FOWD 2009

Future of Web Design over with for another year then and I have to say my first conference was an overwhelming success. Started well, with meeting @boagworld, @stanton, @ryanhavoc, @mikestickler, @anna_debenham, @nofont, @BHardcastle and @dkirk (twitter usernames of course) in the Prince of Teck at Earl’s Court, unfortunately had to bail to finish the current Virgin Insider build, but alas it was still fun. Except the getting stick for not having an iPhone, however after the next couple of days I definitely want one. I just upgraded on Orange. Bugger.

Molly Holzschlag on stage at FOWD 2009 - Flickr image from user: vectorfunk
Molly Holzschlag on stage at FOWD 2009 - Flickr image from user: vectorfunk

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Slash, sponsorship and .net

Slash!

It has been a fun few weeks! Last week I went to see Velvet Revolver, the super group made up of members from Stone Temple Pilots, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Wasted Youth, and afterwards in the private bar met Slash and Scott Weiland. Both seemed bloody nice chaps, although Weiland appeared to be the only person in the UK allowed to smoke indoors at the gig. Now that’s power.

I was extremely disappointed that while writing this I found that Velvet Revolver have parted company with Scott Weiland, Slash citing his “increasingly erratic behaviour” as the reason! Well I never!

Slash was a bloody nice chap too. And my f**king God was he good on guitar! Unbelievable in fact.

The Friday after the gig was my first sponsorship deadline, which I just about reached, with the rest on its way. Great news – I am definitely cycling to Amsterdam and Brussels in June then!! Hoorah! Speaking of which I did my first training ride on Saturday – only 20 miles, but it’s a start. This weekend I will do 40 miles and then the following weekend I will try all the way to Deal to see mother and Grandad!

The final update is possibly the best bit – for me anyway. Up there with meeting Slash! I was in .net magazine! Now it was only readers sites, but the site Griff designed for www.challengebee.org, that I built over a couple of nights a few months ago is one of the sites featured on page 18. Nice screen shot, blurb that I wrote and picture of me and the Griff. I am proud! Next up is writing a decent article for the mag, which I am sure I could do!! I’ll scan and upload to this post asap! Probably tomorrow!

Quick Response Codes (QR codes)

Today I went to the Technology for Marketing and Advertising show with little expectations, however I ended up in the Mobile Internet seminar. This is where I found that QR codes (which I had briefly investigated last week for a work pitch) are already usable and being used in the real world (although they are old news in Japan and China I hear – they are even on McDonalds wrappers there).

Example QR code.

The above is an example code – use it and I’ll know when you do because it is a text message to me, telling me how modest (awesome) I am. All automated.

The programmes I installed to test the QR codes on my Windows Mobile Orange SPV E650 (aka the HTC S710) were the i-nigma reader and the Quickmark reader both of which work really well if the QR is large enough (anything over an inch in print was fine – screen worked better but that defeats the object!).

The QR code can include all manner of information – popular uses I have seen include sending direct to mobile web pages, auto dialling phone numbers, short texts and even full sms messages with number and message! If you want your own QR codes you can create them for non-commercial use on the kaywa web site. hey also have an excellent reader on there, just one not compatible with my phone at time of writing.

So I will be pushing for these codes to be used more in my line of work and looking out for them and using them when I see them. Apparently current uses include on “Lost” posters, on the labels of England shirts and The Sun ran a piece on QR codes when they printed a code in the tabloid back in December.

Now I’m off to make QR code t-shirts – and you won’t know what they say unless you’re as cool as me and my phone!QR code

Ubuntu – Linux is awesome!

I have finally acquired a spare laptop from work following replacement of machines, now it isn’t the best but I didn’t mind because all I wanted was a basic machine to play with linux on, specifically Ubuntu.

Ubuntu logo

That isn’t the case anymore because I have fallen in love with Ubuntu! It has been an absolute dream to use, the GUI is beautiful and the ease of use is much better than Windows.

Installing I had some problems with v7.10 however, where it just seemed to hang after showing the Ubuntu progress bar when trying to load the install. However I thought I would try v6.06 as a last resort – it worked. When installing I loved the ease of set up, Microsoft should take a leaf out of the Linux book (or maybe a full chapter!). The installation did collapse at first attempt (at some point during the Open Office install) but following a retry I was away.

