What Is Your Business Card Saying About You?

Web Designer Depot has posted an interesting + inspiring gallery of unique designs for business cards.  The posting begs the question, ‘what does your business card say to a potential client or employer about your creative potential?

We all have a collection of business cards- with most it is tough to differentiate one from another. As a designer you need to be seen as creative. After all, if you can’t brand yourself why would a client hire you to brand them?  Your business card should speak for itself and create a lasting impression of you after you have left a meeting or interview. A creative design, size, style or ‘stock’ can set your card apart and create the impression in a potential client that you the right designer for their job. You are more likely to get noticed, be remembered  and gain business if your card is as creative as you are.

Do you have a favorite card you’ve used or have held onto? How important is a business card for you? What does your business card look like? Please share your comments…

Scanning the Blogosphere for Web Design + Development Inspiration

The Design Inspiration just posted a comprehensive list of 38 sites you must visit regularly if you expect to stay ahead in the web field. Maintaining an up-to-date knowledge base for inspiration, tips + tricks  is crucial, and as you know, the best way to keep current is to scan the blogosphere- but which blogs should you look to? There are loads of great web development blogs out there but tons of terrible ones too.

The Design Inspiration has taken the guess work out of this task by whittled the best web design + development blogs down to a manageable list of 38 must sees. Adding these great blogs to your RSS reader, and you’ll be tuned to the most current industry information, tips, tutorials and freebies, that you need.

Visit The Design Inspiration today and check out their list of must see sites.

Anthony Shull: Professional Developer + CE Faculty Member

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in web development.

Like most people, I ended up in web development by accident. It’s a field where a lot of people are self-taught. I originally wanted to be a Interactive Designer, but after building a few sites in Flash I realized that I was a decent designer, but I was more passionate about programming. So, I quickly learned Actionscript, HTML, CSS, Javascript, and PHP. I was lucky enough to land a job at a marketing firm and haven’t regretted my career change since.

What are some of your favorite sites that you have in your rss feed?

I like to keep up-to-date on science and technology. Actually, I read the science news at least six days a week. Physorg, Technology Review, and New Scientist are my favorites. Keeping on top of the news helps you discern patterns and identify trends, both of which are incredibly helpful for your career. I also visit design sites every once in a while. The CSS Awards, Best Web Gallery, and The FWA are all great.

Which technologies are you not proficient at; that you’d like to improve on?

One of the amazing (and frustrating) things about technology is that it doesn’t stop moving forward. It’s a constant unfolding not only of what we know, but what we don’t know. Every day, I learn a few new things and develop even more questions. That’s a good thing because it makes my job exciting. To answer concretely, however, I’m actively working to learn new and varied programming languages and paradigms. Learning to think in different ways helps make you a more well-rounded developer.

Are you self taught or did you study development?

I am completely self-taught. I was working in New York in communications and decided that I wanted to be an Interactive Designer. I was living in New Jersey at the time, so I got a laptop and sat on the train every commute pouring over books. In a few months I learned Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, and Flash. That’s when I learned to love programming. I wanted to do more with Flash and that meant learning Actionscript. I haven’t looked back since.

What type of work do you do to stay creative? Can you provide a pic?

Developers love to develop. For me, staying creative means learning new ways of thinking and computing. So, in my spare time, I don’t work on web development. I do logic or functional programming. Lately, I’ve been very interested in handling ‘large data.’ Working on my latest project, Thimbl, I’ve been able to experiment with some of the more functional capabilities of Javascript as well as new features of HTML5.

Why Development as a career? What were your inspirations for that profession?

Developers are rated among the most content workers. We get to define and solve problems. And, usually, we get to do it in our own way. Employers are more likely to keep our tools up-to-date and give us resources to keep our skills current. Even in the midst of a recession there are more IT jobs than qualified people to fill them. So, there are a lot of objective reasons to get into development. My inspiration for choosing this profession is simple—I get to take my ideas and turn them into tangible, useful results.

Do you do more front end or back end web development?

