2010-01-28

Lessons In Web Design: Be Weary of Careless Utterances!

Recently, I tossed up a temporary website for an author friend.

It's my idea of an 'Under Construction' sign, though many people would consider it a complete website - just a standard middle of the screen, 'fits all resolutions' box site, with a picture, some menu items, a couple of recent books listed, and upcoming events. I knocked out the design back end in only a few days, and had it done except the content, which I put in last.

But my friend, who had provided me with the content as a single .docx, wasn't happy with the 'About' section.

So, being the slow thinking nitwit I am, I said, "Oh, we can change that really easily now; it's just cut and paste; I can get any changes you send up nearly instantaneously."

Doh.

The next morning, I had four times worth of 'About' text waiting for me when I woke up, which, of course, destroyed the formatting (the end of the text now 2 1/2 pages below the last menu item) that I'd set up.

After some head scratching, and ruling out elegant solutions, like some javascript to switch the visibility of my DIVs (what with this site being simply a 'good enough' while I work on the 'real' one) I settled on simply creating 2 more 'About' pages.

Easy, except, now, I had modify the anchor attributes to match the 'About' DIV container, and add Next and Previous navigation, and change the title of the pages, and, oh, some of the words were with the trademark mark after them. After googling up the proper code (it's been awhile...) I realized I also needed to make the book titles bold, in addition to being italic, which meant redefining EM for the div container, and... etc.

What should have taken all of a minute to paste some text in between [P]s ended up taking about an hour; I'd made the mis-assumption that my friend would understand that this was a "replace 1/4 cup of butter with 1/4 cup of margarine if so desired" situation and it'd be blatantly obvious you can't cram 4 times as much text into the same place and have it look right.

The lessons, then, are:

  • Don't assume the presence of common sense; it's in short supply in the general populace. Making the assumption a truth which is blatantly obvious to you will be for someone else will almost certainly lead to despair and, at the very least, a lot of effort.  
  • Don't try to explain why it can't work; figure out how to fix it instead.
  • Don't trivialize what you do; at least, not to your client, or your friends.  I'm very guilty of this with computer repair, as well, and it just keeps biting me in the butt.  Don't share the details of what you're doing, or how easy it is. It gives the wrong impression, and leads them to the conclusion you can do miracles, or, perhaps, simply disregard the laws of physics and reality in delivering their desired outcome.
  • Don't give time estimates. Adding on to the last rule, if it takes less time than you think it will, great: your  client, or your friends, will be impressed.  If it takes longer than expected, since you didn't set any expectations in the first place, you won't find yourself struggling to explain how the pesky deadline whizzed by when you weren't looking.