Posts tagged design

Just a few quick mockups I slung together of branding for Campus Assistants (more trendy name pending). These would be the awesome team of people who wander around campus during things like enrolment giving help where needed.

As always, feedback is encouraged.

Take a look at this website.

This is our current staff directory search. It’s very simple, does more or less what it says on the tin, and looks like it’s been thrown together in Front Page in about a minute. Whilst normally I’m not a massive fan of websites which are chock full of unnecessary imagery, there are some situations where you just have to go “you know what, why can’t we make this look good and be functional at the same time?” So I duly busted out my CSS-fu and had a go.

It loads just as quickly, it does exactly the same thing, but it looks so much nicer. It also avoids words like “criteria”, which sound a bit over the top for native English speakers and just confuse the hell out of those who have it as a second language. Behind the scenes it also avoids a load of the crap which Microsoft decides is necessary to build a web page (apparently JavaScript is a necessity to submit a POST form), and since it uses the CWD it is mobile ready without any extra effort.

You may never see the result of this quick hack I did today, but I really hope you do.

This Wednesday, after much debating, debacle and delay, the new Uni Shop opened its doors 20 minutes late. The final delay apparently caused by the fact that nobody had thought to turn the tills on before the opening time.

The Uni Shop's Logo

All that aside, I’ve got to ask an important question – given the time taken, the fuss made and the money kicking around could Estates not have come up with a better logo? I mean, it’s not like we’ve got an entire faculty full of art and design students or a whole staff department focussed on marketing. Let’s have a little competition. Who can come up with something better in 10 minutes?

Now, back to ICT and what’s going on. Our shiny new development server has mostly turned up, and we’re currently kitting it out with the wide range of software we use to develop and manage our projects. Once that’s done we hope to burst onto the scene with a shiny new URL and a whole load of bits of things we’re working on for you to prod, look at and go “ooooh pretty”. We’re hoping to call this ‘Labs’, or at least something along a similar theme (we think it might be a bit close to ‘Learning Lab’) and use it for all the bits and pieces that are being tried out from the ‘official’ side of the University – new timetable tools, easier ways of doing things, work-in-progress site replacements and so-on.

First out of the door will be CWD and Posters, with a few more bits and pieces we’ve been working on in our secret computing laboratory (MAB, first floor, north-west plate) coming soon after.

Last week I headed off to a conference in London called Dev8D, where I met a few hundred other developers from the HE sector (and others) and spent my time brainstorming ideas, messing about with RFID tags, mashing data together, attending workshops on the future of data representation, writing an iPhone app, learning to use the Force, drinking far too much complementary tea and coffee and fighting the mess that is the Underground on a weekend. In short, it was awesome fun. Out of it I’ve gleaned loads of useful bits and pieces which I can now use to push the bits of the University that I can get my hands on into the future with impunity, because somebody else has already done the research and I now know who.

Next up, Posters. We’re still waiting for our new development server on which the Online Services Team can develop, stage, test and show off our latest inventions. Once that’s up and running you’ll be able to have a go at breaking it and we’ll be open for feedback. Posters will also be the first production University site (albeit beta) to use our new CWD 2.0, and will also be providing data as RSS in the initial release, with JSON and XML further down the line. The ability for groups such as student societies to add posters, along with a streamlined online approval process, will be in place ready for once Posters leaves beta.


I’ve got the LUNA feedback server working, after a bit of prodding and getting other helpful people to fine-tune file permissions. Hopefully I’ll be able to requisition it for a few more things LUNA related in the future, like videos walking people through remedial actions and so on. We’ll see how it goes.

I’ve also been mucking around with quick concepts for a set of posters, reflecting the ‘fresh’ ICT style you may have seen in the Gateway 2 mockups. Sadly the address doesn’t exist (And 1st February is an arbitrary date, nothing’s actually happening then) but I can dream. See what you think.

'Changing...' poster for LUNA Phase 2

The waiting is over, the changes have been made, LUNA is here.

All users of the internet in University accommodation (Student Village and Riseholme Park) will see the new service whenever they connect to the internet. None of your details have changed, you still use the same username and password to connect, but how things look will be different. Hopefully cleaner, faster and easier to use.

The next phase of the upgrade (requiring people to have updated machines and anti-virus) is already partially in effect, all new machines being connected and those already in quarantine will need to be running recent service packs. However, as far as we are aware nobody is affected by this requirement since you’re all well behaved and have updates turned on. At the next scheduled required rescan (about two weeks away) all users will be required to be up to date and running anti-virus and anti-malware software. Sadly we don’t have a cool web address like to give to people which talks them through what to do, so in the meantime I’ve created my own quick guide:

Nick’s Guide to Getting Secure

Read it, make sure you follow the three simple steps, and that’s it. Easy.

I’ve had a couple of people enquire as to what’s happening with LUNA and network access, specifically “will it all change”. The answer is “no, it won’t all change”. To cheer some people up, here’s a shot of what the new login page looks like:

The new login page.
The new login page.

