Fantastic Collection of WordPress Themes & Website Templates

Apple Mighty Mouse Sucks

  • Posted in Apple
  • Comments 38

Apple’s minimalistic, aesthetic-focused product design philosophy seems to work very successfully in nearly every product they produce, bar one glaring exception; The Apple Mighty Mouse. For some reason, this product is, frankly, an ergonomic nightmare. Oddly, it seems to be shaped like some sort of alien pod from the future/space, not formed subtly to the natural flow of the human hand like you’d expect from a direct input device. This means that not only is it difficult to use (I sometimes find myself contorting my hand in wrist-tingling ways just to complete certain tasks as a part of my daily routine web-browsing and designing) but even more annoyingly, the pitifully tiny and strangely shaped scroll ball just stopped working for me a couple of weeks after purchase.

At first it wouldn’t scroll down, then upwards motions stopped registering and finally it just completely stopped responding. Upon checking the Apple support forums I discovered a huge number of folks with similar issues, and none with a working solution (at least, for me).

Mighty Mouse

So, being completely fed up and ready to hurl this little smooth white hunk of useless shiny plastic through the wall, I ran out to a computer store and picked up the Logitech MX Revolution, having read such positive reviews for the thing by some respected bloggers (namely Glenn Wolsey).

MX Revolution

And wow, what a difference! I honestly can’t believe I’ve been using anything else over the past years. This mouse feels absolutely comfortable to hold, and has more features than ever imaginable. I’ve now set it up to have complete control over my iTunes, I can increase/decrease volume, skip forwards and backwards between tracks, play and pause the current track and even hit the “quick search” button to bring up CoverSutra‘s awesome input box to skip to specific tracks by typing in keywords.

This is the best mouse I’ve ever held in my hand, and is in stark contrast with Apple’s rounded thing. If you’re considering a new mouse, then be sure to read more about the MX Revolution, and by god, think twice before grabbing the Mighty Mouse.

What the Flock?!

Today I paid a visit to the Flock Website, in hopes of checking up on how the little jack-of-all-networks browser’s development was coming along. The page that met my eyes left me in a state of puzzlement, shock and disbelief. I was half hoping that it was all some sort of elaborate joke, but alas, it’s all real.

It seems as though the powers that be decided that the “boring” old Flock page needed a facelift. What we see here folks is plastic surgery gone horribly, horribly wrong. These surgeons are clearly not qualified to be hacking and slashing at a once-beautiful Web entity.

Flocking Ugly

Thar she blows. The brand new Flock page. What a colossal disaster. And no, the extent of this apparent trainwreck isn’t just skin deep, oh no. The underlying markup looks like it was printed on A4 paper, shredded and pasted back together again.

To refresh our memories, here’s a screencap of the “old” Flock design. Skillfully hand-crafted by Bryan Veloso, it embodies the very essence of simplistic beauty. All that Flock stands… or stood for.

Flock

I, for one, have completely lost faith in the project. I was initially interested in seeing what kind of progress had been made with the browser, but now I just can’t bear to look at the thing.

Flock that!

An Update

After a lengthy conversation with Evan Hamilton, Flock’s Community Ambassador, I’ve made a discovery or two. It turns out that the new Flock design was actually contracted out to an external agency. Flock have since hired an in-house designer, who, according to Evan will be able to properly communicate their visual ambitions. Evan mentioned the difficulties that arise when contracting a design over a large geographical distance, and I fully understand.

I must say, I was very impressed with Evan’s response during our back-and-forth, he was wonderful to chat with, seemed to take notice of my criticism and suggestions, was not offended by this harsh article and just came across as genuine. Consider my faith in the Flock project restored.

Vodafone PXTworld: Anti-usability

All too often during my hours of performing daily web tasks do I uncover great examples of anti-usability, but they’re usually not to the extent of what I’m about to show you.

One would imagine that such a large company as Vodafone, claiming to hold 200 million proportionate customers in 27 markets across 5 continents would at least provide a human-usable experience for a common user path. But alas, they seem to have failed… and not too gracefully.

When I am sent a Picture Message (MMS) on my mobile phone, instead of receiving the image itself, I get a SMS message with a link to download my MMS from the Vodafone website. Now, as irritating as this is, this isn’t actually what my post is about. You see, apon visiting this URL in my web browser I am presented with the following.

