Over the seven years I spent with Bootsoft, I’ve seen the company grow from a development company, to a fully evolved team that provides everything from well-defined discovery, smart development, and a refined maintenance/support process. During that time, I was able to add usability and information architecture to the many services that Bootsoft provides today. However, one of the bigger milestones for both Bootsoft as well as my career was the birth of the Creative team last year.
As with any client’s redesign (or initial design for that matter), it’s important to understand the business goals, objectives, identity, and overall brand. Our creative process includes many steps and deliverables in order to identify these points, as well as a game plan on how to achieve the client’s needs. We deemed Bootsoft as a client, and treated ourselves no differently.
The User Experience
As part of our research, we studied the competition as well as applying what we know about our previous site visitors. We identified the target user personas, then began to structure how we want to deliver our message using UX design and information architecture techniques.
In parallel to this, we generated and explored various mood boards to get a better idea of the look and feel we wanted to achieve.
Based on feedback and several iterations, we were able to determine the general feeling we wish to convey to our visitors, as well as how our visitors can find the information they need quickly. This brought us to two different design directions; circle and square.
As with any design process, iterations can conceivably go on forever. We tasked ourselves with defining the pros and cons of each direction, then ultimately deciding on one. From there, we took the things we liked from the other and applied more detailed iterations. The end result is the site that you see today.
The look and feel is only half the battle when it comes to design. What the user sees has been established, now how about when the user starts clicking around? One of the continuing mantras said throughout the discovery process was “no flash”. The whole Internet industry is abuzz with “HTML5”, and we wanted to flex our muscles as a company to show some of the latest and greatest your browser has to offer.
It’s easy for a designer to get carried away with how a site should behave in their mind. This is when it’s important to sync with a front-end tech lead on what we can and cannot do, according to the browser scope of the project. Storyboarding the site interactions is important to convey these ideas, either by conceptual or detailed wireframes.
In the past, we were accustomed to developing the “pixel-perfectness” from browser to browser. However, the industry is gradually seeing the importance of delivering speed and good UX over visual or functional consistency. This is why progressive enhancement is Bootsoft’s approach today over yesterday’s idea of graceful degradation.
As a front-end developer, I was no stranger to browser sniffing and conditional behaviors. I still cringe when I think about how much Netscape 4’s DOM differed from Internet Explorer. As part of progressive enhancement, the idea instead is to set a baseline that all browsers can understand, then go from there. We use a couple of tools in order to achieve that “reset”, then feature detection:
Because we want to develop our site using HTML5 semantics, it’s great that Modernizr includes an HTML5 shiv that will allow “oldie” browsers like IE6/7/8 to interpret tags like HEADER, NAV, SECTION, etc. For anything more complex, we use Modernizr’s feature detection to determine if the user’s browser can handle certain code. Because our site is almost completely based on CSS3 transitions, here’s one we used multiple times:
// do some awesome stuff
Everyone talks about HTML5. In layman’s terms, when a user sees something that is accomplished without flash, it’s easy to say “oh, that’s HTML5”. Well, that’s partially right. By definition:
(n) 1. The next version of HTML. Its core aims have been to improve the language with support for the latest multimedia while keeping it easily readable by humans and consistently understood by computers and devices
Google Chrome Frame / IE[x]
The benefit of progressive enhancement is that the site will still generally look fine even on the most stubborn of browsers (i.e. IE). Short of forcing the user to switch to a different browser entirely, another option we give our users (for those viewing our site in IE7 or below) is to install a plug-in called “Google Chrome Frame”. This was developed by Google, and is a plug-in for Internet Explorer that generally makes it behave like Chrome. The added bonus is that it automatically updates, just like Chrome. It installs in seconds, and the user can see all of the new and fancy things that Chrome has to offer, while still browsing comfortably in a browser they have grown used to using.
Although realistically we still need to support the browsers our clients task us to develop for, we hope that this “solution” catches on. As we’ve developed more HTML5-friendly sites, the more we’ve realized that IE[x] is the new IE6. Paul Irish, one of the developers on the Google Chrome team and leading front-end developers of the industry, has a great write-up on this.
Responsible Web Development
Whether if we’re developing a generally small site like ours, or an enterprise level web application, we always hold ourselves to the best practices of web development. The front-end in particular is rapidly becoming more robust, and can become unwieldy and harder to maintain when losing focus on how it is built. And with this great power, it means that much more responsibility that falls on the developer.
Any project can easily stray off the path, especially in our own site redesign considering this project has a very close emotional attachment to all members involved. That is why our process played a crucial role in moving forward with our milestones and eventual site release. It also doesn’t hurt to have a stellar team working beside you every step of the way.
Director of UI Design & Development