Professionally, I do predominately front end work. On a daily basis, I write HTML, CSS, and Javascript. When you’ve done it long enough you can glance at a design and immediately know how to correctly mark it up and position it. Likewise, you begin to think through problems in Javascript. That’s why in my spare time I prefer to do back end work. I like the challenge of learning something new.

How many years have you been in the field, and how has the field changed during that time?

I built my first website when I was 14 and built my first computer when I was 18. I took a long hiatus from technology while I was in undergraduate and graduate school. Now, I’ve been developing for four years. The field is changing rapidly. When I was 14 you still used tables to design sites. Scripting in something like PHP was a rare skill…almost magic. Frameworks didn’t exist. And, Javascript was a joke. Now, we’re seeing some interesting trends. Javascript has a growing developer base, frameworks are ubiquitous, and the use of mobile devices to access the internet is rapidly increasing.

Can you describe a day in your working life?

We usually work in cycles and my work varies depending on where we’re at in the cycle. Sometimes we are in the midst of building a new feature so all of our work is aimed at getting that done. That usually means more intense, directed work. Other times, when we’re between features things are more laid-back. We fix bugs or research for future features. It’s a great pace because it means we can get excited about doing new work and once it’s done, we have some downtime to recuperate.

What does your workspace look like?

I prefer to work from home where computers outnumber humans 5 to 1. It’s usually a pretty big mess with books and computer parts laying everywhere. You start out thinking, “I’m going to put this router on the floor now, later I’ll untangle the cables and put it somewhere safer.” Then, after it’s sat there for nine months you think, “Maybe the router belongs on the floor.” It’s a cliché about developers, like Dennis in Jurassic Park, but it’s usually true.

What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring web developer just starting out?

Make sure you love what you do. Intellectually demanding work takes passion. If you feel that you’re no longer interested in what you’re doing find a way to change jobs or even fields. If you’re passionate about your work it will be obvious to everyone. You’ll never want for a job.

Mac or PC, why?

I use Linux. It’s powerful, secure, and free. It also has a massive repository of free software. That means I can design and develop an incredibly complex project with zero investment. It’s also experiencing a huge popularity upsurge with smart phones and tablets increasingly using Android—built on top of Linux.

What is your favorite type of work? And, what has been your favorite project? Can you provide a pic?

I love working on teams where there is a certain controlled collective effervescence. Being able to discuss problems, find solutions, and celebrate successes with others is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. It makes the work exciting and you often perform better than you thought you could. Recently, I’ve been working with an international team on a project called Thimbl. It is a distributed micro-blogging platform which means no one can control or own your personal data. It’s been a lot of fun thus far.

What design tools do you use? Which tools would you suggest to fellow designers/developers?

I prefer to use free, open-source tools. For design, Inkscape is a great vector editor. It lets you output SVG images so you get true vector images in the browser. It’s free and available for every operating system. Gimp is a pixel editor with all sorts of plug-ins. It’s also free for every operating system. For development, I use Eclipse IDE. It supports nearly every language you could possibly want to program with.

What are some of the design and development blogs you read on a regular basis, why?

Web Designer Wall, Nettuts, and iA are good. Stackoverflow is a cool site for asking and answering questions about design and development. I also read the professional magazines JS Mag and PHP Architect.

What can students who take you class expect?

My aim is always to teach students the foundational theory behind what they’re learning. You just can’t learn everything there is to know about these subjects in one semester. But, if you can grasp the theory behind the technology and know where to go for further information, you can begin doing good work immediately. Experience then deepens your knowledge. That’s why I take an application-oriented approach to teaching. We’ll start out by asking “what is a program supposed to do?” “what is Flash?” “how does HTML work.” Then, we’ll learn the specifics of each technology—how to design for the web, how to query a database, etc. We’ll put that knowledge to use by building real applications that students can show off immediately.

Anthony Shull will be teaching CE 9555 Digital Short Course – Adobe Flash Fundamentals, CE 2416 Server-Side Web Development with PHP + MySQL and CE 2413 Web Design II during the spring 2011 Continuing Education semester.

Will WebSockets Revolutionize the Way We Think About Internet Applications?

by Anthony Shull

One of the coolest developments in HTML5 are WebSockets which promise to revolutionize web development as much as Ajax has.

