The Use of Color on the Web

image of paint brush and plalletThe use of color is one of the most critical components of web design. From a visual standpoint, it is what the viewer  sees first. A good color combination can capture the attention of the viewer and prolong the time spent viewing the web page. However, color is also one of the least understood and most incorrectly used effects on the Web.  Using the wrong color combinations can result in web pages that are difficult to read, illegible if printed, impossible to display on some video systems, and in quite a few cases, just plain ugly.

When selecting colors to use on a web site, there is a sequence of rules you should apply. First, you must look at tradition and then you apply color theory.  Tradition is about the human eye and what is considered culturally acceptable.  For example, you would not use a lot of black on a wedding services site.  Accordingly, politicians in the United States use red, white and blue on their web sites to convey their patriotism.  Color has meaning, and the color choice must be both culturally acceptable and appropriate.

Color theory is applied when we take the base color we want, and then accentuate it with a complementary, monotonous, or analogous colors.  Sound confusing?  Let’s break it down by looking at the basic component of color theory, the color wheel…

Triadic Color Scheme

Colors are classified as primary, secondary and tertiary. The primary colors are red, yellow and blue. The secondary colors are those colors “between” the primary colors on the color wheel and are made from combinations of the primary colors.  For example, orange is made from red and yellow; green is made from yellow and blue and purple is made from blue and red. As you might guess, the tertiary colors are between the secondary colors. And finally, you can affect the tint, tone and shade of the color by adding white, gray or black.

It is helpful to keep the color wheel in mind when thinking about what combinations of colors to use in your website. These best color combinations are:

  • Monochromatic Color Schemes – the same color but with tint, tone and shade
  • Complementary Color Schemes – colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel
  • Triadic Color Schemes – colors one-third of the way around the color wheel (see above)
  • Tetradic Color Schemes – colors one quarter of the way around the color wheel

Feel like you may need some help?  Don’t worry, there are tools available.  Check out the  Color Scheme Designer and you may just uncover the colorist in you!

Advertisements

Why Web Accessibility?

Web Accessibility ImageAccording to Derek Featherstone, internationally renowned speaker, author and accessibility expert, web accessibility refers to the “practice of making websites usable by people of all abilities and disabilities. “

Why is it important for the Web to be accessible to people with disabilities?  The use of the Web is spreading rapidly into most areas of our daily life.  Increasingly, it has become the source for research and training, government information and services, workplace and social interaction and entertainment.  In some cases, the Web is actually replacing traditional resources.  As the Web becomes a more essential component of our daily lives, it is crucial that the Web be accessible.  Like everyone else, people with disabilities want and need to access the kinds of resources offered on the Web.

But what is considered a disability?  Generally, there are four key areas of disability that are considered for accessibility adaptations:

  • Visual – Blindness, low vision, color-blindness
  • Hearing – Deafness
  • Motor – Inability to use a mouse, slow response time, limited fine motor control
  • Cognitive – Learning disabilities, distractibility, inability to remember or focus on large amounts of information.

Techniques and guidelines for the design and construction of accessible websites have been developed to ensure that those individuals with disabilities have the same access to information.   These standards known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) are based on the following four key principles:

  1. Perceivable – Available to the senses (vision and hearing primarily) either through the browser or through assistive technologies (i.e. screen readers, etc.)
  2. Operable – Users can interact with all controls and interactive elements using either the mouse, keyboard, or an assistive device.
  3. Understandable – Content is clear and limits confusion and ambiguity.
  4. Robust – A wide range of technologies (including assistive technologies) can access the content

Within these principles, 12 guidelines have been established to provide the basic objective for each area of accessibility.  These guidelines should not be considered as just a compliance checklist during the testing phase, but should be used as a guide throughout the design and construction phases.  For the Web to reach its full potential for those with disabilities, web developers must commit to always designing and building with accessibility in mind.


ITIL and the Service Desk

IT Infrastructure Library or ITIL is the most widely accepted approach to IT Service Management in the world providing a framework for managing IT services, IT development and IT operations. [Source: OGC] First documented in the late 1980’s by the UK Office of Government Commerce (OGC), ITIL provides a cohesive set of best practices, drawn from the international public and private sectors. It is supported by a comprehensive qualifications scheme, accredited training organizations, and implementation and assessment tools.

