Our journal for design-related articles, resources and ideas. Stay up to date by grabbing our news RSS feed or following @ideacodes on Twitter.


October 5th, 2005

For the latest blog posts from Ideacodes, please visit our individual blogs:

Emily Chang: emilychang.com
Max Kiesler: maxkiesler.com

August 20th, 2005

I was searching to see if anyone had released some Ajax-driven maps and came across “Build AJAX-Based Web Maps Using ka-Map” by Tyler Mitchell which led me to an open source map tool called ka-Map. I’ve downloaded it and plan to try it out this weekend.

Also, if you have seen these already, some other mapping projects worth checking out:

iPod Subway Maps

Flash Earth

CNET story about a9 street maps

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August 16th, 2005

MIT Technology Review has a story, The Tech Boom 2.0, that covers a point of view that I couldn’t agree with more. I often use open-source software to develop high-end, robust, and full-featured websites and web systems for clients and our own projects. Open-source software isn’t just for geeks anymore, but a viable basis for eBusiness development, services, education, and every other industry.

August 13th, 2005

As a design-focused firm, I’m encouraged by the recent emphasis on business adopting more strategic design thinking and process techniques. I’m familiar with the same sources and I like how the author, LukeW, frames the differences in a “business” versus “design” approach in his post A Difference of Design. (Also see my post at BeingEDU about strategic design and Bill Breen’s The Business of Design in Fast Company.)

July 28th, 2005

While the term mash-up has its roots in hip hop culture, the web mash-up seems a natural evolution of our need to customize and our love of hacks. (See an earlier post at artcodes on creating “clever solutions to an interesting problem.”) In Sampling the Web’s Best Mash-Ups, Business Week provides “a guided tour of the some of the most innovative sites that combine data and features of other sites to make something new.”

July 23rd, 2005

A recent article by Susannah Gardner in the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review titled “Time to Check: Are you using the right blogging tool?” is a great starting point if you’re new to blogs (features, terminology, uses) or looking for a blog software comparison chart.

July 12th, 2005

We’ve moved several times in the last nine years – five moves, three states, and two coasts to be exact. Despite these environmental and physical shifts in our lives, it’s ironic that it’s the bloggers from the virtual world (you know who they are) that have provided a sense of permanence and consistency while our physical surroundings have often changed radically.

After being bloggers for many years ourselves, we’re pleased to say that Ideacodes is now helping design the next generation of blog services and products for Six Apart, world’s leading blog company.  Six Apart was co-founded by Mena and Ben Trott, the creators of Movable Type (the software that launched millions of blogs) and then TypePad

June 11th, 2005

Since I started designing websites for universities and colleges in 1996, I’ve had numerous conversations about design, both with those on the inside (administrators, marketing communications directors, admissions counselors, information technology teams, webmasters and developers, designers, vice presidents, CIOs, alumni, faculty) as well as those on the outside (students, parents, the community, business leaders, consultants, people on the street).

A person’s understanding or appreciation of design usually has very little to do with their official role or affiliation.  More often, their understanding is based on their personality or, perhaps, more aptly, their personal philosophy. 

I once worked with a colleague in the web industry who talked about design as purely visual.  “We don’t need to start thinking about the design yet,” he would say, “It comes later in the process,” he would insist. 

But the reality is that the design is the process; it is the thinking.

As someone formally trained in fine arts (and had my first Macintosh when I was eight), I’ve often walked the line between art and design, emotional and functional.  If art is something to be exhibited and understood, design is something to be used and intuited. 

One of the most insightful comments about web design came from a thirteen year old student.  When asked what would improve the design of the site, she answered, “it’s not about what the site looks like, it’s about how it feels when I use it and whether I can find what I want and have fun doing it.” Her intuition told her the same thing that designers in every field have been striving to achieve since the beginning: a seamless and positive experience.

But never has a strategic design approach been more powerful and evident than in today’s environment of high consumer expectations and an onslaught of choices. 

A recent article at Fast Company points to the need for business leaders (and anyone else concerned with providing effective solutions and high customer satisfaction) to take note of a better way of operating – where strategic/holistic design takes center stage.  In The Business of Design, Bill Breen writes, “In an economy where style is king, we all need to start thinking and acting more like design.”

Strategic design thinking at the start of your college or university web redesign project can be the difference between a poorly executed, high-cost quagmire that only serves the needs of a few, or an innovative, cost-cutting solution that effectively serves the goals of many. 

Perhaps in 1996, web design may have been accepted as creating layouts and page comps.  Today, strategic web design is about user research, market analysis, click patterns, visitor experience, content delivery, technology standards, concept media, mobility, personalization, rapid prototyping, and so much more.  When I talk with my clients today, we definitely talk about color hue, but we probably also discuss web standards, podcast integration, how to utilize Ajax applications, and where to feature moblogs.