Vodafone PXTworld

When viewing the aforementioned page at full resolution, my focus is drawn to the absurd flash movie (which actually serves as a menu, unbeknownst to the user) rather than the navigation at the top of the page. After a couple of double-takes and head scratching, I (the average user) finally can avert my gaze from the pretty colours in the middle of screen and make use of the actual navigation bar to get that one step closer to my goal of collecting my “PXT”.

Upon further investigation, it turns out that the flash “thing” in the center is actually a navigation menu itself. But, the user can only find out this by hovering over each picture to see what link it holds. On top of that, not every picture is a link, and it feels like a “lucky draw” to get the one you want.

Vodafone

Due to the top menu utilizing some sort of whacky Javascript navigation technique, with scripts disabled it simply doesn’t work! Even though Javascript is quite commonly enabled for most users, there still are a number who either don’t use a browser that supports it, choose to disable it or have it disabled by their antivirus application. The only other navigational alternative to this is the little Flash movie, which also could be hidden to those users without the Flash Plugin.

So, a certain percentage of this page’s visitors won’t even be able to get to their destination, and even the ones that have all the plugins enabled will still spend more time than they should trying to figure out how to use the thing!

When I visit this page, I’m confused as to its purpose. I should be given exactly what I’m looking for, ready to be used. Instead I’m given this convoluted, confusing and unusable page.

In summary, if I were to be tasked to redesign/realign this page, I would probably do the following:

  • Focus on the typical user path. Provide a clear focused link to “Collect your PXT”. As well as the other actions.
  • Completely trash the pointless flash animation.
  • Use a hover state on the navigation, to let the user know that it’s actually clickable.
  • Use real links, rather than Javascript tomfoolery, to allow for direct linking to the proper page and accessibility for those with JS disabled.
  • Ditch the annoying “TXT Speak” (“Collect yr PXT” – what a joke!). It’s insulting to the user’s intelligence.
  • Instead of sending the user to a “splash page”, get them straight to the form they are looking for. The user shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get their image

The Easiest Way to…

Copywriting is a part of creating a web page that seems even to be neglected by many of the the oh-so-2.0 type sites and services of the new millennium. How hard can it be to come up with a short string of original prose? Too hard, it would seem. I’ve done a quick Google search, uncovering the sheer extent and overuse of a certain cliché.

Floorplanner Tagline

Blinksale Tagline

Teamsnap Tagline

There really seems to be a surprisingly large number of websites that offer the “easiest way” of doing something… How odd.

WipBox: The easiest way to sell on eBay or Craigslist
Justgiving: The easiest way to fundraise and donate to charity online
Picture2Life: Easiest way to edit your pictures online
Sidewalk: The easiest way to gather and analyze customer information
BillQ: The easiest way to keep track of your bills.

Spend some time to think up an original tagline, it’s not rocket science. Please.

Why I Buy Mac Applications

  • Posted in Apple
  • Comments 6

One thing that has changed about me over the year and a half since I switched to the Macintosh platform is that I’ve found a willingness to pay for Applications. All but abolishing my previous habit of pirating Windows software (admit it, we’d all rather fire up BitTorrent than hand over cash to Windows App Devs). This is a change that I had never expected, although it can surely be attributed to a few different factors.

The Software Just Works

When it comes to advertising an OS X application, the general mindset is as follows: Show them what our product does. If they like it, they’ll want it. Macintosh applications do exactly as they say on the box (or the website, as it were). Over at the Windows camp, many companies see advertising as: Make our product look as good as possible, even if it’s not. Which is a total drain on user confidence.

Mac Developers Are Likable

In order for me to be ready to fork over my hard-earned cash to a software developer, I have to truly feel confident about doing so. I actually want to support the creators of Mac applications, because they seem so genuine. In most cases, Mac Software is developed not by monolithic, research-toting, money hungry corporations, but rather a lone developer or tight-knit group of people who are passionate about their craft. I feel as if my spending is a contribution to the livelyhood of these people, instead of “just another sale” for the faceless corporation.

I Love the Macintosh Culture

Mac people are great people. Period. You can always count on an enthusiastic and open zealot to handle your support questions personally, and a wonderful community of like-thinkers. The Mac culture (you could nearly go as far as calling it a Philosophy) is one of warmth, confidence, welcoming and support. You simply can’t buy that kind of thing.