You will notice it looks different, but this is just a cosmetic change. It’s the same username, it’s the same password. We’ve just revamped the code which underpins how it looks and feels to make it easier for you to use. You might also notice the presence of a new button labelled “connect a games console”, which does exactly what you might expect. It lets you register a games console to use on the network. Finally, you might notice the addition of an orange blob next to the games console button. This is the new traffic light – it goes red if there’s something actively stopping you getting online, amber if all you need to do is log in (or something similar) without there being a known problem, and green if you’re online and everything is working perfectly.

You’ll be able to give the whole thing a proper whirl next week when we present the demo to various people and start letting you have a play before it actually goes live. The big switchover for the real system is currently scheduled for over the Christmas holidays sometime (as soon as we have a date and time, you’ll know), and we’re going to try time it to cause as little disruption as possible. Most people shouldn’t even notice something’s happened, but there may be a few minutes when you can’t log in followed by a few minutes of things possibly not working entirely right whilst we finish tightening the screws on the new system.

Building on some earlier work (but in a more official capacity this time) I think I should share some of the artwork I want to scatter around the University to help advertise Get Satisfaction. So, here goes.

As always, feedback is welcome.

As promised not long ago (earlier today, in fact) more work has been done on the Common Web Design to make it a bit shiner and a bit more ready for prime time. In all honesty, Alex did a lot of the work to actually make the design fit together, and now the challenge is how to make it friendlier for things like large text browsers. I suspect there will be much mucking around replacing pixel values with em values.

Anyway, regardless of what needs to be done I thought I should share with you some of what has been done – specifically mockups of a shinier Print From My PC support website, and the beginnings of I’d like to point out that these designs aren’t put together in Photoshop, they are genuine renders by the browser, in this case Safari. They also work in Internet Explorer as far back as IE6, Firefox, Opera, Chrome and even Lynx (people using screen readers will love us).

Mockup of Print From My PC using CWD.
Mockup of Print From My PC using CWD.
Mockup of using CWD.
Mockup of using CWD.

Shiny, huh? A nice side-effect of this design – and one which was planned to be doable from the beginning – is that they are easily tweakable to be touchscreen friendly with big, chunky menu buttons and fixed height presentation. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what we could do with touchscreens and a nice web interface to University services, because we don’t have any plans (or even solid ideas) at this end.

Update regarding the state of emails: I’ve not heard official words from IT on the state of play of the email server, however my account (which was out yesterday) is now back in action. I’m guessing this is a good thing.

Today, along with 1/3 of the other staff and students at Lincoln, I’ve been devoid of emails. This is down to a problem with one of the three email stores at the University, and includes staff accounts beginning with letters A, B, M-O and V-Z along with a third of student accounts (pretty much at random). People are working on fixing it. You can keep up to date with it on Get Satisfaction.

Oddly enough this has let me spend a couple of hours working on stuff without being distracted by people asking silly questions. Instead I’ve been looking at the user interface tweaks necessary to encompass some changes to the student halls network access controller, and thinking more about the dream of a common design and components for web services.

Put simply myself (along with my partner in crime, Alex) have been throwing ideas backwards and forwards for a couple of weeks now on the subject of a single coherent way into all of Lincoln’s web services, inventively dubbed The idea is of a single website which collects and collates everything you might need to know from the myriad of services as well as letting you fine-tune how they work for you.

The current 'gateway' style used by Online Services.
The current ‘gateway’ style used by Online Services.

As a part of this (once I’d beaten another kink out of how Vista behaves with PFMPC1) I began mucking around with some CSS, aiming to throw together a layout based on something Alex mocked up. The old ‘gateway’ style in use in several places is actually quite messy behind the scenes, is extraordinarily narrow, and doesn’t provide much flexibility. You can put buttons at the top, and then a load of text.

There is also a ‘new gateway’ style which I knocked out for PFMPC which fundamentally looks the same (or at least very similar) but which is completely standards compliant with the exception of some little bits of CSS. However, this still has the problems of being narrow, a bit dull, and lacking in anything which makes you go “wow, this is a great, well designed web service”.

Which is why Alex and myself decided a change was needed. Something wider, faster, cleaner, smarter, more flexible, more appealing, ready for Web 2.0, ready for single-sign-on, accessible, standards-compliant and ready for use in every browser we could think of (including Lynx, and even including IE6). We’ve nicknamed it the “Common Web Design” in the vague hopes that the name will explain what it should be used for and people can latch on to the idea.

The very first version of the CWD.
The very first version of the CWD.

Along with this will come a set of guidelines on how to write content for the CWD so that everything clicks together nicely. The whole thing is specifically designed to be portable between services (perhaps using the storage location for CSS, images and JavaScript). More importantly I feel that the CWD is a deliberate disconnect from the old look and feel. Things using the design won’t be a re-hash of the old systems with the same quirks, they will be ground-up redesigns with goals of ease-of-use and interoperability explicitly in mind.

This is very much a work in progress and probably won’t ever be seen in the wild, but we can hope. Ideally I’d like to get the design finished and roll it out for PFMPC and LUNA to help spread the message that ‘things are changing’, but since I’ve mostly done this in my own time and off my own back I may surprise people.

  1. Print From My PC []