefully improve your ability to define requirements effectively, whether for your own sites or when helping clients to formulate their needs.

Articles and podcasts

A good article to start with is Requirements Gathering Essentials by Martin Bauer. It emphasises the need to think through a project properly before starting, but sensibly advises that there is no “right” method for all projects. “Instead, it prepares you to formulate your own, customised requirements gathering procedure by explaining the key issues you should consider.”

There are a couple of nice discussions about requirements available on Boagworld.com which are also great for newcomers to the topic. Show 23 has a segment on “scoping your web project” and Show 102 includes Marcus Lillington talking about requirements capture.

Identifying Website Requirements by Kathryn Summers & Michael Summers is a useful long article on getting requirements and understanding your clients’ perspective.

Content? Or Dis-content by Garth A. Buchholz looks at the important topic of properly planning content requirements.

Dealing with clients is an art unto itself. See 20 Ways to Keep Clients Coming Back For More by Akash Mehta for some ideas about this. Interviewing abilities and meeting management skills will also help. Amplifying your Effectiveness has an article on “Building a requirements foundation through customer interviews”, which isn’t specifically about website requirements but has a lot of good general advice about questioning clients. From a more focused designer perspective, Rookie Designer has a podcast segment on controlling a meeting which you may also find useful.

Checklists and standards

Hobo’s website design & development project checklist is a useful list of “what things a web designer should make clear to their client and get agreements on when developing any website”, including things which can be overlooked, like planning for training and updates for a CMS if one is being used.

Out-law.com’s web design checklist is written from a UK legal viewpoint for people commissioning a website, but could also be useful for designers.

Michael Cordova has written a comprehensive web design checklist which can be given to clients.

For scoping accessibility requirements, the PAS 78 standard is available for free. Obviously you should also refer to the WCAG accessibility checklist.

Examples of questions and forms for clients

You can download an example client survey for a website redesign from the site for the book “Web ReDesign 2.0: Workflow that works”, along with plenty of other useful stuff. The book itself is great, but obviously it’s aimed at redesigns rather than sites which are being build from scratch.

You can also look at web design agencies’ sites to get some ideas from how other people capture requirements from clients. Below are some companies who publish requirements-gathering material on their websites.

Anything else?

Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list. Please comment if you want to add any links to resources which you’ve found particularly useful.

Related posts

Free ebooks for web project management

10 useful web-related podcasts

I get through a lot of podcasts to keep myself sane during my three hours a day of commuting time. These are some of the web-related ones which I’ve enjoyed and find myself coming back to:

1. Boagword

Boagworld is definitely one of my favourite podcasts. It’s marketed as being “for those who design, develop or run websites”. Paul Boag is the host and is excellent at communicating complicated concepts in a comprehensible way. Marcus Lillington’s stuff about dealing with clients and project management can be quite useful too. Between them they provide a nice rounded coverage of both the technical and business side of web design, all with decent production values and a reliably regular publication schedule.

2. The Rissington Podcast

The Rissington Podcast is a quirky British podcast for “web-geeks”. Its funny, often rude and occasionally useful. I particularly enjoyed the Papa Lazarou impression and the Doctor Who questions in the latest show.

3.Web Axe

Web Axe has “practical web accessibility tips” provided in a non-preachy way, with plenty of useful stuff in the accompanying blog.

4. Rookie Designer

Rookie Designer is the personal podcast of Adam Hay who provides “tips, techniques and discussion delivered in an easy-to-understand format”, served up with plentiful helpings of actual experience. The archive contains discussions of lots of useful topics for designers.

5. Photoshop User TV

Photoshop User TV is a video podcast which is a great free resource for improving your Photoshop skills.

6. Adobe Creative Suite video podcast

The Adobe Creative Suite video podcast is also useful as a free training resource. It goes into detail about using particular features in Adobe products, so can be used at the moment to get an introduction to new features in CS4.

7. WordPress podcast

The WordPress podcast provides “news, tips and information” and is especially useful for keeping up with news and discussion of software changes and updates.

8. SXSW podcasts

Conference sites can be a great source for interesting podcasts. SXSW 2008 has a huge variety of topics covered, and there is plenty of good stuff archived for 2007 and 2006. Some of the more technical presentations suffer a bit however from being separated from the accompanying screen demos.

