Rob Tomlinson's blog

Attitude, experience and sounding-off are filed-away here in various combinations. Topics range from the technical (web design), to the commercial (being a freelancer), to the nifty (great software to use) as well as the annoying and delighting. The opinions expressed here are unashamedly mine.

Website building resources

The business of building a website is sufficiently detailed. Anyone engaged in this detail comes to depend upon a wide range of resources. Amongst these, there are some on whose giant shoulders we alight almost routinely. They deserve mention.

This list is something that I should have posted long ago. So here it is, better late than never. Most are agnostic in the sense that they apply regardless of the technology that any one web developer or designer uses. All but one are free.

Database alley

Here’s my pseuds’ corner post for the year, which will be of especial interest to all who have worked with databases.

Viewing those big pictures

Handling the display of images where their height or their width exceeds the height or width of the user’s screen is an on-going challenge. It’s also been a moving target of a challenge. As the cameras we use to capture images become more powerful, the size of screens on which we might want to display these images get smaller. Just when the web design community settles on a neat way of dealing with this, the parameters shift once more.

To that mix might also be added the constraint of using plugins which are available for a particular platform. What’s available for Wordpress, might not be available for Drupal, and so on.

Targeting a menu link from two levels down

A web page usually has a menu link that gets you there, as does this blog post with its menu link in the vertical menu of blog posts, listed chronologically, newest at the top. When you are reading this post, that menu link will be styled bold. That bit is easy.

Strengthening your passwords

This won’t be new but the detail might be sufficiently interesting to make you do something about it.

There’s no need to re-explain the context in detail. In brief: the passwords we use for our on-line accounts need to be strong. A strong password is one that takes more time to crack using “brute force”.

Help is at hand

I usually build websites that my clients can work with themselves, enabling them to add, edit and delete content without their needing to come back to me for all of this sort of micro-management. Some of my clients like this facility and some don’t, preferring instead to have me work with their site’s content. Typically, I allow clients access to a sub-set of a site’s below-decks workings so that (a) they can’t break the site and (b) whatever they add automatically gets an agreed visual style applied to it without them needing to worry about that aspect of things.

Drupal version 8: loyalty or farewell?

Software evolves, updates are released and we all tread the moving pavement. So it is even with open-source software projects, such as Drupal and Wordpress. There are few exemptions. To Benjamin Franklin’s death and taxes, we should these days add software updates. And why not? Software projects are complicated and bugs slip out alongside improved functionality. So there is an inevitable iteration of minor and major releases. Minor releases, such as from Drupal 7.1 to Drupal 7.2, are usually evolutionary.

What's included with my new website and what's extra?

Every client seeks and deserves reassurance when signing up for a new website. It doesn’t matter if they are up-to-speed with web technology or not. At some point they will ask: “What’s included with the new design?” This question of course has its uncomfortable twin: “What’s not included and what must I pay as an extra?” Web design is no different to any other ‘industry’. The norm is one of perpetual flux, change and progress. So the answer to these questions today is not the same as it was several years ago.

So here goes: here’s what I believe should be included without question when a new site is designed for a client.

Progressive JPEGs and Donald Rumsfeld

In web design, even small decisions can have a big impact. The way in which your web designer compresses and saves JPEG images is a case in point. What’s at stake is an improvement in user experience. The explanation of the technical stuff gives Donald Rumsfeld a small but important walk-on part, so keep an eye out for his sneaky appearance here.

Interactivity that supports content

Here’s an example of how complexity beneath the surface of a web page looks as natural and intuitive as you can get. It concerns maps, menus and information. You can see the interface I’m describing on this website on this page (new tab/window). Check it out then return here for the rest of this article.

A map menu and a text menu

We begin with the basic idea that we have a set of data. In this instance, the data is a small collection of pages about geographical places. We can plot these on a map with each place being represented with its own marker on that map.

Pages