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Text Preferences Survey What is the ideal text size to use on the web? What about line height and column (line) length? Most of the information in this area is based on print (at best) or anecdotal (at worst). A design agency in Brighton, Message, has decided to try and find out by carrying out a survey: “Our goal is to publish a report that provides hard facts about what constitutes ‘readable’ text on the web … We see this report being of value not just to our clients and their customers but to web users at large.” It only takes a few minutes to complete so go and take the survey. Why software applications need product blogs and why …

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Floored (plus other items of note)

I’m lying on the bed, laptop perched on a tray, watching TV. It’s a little tricky to type because I’ve got a cut on the middle finger of my left hand, and my arms and hands are sore. Why? Laminate flooring. Previously the laminate flooring ran from the hallway through to the kitchen, it’s a galley style kitchen so was the easiest way to get some cheap flooring down when we moved in. The new kitchen meant new flooring to compliment it which meant lifting and cutting the few boards that span the doorway. Not a simple job, as it turned out, particularly when you have a bad knee which is something I hadn’t really factored into the work. Meh. …

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Design matters

Why would you choose to make something difficult to use? Are you deliberately putting barriers in the road? Or are you just forgetting the main reason why people pick up a document or manual? Long ago, when I had just started out as a technical writer, I attended a course on designing for Print. It covered many things, from typography to layout and I still use some of the basic design rules I learned way back then. Whitespace, choice of font, and hierarchical indentation can help make a document more readable. Clearly delineating the structure of a document without explicitly stating it as such, leaving visual clues to help the reader navigate the page (presuming you’ve covered the multiple navigation …

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Modern Life is Rubbish

Kitchen is almost finished. Last bit of tiling is getting done on Monday, most of the flooring will go down over the weekend, then it’s a couple of touch up jobs with a paintbrush, a little wallpaper and we’re done!! I’ve sent off my letter of complaint and received a phone call following up to tell me they had received it and I will receive a written response soon. So that’s moving on nicely, and my altercation with a taxi is now in the hands of the Glasgow City Council licensing board. Work has been increasingly busy these past couple of weeks, hence the paucity of updates here, it’s all I can do to stay awake long enough to eat …

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Round up the usual suspects

I love movies. I love the thrill of them, the cinematography, the way they move you, the way they lift you up and make you soar, or the way they quietly affect you and alter your point of view. I love big ridiculous blockbusters, loaded with special effects and noises, that don’t care about plot lines or character development, which require you to check your sense of disbelief in at the door. I love subtle, story-driven movies that pull you along, relying on subtle emotions and plot points to convey a simple message. I love complex thrillers, twisting and turning, bemusing me as I second guess the next scene, leaving me gasping at the final reveal. I love old movies, …

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I am not a dictionary

How many times in your professional career have you been asked to spell something, or asked if a word is hyphenated? How many times are you asked whether to use “that” or “which” in a sentence? We are the grammar police, the word monkeys, and many of us revel in that role (if not the title). Typically we possess greater information about writing than anyone else in the company, and rightly so as it is the main focus of our job. However I am trying to stop answering these questions directly, instead I’m trying to direct people towards an answer. The reasons are two-fold. Firstly it’s always better if people learn things first hand, helping to break the dependency for …

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Elbow

I really don’t know why I didn’t do this last week, and since a few other bloggers have since been to see them, and they share my view that this is very much a band to see live, I feel chagrined into writing up my thoughts about the Elbow gig I attended a couple of weeks ago at the ABC in Glasgow. Elbow are one of those bands that kind of snuck up on me, I remember hearing some of their second album, including Fugitive Motel, nicked from someone at work and thinking they were OK. Next time I saw them was on TV when they were at Glastonbury a couple of years back, around the time their third album …

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Friday night

To celebrate the recent release of our product, the Development group had a wee night out, as is our wont. A few of us (you know, the sensible ones) congregated in a Pizza Express for some food then nipped across the road to catchup with everyone else in Stavka, a vodka bar. It was a good laugh, and we managed to stay out of the trap of talking about work… well not too much anyway. And, as is the mark of a good night out, there are some details that are only emerging from the fuzzy depths of my brain today. For example I’d forgotten when Alan licked the foam off the top of Joan’s Guinness, when Shelly fell on …

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Retrospectives

Last week I spent most of my time facilitate our retrospectives, that is I spent a lot of time chairing meetings, encouraging and monitoring debate, and far too much time manipulating Post-It notes. Let me explain. Within the development group, we base our working practices on Agile development and part of that suggests that at the end of each release cycle you should hold a retrospective session to pinpoint things that went well, things that didn’t go so well and to assign actions which will help improve things next time. It’s all about continuous improvement and we do get a lot of benefit from them. Don’t be put off by the name, it’s essentially a debrief session that is focused …

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Portishead

After a fairly epic night out on Friday (why do I drink vodka shots when I don’t really like vodka…?), I was a little fuzzy round the edges on Saturday. I was also completely knackered having spent most of my week facilitating meetings, which is far more tiring than both it sounds and that I expected. Frankly the thought of driving through to Edinburgh to stand in a crowd for a few hours wouldn’t have been my choice except for one reason. It was to hear Portishead, remember them? Two albums (three if you count the live one) and then.. nothing. Those two albums are part of my staple choice, my backup when I get bored and want something comfortable …

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