By implementing IT Service Management using the ITIL framework, organizations will be able to achieve the following:

  • Ensure that IT services are aligned to the needs of customers and users
  • Improve availability and stability of services
  • Improve communication within IT and with users
  • Improve efficiency of internal processes


How did ITIL Evolve?

ITIL started as of collection of 40+ IT best practices documented by the UK Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA).  In 2000/2001, in order to make ITIL more accessible, the best practices were consolidated into 8 logical sets of documents.  The consolidation focused on the processes while eliminating some of the detail with the goal to better business-IT working relationships, while eliminating redundant processes and to improve levels of services to the business while reducing operating costs.  The main focus of the second version was Service Support and Service Delivery. Interestingly, Microsoft used ITIL as the basis to develop their proprietary Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) in 2000.

In May 2007, ITIL Version 3 was released, adopting more of a lifecycle approach to service management, with greater emphasis on IT business integration.  V3 defines a future with IT far more firmly integrated and aligned with the business than it was in either of its previous versions.  While V2 was centered on processes, V3 focuses on the services provided to the business. . In fact, ITIL V3 defines Service Management as a “set of specialized organizational capabilities for providing value to customers in the form of services.” These capabilities, functions and processes manage IT services over their lifetime, or what ITIL V3 refers to as the service lifecycle. Equally important, ITIL V3 focuses on continual service improvements across the lifecycle.

The ITIL V3 service lifecycle consists of five distinct phases:

  1. Service Strategy: Designing, developing and implementing Service Management as a strategic resource and setting overall objectives for IT services.
  2. Service Design: Developing appropriate IT services, including architecture, processes and policy development.
  3. Service Transition: Developing and improving capabilities for the transition of new, modified services to production.
  4. Service Operation: Developing effective and efficient support services.
  5. Continual Service Improvement: Creating and maintaining value for the customer by designing service improvements over time.

What is the role of the Service Desk?

ITIL defines the processes, functions and activities required to implement IT Service Management.  Critical to the implementation of ITIL Service Management, is the function of the IT Service Desk.  The Service Desk is the customer facing interface to the IT Organization with primary goals of communication, identification and restoration of critical IT services with the agreed upon service levels.  It provides a single point of contact to all IT users for registering all types of incidents and service requests.  The Service Desk tracks, monitors, escalates and reports on the complete incident lifecycle. The Service Desk receives and logs all incidents and provides the first line of support to resolve incidents. The Service Desk monitors and escalates all incidents as per agreed service levels and finally, the Service Desk prepares reports on service levels.  [Source: ITIL News ].

How can I learn more about ITIL?
There are hundreds of companies and consultants that can provide services to help an organization gain various levels of expertise in ITIL.  The oldest is Pink Elephant.  Pink Elephant has been working with ITIL since its inception in 1989.  Initially begun in the UK, it has offices across the globe and the company is the #1 supplier of ITIL and IT Service Management conferences, education and consulting services.  To date, close to 200,000 IT professionals have benefited from Pink Elephant’s expertise. In recognition of their expertise and contribution to the ITIL movement, Pink Elephant was elected as an international expert to contribute to the ITIL V3 project.

Are there tools available to help implement ITIL?

As with consulting firms, there are many tools available in the marketplace that enable the implementation of ITIL.  Often, organizations pick the “best of breed” for the different tools to support the different functions of IT Service Management:  Service Desk, Technical Management, Application Management, and IT Operations Management.  However, it would be best to select an integrated approach using a single tool.  One such tool is Service Desk and IT Service Management Software developed by Axios Systems.

According to the Axios System’s web site, the Axios solution was “developed from the beginning as a single integrated solution for IT Service Management”.  This integrated approach gives the solution a number of advantages:

  1. Easily deploy as many or as few ITIL processes as your organization requires – from simply service desk and incident management, all the way to ITIL V3 service lifecycle management.
  2. Ability to activate additional processes at any time, without the overhead of a toolset integration project.
  3. Manage the full lifecycle of an incident seamlessly across problem, change, release, and configuration processes within a single solution.
  4. One vendor, one product roadmap, one simple upgrade path.

For more information on the Asios System IT Service Management solution check out their website www.axiossystems.com.

For a more detail review of the Service Desk and its processes, check out itlibrary.org.

For an overview of ITIL and its processes, view these Overview Videos.

Are There Patterns in Software?

