Elsbernd.com has returned to Joomla.

Elsbernd.com started as hand-written HTML, and as my knowledge grew and I looked into content management systems, it moved to Joomla.  This was a good fit and I used Joomla for years.  After a while, though, a few things bothered me about the platform.  Each time there was a major upgrade, I had to migrate things by hand.  There were few options for automatically updating the site to the latest version, and a lot of my extenstions and templates broke between the versions, so I had to either sit on obsolete technology or spend a weekend upgrading my site and finding replacements for the parts that no longer worked.

I moved to WordPress in 2014, and thought I had the world by the tail.  It was an incredibly powerful and popular platform and I was learning a lot of things about their template system.  The upgrade paths were good and they had a lot of extensions available.  Unfortunately, being the most popular platform makes you the largest target for malicious actors.  I was hacked twice in the past two years, with my traffic being redirected and my site being blacklisted from Google and Bing.

After the second hack, I decided to come back to the familiar turf of Joomla, while upgrading to the latest version, including things like two factor authentication.  I have a nifty new responsive design and was able to preserve the Elsblog archives.

I think if I had more time and were more interested in the back end of security and databases, I could have made things work in WordPress, but I now prefer the comfort of a secure, familiar and powerful platform, even if it isn't the largest one out there.

Have you ever tried justifying hiring an artist for a project? In this age of the Internet and nearly limitless clip art, it can be daunting to ask for more money to create one-off imagery for your app or site. Why should you purchase bespoke images for your project?

Remember “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” In that 1988 movie, Roger Rabbit hires Eddie Valiant, a real world private detective, for a job in Toontown. While the groundbreaking interaction between the live and animated characters was visually compelling, the styles clashed. The toons were overly bright, flattened and followed different rules of physics than the real-world characters.

When you mix clip art styles, you get much the same effect, without the wonder and enjoyment. Flat active tabs next to overly rendered, gradient tabs with shadows look like an obvious mistake. Icons with flat graphics interspersed with images drawn with perspective lend different meanings to the buttons that are unintended. Even things like using solid silhouettes for your icons along with outlines is setting you up for misunderstanding. People will always assign meaning to their cognitive dissonance, and usually their mental models have little or nothing to do with the developers’ intent.

Spending the time or money to have a consistent look and feel to your interface provides the polish and experience that allows the interface to fade into the background and the activity to come to the forefront for the user.

For more information on mental models, check out my blog entry about superstitious users.

An analogy that caught the industry interest recently is a comparison of IT delivery styles with how we treat pets versus cattle.*  In a nutshell:

  • Pets are owned in small numbers, uniquely named, hand reared and lovingly cared for — they are, by all considerations, members of the family. When they get ill, you nurse them back to health.
  • Cattle are owned in large numbers, tagged using a standard system, identical, managed in herds, and bought and sold as a commodity — they are, in effect, food. When one gets ill, you replace it with another one.
  • Many traditional IT departments are pet owners. Servers and applications are designed from an enterprise perspective — services are tightly coupled, relying on scale-up systems and relational databases. They are lovingly and expensively cared for, with great attention and affection.
  • Modern commodity server users are cattle ranchers. Applications are designed to require little maintenance, to handle failure and to scale out. Services are loosely coupled and stateless. If a server fails it is easier to replace than fix — there is no emotional attachment.  Moving from pet owners to cattle ranchers would allow us to be more nimble and focus our efforts more on writing application code that makes us different.

I was feeling pretty good about myself for proposing moving to commodity servers, until I realized I am guilty of the same thing.

The menu itself is nothing new; sidebar menus with links to various parts of an app/site have been used since the early web (and probably elsewhere perhaps earlier still) to provide contextually relevant navigation. Also, buttons that toggle hidden content or optionally allow dragging to reveal content have also existed for much longer than touchscreen smartphones; the drawer in older versions of QuickTime Player and OS X’s color picker swatch drawer are good examples of this.

The patterns and terminology are getting muddied lately. After going through designer idea books, the iOS and Android guidelines, there is no consistency in behavior is lacking. I will attempt to describe each of the relevant patterns and proscribe their use.