I got my New York Public Library card in the mail today.
Anyone who lives in New York state is eligible for a card, so I now have access to the library’s impressive collection of online resources.
I spent the morning refreshing my Spanish at the NYPL’s Online Language Learning Center. It uses the Rosetta Stone software, which now has a place on my desert island list of media resources, along with the White Album and the entire first season of The Dog Whisperer.
If you haven’t used or seen Rosetta Stone, it is Language learning software with the remarkable ability to hack your brain and force it to actually understand and remember all of those verb conjugations you had to memorize back in college. The lessons are reinforced with audio, video, writing and images, so it imitates an immersion experience more than a typical grammar-based language course. There’s even a module that has you speak into a microphone and shows you a waveform comparing your speech with someone who doesn’t suck.
I haven’t explored the other web resources, but I’m tickled at getting access to this one. The software is in the $300 range, and Cornell doesn’t have a license, so I feel like I’ve gotten my taxes worth this year. Thanks NYPL!
I’m typing with my face today due to a stupidity-induced thumb injury from, I think, painting my basement. Homeowners beware.
In the meantime, just to show that I’m not all thorns and lemons, here are some good websites. Good in that attainable way. You will notice that these are mostly not library sites, but I hope you will enjoy the parallels between, say, a really clean weblog about t-shirts, and a really clean list of community activities.
Decent design example #1
The New York Public Library’s Main Page
- A nod to the principles of graphic design – a grid is established, everything is on one page, so no scrolling. A bit font-y, but not too bad. Clean and reasonable.
- Respect for web traditions. Contact link, search, hours up top, copyright statement at the bottom.
- There are tons of links, but they are separated by negative space and grouped to reduce clutter. There are only links to things the public might care about. If you want info about their current grants or whatever you have to dig down a bit, because fewer people care. I sure don’t.
- User-friendly labeling. “Pictures, Photos, & Maps Online” rather than “The Boogaboo Collection” Thank you. As a user, I like pictures. I don’t know Mr. Boogaboo and I don’t want to.
- Visually consistent (at least within this main page). The logo matches the icons which match the features. Don’t click on “Teens” or it will all go to hell.
Decent Design example #2
Preshrunk (hipster t-shirt weblog)
- This is negative space, my friends. As a user, it calms you, soothes you. Makes you feel a bit less like you are being attacked by dozens of people who all want your attention. Feel the negative space? Ohm…
- Look! A clear focal point for each easily-distinguished item. It’s an image! A high-quality image! Not clip art! A visually consistent size and presentation for each image! Don’t you feel safe and warm?
Decent Design example #3
- Great info architecture. What section are you in? It’s obvious! Your location is the only highlighted thing on the page. These guys aren’t out there trying to get you to “Find Databases” or click on “Interlibrary services”. Do you want a leash? Click on leashes. Do you want to know how the company works out contracts with various wholesalers? Of course you don’t. Click on leashes.
- Here is a really full website that still seems calm and peaceful. It’s that negative space and consistent design thing again.
- Notice all of the images? Aren’t they nice? Nobody downloaded those from Microsoft. Notice how they have their backgrounds dropped out? This gives them a consistent look and reduces visual clutter. If you can’t make, attain, or afford images that look this good than don’t use images. Use a clean CSS based layout instead…
Decent Design example #3
A List Apart (the other ALA)
- Look ma! A simple clean layout, and only one image up top. No need to keep a Photoshop maven on staff. Like it? There’s more.
- This site changes its look every day. Why? Because they use CSS and it’s easy. Still, each design is minimalist, standards-compliant, and simple to navigate.
Finally, here are some books if you’re into that kind of thing…
Usability for the web [link]
Information Architecture [link]
Don’t make me think! [link]
Designing websites for every audience [link]