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Our Chief Software Engineer, Dave, was recently asked by a friend if she should choose Mac or PC for her next computer. He had this to say:

Mac if you have any work to do, PC if you want to game, do 3D animation/CAD, or code in .NET.

Forget buying brand new, I've always bought refurbished without issues, as it saves a few hundred dollars. Though Macs are fairly price-competitive if you match components and hardware specs.

Macs don't let you customize the interface nearly as much as Windows, but if you ever need to go "under the hood," OS X is far more powerful. (see: Terminal) Also, Adobe software is far snappier on my MacBook than my more powerful Windows desktop. (Adobe heavily optimizes for Apple, and vice versa.)

Our office is all Mac for one simple reason: support. If something goes wrong with a machine, and we can't fix it, we scuttle over to the local Apple Store. While most "Geniuses" aren't much better than Geek Squad, it's still the manufacturer's store, so getting a computer or part replaced is significantly easier than trying to go through a third party like Best Buy.
A lion met a tiger
As they drank beside a pool
Said the tiger, “tell me why…
You’re roaring like a fool.”

“That’s not foolish;” said the lion,
with a twinkle in his eyes,
“They call me king of all the beasts
because I advertise!”

A rabbit heard them talking,
and ran home like a streak.
He thought he’d try the lion’s plan,
but his roar was just a squeak.

A fox, who happened on the scene,
had a fine lunch in the woods.

The Moral? When you advertise,
just be sure you’ve got the goods.
Louis Lazaris recently posted a list of skills and technologies that all front-end developers should know. However, if someone knew all 45 items on his list, they'd qualify as a highly-skilled software engineer, not a developer. While our own software engineer was familiar with all the list, he is only competent in about 90% of it.

We've edited Mr. Lazaris' list to just the things we'd like a newly hired front-end developer to be comfortable working with daily:
XHTML / HTML5
CSS2.1 / CSS3
HTML5 Boilerplate
Modernizr
Progressive Enhancement / Graceful Degradation
UX / Usability
Website Speed / Performance
Responsive Web Design
Mobile Web Development
Mobile Web Performance
Cross-Browser / Cross-Platform Development
IE6-IE8 Bugs and Inconsistencies
Debugging Tools (Firebug, etc)
PHP
MySql
Accessibility best practices
Image Editing Tools (Photoshop, Fireworks, etc.)
Web Font Embedding
SEO Best Practices 

The above skill set was created by surveying our own lead developer, and may still be excessive. Ultimately a job interview for a front-end development position only needs one binary question: Can you turn a PhotoShop document in to an HTML5 website that renders consistently on major browsers such as Chrome, FireFox, IE9, and mobile Safari? If yes, congratulations, you have what it takes.
This morning we biked to work via the multi-use path along the Des Plaines River, and got to test our new GoPro HD Hero2. Our goal this year is to ride 5,000 miles collectively. That would save 275 gallons of gasoline, but result in the expenditure of 300,000 calories or 340 burritos. Healthy is happy.






This year we made a Christmas card for our clients and friends that could be turned in to a simple paper-craft Christmas tree.

Some recipients were kind enough to send us photos of their trees–









If you as an individual want to write an email to your family, what would you do? I would open Gmail and compose a letter to my family. Maybe I would add a picture as an attachment.

If your brand wants to send an email to its customers, what happens? A graphic email is designed, content is forced in to it, it's cut & coded in non-semantic HTML, and then distributed to a mail list. Upon arrival, the images don't load because they're probably disabled by default, and your table layout breaks because email clients don't support web standards.

Email clients don't support web standards because they're not web browsers. Microsoft goes so far as using Word as Outlook's rendering engine. That makes sense: email is correspondence, not interactive media. That's why we prefer plain text emails for our newsletter. It looks more personal, and has a 4-7% higher click-through rate.

Stop trying to shoe-horn your branding design guidelines in to your emails, and start communicating with your customers instead.
In addition to web standards, we have our own pro-tips and best practices that our developers follow.