Sure, there are a number of great Windows Applications that transcend the image of their colleagues, but certainly not to the extent of frequency in the Macintosh world.

The Keys to Web Success

The Web is dominated by a handful of behemoth services, that manage to maintain their success as copy-cat products emerge and inevitably fall. This is due to one key factor (overriding anything else) that must be present with a new online product… Uniqueness.
It doesn’t come easy however, the path to a popular Web Application is a long, windy and sometimes frightening one, but with a proper attitude and some great ideas, you too can see your product thrive. Here are some tips that I’ve either picked up from personal experience, or observed from the activity of some of the more popular online successes.

1: Identify a gap in the market

YouTube was the first video sharing service that broke out into the mainstream market, and it has remained so over quite some time. Many company executives see this success as some sort of popularity raft they can float their own site on, and we now see countless similar sites attempting to chip away at YouTube’s market share. 99% of the time these attempts end in failure, and it’s due to one key factor; there is no room in the market. YouTube was built at a time where video sharing was simply not simple nor intuitive for the general public, and through perseverance (and a virally self-promoting social edge) they eventually filled the filled the gap and reaped the inherit success. There is very little chance that any other product (in the near future) will ever replace YouTube, because simply, our needs for this are fulfilled. Instead of focusing on jumping on the video bandwagon (or any other pre-existing market), you should strive to break into the *next* open market. Nobody will want to use your service if they can already do what they want somewhere else. Try and think about what services you would like to see, something that doesn’t yet exist. Innovate, don’t reciprocate. This is absolutely fundamental to any facet of business.

2: Know your user

You should build a service in which users can relate to, and thus, you must relate to your users. Be sure to have a good idea of a typical user in your mind, and try and adopt their mindset. This step will be quite difficult if you are detached from this group, so perhaps the best thing to do is to build a product that is close to your needs, the best services are the ones helmed by a passionate creator.

3: Build a service that works

On the Web, users want to do what they want in the fastest and easiest manner possible. Your service should be clear in what it provides, and it should provide this fast. Don’t make your users jump through hoops in order to complete their task, and make things logical. Think of what a typical user will want when visiting your site, and make the path to this as short as possible. Above all, your service should do what it is advertised to do, and well. There is nothing more frustrating for a user than a poorly-executed service that is confusing to use.

4: Stay dedicated

In short. Never give up. Don’t expect to be an overnight success, and be realistic about your goals. This doesn’t mean you should undervalue yourself, but the mindset of a hopeful overnight millionaire is a dangerous one, and one that rarely yields success. Stick by your product, and see it through. Who knows, you might just get there.

5: Gain trust through design

The design of your site is representative of your service, the typical user will subconsciously decide whether they like your site within a fraction of a second. Therefore, if users can’t relate to your design,they’ll see your product as inferior. What your design should aim to acheive is to influence this slit-second decision in the most positive manner. This is possibly the hardest nut to crack, as design is such a subjective topic. It goes hand in hand with knowing your user, and a skillful Designer or Usability expert should be able to achieve this. Be sure not to pass off design as an afterthought, as embracing a solid design is vital to making your users feel like using your product.

6: Promote… Carefully

Promotion is a massive topic in itself, but I’ll be as brief as I can. People will respond negatively if your product is blatantly promoted in a “cheap” manner. That is, be subtle with your promotion, as most people don’t like being bombarded with your product. The way I see it, is that you want users to want to use your product, steer well clear of forcing people into your site. You cant just squeeze money from your visitors, it must come naturally.

7: Make money without them knowing

Perhaps the most ideal way of monetizing a service, is to make money from your users without them even knowing about it. Your service can turn around some serious dough and still have your visitors using a free service, which is a complete about-face on the traditional product model. The most popular means of this is contextual advertising, and it’s is to make your ads fit seamlessly with the content. After all, ads don’t have to be a pain to view (like those stupid flashing banners of the 90s), and you can still make a buck or two.

So, if you have a good, working product that’s well promoted, solidly designed and has a sure-fire monetization strategy, you’re well on your way to success.

The Web 2.0 Cliche

The past two or three hours of my life have been spent at my desk, researching and discovering more information about the perpetuation of the “Web 2.0” design trend. Most of this time has been spent with my jaw dropped, and my eyes transfixed. Some of the absolute clueless and incomprehensible visual drivel that is perpetuated by “designers” who seem more akin to 12-year-old trendwhores than actual professionals (and you know, they probably are) is utterly flabbergasting. But before I go off on a senseless rant, let’s try and make this article a little more structured 🙂

What is Web 2.0?

