Just got Yahoo! mail Beta

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I’ve just been invited to try the new Yahoo! Mail Beta, which has surprised me!

It’s loads different to GMail, but not better or worse IMHO. It does seem a mite slower than what you would hope for, but come on, it’s a web app! It does look a little better than GMail, and you can now also add another email address for your account that goes into the same Inbox… so it’s worth sticking around for.

I’m not gonna post screengrabs or write a review as many people probably already have (I’ve been living in this little world called client work for the last while since SxSW) so no point in clogging up more bandwidth, except to say that I was pleasantly surprised, it’s very usable and and I also like it ;-)

Links to other people talking about it here:
_ Google Blog Search
_ Technorati

5 things for groovy design into killer XHTML/CSS

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I’ve been working with one or two clients lately (taking designs and turning them into working xhtml/css and some js), and some of it has been really frustrating. On the one hand you want to prove that you’re capable at what you can do, and thus are able to work their designs into web page magic, but on the other hand some of their ideas are just plain loony and don’t have any grounding in what is really possible / not possible (without breaking the rules we’ve come to raise the flag for) on a standards compliant degradable web page. First they want everything to be standards compliant as it’s something to talk about to their clients with “ooohh, we’ll produce standards compliant code you know”, but then on the other hand they start designing stuff that is just really hard to make work. Either that or I’m a complete idiot and should go back to being a zoologist.

Anways, I’ve come to realise more and more that the days of most old school designers being able to do proper web design are pretty much over – I’ve worked with some really good designers in the past, but very few really good web designers (there is a difference), and the difference is that the guys that do good design for digital or web are those who can either code in XHTML/CSS as well as design, but choose to design; or at least they know what is possible / not possible ‘cos they take an interest in it and want to be the best at what they do, so they know they have to know. It’s kinda like an architect not knowing what a builder is capable of.

So, here is my wishlist of 5 things that would make life easier for me:

  1. The design team has the designs signed off before coding work commences. This should need no explaining. Nowadays I don’t start work unless designs are signed off by the client. No more “but you could get a head start if you…”. Sod that!
  2. The artful designer knows what the box model is, and can describe whether any element in his design is a box or not, and therefore understands positioning and the advantages / limitations of background images, borders, colors etc. Preferably the designer doesn’t like “just using a hack”.
  3. Designer works in photoshop to create web layouts, in the first instance creates a high res jpeg of each state of the page (rollovers etc etc), and in the second instance passes me a photoshop file that is not corrupted, has no fonts missing (or sends me them), has folders for the different “pages” with color coded states so I know what the feck is going on.
  4. His photoshop file uses a grid layout that is consistent accross all layers and is marked with guides (that lie on even pixels(!) especially if there are an uneven number of boxes in the layout), without exception, so that if there are pixels in the wrong place once coded then it is most definitely my fault!
  5. The designer understand CSS well enough to know that good CSS isn’t just a bunch of custom styles plonked onto the end of every element (ala class=”blah”) possible. When he designs he knows the difference between an H2 and an H6, a P and a SPAN, STRONG and EM, and therefore knows that using the correct CSS you can accomplish a lot with a little code, not a lot with thousands of lines of CSS madness. Oh well, we live in hope… ;-)

* Ladies, I’m using the proverbial him/his/he ‘cos it’s easier…

As an extra point, I prefer simplicity to complexity especially when coding, so any designer that is able to mould the needs of the client into a design that has a simple implementation is a winner, and worthy of many beers.

what are your thoughts / experiences / bugbears?

Better practices for developing and sending HTML mailers

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I’m busy writing something for .Net magazine and thought that I’d post the longer version (I often have to strip down content to make it fit) as I’ve been having conversations on this topic with a few folk recently. It’s not rocket science, but easy to screw up if you don’t join all the dots:

The most important thing that you can do is to study and know your audience intimately as it will affect how you visually design your HTML mailers. You should know what age group, location, sex, and if possible what income bracket they fit into. Of course this applies to e-commerce mailings where you have permission and you can ask sign-up questions.

The next most important is to know and segment your audience according to the email client that they are using as this will affect how you develop the emailer itself. This applies generally to people using free service providers like Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, Gmail. For the rest, develop your emailer code by hand, and use tables with inline styling as a general rule!

Once you’ve designed specifically for your audience, and you’ve segmented your audience to cater for differing mail clients, you need to get your recipients to actually open the email. Try sending on different days to get a feel for open rates, but generally speaking sending Monday nights / Tuesday mornings seems to work well

Everyone is so bombarded with information and demands on our attention these days that you really have to stand out to get noticed. Make sure you send your emails with a friendly, real subject line that makes sense in a few words, using a real “From” email address that people will identify as friendly.

Generally speaking, if email content is short and sweet (like announcements), stick to plaintext emailers that are easy to read and spaced in short paragraphs. If you’re talking about a brand, or have a lot of information to present then a well formatted HTML emailer is probably better. Remember, less is more.

People scan emails looking for the juicy stuff relevant to them. Use headlines to grab attention with short paragraphs underneath designed to get the reader to click a link and visit a page on a website. Always have an unsubscribe option (it’s the law!), contact details, a link to change the recipients email address or edit account information and a link to view the complete mailer on the web.

Installing Rails on Windows (step-by-step tutorial)

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_ All About Ruby | Installing Rails on Windows (step-by-step tutorial)

Ok, so this will basically be somewhat a repeat of the information made by Curt Hibbs in this great hands-on tutorial. However, the versions of all products changed from the time Curt made his tutorial, and in some areas I felt that additional description was required. So, in this tutorial you’ll get a step-by-step instructions on installing Rails on Windows 2000 Server (Windows XP would be very similar).

At least three people that read this blog are interested in Rubyon Rails, so I thought I’d share this one ;-)

Sleeping beauty

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Had my first (almost) full night of sleep last night, since coming back from SxSW, and boy does it feel good! Looking forward to catching up with the stuff from SxSW that I said I would over the next few days too ;-)