Helpful Resources for UX Conscious Designers and Developers

This is a modified repost of a blog item I wrote while working for DotNetNuke. I’m reposting it here to ensure I have a more-or-less permanent record.

In early 2010 I was working on an internal UX Style Guide for DotNetNuke Corporation which required quite a lot of research.  I’d never pulled together a complete style guide from scratch before and I wanted to be sure that every guideline I included was backed up by information and evidence that was available from the greater user experience design community. As a result of this research I discovered several useful online documents and web sites that all informed my decisions around the specific guidelines that I included in the document.

Collected, I think these online documents and web sites are very useful resources for any front-end developer or web UI designer who wishes to improve their users’ experience, and so I present them below.

Accessibility in Visual Studio and ASP.NET

This page on the Microsoft web site provides an overview of the relevant standards and of some techniques for how to configure ASP.NET Web server controls to make sure that they generate accessible HTML.

ASP.NET Controls and Accessibility

This page lists ASP.NET server controls and provides information about accessibility considerations that pertain to each control. If a control is not listed on the page, it generates markup that conforms to current accessibility guidelines without any configuration requirements.

CSS Validation Service (W3C)

This service allows you to check the validity of your cascading styles, providing a log of any errors encountered. You may validate an individual CSS file or an [X]HTML document with a style sheet and the file may be specified by URI, file upload or direct input.

Internationalization Activity (W3C)

This site includes resources to help with the internationalization (support for different languages, scripts and cultures) of web technology.

Markup Validation Service (W3C)

This service allows you to check the validity of your [X]HTML markup, providing a log of any errors encountered. You may specify the markup to be validated by URI, file upload or direct input.

Mobile Web Initiative (W3C)

This site includes recommended best practices for creating and testing mobile-friendly content and web applications.

mobileOK Checker (W3C)

This service performs various tests on a Web Page to determine its level of mobile-friendliness. A web page is considered “mobileOK” if it passes all the tests.

Section 508 Website

This site contains the complete text of and other information about Section 508 of the United States’ Rehabilitation Act. Any Web site that is developed by a US federal agency is required by this document to be accessible to persons with disabilities. This law applies to federal agencies and to companies that contract with them and many states and municipalities have also adopted these guidelines.

Stat Owl

This site provides detailed statistics on the current and past market share for different browsers, search engines, operating systems, mobile usage, and monitor resolutions. All global information is available free of charge, but corporations may sign up to gain access to detailed reports for their own web sites.

Treasury Board of Canada Common Look and Feel Standards

This site provides access to the UX standards that must be followed by all web sites developed by Canadian government agencies.
Unicorn Unified Validator (W3C)

This is a new tool by the W3C which allows you check the validity of your [X]HTML, CSS, and Atom/RSS Feeds as well as the mobileOK status of the page, all at the same time.

Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C)

This site includes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) document, tips and techniques on how to apply WCAG 2.0 and information on how to manage and evaluate web accessibility.

XHTML Media Types – Second Edition (W3C)

This W3C Working Group Note contains suggestions about how to format XHTML to ensure it is maximally portable, and how to deliver XHTML to various user agents – even those that do not yet support XHTML natively. Of particular note is Appendix A, “Compatibility Guidelines” which summarizes design guidelines for authors who wish their XHTML documents to render on both XHTML-aware and modern HTML user agents.

XHTML Standards in Visual Studio and ASP.NET

This page on the Microsoft web site provides an overview of the ASP.NET features for XHTML conformance and how to control the XHTML standard to which ASP.NET pages and controls are rendered. It also provides a list of ASP.NET controls that can or will generate non-compliant markup.


Posted in Computer and Internet, User Experience | Leave a comment

Back among the ranks of the gainfully employed

Yay for me! I started today as the User Interface Developer for DotNetNuke Corporation today – a small company managing a Web Content Management Server application also called DotNetNuke (DNN) written for ASP.NET and SQL Server.  There’s a marked similarity to NCompass Labs in its early days, so I kind of feel like I’m going back to my roots (I started at NCompass as a “Demo Programmer” writing “smoke and mirrors UI” code in VB which sat on top of the alpha-product code and emulated the planned behaviour to be used at Trade Shows and to attract Investor interest.

DNN is actually an open source project and there is a basic version of the software available for download free of charge and it can be installed against Microsoft SQL Server Express which is also a free download. The Professional version of the software has a subscription cost associated with it (which is what “monetizes” DNN) and provides customers with full technical support, end user and administrator documentation, and several features hat are unavailable to the free version.

Because the product is open source its evolution has mainly been dominated by the predilections and preferences of developers and therefore had only a minimum of focus on usability and interaction design. DNN Corp was looking for someone with skills as a user experience designer and a front-end developer – that is, someone with the background to provide design requirements and user centered design processes to the product while also being able to produce shippable UI code based on their designs. So, my new role will actually be split between User Experience design and Front-End Development and this has me really excited because it means making full use of the development skills I renewed by earning my Programmer Analyst/Web Developer Diploma (with Honours!) last year.