9. The Web Hosting Show

For a bit of variety after all the web design material above, the Web Hosting Show is a fun inside look at the topic of hosting which is useful for hosting company clients as well as hosts themselves. Mitch Keeler is a lively host who explains hosting topics in a down-to-earth way which anyone should be able to follow. The shows are also nice and short, so you can quickly get up to speed on subjects which interest you if you want to pick and choose which to listen to.

10. IT conversations

Finally, there are plenty of interesting web-related podcasts available from IT conversations. These are professionally produced and include interviews exploring the latest ideas from all sorts of perspectives. There’s a massive archive available, so you can fill up your iPod with weeks worth of material here. Free registration is required.

Review: Building Findable Websites

Building Findable Websites: Web Standards, SEO and Beyond by Aarron Walter is a book that I’ve got a lot out of. Its full of useful material which should be of real practical help to people involved in any facet of a web project. It has a refreshingly holistic approach which looks at website findability in the widest possible manner, avoiding the narrowly doctrinaire perspective of some writings on web standards, SEO or accessibility and including lots of examples which are immediately useful in the real world.

His wide-ranging remit means that the book will probably be most appreciated by webmasters or web project managers whose roles involve them needing to straddle a range of disciplines. Web developers, designers or SEO gurus may perceive some of it as unfocused as it switches rapidly between generalist explanations and low-level technical examples, with topics covered ranging over coding, server administration, marketing tips and WordPress implementations. However, this variety appealed to me and should ensure that most readers are going to learn at least something new about areas they may not know so much about.

After introducing the author’s concept of findability as a discipline, the book starts by discussing markup strategies. The importance of web standards and accessibility are predictably emphasised, but there’s also a spirited defence of the benefits of web standards for SEO which is interesting. The book then moves into a discussion of server-side strategies for findability with advice on domain names, search engine friendly URLs, redirects, 404 pages, optimizing performance and controlling search engine indexing.

The middle section of the book discusses content creation for findability and then includes a whole chapter on findability for blogs. This was probably my favourite single section and includes lots of specific stuff about using WordPress. There’s then a chapter on adding search to your site. This discusses a range of options, including both free and paid-for solutions. For me personally, the most useful tip in the book was on page 156 in this section. Here you can find out how to implement Google Custom Search Engine so that users who don’t have JavaScript won’t get an empty search results page, without having to direct all users to search results hosted on Google’s site. The apparent reliance on JavaScript had been putting me off using Google CSE where I wanted to integrate it into my own sites, so this was really useful to me.

The book continues with a look at solving findability problems with JavaScript, Flash and audio / video content. It then moves onto an overview of mailing lists before concluding with a chapter on “Putting Findability Into Practice”, emphasising the need to adapt the techniques introduced in the book to the specific needs of your own projects.

In general, the book’s got a nice readable style. The expected experience level of readers is pitched at “Intermediate to Advanced” according to the back cover and people just starting out may find some of the more technical stuff a bit daunting. However, there’s a decent effort made to explain even the more complicated concepts and beginners could still learn a lot. Good references are included to further reading and also to some relevant podcasts – which is something I really appreciate when authors include.

The companion site is a great addition to the published book. It includes a comprehensive list of links to useful resources and a further five chapters of the book available free. I thought the chapter on web traffic analysis was a particularly good introduction to the topic, but all of the free chapters are worth reading. There is also a Findability Strategy Checklist which acts as a quick reference for the topics covered in the book. This is a nice practical tool which could be useful for any web project.

Building Findable Websites: Web Standards, SEO and Beyond is by Aarron Walter and is published by New Riders.

Free images for web projects

zoom lens of camera

Alternatively you could take the pictures yourself ...

Finding the right picture for a particular project can be a pain when you have a limited budget available. Luckily, there are plenty of places on the web to find images which are available for free use. Most “free” images still have some sort of conditions attached to usage, so always check the terms associated with an individual picture before you publish it. Below is a list I’ve compiled of useful free image sites with some brief comments on each, so that you can get an idea of what they cover.

