Tuesday, 26 July 2016

What is Adobe CQ and Adobe AEM

Adobe CQ is Adobe's Enterprise Level Web Content Management System. Recently, it re-branded to become Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) to reflect its ever expanding universe of functionality and features. Some of the world's biggest brands use AEM to deliver web content to audiences of millions. It really has become the weapon of choice for anyone who's anyone on the the web.
Why is it so popular?
That's actually hard to say. There are a lot of things it does really, really well but it is very expensive to run. The software licence alone can run into 6 figures annually. That's hard to swallow when other competing technologies offer almost everything AEM does for a tenth of the price. But still, AEM continues to take over the world, one website at a time.
On the positive side, it comes with a great set of features out of the box and, with a little tinkering, can deliver an engaging website in a very short space of time. The built-in component-based system means you can quickly put together a complex site in record time. And the built-in code editor (CRXDE Lite) means you can customise components on the fly.
To be continued...

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Responsive Web Design: Media Queries are not enough

Responsive web design is very much the buzz word in web design today. Like so many of its contemporaries, it's made the uneasy transition from in-industry term to general web-marketing parlance and, in so doing, it's true meaning has been somewhat diluted.

It always intrigues me when complex web development terminology finds its way into marketing and planning meetings. Sometimes, a client will even drop the term into a brief. My previous favourite (which was prolific around 6 or 8 years ago) was "Web 2.0". Only the people who didn't really understand it would ever say it and heaven forbid you should scratch the surface and ask what they actually knew about it!

It's easy to see why "Responsive Web Design" has followed Web 2.0 down that road. It's a very accessible term which uses everyday words that belie the hidden complexities and it is these complexities that drove me to write this piece.

Media Queries

Media Queries are great in theory and they've been around a lot longer than the devices that demand them today. For example, providing an alternative printable style sheet is a form of media query manipulation and there is no better way to provide this kind of functionality than a media query. However, using media queries as a method to provide alternative layouts for various devices at various screen resolutions really is a flawed brief.

I believe it is a mistake that completely underestimates the task at hand if your only form of device "responsiveness" is a media query that checks the screen res. There is much more to creating a usable and fulfilling mobile (or tablet) experience than visually laying out the design to simply "fit" the screen. And herein lies the problem, because all your user can see is the visual response to a handheld device, it has become the essence of the widely used and misunderstood phrase "Responsive Web Design".

A successful mobile website will have a completely different interface to its desktop, point and click, counterpart. It might respond to touch, swipe and pinch gestures and things like hover states that trigger submenus and drop-downs simply will not work. So, assuming that your desktop website has things like hover activated drop-downs, it's almost certainly going to employ a client side interaction library like JQuery and all the .js files that you have included to make your interactivity work. Are we suggesting that the mobile user will be forced to download 2-300k of JQuery and Javascript only to not use it on the mobile version of the site?

So, if not Media Queries, what do we use?

Answer coming soon...

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Nominating a Web Design Agency

Choosing a graphic design agency is like choosing a restaurant. Bigger is not better. If you need something quick and dirty to fill a hole, the golden arches are fine but you wouldn’t take a client there for dinner.

In order to get what you need from your agency, you need access to the real talent behind the scenes – in the same way you need the Michelin Starred chef to prepare your meal.

Graphic design, even on the web, is an art not a science. Good design is not done on an industrial scale, it is about the talent of individuals (or small teams) and how they can channel it to deliver creative and professional artwork that fulfills your brief.

The problem for you is that you cannot specifically "measure" the quality of an agency’s visual design capabilities. You can only look at what they do and see if you like it – not the most scientific of approaches but what else can you do? In the first instance, you must try to think of it from your client's perspective. So, do not ask yourself, "do I like it", instead say, "would my prospective client like it". Then, expand upon the word, "like". A judgement shouldn’t be made on likability. A better word would be "appropriateness". Is this design style "appropriate" for my audience.

The oldest clich̩ in the book is that a picture paints a thousand words but, frankly, it's true. The text in your brochure and on your website will always carry similar positive messaging to that found in the marketing communications of your competitors Рespecially when you sell an intangible service. So, one of your key differentiators will always be not what you say but, rather, how you say it. Tone of voice is critical in delivering your pitch and the tone is set (at least in the first instance) with the subtle visual language used in your design. To finish as we began, with a culinary analogy, the first bite is with the eye!

But what about technical capabilities?

Fortunately, the technical capabilities of an agency are easier to measure than their visual acuity. You can ask about specifics and you should get specific answers (although you need the background knowledge to know what questions to ask and whether the answers are satisfactory).
There are a few key things to check for and they sit in three main categories: Server-level technology, web application technology and client-side technology.

Server environment

  • Is the server stable and reliable? Can the agency guarantee 99.9% uptime?
  • Are there regular back-ups? What is the restore from back-up lead time?
  • Does your agency have administrative rights to manage the server?
  • Is the server wholly owned by your agency or is a third-party involved. If so, who and where?

Web application technology

  • What technology will the application tier employ?
  • Will industry standard technology be used that allows you to switch agencies in the future? I.e. will the development techniques be understandable by a third-party should the need arise to move away from the agency who originated the site?
  • Does the agency fully understand the security implications of using this technology?
  • How are application failures monitored and dealt with?

Client-side technology

  • What will the client side technology be?
  • Will it be fully cross-browser compatible?
  • Will it require the use of browser plug-ins?
  • Will it be W3C compliant and accessible (meeting the requirements of The Equalities Act 2010)?
  • As with the application tier (above), will the technology be portable to another agency?

The bottom line

Before getting into such a detailed line of questioning with your agencies, start with one key question: "Can you show us an HTML5 website that looks beautiful and validates with the W3C online code validation tool and scores a minimum of 8.9 on Silktide Nibbler?". If the agency cannot give you that, they are not the agency for you.