Archive for month: June, 2017

The Complexity of Simple

01 Jun
June 1, 2017

Bunny Ears?We make things complex. It doesn’t matter what it is, we can make it seem more complex than it is. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at something simple: tying your shoes. This is something that you probably do every day, and something that we teach our children how to do. How complicated is that? I mean, young kids learn how to do it all the time! I remember being taught by looping my shoelaces into two loops (called bunny ears), then wrapping them around each other and pulling tight.

But try and break it down to the basic steps, and you will see how quickly something so simple becomes so horribly complex.

Here is a website that teaches you three different ways to tie your shoes
How To Tie Your Shoes. The shortest method shown has seven steps, but they still need to use videos to demonstrate the techniques. Think about how complicated it would be without those videos. On top of all of that, apparently we have been tying our shoes wrong all this time. Terry Moore: How to tie your shoes via TED Talks

But enough of tying shoes and bunnies, let’s get back to the web and cut to the chase. The web is complicated already. You have web pages, and apps, and content strategy, and oh, yeah — social media, AND inbound marketing, AND stakeholders, AND messaging, AND e-commerce, and — AHHHHH! The list goes on and on. It’s complicated, it’s convoluted, and it’s complex.

Make the Complex Simple

While one of the easiest things to do in design and development, is to make something simple seem complicated; possibly the single hardest things to do is to make the complicated seem easy. Making the complex seem simple is difficult and exasperating, and yet some companies are getting it right.


One of the best examples of this is the Google search page. Behind the scenes, Google has hundreds of servers, that continually scour, catalog, and index the Internet, so that when you type in a question, they can provide links to possible answers. Yet the page itself is very simple. A few unobtrusive links, one occasionally entertaining and informative logo, and one search box. That’s it. Nothing is there to distract you from doing what your need to do: run a search. All of the complexity is hidden away from the us, the user. We don’t need to know about the petabytes of data, and the thousands of hours that went into the complex algorithms that are used to give us any search result, let alone the one we are after. We don’t care about those things. We just want the results.

So why do we make things so complicated? It just seems to be a part of human nature. Maybe we are afraid that if things are too simple, they’re not important. Or maybe it comes down to communication. We make things seem complex, because we are trying to communicate our ideas as completely as we can, and words are all too often not enough. There is a world of truth in the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.

The web is such a wonderful and dynamic method of communication. It combines the written word, along with pictures, videos, audio recordings, and ever-evolving interactions in a way that our options to communicate clearly seem almost limitless. But along the way, we need to remind ourselves of the message we trying to convey, or the information we are trying to capture, and really ask ourselves if all the fluff is really needed. If the answer is no, then that’s a great place to start with making something complex more simple.

Set Your Phasers to Stunning

01 Jun
June 1, 2017

Raise your hand if you are a Trekkie. ( If you’re still in the closet about it, just kind of wave your hand under the desk—no judgment).

No matter whether you loved Star Trek, hated it, or fell somewhere in between, there is no doubt that it had a huge impact on modern culture, society, and technology. In fact, when we look back on the multiple Star Trek television series, we can see that in many ways, they represented the zeitgeist of their eras, especially in the color choices and design aesthetics that were used in the sets and wardrobe.

From the primary colors of TOS (The Original Series), to the warm earth tones of TNG (The Next Generation), to the more minimalistic presentations of Voyager and Enterprise where everything was more functional and somewhat industrial, these shows truly represented the styles of the time.

Designing for the Future

One of the biggest challenges that the people working on Star Trek faced was how to know what the future was going to look like, and how it was going to work. But for all of their wild and crazy ideas, they still had to keep things rooted in the present. They had to pay close attention to their target audiences in order to bring the people in and get them to engage in this fantastic world.

Those challenges are very similar to what we face when building modern web sites. We all want to build a vision of the future, but trying to look forward 5, 10, or 15 years is a guessing game at best, especially where the web is involved. The best practices of today might be obsolete next year.

Star Trek did this by imagining a world where the impossible was an everyday occurrence, but here in the real world, we need to focus on understanding who the primary audiences are and craft an experience that will draw them in and engage them today and tomorrow. As designers and developers, we need to build sites that are easy to maintain and update as the technologies and audience needs evolve.

