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Web Development: Universal Design, Accessibility, and jQuery Plugins

Universal Design: Selected Concepts

Built on a belief that all products should be usable by and appeal to the greatest possible audience, universal design is a loose collection of cross-disciplinary ideas and approaches to creating a product with mass appeal. One cannot possibly make everyone happy, but there are a few rules that we can follow with ease.

Hierarchy of Needs in Design

American psychologist Abraham Maslow's seminal concept Hierarchy of Needs, where one must meet basic needs before attempting to satisfy higher-level goals, spawned a number of secondary applications in different industries. In the world of design, those who subscribe to this concept believe that creativity should make way for four other basic needs, defining the hierarchy as the following (most to least important):

  • Functionality: Does the project meet the most basic requirements?
  • Reliability: Does the project perform consistently?
  • Usability: Is the project designed to be easy to use?
  • Proficiency: Does the project benefit or empower its users / audience?
  • Creativity: Can the design interact with people in innovative ways?

Meeting all these needs generates a fan base, armed with patience and loyalty.

Aesthetic-Usability

Early (visual) impressions influence long-term attitudes, often accompanied by feelings of affection, loytal, and patience. Often dubbed "physical attractive bias," the concept is heavily explored in the world of psychology, using the 1960 US presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon as one of case studies.

Form Follows Function

Often associated with minimalism and functionalism, the phrase suggests that "beauty in design results from purity of function," and that visual design (form) must be rooted in (and hence follow) the product's original function. While this concept has produced a range of timeless and enduring works of design (ex. Braun products designed by the legendary Dieter Rams), this approach is also criticized for resulting in overly simple and uninteresting products.

Golden Ratio

Based on a mathematical concept called Fibonacci sequence, golden ratio is a number that is present in the natural world and believed to a "magical ingredient" to all successful works of design. While this claim was heavily disputed throughout history, the concept remains a major influence on design.

Accessibility on the Web

While accessibility is often viewed as an afterthought and no more than a legal requirement by web developers, there is a movement to design websites with universality in mind, where those with hearing issues, limited mobility, and visual impairment can have unrestricted access to websites. This trend has emerged while smartphone devices present their own set of challenges with limited screen real estate.

Semantic Web, SEO, and Google Analytics

Despite Tim Berners-Lee's utopian vision for the Web, today's Web remains a network of largely inconsistent web pages. Google and other search engines, however, are looking to make sense of the Web with robot scripts that parse the Web, and from this stemmed another industry: search engine optimization.

Prior to Google, legacy search engines relied on good faith of individual webmasters. All insights came from meta tag information, keywords, and hyperlinks present in each page, and many webmasters would masquerade or falsify information to rise in search engine ranking. This has changed, however, with Google and its algorithm to check each website's content relevance and relationship with other websites. Things have become much more complex as search engines now offer personalized search results based on the user's location and prior experience with the Web.

In addition to basic optimization techniques ranging from frequent updates to compressing images, today's webmasters opt to advertise on Google Adwords and monitor on Google Analytics. As the industry leader, Google Analytics allows the users to easily track granular information about visitor activity on the website, including pageviews, visit duration, and traffic sources.

Quick Note: jQuery Plugins

Defined as "a software component that adds a specific feature to an existing software application," plugin offers a convenient way to add a feature to the website without having to build it from scratch. Whether it be an animated carousel or a modal window that opens upon clicking the thumbnail, there is a jQuery plugin for it.

One important detail to note, however, is that the programmer should be careful when choosing a plugin. To use a plugin developed by another party is to build dependency, and the project is in some way subject to whether that plugin will continue to be managed by the original creator: it is a delicate balancing act.

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