According to Google Dictionary, a pattern “is a diagram or shape that you can use as a guide when you are making something such as a model or a piece of clothing”.  Patterns are useful tools allowing things to be built or made with a more predictable outcome with less effort and fewer errors.  Christopher Alexander [Source:  Hillside], an Austrian born American architect, proposed the use of patterns in architecture.  Applied to architecture, Alexander defined patterns as capturing design ideas as archetypical and reusable descriptions.  Through the use of predefined, proven patterns, Alexander postulated that buildings, towns and even sitting areas could be built that better fit and adapt to the needs of all their inhabitants and users and their respective communities.  While the patterns idea has so far had limited impact in the building industry, it has had a profound influence on the information technology industry.

History of Patterns

In 1987, Ward Cunningham and Kent Beck, Smalltalk developers, were designing interfaces while studying the writings of Christopher Alexander.  They decided to try some of Alexander’s ideas of patterns and pattern languages in an effort to guide novice Smalltalk programmers.  They were surprised at the results and presented their findings at the Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages, and Applications Conference, OOPSLA’87, in Orlando in the paper “Using Pattern Languages for Object-Oriented Programs”.

Discussions on patterns continued throughout the early 90’s with workshops given at OOPSLA’91, 92, 93 and 94. During this time, Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson and John Vlissides met and expanded on the theory.  Known as the Gang of Four or GoF, they published the book “Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software” in late 1994 noting 23 previously undocumented software design patterns (see below).  Awarded  the Jolt Productivity Award and the Software Development Magazine’s 1994 Productivity Award, it quickly became the “bible” of OO design and a must have for all OO designers and developers.

Why is this Important to Software Design?

Critical to any science or engineering discipline is the ability to communicate its concepts.  For the software community, patterns provide a vocabulary for expressing its concepts of good design and a language for relating them together.  Patterns have given software designers and developers proven solutions to recurring problems encountered throughout all of software development.  Formally codifying these solutions and their relationships successfully captures a body of knowledge defining good architectures that meet the needs of users.  By applying patterns, the information technology industry has been able to improve the quality of software deliverables, more predictable outcomes with less effort and fewer errors.

Pattern Example – Adapter

One of the 23 patterns documented by the GoF is the adapter pattern (also known as the wrapper pattern or simply a wrapper).

The adapter translates one interface for a class into a compatible interface and is used when two classes, with incompatible interfaces, are required to work together.  The adapter translates calls to its interface into calls to the original interface by containing an instance of the class it wraps.

For more information concerning using patterns and Christopher Alexander, check out these resources:

Christopher Alexander: An Introduction for Object Oriented Designers

Design Patterns

OOPSLA History

Using Pattern Languages for Object Oriented Programs


Have You Heard of Oslo?


Oslo, developed by Microsoft, is the development code name for a set of modeling technologies created by Microsoft to provide significant productivity gains across the lifecycle of .NET applications. First announced in October, 2007, it was initially envisioned as a multi-platform modeling tool.  However, with it’s November 2009 CPT (Community Technology Previews) release, Oslo was redesigned to work with only Microsoft’s SQL Server and rebranded as SQL Server Modeling. Through the use of SQL Server Modeling, developers, architects and IT professionals will be able to more effectively work together in the SQL Server/.NET Framework application development environment.

According to the .NET Framework Developer Center on MSDN, SQL Server Modeling “provides a SQL Server 2008 database with preinstalled models, a series of data language features to enable rapid and customized data-based application design and development, and a visual data analysis and display environment.”

SQL Server Modeling includes:

  • SQL Server Modeling Services – a database designed for models, built on SQL Server 2008, that is highly optimized to store data schemas and instances with system-provided best practices for scalability, availability, security, versioning, change tracking, and localization.
  • Quadrant – Microsoft’s code name for a user-friendly, graphical tool for browsing any SQL Server database without writing a line of code. “Quadrant” allows the ability to browse related tables by dragging and dropping icons that represent the related data. Data can be filtered in Quadrant by writing “M” queries (without the knowledge of Transact-SQL).  Additionally, the data viewer can be customized to display data in a user-friendly graphical window, rather than viewing the physical database implementation.
  • M – A human friendly language for building domain models and working with data.  M enables the user to model (or describe) data structures, data instances, and data environment (such as storage, security, and versioning) in an interoperable way. It also offers simple yet powerful services to create new languages or transformations that are even more specific to the critical needs of a domain. This allows .NET Framework runtimes and applications to execute more of the described intent of the developer or architect while removing much of the coding and recoding necessary to enable it.

