Let’s see more context-aware design touches

I hope, and I predict, that we’ll start to see more of a trend in web and software development in the coming months and years that probably already has a great name, but since I don’t know it, for now I’m giving it my own name: context-aware design.

Loosely, I define context-aware design as a principle where an interface offers up specific information geared to that particular unique situation — either some customized data, navigation, or other existing element that’s loaded up at just the right time when it might benefit the user most.

I noticed a subtle but great example of it today when looking for a post on 37signals’ blog Signals vs. Noise. It was hidden in an often-overlooked and under-designed area that most blogs have: category archive pages. On Signals vs. Noise, if you click a category archive link (“Business”, in this example), you don’t just see what you’d expect from most blogs: the typical reverse-chronological list of blog posts from the Business category. Instead, you’re greeted with a nice bit of context-aware design right at the top of the screen:

A screenshot of the “Business” category of posts on the 37signals blog Signals vs. Noise

See the “Popular” box at the top right under the page title? It’s a simple concept: For folks browsing that category, why not show them the 10 most popular posts, right off the bat? If they’re deep diving for a particular item or topic (rather than searching), there’s a good chance one of the popular posts is the one they’re looking for — and if they’re just perusing, showing the most popular posts is a simple but effective approach to showing what types of content are in that category.

The “Popular” box shows off what makes context-aware design such a benefit for both developers and users: It’s simple to implement — most blog software will readily serve up popular content in a widget — and it’s the type of spontaneous experience that creates and builds trust. It adds up to less cost and more time spent with the interface.

Collins launches campaign website

Eager to capitalize on recent negative press surrounding her opponent Tom Allen’s association with far-left activist group MoveOn.org, Senator Susan Collins’ re-election team launched an early version of the campaign’s official website this week.

SusanCollins.com

SusanCollins.com features videos, photo galleries, and blog. On Collins’ site, the freshly launched blog features a post written by the Senator herself regarding her questioning of Army General David Petraeus.

Senator Collins’ campaign site bears some striking differences from that of her opponent, Congressman Tom Allen. While Allen occasionally blogs at DailyKos and Maine-based blog TurnMaineBlue, his site does not have any kind of blog of its own. Another notable difference is that while Allen’s site focuses heavily on his opposition to the war in Iraq (he even devotes a top-level navigation item to the issue, despite having a separate section on his positions) with three front page items on the war, Collins site instead more heavily focuses on her connection to Maine, via a series of rotating images and news items, while just a corner of the front page is devoted to a video detailing her position on Iraq.

Beyond the clam bakes and parade walks over the next year, the online space will be a critically important battleground in this race. This week, the Collins campaign got off to a great start.

Soon to be a five-column world

I thought I was a bit off when I launched a redesign of my TV blog, Network Landscape, with not 3 but 4! columns. Today though, I stumbled across the Hartford Courant’s website, courant.com, which features 5 columns above the fold! I’m still not sure how I feel about that, at least not until everyone on earth has a 24″ monitor like the one my brother just got. Then, I’m in favor of 6, or possibly even 7 columns.

Reminds me a bit of the legendary battle brewing among men’s razor makers, who are releasing more and more blades (3 blades! 4 blades!) in a seemingly never-ending effort to outdo each other.

Dang, that’s a nice site!

Via Glenn, we learn that Tennessee Governor Phil Bresden is now blogging at his state’s official website, Tennessee.gov/governor. (Too bad they didn’t call it tennesse.gov/ernor, right?).

A couple of thoughts on this:

* Did Bill Hobbs get Gov. Bresden blogging? Or was it his state’s larger (and surprisingly larger) blogging community that got him started?

* Dang, the Gov (and the state) has a really, really nice site design/layout going on! World’s better than most other official Governor’s web sites, Bresden’s appears to be easy to use as well as attractive, modern, and friendly. It doesn’t validate– got to add “alt” tags to your images, team! – but it’s got email updates, some nice accessability features (in-context font sizing, multiple links to the same pages, intelligent navigation, etc.), and I like it.

Now, they need to update the rest of the Tennessee.gov site to match.

Stopdesign re-designs

Stopdesign– one of the two original inspirations for my argous transition into standards-compliant design practices- has scrapped their world-famous design in favor of a clear, leaner, whiter look.

Bowman’s new look is shocking, especially for him. While it may seem confusing for one of the early inventers of the rich, stylized capabilities of CSS to be “backtracking” towards a simplified design, he offers up some interesting behind-the-scenes that led to his decision.