I’m pretty excited – my first day went quite well – and I’m certainly looking forward to tomorrow and beyond.


Posted in Personal | 6 Comments

Looking for UX work again…

Yes, I’m back on the job hunter trail again. My previous employer was a start up and they have used up too much of their funding before getting to a point where new investors could be attracted. So they laid off the entire development team on Dec 21, 2009, ostensibly for a “6 week development break” – they have a plan to attract new investment with the existing product and then re-hire the dev team Feb 1, 2010.

Unfortunately, I have my doubts about them being able to land more investment under the circumstances – there are too many issues with the product, mostly due to a lack of adequate design and development processes resulting from the dev team being given extremely short, date driven deadlines with an excessively large feature scope expectation.  In fact, although I was hired as a Usability Manager, the time given was so tight I found myself being a glorified interaction designer, with no opportunity to develop UX requirements documents or do appropriate user research to base my work on.

Anyway, I don’t think I’m going back even if they do find more investors – after some offline conversations with the CEO it seems we have a difference of opinion about what a Usability Manager should be doing. It seems he wants someone who can show him a “Usability Vision” for the product. I’m not entirely sure what he meant by that, but it is presumably a complete vision of how the application should look and how the interaction should flow, but before there has been any chance to obtain stakeholder consensus or do any user research. 😛

sigh.  Such an unsatisfactory situation. For the health of my career I guess I should just wash my hands of them.

If there’s anyone out there seeking someone for an upper level, hands on role (i.e., not management alone) in user experience design or an intermediate level role in web, multimedia or game design and/or front-end development, please let me know! I’m particularly interested in permanent positions but will consider contracts of 3 months or longer, especially if they are contract-to-hire.


Posted in Personal | 1 Comment

I have a job!!!


I got a job that started Sep 1, 2009 as the Usability Manager with an Internet Service start up (and I really mean start up – I’m the 7th employee!) and things have been so busy I only just thought of posting about it now.  The company is called CrowdTrust and the product will most likely be called Gleanr (we’re in the middle of the branding process right now) and I’ll tell you more about the application once the web site goes live.

What’s really refreshing is to be among developers who really GET User Experience.  I mean, how many start ups can you think of that hire a Usability Manager before hiring a QA manager?

{big time snoopy dance!}


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An example of why I love Vancouver

Ron, Nathan and I went downtown today “just because”.  While we were there we walked around the Vancouver Art Gallery and, within this one block journey we encountered:

  • The Islamic Cultural Expo
    (at the front, with many tents, music, food, etc.)
  • Several old men playing chess
    (They’re always there on the weekends)
  • A Zombie Walk
    (with many people in zombie costumes, zombie face painting and more, all to raising money for a charity – I think it was the BC Children’s hospital)
  • A Pre-Teen busker who was playing the Bagpipes
    (He was very good. He was also right next to the Zombies, it made quite a bizarre combination)
  • A Juggling Troup at Practice
    (They were just in regular clothes and puttering about with different tools – clubs, batons, strings will balls on the end hula-hoops)

Ah yes.  Vancouver.  Can’t get much more multicultural than that. 😀


Posted in Odds and Ends | Leave a comment

Job Hunting Blues

Well, that “almost” job with Burntsand I mentioned just after I finished my college diploma courses hasn’t worked out so far.  The thing is, they still really want to hire me, but the economy has put a damper on their efforts to land a new contract – according to their HR person, a process that used to take one to three weeks is now taking three weeks to over a month. This is as frustrating for them as it is for me – while I’m annoyed that they haven’t hired me yet, they’re just as annoyed that they haven’t been hired either!

At this point, the head of the Burntsand Vancouver office is saying he hopes to have the contract approved by July 15th but, of course, he can’t even guarantee that.  This is, unfortunately, an untenable situation for me – as much as I want to work for them and they want me to work for them, I desperately need a job ASAP. So, I’ve been working on my online portfolio (all the jobs I’d like to apply to indicate they require applicants to provide some kind of design portfolio) and have also started to look at possible freelance jobs through Craigslist and the like.

You know what really sucks?

This is the third time I’ve had an “almost guaranteed” job that has, apparently, failed to work out:

The first time was just after we moved back here, when the manager of the department at the company in question actually had all the paperwork to hire me all filled out and had even handed it in to his manager for approval but then the head office declared a hiring freeze for which, although he tried for three days, he was unable to get an exception. (It turned out that the freeze was because another company was starting the process to acquire them.)

The second time was at the start of my current drought of work, and the manager at this other company who had interviewed me once before (but for a different company) said he fully intended to hire me but that he had to meet with a couple more applicants just for the purpose of due diligence. And then, much to both his and my annoyance, he was told by his manager that there was this project manager whom he really liked and he was to hire this other person, using up the “headcount” that he had set aside to hire a user experience specialist!

{sigh} I’m really getting tired of this – it’s almost been a year and a half since I was let go from CGTV… When is all this bad karma going to switch to being good karma?