Starting right back on page one, we must first cast our minds back to the year 2004, when the term “Web 2.0” emerged. So, what exactly is Web 2.0?
Now, there’s one question that has (over time) become needlessly difficult to answer, however the original definition should still ring true. The term “Web 2.0” was coined by Tim O’Reilly, and has in recent times, unfortunately drifted into the realms of been closely associated with superfluous trends and pointless buzzwords.

“Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform.”
Tim O’Reilly

Now, perhaps I’ve completely lost the plot here, but how does this have anything whatsoever to do with pointless design trends? Sure, we must start thinking about new and more efficient methods of human-computer interaction, but I think somewhere along the line a miscommunication has occurred. It’s quotes such as the following that are deeply troubling;

Nowadays Web 2.0 style becomes more popular. Every day tons of sites which has simple, bright and very interesting things, appear in Network. There are no standards about creating any Web 2.0 elements, but we have several typical features, for example and clean colors, many gradients.
IRIS Design

Perhaps what should be taken from the above quote is that Web 2.0 is about poor spelling, terrible grammar and improper punctuation.

Community Perception

So, we have established what exactly the term “Web 2.0” is supposed to mean, but how did this term become so colloquial, while deteriorating into a vague simile? We have seen many sites that may be perceived as emitting a “Web 2.0” image, such as Digg and Flickr, and these only furthered to promote a narrow-minded outsider perception of “Web 2.0”.

A Personal View

To me, “Web 2.0” simply defines a natural shift in the way we should think of the web. It stands for the introduction of new technologies, asynchronous and cross-site data access and a community-centric focus. In lamen’s terms, I believe Web 2.0 (among other things) is a vehicle for offering digestible content, and harnessing the mob mentality. I will do my best not to refer to “Web 2.0 Design” in the following passages, as I feel “Web 2.0” and Design (while in many cases working hand-in-hand) simply should not be associated with such a tight dependance. My preferred term is “Contemporary Web Design”.

There are many aspects of “Web 1.0” that I truly will not miss (namely splash pages, popups, background music and flash animated navigation), however it is still upsetting to see the vast number of “designers” who find it necessary to answer to trends and perpetuate the existence of pointless, ill thought out and trendy design.

My Angry-list

The following are things that irritate me in the highest order, feel free to alert me of other 2.0-annoyances.

  • The number (and baffling popularity) of “Web 2.0 Design Tutorials” found on Digg.com
  • The labeling of any trendily-designed site as “Web 2.0” – and on the same token:
  • The instant condemning of “Contemporary Design” by Web 2.0 haters
  • The corporations who jump the shark and throw their money at useless projects
  • The exploitation and piggy-backing of already-popular startups
  • The exploitation of trends for “blind” traffic
  • The dropping of letters from domain names. Flickr did it first, and now it’s been done to death

More horrific quotes

And now, as a kind of sign-off, for your personal enjoyment; a couple more completely misguided minds will enlighten you with their thoughts on the “Web 2.0 Style”. Lifted from blogs and subsequent user comments.

I love web 2.0, and I don’t wanna be a jerk… but I’d like to point out that the web 2.0 style is very closely related (in fact, almost a copy of) apple’s “Aqua” interface style.
Ungus

In order to sell to Yahoo!, Google or even get a mention on TechCrunch, you’ve got to have a web based app that’s the next big thing – add a heavy serving of AJAX, maybe use Ruby on Rails, or one of the squillion new code frameworks that have popped up in recent times, maybe have some form of tagging on the site, improve your usability over and over until even your grandmother can use it, and then…
Miles

Final thoughts

If you take anything from this article, anything at all, I hope it would be to attempt to help in the phasing out of the term “Web 2.0”. It’s time we as an online society move onwards and upwards, and instead of wasting our time trying to jump on the bandwagon of fledgling fads, we should focus on innovating, and making the next technological leaps towards the future. The true meaning and philosophy that was once held by this term has now degenerated to a meaningless cliche, it’s time to move on.

A Rant About Application GUIs

I was recently browsing through the my.9rules notes, and I stumbled across a post penned by a ‘ruler who was irritated by applications that have their own non-standard GUI (think Windows Live Messenger). I realized that it was something that has been irritating me for so long.