Setting up my wireless network was a little easier than Windows, not completely trouble free however. I could connect to my wireless network fine once I found how to choose the network to connect to, but I still couldn’t load any web pages by domain name, only by IP address. A little investigation and I found that Ubuntu had set the DNS to be my router. Once I had changed that to my ISP DNS servers I was cooking on gas.

I have yet to really try to use the machine for any serious work, or really get stuck into any programmes or terminal exploration – but I’ll let you know when I do.

This blog was brought to you by an Acer Travelmate 290 running Ubuntu 6.06.

Lotus Notes – how to build the perfect email

Lately work we have had to build numerous email newsletters (e-zines, and sometimes even “eFlyers”?!) with a huge amount of content and very image heavy. The number and frequency of these emails mean a challenging turnaround time and the use of templates of previous email wherever possible.

However the client dropped a massive bomb shell when it was revealed that they (as a large corporate company) use Lotus Notes 5 as their primary email client. This is bad.

Not only does this mean we have to output a huge amount of work but it also means that this work must be absolutely indestructible, unbreakable code.

If you look at the following examples of emails displayed between Lotus Notes and Microsoft Outlook, you can see how perfectly valid and working emails can be slaughtered left, right and center by the Lotus Notes HTML rendering engine.

Sony emails.

Sony email which uses styles quite heavily. While this means that the email will not display as designed in email clients that do not support CSS (Gmail, Notes amongst others) at least it will degrade gracefully.

Hugo Boss emails.

This Hugo Boss email doesn’t use any style for any layout or formatting byut still breaks quite badly.

My preferred method would be that of Sony, or even plain text emails – which a recent .net podcast (episode 19) said most people surveyed would prefer to receive. Unfortunately the limited technical experience of marketing staff that have to sign off these emails mean that we have to make the emails work in Notes if possible, even if the actual recipients receiving the email in Notes is minimal.

There are a number of methods that can be used to make sure you emails display as planned in Lotus Notes and hopefully the trials and tribulations I have endured for the past year can be kept to a minimum for others by following these rules.

  1. NO BACKGROUND IMAGES

    They just don’t work. This doesn’t just apply to Notes, but also includes other well know email clients. This should be a general rule for all HTML email builds.

  2. ALWAYS SET OUT TABLE COLUMNS FIRST

    No matter whether widths are set on the

    tags themselves, it has always helped me to have an empty row right at the start of every single table, with 1px in height spacer images defining the table cell widths.

  3. NEVER EVER USE ROWSPAN

    Now I don’t know why this doesn’t work, but it proved to be a thorn in my design for a long time. I find that the only way to guarantee the reliable display or a table exactly as it should be is to ignore that rowspan even exists and insert tds in every row wherever required.

  4. DON’T SPLIT IMAGES HORIZONTALLY

    If you have a wide image, don’t split it across a row. This often results in extra space for no apparent reason, stretching the table row containing the images. Even if you have distinctly separate images, if you can get away with just using one full row width image then do it. And fight to keep it that way.

    If you absolutely have to split images horizontally, each must be in its own table cell, because even with absolutely no whitespace in the code, Lotus adds a single character space between each image.

  5. USE NO STYLES

    In my emails, I usually set text size at 11px or 12px using a style in my font tags to get around a link and copy size bug in hotmail. However Lotus Notes ignores this, and ALL other styles. So use no margins, padding font declarations, in fact use no styles at all. Go back to the early 90s, when CSS didn’t even exist!

    Since I still like to make sure the link and surrounding copy are the same size in hotmail, I still define font size, however use 13px with a size="2" back up in the font tag (or 10px and size="1").

  6. DO NOT USE P TAGS

    Lotus Notes doesn’t recognise the margins that should apply between p tags, so I find that declaring a font tag then using spacers to separate copy blocks, as follows:

    <font face="arial, verdana, sans-serif" size="2" color="#333333" style="font-size: 13px;">
    Copy paragraph 1.
    <br /><img src="../images/1x1spacer.gif" width="1" height="15" alt="" />
    Copy paragraph 2, and so on throughout.
    <br /><img src="../images/1x1spacer.gif" width="1" height="15" alt="" />
    </font>

I’m sure there are more techniques and ways to make HTML emails work in all email clients, but I find that the above guidelines help me work more efficiently by decreasing the time spent on fixing Lotus Notes issues (especially when Notes development is a requirement), in fact most are so reliable that I have also started using the above rules in all emails. You never know, they might help when it comes to developing emails for Microsoft Outlook 2007, when Word is used for parsing HTML emails.