Same post at BeingEDU.com

May 27th, 2005

I’ve written a new post about the cost of blogs at BeingEDU.com:
If you’re a school that wants to start a blog for reasons of recruitment, communication, academic voice, strategic planning, or community-buiding, but you’ve been hesitant to, I feel your pain. I used to work for a “marketing communications consulting firm in higher education” where they once recommended an admissions-focused blog for a client with a $30,000 price tag for implementation. No wonder the client ran for the door.

Consider the context.  With today’s influx of blog sites and inexpensive blog and self-publishing software, it’s ludicrous to think a school needs to spend $30,000 to custom create a blog from a proprietary content management system (CMS) which already carries a yearly license of over five, possibly, six figures. 

Both ExpressionEngine and Movable Type offer a low-cost one-time license fee ($149 – $1300) with full-featured options for managing multiple school-wide blogs for a variety of purposes.  In fact, at Stanford University, Movable Type facilitates communication throughout the IT department, and around the entire university for campus-wide blogging.  The benefits to these web-based publishing systems are numerous, but among them are built-in blog functions (commenting, trackback, pinging, RSS, search, archiving, categories, bookmarklets, moblogging, post by email, member management) and the efficiency of light-weight and web-based software.  Plus, the fact that you have access to all the source code (written in common scripting languages like PHP, ASP, CGI) doesn’t hurt either.  If you’re still not convinced, why not try out the free, award-winning WordPress publishing system?

While blogging has been accepted and advanced in industry by major technology movers several years ago, (Google Buys Pyra: Blogging Goes Big-Time in 2002), traditional media (NY Times Cannes Film Fesitval blog) and numerous other industries, higher education has been slow to adopt the paradigm of publishing daily, timely personal voices for marketing reasons.  Bloated price quotes from consultants don’t help the situation.

Consider the usual audience.  Blogs used in higher education for undergraduate or graduate recruitment are targeting a web-savvy market of high schoolers and undergraduates.  From thirteen-year olds to thirty-somethings, blogs are as normal as IM.  The popular blog community Livejournal has more than 7 million users with over 10,000 posts per hour.  Another social blog space, MySpace, has over 12 million users.  Blogs used for recruitment need to allow freedom for students to tell their own stories beyond the usual “I love this school” or “orientation was fun” rhetoric.  I’m certainly not advocating unmediated blogging on a public site, but there needs to be freedom to the writer’s voice.  Schools that don’t take the conceptual leap are simply creating diary-versions of testimonials and not really exploring the full potential of blogs.

From an academic perspective, blogs are being explored in e-learning settings as well as in real classrooms.  While some in higher education are still learning about blogs, the offspring of the self-publishing blog movement and the iPod revolution has has already been born in the podcast.  At Marymount Manhattan College, Professor David Gilbert has launched a class project called Art Mobs in which his Organizational Communication students to produce (unofficial) audio guides for MoMA, and make them available as podcasts.  The site is a hosted Typepad blog site.  Cost?  $14.95 a month.

For a current project of ours, a K-12 client has decided to go with a publishing system not only to run active news, events, and document management for students, parents and faculty, but also to function as a full content management system (CMS) for the new website.  Again, the licensing cost here is in the thousands, rather than tens of thousands.

Maybe if we demystify the price of implementing the “latest” technology, we’ll give our communications teams, administrators, marketing directors, IT department, admissions directors, and faculty the chance to strategically think through the implications and to explore what’s already possible.

Same post at BeingEDU…

May 13th, 2005

As big fans of Basecamp, we were excited to try out 37signals‘ personal information manager, Backpack. A lot of applications have claimed to be online organizers, but Backpack is the first web app that really comes close to being a true web-based brain.

In 1996 after learning HTML, I attempted my own web organizer — really just a series of HTML pages that made a monthly grid calendar to which I could add links daily to things I found interesting or other flat pages with notes, art project ideas, influences, research, important dates, and so on.  Once I discovered the web, desktop applications that could have done the same thing simply didn’t have the virtual and asynchronous appeal since half of the time I was at the university at work, then at home at night.  Sometimes I was working on three different computers. 

Of course, Backpack is light years ahead of what I was doing technically, but they have also captured the fluidity and functionality that I sought and only dreamed of back then. 

Along with an intuitive user experience, the feature set is impressive.  Set reminders to email you or your mobile phone, create pages with content, lists, notes, upload images and files, create link pages, and select page-level sharing (with friends, colleagues, communities) for privacy or access.  Handling your life and brain online has never been easier. 

How You or Your School Can Benefit From Backpack

Whether you’re a faculty, student, researcher, adminstrator, alumni events planning, or organizer, you or your team can benefit from a flexible planning and collaboration space online.  Signup for the free version of Backpack .

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