They Always had the Coolest Toys

Star Trek was not just about the colors and designs. They came up with so many great ideas for technology that have become reality today. From the cell phones and flip phones inspired by the Star Trek communicators, to the modern smart phones and tablets that take the PADD (Personal Access Display Device) idea to whole new frontiers, Star Trek changed the concept of what interface design could be. They introduced the idea that software and graphical interfaces could take the place of physical knobs and switches. Data could be accessed wherever and whenever it was needed, regardless of the delivery method.

Real world devices like wireless connected tablets and smart phones have made it possible to have access to almost any data from almost any location. From Responsive Web Design that handles multiple screen sizes elegantly, allowing you to have one site on many devices; to JavaScript libraries that work asynchronously to manipulate data presentation; to more advanced back-end programming and data access techniques that allow us to process more data faster and more accurately; to emerging technologies like the internet of things, we have a huge opportunity to take that data even further.

It Looks Great! But Does it Work?

Star Trek had some amazing sets, and through the magic of television, the crew could make us believe that pressing a button on an empty box opened a communications channel with the neighboring ship or the planet below. It didn’t really work, but that didn’t matter.

But in the real world, we don’t have TV magic. No matter how great and visually stunning a design might be in prototype form, when it comes time to create the actual product, we have to build underneath the pretty façade in order to make it work. Clicking a button has to do something, it needs to do the right thing, and it needs to do it quickly and efficiently. If it doesn’t, then it’s a failure.

Take a look at your own website. How well does the design handle different size screens? Are the buttons easy to use? Are you sending too much data back and forth between the device and the servers each time a new page is loaded? A poor implementation can be detrimental to a web site’s success, and slow performing, non-optimized code can make even the best design a frustrating experience.

The good news is that there are now so many great tools and techniques available for modern web sites, that we can build some of the most functional, easy to use, and visually appealing sites out there. And what you will be able to do in the not-so-distant-future will make what we can do today pale in comparision.

So set your phasers on stunning, ahead warp factor 8, and Engage!

An Ektron Developer in an Episerver World

01 Jun
June 1, 2017

Models, and Views, and Controllers—Oh My!

We're not in Kansas anymore!When Episerver and Ektron merged early last year, I knew that my world was going to change. When I finally go the chance to work on an Episerver project, I felt just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, more than a little lost in this unfamiliar world, and on the lookout for dangerous animals in the dark forest. But where Dorothy was afraid of the lions, and tigers, and bears, I’m faced with models, and views, and blocks, and don’t even get me started on controllers. This is nothing like the smart forms, XSD files, and super templates that I am much more familiar with from the Ektron world.

But for all of the differences between the two platforms, after a little bit of experience and exploration, I have found, not a scary forest, but a place where things may not be familiar, but aren’t nearly as scary as I first thought.

My Kingdom for Some Structure

While I have been working with the Ektron CMS for almost ten years now, one of the things that took me the most time to figure out was the benefit of using structured content. Now, I think it’s one of the product’s most important features, I just wish that they had taken it a bit further, and made it the default content mode.

Luckily, Episerver provides that structure. I love how we can define the content structure with code, or the Epi interface. This gives us many options to:
– Define the page and block types in code
– Inherit properties from another model
– Define an interface or an abstract model

If I want a similar structure of fields in different content types, I don’t have to recreate them, I can inherit them, opening up a whole world of re-usability that Ektron’s smart forms just didn’t have. This is game changing!

The Building Blocks of a Great Page

I remember thinking that when Ektron first introduced the concept of Page Builder and widgets, that it was pretty cool stuff. Then when I started working for WSOL, and was able to work with their super template, I thought that this was how to do page builder right. But as good as the super template is, Epi does it better.

Never mind the man behind the curtain, the block and content areas in Episerver are the true magic of the page. This is what the Ektron widgets could have been, but never quite achieved. Add a small or large snippet of content onto the page using a defined content structure. Add more than one, and re-order them on the fly. Your content editors don’t have to worry about how it’ll be displayed, they can just worry about getting the right content on the right page. And the icing on the cake—those blocks can be re-used, if needed, or be unique to the current page.

Following the Yellow Brick Road

Follow the Yellow Brick RoadWhile I haven’t yet reached the Emerald City by becoming a certified Episerver developer, I am on the path. The forest doesn’t seem so dark now, and I’m excited about all of the Episerver projects that are coming. I love the power that I have while coding the models, the flexibility that the blocks give me, and the structure that is inherent in every page. This is a great platform that I am excited to work on for many years to come.