When writing HTML...
Be semantic above all else
Separate style from content
Make use of form features such as fieldset, legend, label, and input[type=email]
Use divs sparingly. Instead use HTML5 tags such as header, footer, nav, section, article, and aside.
Limit H1 tags to one per separate content level. For example, an overall page can have one as a title, and each article should have one.

When writing CSS...
Use repeated patterns to keep CSS lean
Only use !important when absolutely necessary.
Use IDs for unique elements
Use classes are for repeated patterns
Use in-line styles only in the rare circumstance where it results in a smaller overall page size
Alphabetize styles first, then group according to function, browser specific/partially supported styles at end. For position, margin, padding: x, y, then z. For background-position: horizontal then vertical.

Example:
        #minky {
            background: #000100;
            border: 1px #0f0 solid;
            color: #fefcff;
            margin: 0; padding: 0;
            position: absolute; top: 5px; left: 10px;
          
            -webkit-border-radius: 12px;
            -moz-border-radius: 12px;
            border-radius: 12px;
        }

By following coding best practices, we create code and websites that are useful to people, understood by machines, and easily maintained by developers. This improves usability, accessibility, SEO, and reduces maintenance cost.
On Friday, December 9th, Ethercycle joined nearly 100 bicyclists at Amlings Cycle & Fitness in Niles, IL to travel 12 miles to Mystic Celt in Chicago where we donated 1,000 toys to the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Program.

“While bicycle riding isn’t typically thought of as a winter sport, the ride is a great way to get some exercise, fresh air and most importantly to ensure all children have a wonderful holiday. There’s nothing like a new toy to brighten a child’s holiday especially in these tough economic times when many families are struggling to make ends meet.” sasys Joe Reichert, owner of Amlings Cycle & Fitness.























More information can be found at www.toyridechicago.com
When we designed the 9th Annual Toy Ride website, we knew our registration form would directly impact rider attendance. Through split-testing, we were able to optimize the form right up until the crucial last week before the ride when most participants sign up. It was a success, and the Toy Ride had a record number of registrations and riders.


Here's what we learned works when designing a form to convert:

Group related items into sections. We used section labels to group "contact info" and "mailing address." Cognitively, it makes the form seem shorter than when it's just a list of fields.

Use left aligned top labels to streamline the visual path.

Use simple labels for common fields. For example, just label a phone number field "Phone" instead of something cute like "Can I get your digits?"

Use self-explanatory questions and answers for uncommon items. While "phone" is self-explanatory, asking if someone can volunteer at the event was not. In those cases, it's best to pose a question in plain language. We asked our users, "Can you help with the ride?"

Left align the submit button to line up with labels and fields. From top to bottom, this creates a single visual path.

Use common labels for buttons such as submit, send, or buy.

Indicate required fields with an asterisk.

Only make required the fields that are actually necessary. (For an impatient user, we only required the bare minimum to contact them: name and email. The other information would be requested at the event.)

Pre-select common responses. (Since the ride was in Chicago, we pre-selected "Illinois" for the state field.)

Inline labels can visually de-clutter a long form but they can also pose a usability problem as the label disappears on click. They should only be used in common fields and where their context gives a clue to the input.

Ultimately, the key to making anything work better is to make it easier. Whether it's a form or a smart phone, if you want people to use it, make it easy. While moving a button from right-aligned to left-aligned may seem trivial, it's another detail that can mean the difference between a user who converts and a user who bounces. When designing forms, remember the KISS principle: Keep it simple, Stupid!



The Herman Cain campaign added a new section to their website called Women for Cain. Unfortunately, this carefully diverse group of women is actually just a stock photo entitled "Four happy young women (holding their thumbs up)" by German photographer Robert Kneschke.




You too can license the Women for Cain on Shutterstock for only $19. Being a stock photo, other people already have licensed the Women for Cain:







The problem with stock photos is that they're disingenuous. The photo featured on Cain's website implies that those four women with their insipid smiles are endorsing Cain, when in reality they were German models who had no notion as to what purposes their eager thumbs up would serve.

Instead of falling back on stock photos, Women for Cain could have taken the time to have professional photos taken of their supporters. Or, if budget or time was a constraint, they could have used a strong typographical logo. There's no need in the design to literally show a group of women giving an endorsement, the content and title of the site already do that.