Easy Stock Photos
Public domain pictures in loads of categories. Subjects you may not find elsewhere include Attractions, Education, Events, Music and Tools & Machinery. Not as many pictures under each category as elsewhere, but generally good quality.

EveryStockPhoto.com
Search engine for stock photos over multiple collections. Registration is required and photos found will have individual licenses for use which you need to ensure you comply with. The “featured searches” section on the front page gives you a good idea of the search index’s depth.

Finally Creative
Public domain image gallery. Large number of nature pictures.

FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Good general selection, especially strong on UK-specific images.

Free Pictures
Extensive collection of animal pictures.

FreeImages.com
Nice selection of topics covered, especially strong on animals and travel.

free-images.org.uk
The usual section types, plus specialities including useful Christmas and Halloween sections, images of gemstones and hearts and a whole section on Bruges!

FreeImages.co.uk
Wide range of nicely categorised images. Good selection of backdrop images. Home, office, sports, seasonal, technology & transport, objects and nature are among the categories, with good numbers of images in each. Requires registration to see all pictures.

Freephotos.lu
‘Repository for free public domain photos’. Decent variety on offer. The selection of background images could be particularly useful.

Gimp Savvy
Lots of nature and space pictures.

Image*After
“Large online free photo collection”. Great for textures, as well as including a full range of other topics.

MorgueFile
“Public image reference archive” which “contains free high resolution digital stock photography for either corporate or public use”. Great selection, well organised into sections.

Photogen
Some nice photos with UK locations and transport well covered and a good range of objects, abstract & concept images and backgrounds & textures. Registration required to download images.

Public-domain-photos.com
Good selection, especially strong on USA location travel photos.

PublicDomainPictures.net
Royalty-free stock photos on a full range of categories. The “light effects” category has some nice ideas.

Stockvault
Large site – includes good balance of nature and industrial images & selections of textures and 3D renders.

Stock.XCHNG
Huge gallery of images. Requires registration.

Uncle Sam’s Photos
“A directory of the U.S. government’s free stock photo sites.” Lots of useful stuff on the environment, science, transportation, health and people. American history too.

Webcreationz
Free image gallery with some striking photos.

Wikimedia has a fantastic directory which has to be the list of free image resources currently available. Its designed to help people avoid naughtily posting copyrighted images on Wikipedia but is enormously helpful whatever your need for free pictures is. Another useful resource hosted on the Wikimedia toolserver is FIST – the Free Image Search Tool. Wikimedia Commons also has an enormous collection of freely usable media files.

Finally, you can search on Google or Flickr for free images. In Google, use advanced search and look for creative commons pictures by selecting “free to use, share or modify, even commercially” under Usage Rights. Flickr has a special section for pictures with a Creative Commons license.

Web work in a recession

There have been a lot of interesting posts recently on the Sitepoint and Webmaster World forums speculating about how well-placed web professionals are to deal with the oncoming recession. After a bit of research (10 minutes on said forums), I can summarise some of the main points made as follows:

  1. In so far as websites are part of marketing and advertising activities, they are likely to suffer in a recession since these areas tend to be the first to have their budgets cut when economic times are bad. However, online advertising may have a cost advantage over more expensive forms of offline promotional activity and could well see its proportion of marketing spend increase over the course of a recession. There is an interesting discussion on Webmaster World about recent trends in Google AdSense revenues which has some people reporting big drops in October and others saying things have stayed pretty steady. UK webmasters are in the happiest situation here, as the pound falling against the dollar means their AdSense revenues can actually be increasing.
  2. People working on websites which are vital to an organisation’s activities – e.g. through e-commerce or the provision of core services online – are less likely to be badly affected by cuts in a downturn.
  3. Small and large businesses alike are likely to suffer from lack of available credit. Small businesses and freelancers have the benefit of greater possible flexibility, but could be in trouble if they lack cash reserves or are too dependent upon big clients who go under.

The most sensible remedial advice on offer seems to revolve around striving to offer the best value to your organisation or client, aligning your offer closely to their business plan and coming up with ways to save them money wherever possible. Of course, I suppose we are doing this all the time anyway, aren’t we …?