UIE Podcasts with Web App Experts

Jared Spool

January 23rd, 2009

Web-based application development is a field in flux. With new advances in interaction technologies, social media, and fast-paced design, it can be hard to keep up.

That’s why we’ve put together a series of podcasts with some of the experts in the field: Dan Brown, Molly Holzshlag, Steve Mulder, Riccardo LaRosa, and Nathan Curtis. In these interviews, we talk about documenting design, web standards for web apps, Web 2.0 design strategy, and using patterns and components. I’m sure you’ll find it both interesting and insightful.

You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes, or you can listen directly on your PC.

By the way, Dan, Molly, Steve, Riccardo, and Nathan are all presenting full-day workshops on these topics at the UIE Web App Summit.

Documenting Design with Dan Brown

If you ask designers what the most frustrating parts about designing a project are, one of the top answers would undoubtedly be “communicating and documenting the design process.” And with good reason… it’s not easy.

That’s why we interviewed Dan Brown. I don’t know of anyone who knows more about solid design communications than Dan, the co-founder and principal of Eight Shapes, a UX firm in Washington, D.C. Dan wrote the excellent book Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning, one of our favorite design resources.

In this interview, Dan and I explore the documents that help make large design projects go smoothly. We discuss how these important docs can become living documents (one that evolves when necessary) and how
Dan believes there’s value in seeing them as actual team members. That may sound weird unless you think about large teams and the meetings. Sometimes, it’s easier to “ask the document” how something should work instead of figuring out who would be the best person to ask. At meetings, these documents can sit at the table and answer questions, as well!

In the podcast, we spent some time with two documents he cover’s in his book: concept models and flow charts. These particular documents are intriguing because they don’t cover concrete ideas (which are easier to document), but instead cover the higher-level abstract ideas that often power the site invisibly.

Listen to Dan’s interview.

Web 2.0 Strategy and Design with Steve Mulder and Riccardo LaRosa

We love to talk to Steve Mulder (from Molecular) and Riccardo La Rosa (from Isobar) about building out a Web 2.0 strategy and incorporating elements, such as social features and highly-interactive elements to the design.

Steve and Riccardo work with mainstream organizations. In this interview, they told me about the solutions they worked on with Reebok (a sports apparel company) and HumanaOne (a direct-to-consumer health
insurance company). We talked about the challenges they faced on these projects and what they needed to do to overcome them.

During the podcast, we discussed how to determine what features to build, how to tell if the features are working as expected, and how results changed over time. We talked about how starting small and iterating is most successful, but not an easy sell in many situations. You’ll want to listen to hear how they overcame this challenge and other Web 2.0 adventures they had.

Listen to Steve and Riccardo.

Web Standards for Web Apps with Molly Holzschlag

UIE reached out to Molly Holzschlag, to discuss the cutting edge of web standards as they apply to web application development. Molly is the unsinkable author of, what seems to be a million, books on web development, is a noted teacher, and an in-demand consultant in the field. There’s likely no one better to ask about web standards than Molly.

In this podcast, Molly and Jared discuss a number of new standards, such as HTML5, JavaScript, and other advancements, and the impacts it’s having on web application design and development. Also discussed is the tremendous benefits building with standards (or even a subset of them) brings to the lifecycle of a product.

In this podcast, Molly and I discussed the impact these and other advancements are having on web application design and development, along with the tremendous benefits building with standards (or even a
subset of them) brings to the lifecycle of a product.

Listen to Molly.

Achieving Pattern and Component Reuse with Nathan Curtis

Dealing with real-life web app production isn’t as glamorous as some aspects of design in the digital realm, but it is full of challenges and can honestly make or break a project. There are ways of truly optimizing certain aspects of the production so that you can create a product with consistent quality at a faster pace. To find out how, I turned to Nathan Curtis.

Nathan Curtis is a principal and co-founder of Eight Shapes in Washington, D.C., where he is spearheading research into design patterns and component libraries. Eight Shapes turns out great work in the UX and IA realms with some impressive clients.

In our discussion, Nathan and I first define design pattern libraries and component libraries. A pattern library is a repository for ideas and solutions to design interaction problems. Component libraries are comprised of actual functioning parts, with real code. If you’re designing even a moderately large site, having repositories can save you tremendous production time. You can multiply these savings if you have multiple teams working on different portions of the same property. Each team doesn’t need to invent their own wheels and engineer them from scratch.

We go into more detail in the podcast and also compare these to style guides, which were the first step towards this idea—one that is too often broken, over restrictive, and simply ignored.

Tune in to hear how pattern and component libraries can help you.

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