If you”re not quite sure what I”m on about, here are a couple of screenshots of the worst (Windows) perpetrators. From top to bottom: Xfire, Steam, Windows Live Messenger (previously MSN Messenger), Ad-Aware and AIM Triton.

Xfire
Steam
Messenger
Ad-Aware
AIM

I hate having my OS”s GUI broken up by non-standard graphical layouts. Since when was the standard GUI inadequate even for Microsoft”s own applications?! Speaking of counter-usibility, Windows Live Messenger would have to be one of the most un-accessible applications I”ve ever had the misfortune to use, and now that MS has slowly phased in a “Vista” aesthetic, it sticks out like a sore (and ugly) thumb on my XP Desktop. I”m definitely in no hurry to upgrade to Vista, I had a short experience with it, but uninstalled it within a week due to it”s incompatibilities, terrible look and a slew of other issues. I”m just glad I have my trusty Mac here to serve as my main computer, and I”m thankful that I don”t have to use XP/Windows on a daily basis.

River of News? More Like a Tsunami!

I currently subscribe to 306 RSS feeds from around the web (That’s after cutting out all the pointless design galleries I used to syndicate). My morning ritual begins with checking the “tsunami of news” that I’m drenched in, over a cup of coffee. It usually ends up consuming an hour of my morning, there’s usually 50-150 stories to check over, and I don’t like to skip over any without first glancing at the story’s content.

If I’m ever to neglect my daily ritual, the stories simply keep piling up, and I end up having a few hours of reading ahead of me, which for some reason I won’t let myself skip.

I’d love to have this practice consume less of my time, but I just can’t bear to see any of my feeds go, lest I miss that one important gem of a story. I’m sure I’m not alone with my tribulations, and I’m sure that there are many out there in internet-land who subscribe to many more feeds than me.

River of News

Why You Should Display “Time Ago” On Blog Posts

I’m a huge advocate of displaying the “Time since this was posted” for your blogs posts. On the internet, our blog audience varies from people halfway across town to strangers from halfway across the planet, all of which live by differing timezones.

Displaying the time since each blog post was made can enforce to your readers that you maintain an active blog, and provides a simple way of letting visitors know how “fresh” each post is. And with the United States using a different date format to the rest of the world, keeping track of this becomes less trivial than it should be. Plus, reading “This post was made 2 hours and 5 minutes ago” is so much more “human friendly” than “Posted 02/12/2007 at 06:30 PM”

Standard date formats are just so 1995.

If you’re running WordPress, there’s a great (in terms of, it does it’s task simply and surely) plugin called Time Since (published and popularized by the well-known Binary Bonsai, that does the trick for me. It simple terms, it subtracts the post’s date/time from the current server date/time, and outputs it in a human-readable format.

Free Themes

Web Services Template

This is a beautiful and clean Web Services / Business Template.

Photography Template

This is a beautiful and clean photography template.

Hosting Business Template

This is a beautiful and clean Hosting/Business Template that can be used for companies who offer design related products or services to their customers.

Business Web Template

This is a beautiful and clean Business Template that can be used for companies who offer design related products or services to their customers.

Green Design Template

This is a beautiful and clean Green Design Company Template that can be used for companies who offer design related products or services to their customers.

Auto Website Template

This is a beautiful and clean Auto Website Template that can be used for companies who offer design related products or services to their customers.

Revolutionary WordPress Theme

Clean and easy on eyes Wordpress theme, well structured, top quality coded with optional ad spots, fully widgetized and ready to go!!!

LightCSS WordPress Theme

Clean and easy on eyes theme, well structured, top quality coded with featured posts, ads spots, fully widgetized and ready to go!!!

ColdBlue Blogger Template

For those of you who love the simplicity of our popular ColdBlue Wordpress theme, but use Blogger as your blogging platform…you can now rejoice! The theme is now available!

Curious WordPress Theme

Curious is released and developed free of charge and will be continually improved and updated.

SandDollar WordPress Theme

SandDollar is released and developed free of charge and will be continually improved and updated...

ColdBlue WordPress Theme

ColdBlue is a WordPress Theme created to be aesthetically pleasing, open, minimalistic and easy to use.

Sharpfolio: WordPress Portfolio Theme

Sharpfolio is a WordPress theme designed to enable Web Designers, Graphic Designers, Photographers, Motion Designers, Artists or any creative professional....