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Summer Slimming 2

I just realized I haven’t updated my blog to discuss my weight loss since the first time. Bad Jenni!

So, this morning, I weighed in at 140.5 lb – that’s 4.5 lb down from my starting point. While I dropped almost 3 lbs in the first three days that was undoubtedly water weight as I bounced back up to 144.5 a couple of days later, but it’s averaged a fairly steady 1 lb / week over all (this week was 1.5 lb).  So far so good.

Now if I could just get myself exercising regularly again I could bump that up to 2 to 2.5 lb a week… we’ll see. It’s hard to get motivated for exercise when you’re still looking for work (more on that to follow).


Posted in Health and wellness | Leave a comment

Finished At Last!

This morning I:

  • Handed in my final school project
  • Got my marks and signed off on my projects for Flash & Dreamweaver (100% on all four of them!)
  • Submitted my practicum documentation
  • Filled in the CDI College graduation request form

And THAT means that I’m DONE!!!!  Yay! 

This also means that I’m almost[*] officially a fully qualified Programmer Analyst/Multimedia Web Developer. … … … … … … … woohoo (Maybe I can get a job now…) :-/

Actually, it looks like I may have a job lined up … got a call from one of my recruiters about three weeks ago for a “User Experience Developer” position requiring ASP.NET and UI design for Microsoft Sharepoint Portal Server 2007 “Master Pages”[**]. The position is with the 10-person Vancouver office of a consulting company called Burntsand and, after four interviews (two phone, two face2face), the Director 100% wants to hire me but the deal is, as a consulting group that’s part of a larger entity, they have to have a new contract signed before they will be allowed to actually hire someone new. And they expect to have a new contract signed off “any day now.” {shrug}

For the moment, I’m waiting. If nothing comes of it by early next week I’ll be back on the full-time job hunting bandwagon.


[*] I say almost because my instructor does have to mark and submit my final project to the school before it’s officially official.
[**] My old pal “Content Management Server” back from when NCompass was acquired by Microsoft was merged into Sharepoint shortly after I left that division within Microsoft. Master Pages are to Sharepoint, essentially, what Templates were to CMS.

Posted in Education | Leave a comment

Summer time is Slimming Time

Well, It’s been about 18 months since I reached my goal weight of 135 lb while with Jenny Craig. And in that time I’ve allowed my weight to creep back up by about 10 lbs, only half-heartedly trying to get it back down and blaming my lack of progress or even maintenance on being at school and a lack of opportunity for good exercise.

Well, no more.  My good friend Penny Parris has given me the incentive to get back those ten pounds, and possibly a few more (I secretly would really like to be down at 130 lb) by announcing her Pounds off Penny for Pennies (or Twonies)” project (that links to her blog. There’s also a Facebook Event page).

Her plan is to use the incentive of getting pledges from friends and family per pound she looses over a three month period to be donated to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of BC. Many of her friends are supporting her and several of us have also “jumped on her bandwagon”, adding an additional pledge per pound that we are also able to lose over the same period of time.

To give me some more accountability, I’m also going to post details of my progress on my blog here, starting today. So, I started a week ago, weighing in on Sat. May 23 at 145 lb. After a week of concerted effort I’m already down to 142 lbs. today.  What a great start!

And as a “public service announcement” for anyone else who is interested in living a more healthy lifestyle, I highly recommend the Windows application Diet Power 4.4.

My mum discovered this application about five or six years ago (it was on V3 at the time) and my parents and I have all used it with great success several times since then (it was a particularly useful addition to the basic Jenny Craig program). The application allows you to enter your weight, your daily food intake and your daily exercise and from that information it tracks the your nutrition levels, total calories and progress against a goal weight (which can be lower, higher or even the same for maintenance). It calculates how many calories you should be eating each day, initially based on standard averages for a person of your gender, age, height and weight but recalculates the amount based on your actual metabolism as determined by the exercise, food and weight details you’ve entered. 

It’s an awesome program, and totally worth the US$39.99.


Posted in Health and wellness | Leave a comment

Partners In Rhyme: Sound Clips, Music Loops and More

I’ve been working on Adobe Flash projects for school and needed some sound effects and music loops for one of them. Not wanting to shell out much, if anything, in the way of $$$ for a silly school project I Googled download (“music loop” OR “sound clip” OR “sound effect”) free.

This search returned a fair number of sites mostly offering “Royalty Free” files vs. “Free to download and use” files.  However, one of the first in the result list, Partners In Rhyme, was exactly what I was looking for. Yes their main thing is “Royalty Free Music and Sound Effects downloads”, just like the others, but the site also offers a nice collection of “free to download and use” sound effects and music loops and I found what I needed there. And, if I had been looking for higher quality files for commercial use, the prices for their “pay to use” files seemed quite reasonable.

What’s more by mentioning them and linking to their site on your site or in a blog (like I’m doing here) you can get a free sound effects library from them that they claim is worth $50. (Note that links put on Myspace, Facebook or Bebo(?) pages aren’t eligible for the free library)


Posted in Artistic Pursuits | Leave a comment