Together, the SQL Server Modeling components support modeling techniques to make building data-driven, SQL Server-based, .NET Framework applications easier and more productive for a larger number of people, even in enterprise- or Internet-scale environments. In addition, the same tools make building metadata repositories easier for enterprises of all sizes.  (Source: MSDN).

For more information on the various components of SQL Server Modeling, check out the following links:

MSDN Quadrant Overview

Data Development Center – M

Data Development Center – Quadrant

MSDN Model Driven Applications

The Long Tail is Getting Longer

Long Tail

The Long Tail is a concept, first coined by Chris Anderson in a 2004 article in Wired, that talks about how the Internet is changing the media marketplace.   Traditionally, markets have been dominated by a few bestselling products – the publishing industry is dominated by a few bestselling authors, the Billboard “Top 40” hits account for the majority of the music sales and “new release” movies account for  most of the revenue in a video rental store.  Business managers and Economists often use the 80/20 rule or Pareto Principle to describe this heavy concentration of products sells.  Basically, the most popular 20% of the products are purchased by 80% or the majority of the consumers.

Why is this so?  The answer lies in the economics of supply and demand and the cost of shelf space.  An average movie theater will not show a movie unless it can attract at least 1500 people over a two week period.  An average record store must sell at least two copies of every CD per year to cover the cost of the shelf space.  And so on and so on for videogame stores, movie rental shops, bookstores and newsstands.  To pay for the physical display space, a retailer can only afford to stock those products that are guaranteed to sell.

How is the Internet changing this marketplace?  By offering consumers choices that can be made available because they do not require shelf space.  They are digital.  With online retailers such as Amazon, iTunes, Rhapsody, and Netflix, consumers are able to search through millions of titles, far past what is available at the local Blockbuster Video or Barnes and Noble.  And the more they find they more they like.  These online retailers are discovering that millions of songs, movies and books sold by less popular artists can be profitable.  These sales, down the long tail of the Pareto curve, may actually be more profitable, combined, than the sales of popular titles.  Thus the phenomenon of the “Long Tail”.

But how is the Tail getting longer?  As the Internet markets provide consumers with better search tools, browsing tools and recommendation systems, more products will become visible to the consumers increasing the size of the long tail.  Combine that with more sophisticated searching skills by the consumers and you have a long tail reaching to infinity.  In a 2006 working paper titled “Goodbye Pareto Principle, Hello Long Tail”, Erik Brynjolfsson, Yu (Jeffrey) Hu, and Duncan Simester found that, “by greatly lowering search costs, information technology in general and Internet markets in particular could substantially increase the collective share of hard-to-find products, thereby creating a longer tail in the distribution of sales” (source: Wiki).

As companies invest in more sophisticated information technologies and consumers become sophisticated information searchers, customers will be able to discover more products than they would have otherwise considered.  As the Long Tail phenomenon grows, Brynjolfsson, Hu, and Simester speculate that “the balance of power will continue to shift from a few best-selling products to niche products that are previously difficult to be discovered by consumers. This Long Tail phenomenon will have a profound impact on a firm’s product development strategy, operations strategy, and marketing strategy.”  In the future, to be profitable, a company will have to focus on the whole tail.

The Growth of iPhone Development

iPhoneThe iPhone has changed the landscape of application development. With over 100,000 apps available on the iPhone generating over $1 billion in revenue , it should come as no surprise that Apple’s App Store is big business (source: Apple). According to Gregg Weiss, founder of iPhoneAppsQuotes, “With the iPhone app market growing daily, developers have noticed the trend and are shifting focus to the mobile app market.” According to a recent iPhoneAppsQuote.com survey, most developers experienced a 39% average growth in business from adding mobile application development to their portfolio. Respondents, who recently added app development as a service, said 34% of their entire business is now iPhone development (source: Atlanta Business).

Important to an iPhone developer is his toolbox of development resources. Noted below are some links to sites that can aid in the development process:

  • General iPhone Web Page best practices

http://developer.apple.com/iphone/index.action

  • Working with the viewport

http://webandnewmedia.wordpress.com

  • CSS for good iPhone Web pages

http://www.boutell.com/newfaq/creating/iphone.html

  • The WebKit and using it’s features for iPhone Web apps

http://drnicwilliams.com/2008/11/10/to-webkit-or-not-to-webkit-within-your-iphone-app/

  • The iUI

http://code.google.com/p/iui/wiki/Introduction