Stepping from print to interactive webpages

For years the UK based Xara software house has been producing quality software targeted at primarly print. It has other projects like the very cool CMS alike, but here I want to talk about the design related activities of Xara Ltd.

Xara Xtreme – state of the users
image In my oppoinion the users of products like Xara Xtreme from Xara Ltd. can be categorized as users primarly focusing on producing stand alone graphics to be used in prints or on the web. I myself have been using Xara Xtreme Pro (XX) as a “photoshop and illustrator killer”. Not only is XX much faster and intuative, but it is priced in a realistisc range for me. Small pieces of graphics like the this one is very easy to create in XX!

The users are experienced in that area, but now that Xara Web Designer (XWD) will let them publish websites in 2 minutes? Is it like letting a truck driver switch profession into a taxi-driver? :-) The switch is not an easy one to take if you need to be a successfull “taxi-driver” – trust me, I myself have been taxi-driver (frontend developer) for years now.

Xara Web Designer – who is the user?
So you want to produce websites? You will be given a range of out-of-the-box elements which have been nicely wrapped in easy to understand Xara interface. No doubt about that, a job well done! All the HTML and javascript has been removed from the person who is novice at developing websites. It removes the functionality focused parts of a website from the person using XWD when creating a website. Judging from that I believe that the people at Xara Ltd. are targeting designer-minded people, may I say “designer-nerds”? :-)

Introducing web-related demands to the designer
So if XWD is a product which moves focus from traditional graphics area to website design, one of the challenges of XWD is to do it in a way which introduce new web-related features in a manner which makes XX-users feel “at home”/safe.

When people feel safe they can go far – they feel satisfied and can experience a flow, a state of mind where you forget time and space. No, it is not what people should always feel when working with XWD, producing a website – but think of the opposite. You do not feel safe – “what will happen if I click here? – will it crash my site?”

A designer probably just want to see her design appearing perfectly on the web, without having to worry too much about how she includes a slideshow or contact form. She probably just wants to say: “Ok, that is my layout, and here I have reserved place for the contact form…”. XWD have a “placeholder” feature which could do exactly that! (see below)

The placeholder of Xara Web Designer

A gateway between design and interaction – a big challenge!
”There is a life after the design has been selected” you might say. What do I mean? Well during my daily work as a frontend developer I take design and turn them into live websites.
Typically (in my professionel work) I receive a PSD (Adobe Photoshop) file and export all the parts in the design, I generate CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) information and HTML/XSLT templates which make the website look as close to the layout of the designer as possible. After that interaction like carousel (see an example) where the designer might have expressed such a dynamic element.

You could say that a website have a static part and a part which “lives” on the page as you visit the website. Such parts only come to life when you view the website in a browser. They can be anything nowadays! From Google Maps, over facebook and newstickers you meet them anywhere you browse on the net. That is the interaction part of a website. They need to give the visitor a good feeling and offer something to him. On the other hand, if the design is not well put together such interactive elements will never even get the attention of the visitor!

What do I think is required?
Let me try to make a list:

  1. Well, first of all – we need to have openminded discussions and feedback from users of XWD to be able to address elements of XWD which can be improved. We have that!
  2. People with skills with implementing websites in general. Such people would know about the end product: XHTML, CSS, jScript and so on.
  3. People who know what is happening on the net, yesterday, today and tomorrow! What is the trend? Would it for instance be more interesting to focus on Silverlight than on Flash?
  4. Concrete need: XWD need to publish meta data into the HTML output! Be open! Document what 3rd party companies can expect the HTML output to contain. For instance if you want to somehow be able to have a jQuery based carousel part of your website, there should be a way to add CSS classes to elements.
  5. Conform to web standards. Though to most people it is not important, perhaps moving inline CSS to CSS clases could be nice. And if you for instance have a block of text, why not surround the DIVs generated with an outer DIV? This lets 3rd party companies hook in with things that XWD perhaps not supports.

Well, I could properly go on – but for now I will stop here! Please feel free to comment!


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