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Quality is in the eye of the beholder

Every Wednesday, and occasionally another day of the week too, I have a chat with Joen about a very small selection of topics: they vary from talent to quality, and from bad/good opinions to arrogance. Joen happens to be right most of the times, meaning that I go down painfully. Sometimes, we agree. Those moments are rare, though. However, and it’s one of my bigger issues, I try to define something that’s hard to define. This post, I will try to tell you what I think is quality. Sit tight!

Something that serves a purpose is good. Quality is something that serves a purpose but stands out. Examples. Like with music. A song can be more than its genre. Web design: a two-column blog layout can be designed quite well. Movies: Pulp Fiction isn’t an action movie. Also. It stands out. It might not do wonders for the genre, but it stands out because it’s more. It’s more than just serving the purpose that’s constrained by a genre (take note that my use of the word genre is very general here).

Now, you might disagree (yes, Joen, Britney Spears and all), but when I judge things, I take an objective look at it. I don’t have enough experience to know how to serve all purposes, but I step away from my personal preferences. That way I can see that yes, Britney Spears serves a purpose and does so well, but Opeth, a band I never heard any song of, was played into my very own ears yesterday, and though I’m not into metal/goth/whatever, I immediately heard why they are Good. Their music doesn’t fit into one genre, but excels in many. It’s not my music at all (I like other stuff better), but I heard why it is for many others.

Tell me, how do you define quality? Give me examples. They work.

(If you disagree with me, d’accord, but don’t flame here. Explain your opinion or keep your mouth shut.)

Music batons suck

Yet Another Meme. I won’t forget this, Matthew. Really, buddy, thanks a lot.

Total volume of music files on my computer

Blimey. Fairly low amount, but 3.1 days in 4.93GB. I know, it’s not much. But I will be buying some new music when the clients cough up.

The last CD I bought was

Ouch, that’s been a while too. Gotta be… R.E.M.’s Around the Sun (Moby’s Hotel was given to me).

Song playing right now

Take It Easy (Love Nothing) by Bright Eyes. Surrounded by NYC by Interpol and If Love is A Red Dress (Hang Me in Rags) by Maria McKee.

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me

  1. I Am Always the One Who Calls — Pedro the Lion
  2. Remind Me — Röyksopp
  3. Reconstruction Site — The Weakerthans
  4. Canadian Love Song Part 1 — The Edible Five Foot Smiths
  5. Sultans of Swing — Dire Straits

Five people to whom I’m passing the baton (apologies if you’ve already been hit up)

Jina, Jon, Indranil, Mathias and Anatoly.

(Discussion on interface design to be continued there.)

My secret passion

With the latest developments in the world of standards-based web design, I finally see an opportunity to spill my thoughts. I have this one passion few people know of. It’s interface design (and its bruvas, IA, UI and usability). Ajax is simply direct and refreshless fetching of data—preferably standards-based execution—and this makes for fully dynamic web applications. I admit that my PHP knowledge is meager and that I know only two lines of JavaScript, but web applications require a different approach of designing.

When designing (in lieu of a better word—if anyone can tell me what is, do so) an application, there is a lot to keep your eye on. Designing a web application requires a designer to dumb down like mad. Take these words from me (and correct me if I’m wrong, I’m still young) if you want, but they’ve proven true for me: when you want to design for a web application, make sure your concepts are as bare as possible. The only way to keep an interface for a web app work well (you gotta consider cross-browser stuff here, people) is to keep it very very very simple. Yes, I know, it might be old news for many of you, but for some reason I keep seeing mistakes.

Key obviously lies in the detail. An interface isn’t a design. Neither is an interface with details a design. An extensible detailed interface (xDI anyone?) however is what I aim for on any project. My most religious followers might have noticed that I have some design conventions going. One of the most glaring ones is my Fitts’s Law whoring. Ones with a good memory will recall my post on this, and I try to comfort myself by thinking that every single occurrence of a ‘bigger link’ in body type was made by a designer who read my post. That aside, I make big links. The current design shows that, Hanni’s design (which I made) as well (not on body content links, but that will be corrected in the new design that’s upcoming).

I like to have some design conventions, not only because it keeps your work signed and personalised, but also because you will perfect your methods, and if practice makes perfect, then conventions are the best practice you’ll get because you keep on using it, over and over and over again.

But to jump back to xDI (it works eh?), what I have in mind is a framework that has enough hooks for a skilled designer to make something pretty of it but will work well regardless of the design. This is of course the Walhalla of every interface designer, but I see it as a great means of making interfaces better, and I hope to get some designers to understand the importance of UI in the process. For now, the interfaces I design are also sweetened by my own graphics skills (this weblog’s layout (layout, not design) is basically a framework with the (lack of) sugar on top), but my goal is to have layouts that will work with and without the sugar, and will work well too. (The sugar should be an optional layer, because the detail in the interface should make it work pretty much just the same. Details are not to be underestimated.) Yes, it’s the ultimate goal, but practice makes perfect.

(I’d like to hear something from the 37signals guys, as they pull off an amazing job with Basecamp and Backpack. I guess that’s what people pay them for, but that matters not. 37signals has a tendency to pretty much rock my proverbial shorts.)