Pixel Acres

Goodbye conditional comments

The very first article I wrote on this blog, back in July 2006, was titled Goodbye hacks. Hello conditional comments. In that post I discussed how conditional comments could be used to feed different stylesheets to older version of Internet Explorer, smoothing differences between browser rendering engines without resorting to CSS hacks.

Conditional comments have provided a great stopgap measure while we wait for obsolete versions of IE to fall into disuse, but as the market share of IE6 and IE7 has dwindled I’ve found myself relying on them less and less. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I resorted to a separate stylesheet to make an old browser behave.

How to spot a troublesome client

I’ve written in the past about how it is just as important to turn down the wrong clients as it is to work with the right ones, but even when a client ticks all the right boxes they might still spell trouble. Here are a few problematic clients to watch out for:

The Carrot Dangler

The Carrot Dangler will tempt you with promises of lucrative work in the future if you agree to take on their first project at a generous discount. Like the carrot that coaxes a donkey to pull its cart, this client hopes that the lure of more work will secure your loyalty, and make you receptive to the idea of lowering your fee.

It goes without saying that the dangling carrot will always remain just out of your reach, as elusive as the proverbial pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. If you do have an opportunity to work with this client in the future they will almost certainly plead poverty again, then dangle another carrot in front of you.

When confronted with a Carrot Dangler remind yourself that if they don’t have the money to pay you fairly now, they probably won’t in the future either. Don’t let the carrot tempt you into putting yourself at a financial disadvantage.

A website can’t be measured in pages

For a long time page count has been used as a unit of measurement in web design and development. Clients will often phrase a pricing enquiry by asking “how much would it cost for a (x) page website?”, and when quoting on a project it can be tempting to measure the required effort in these terms. Some web developers go a step further by assigning a fixed value to a page, and sell page-based website packages to their clients: a 5 page website for $800, a 10 page site for $1,500 and so forth. This approach is shortsighted for several reasons.

Thinking Web, a free ebook from Sitepoint

Sitepoint have just announced the release of a free ebook, Thinking Web: Voices of the Community. The book is a collaborative effort designed to tap the wealth of knowledge that can be found in the Sitepoint forums.

The book is over 200 pages in length, and covers a whole gamut of topics including web accessibility, coding HTML emails, database basics, online marketing, and going freelance.

Get the book for free from the Sitepoint store.

What to charge when subcontracting

There is an interesting conversation going on in the Drawar forum about how much freelancers should charge when they subcontract their services. The question being posed in the forum thread is whether a designer/developer should consider discounting their hourly rate when they take on contract work.

While I prefer to take on projects where I deal directly with the client, I still do my fair share of subcontracting, both for agencies and for other freelance designers, and my policy is to always charge my full hourly rate.

Host your own fonts.com web fonts

Self hosting

Monotype have added a feature to their fonts.com web font service, giving subscribers the option to host fonts on their own server.

This feature was previously only available to customers who purchased extended Web Fonts Services licensing, but now anyone with a Professional account can opt to self-host. In addition to the traditional font embedding methods subscribers can download a self-hosting kit containing their typefaces in various formats, ready to deploy to their web server.

When Typekit launched in 2009 one of the reservations I expressed about subscription web font services was their reliance on Content Distribution Networks (CDNs), which introduce a potential point of failure. I’ve not had any problems with fonts.com’s CDN, but self-hosting is apparently one of their most requested features, so it’s good to hear that it’s now an option. MyFonts already allow customers to self-host their web fonts, and it will be interesting to see if other font venders follow suit.

Book Review: Volume

Volume book cover

While I was twiddling my thumbs waiting for my last Amazon shipment to arrive I asked my studio mate if he had any design theory books I could borrow. “Aha! I’ve got just the thing”, he said (or words to that effect) and plucked a copy of Kenneth Fitzgerald’s Volume from his bookshelf. The author’s name didn’t ring any bells, but the book’s back cover promised a survey of “the discipline of graphic design in context with the parallel creative fields of contemporary music and art”. Since I love graphic design, music and art, I figured I was on to a good thing.

Getting unspecific with CSS

Anyone familiar with CSS will have encountered the concept of specificity, a nifty mechanism that allows web browsers to resolve conflicts between CSS declarations. Specificity is an essential component of the CSS cascade, and most of time it works in predictable ways which make your job simpler. However if you get too specific with your CSS selectors you might be making your stylesheets more complex than they need to be.

Filed under: CSS

Book Review: The Design of Everyday Things

The Design of Everyday Things cover

Donald A. Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things frequently pops up on lists of “must read” design books, but I’ve somehow managed to avoid reading it until now. I finally included the book in my last Amazon order, and now I wish I hadn’t waited so long to get my hands on a copy, because it really is a classic that deserves all the praise that’s been heaped on it.

The Design of Everyday Things was first published in 1988 under the title The Psychology of Everyday Things, and is aimed at anyone involved in the design process, regardless of which field they work in. Norman’s background is in cognitive science, and in the book he explores the psychology of everyday objects, making a persuasive argument for the importance of a user-centered approach to design. After reading The Design of Everyday Things you will never look at a tap, light switch, stove top, or telephone the same way again (and I guarantee you’ll learn a thing or two about the layout of your computer keyboard!)

Best viewed in Safari

Remember when websites came with disclaimers listing their minimum viewing requirements, and shooed away anyone who didn’t make the grade? “This website is best viewed in Netscape Navigator” visitors would be advised, or “View this site in Internet Explorer at 800×600 resolution”. Those were the bad old days, and I would like to believe that as a community we have learned our lesson and moved on, embracing graceful degradation and progressive enhancement as alternatives to the “my way or the highway” mentality.

This morning I visited a website that caused me to wonder if we’ve come so far after all. I was looking forward to experiencing the site’s typography, which I’d been informed was exemplary, and was surprised when my browser served up fallback system fonts rather than the embedded web fonts I was expecting. A warning message in the masthead informed me that if the fonts looked “kind of weird” I should switch to Chrome or Safari.