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
45+ new jQuery techniques for good user experience (Smashing Magazine)
Noupe has several categorised lists:
jQueryPlugins.com – An entire site dedicated to jQuery plugins with categories for user interface, navigation, forms and extensions.
240 plugins jQuery (Sastgroup.com)
jQuery plugins (Chirill Trescencov)
100 popular jQuery examples, plugins and tutorials (Template Lite)
The ultimate jQuery plugin list (Kollermedia)
JQuery at its best (Spicy News)
jQuery plugins for forms
25+ jQuery plugins that enhance and beautify HTML form elements (Queness)
10 top jQuery plugins for form usability (Steve Reynolds)
7 jQuery plugins to manipulate TEXTAREAs (Steve Reynolds)
10 best jQuery datepickers plugins (AjaxLine)
jQuery plugins for images
14 jQuery plugins for working with images (Six Revisions)
Top 14 jQuery photo slideshow / gallery plugins (Blueprint Design Studio)
6 image manipulation plugins for jQuery you should know about (Shiny Blog)
10 best jQuery sliders (AjaxLine)
3 wonderful jQuery plugins to play with images (Baj Pakhi)
jQuery plugins for menus
10 best jQuery menu plugins (AjaxLine)
11 jQuery plugins to enhance HTML dropdowns (Steve Reynolds)
8 amazing jQuery accordions (Cats Who Code)
jQuery plugins for tables/charts
jQuery plugins for browser issue fixes
15 jQuery plugins to fix and beautify browser issues (DevSnippets)
jQuery plugins for use with other stuff …
Power of WordPress and jQuery: 30+ great plugins (Noupe)
jQuery plugins for SEO (Tim Nash)
8 jQuery plugins that utilize Google APIs (Steve Reynolds)
7 of my favourite jQuery plugins for use with ASP.NET (Encosia)
Great jQuery plugins for Drupal (DrupalSN)
6 jQuery plugins to use within your content in a Learning Management System (Random Syntax)
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)
30 awesome design enhancing jQuery plugins (Line 25)
20 most interesting jQuery plugins – February 2009 (AjaxLine)
20 jQuery plugins for unforgettable user experience (DevSnippets)
20 amazing jQuery plugins and 65 excellent jQuery resources (Speckyboy)
Using jQuery to style design elements: 20 impressive plugins (DevSnippets)
10 best jQuery plugins – March 2009 (AjaxLine)
10+ most interesting and useful JQuery plugins – January 2009 (AjaxLine)
10+ useful jQuery plugins (AjaxLine)
10 useful JQuery plugins (Enhance the User Experience)
Top 10 jQuery plugins and resources (LogicPool)
10 must have jQuery plugins and extensions (Front-End Book)
10 most useful and essential jQuery plugins (Microgeist)
10 jQuery plugins every developer can’t live without (Refresh Events)
10 quick win jQuery plugins (Steve Reynolds)
10 Über cool jQuery plugins (Invisible Window)
10 jQuery essentials (php four)
7 jQuery plugins to really enhance users experience (Shiny Blog)
7 jQuery plugins that made our lives easier at ON Networks (Nick Lewis)
The 6 most useful jQuery plugins (Flexible Developments)
5 useful jQuery plugins which saved me a lot of work (Dev Blog)
Five jQuery plugins that are a joy to use (Pathfinder Development)
4 cool jQuery plugins (DesignerFied)
4 jQuery plugins (Fresh)
Top 3 jQuery plugins for web designers and developers (Noam Web Design Blog)
List of useful jQuery plugins (Mark Grabanski)
jQuery Plugins – Best for Web Designers (Hidden Pixels)
My favourite jQuery plugins (Simple.Friendly.Solutions.)
Top jQuery plugins for web 2.0 effects (Website Ideas)
Must have jQuery plugins (SKFox)
jQuery plugin favorites (Cody Lindley)
jQuery plugins (Caty’s Blog)
I’ve noticed that Internet.com has some interesting ebooks on project management available which just require free registration with their site to download.
One of the most useful of these from a web project perspective is Best Practices for Developing a Web Site by Paul Chin. This is written for business users, but has material which may be useful for designers to help them better present web development concepts to clients.
The book includes sections on developing a web site strategy, defining the concept for your site, the pros & cons of building in-house vs. outsourcing and guidance for finding a web site host. It also has useful checklists for defining web site anatomy and for evaluating web site designers, web site hosts and domain name registrars.
Developing a Content Management System Strategy is another free Internet.com ebook by the same author. It’s got a good emphasis on the cultural factors which impact on CMS deployment and a discussion of reasons you may consider open source or commercial CMS software. There’s also a simple checklist for evaluating CMS tools.
There are also some general project management books on Internet.com which may be of interest, including Becoming a Better Project Manager and In Search of the Holy Grail for Projects.
I wrote a post last year which presented a selection of free resources for web project requirements gathering.
The UK Government yesterday announced it wants to promote the use of open source software in the public sector. There’s a good discussion of this on the Guardian’s technology blog: UK government puts open source software on equal footing for procurement.
From the point of view of improving value for money in public sector website development, I think this is definitely good news - particularly if it boosts the use of open source content management systems over their proprietary cousins. The policy also contains a welcome commitment to open formats for information published on government websites.
Andrew Donoghue has a funny take on the story at ZDNet: UK Government reckons this open source thingy could catch on maybe.
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).
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”.
As a break from reviewing new books, this is a quick list of older web design books which I’ve enjoyed a lot.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’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.
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.
Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list. Please comment if you want to add any links to resources which you’ve found particularly useful.
Free ebooks for web project management
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 …?