Before Ajax came into popular use users could only load new information into a page if they refreshed the entire page. That was a waste of time and bandwidth as every page load would have to include a lot of redundant information (the header, footer, and navigation) that wasn’t unique to the request. From the user’s perspective, it was a jolting experience which was very far from a desktop application. Ajax gave us developers the ability to communicate with the server without having to reload redundant information. It saved a lot of unnecessary bandwidth usage and gave applications a more desktop-like feel. The term Rich Internet Application was coined to describe this new breed of user experience.

Google Calendar is a perfect example of an Ajax application. But, Ajax had one glaring problem. You could send a request to a server, get information back, and then update a page with that new information, but that communication had to be instigated by the client. The server couldn’t send information that wasn’t requested of it. That doesn’t sound like much of a problem, but there are many applications where the server needs to communicate information without it being requested–scores for a football game, stock prices, chat messages, etc. Almost immediately after Ajax came into the spotlight developers started tackling this problem with complicated workarounds which all fall under the umbrella term Comet.

Most implementations involve the use of long-polling which, in a nutshell, means that you send an Ajax request to the server. It is not returned until the server has something new to communicate. Another request is then sent back to the server to again wait for any new information. That’s how Facebook’s chat works. Unfortunately, Comet techniques require developers to use web technologies in a way they were never intended to be used. They are difficult to implement and hard to understand. Furthermore, because they don’t follow a standard, browser support is very spotty. But, HTML5 WebSockets correct that.

WebSockets allow for bi-directional communication between a server and a client meaning they can be in constant communication in real-time. No page loads or Ajax requests are necessary. Data only gets sent when it needs to be. Because it’s a standard it promises to be more robust and simpler to implement than Comet or Ajax.

WebSockets will definitely revolutionize the way we think about internet applications. It will take some time, however. Currently, only Chrome and Safari support WebSockets. But, Firefox is adding support in Firefox 4 and Opera will as well with Opera 10.7. It is still unclear whether or not the upcoming Internet Explorer 9 will also support them. Until support is more ubiquitous socket.io bridges the gap between Comet and WebSockets. If a user’s browser supports WebSockets, those will be used; if not, socket.io falls back to Ajax or even Flash Sockets. Most importantly, it wraps these differences in a common API so that developers only have to program one application that can be used by anyone. So, though the next major development in web communication is a little ways off we can start preparing for it today.

Anthony Shull will be teaching CE 9555 Digital Short Course – Adobe Flash Fundamentals, CE 2416 Server-Side Web Development with PHP + MySQL and CE 2413 Web Design II during the spring 2011 Continuing Education semester.

Keep an eye out for an interview with Anthony later this month!

Canvas – An Exciting Addition to HTML5!

by: Anthony Schull

The one addition to HTML5 that should excite designers and front-end developers the most is the canvas element. Canvas allows you to draw and animate 2D vectors in the browser without the use of Flash. The canvas itself is HTML and you manipulate it with JavaScript. It’s free to develop and users don’t need any software other than a browser to view it.

With Canvas, you can draw shapes, fills, gradients and strokes. You can even place bitmap images on the canvas and manipulate those. For more technical information you should check out Mark Pilgrim’s (free!) book Dive Into HTML5.

The greatest thing about canvas is that it’s a young technology. People are just now starting to experiment with it. Arcade Fire worked with Google to create The Wilderness Downtown – an interactive video that makes use of HTML5’s video and canvas tags. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading this and go check it out. Another shining star in the budding canvas world is Hakim El Hattab. His work on blob and particle dynamics shows off the full power of canvas rendering. Effect Games has done nice work with 8-bit graphics using canvas. Lastly, 9Elements has a great experiment where they sync music to canvas animations.

There are even some full-blown applications already using canvas. Mugtug’s Sketchpad is a pretty full-featured vector application that lets you draw and save images. ImpactJS is a game development engine that was used to make Biolab Disaster. You can even play chess.

There are a million other examples of fun, creative uses of canvas. Check out http://www.chromeexperiments.com and http://www.canvasdemos.com for more info.