Storyboard your DHTML interactions

Bill Scott - AJAX GodBill Scott gave an interesting lecture today at Yahoo! about AJAX design patterns. He explained how good AJAX designs keep the user’s attention on the page, remove roadblocks, and increase stickiness to a site.

Patterns of successful AJAX behaviors are beginning to appear (Netflix, 37Signals, Yahoo!). There are subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, changes that can occur to let a user know that an action has happened.

storyboard for AJAX interactionsDownload the drag and drop storyboard design package

For instance, he pointed out an interaction on the recently departed Yahoo! Photos site. A user could select multiple photos and then drag them to special collection folders. The page generated several panels to let the user know that the move would go to the preferred folder (hit yes), wait for the action to finish, and then a final congratulations panel (hit yes). These panels and the two required clicks could have been avoided if the folder changed when the photos were dropped into it. This could be a simple glow and maybe the number of photos in the folder is increased.

Plan your entire sequence in advance

Eric Miraglia coined the phrase Interesting Moments to describe the multiple changes that occur during an AJAX/DHTML action.

In most cases, Drag and Drop requires that you write code to respond to the interesting moments in the interaction: when the drag event starts, when the dragged object enters another object, and so on.
Yahoo! UI Library: Drag & Drop – Interesting Moments

Your user will have a much more pleasant experience if these are considered in the beginning of production. The Yahoo User Interface library includes a storyboard template (.zip) for planning these interactions effectively. This story board concept also works well for forms (especially form validation actions) and Flash components.


The YUI blog has posted a video of Bill’s lecture: YUI Theater — Bill Scott: “Designing the Rich Web Experience: Principals and Patterns for Rich Interaction Design on the Web”. This is a great opportunity to learn from one of the finest developers around.

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Take the pain out of CSS-based layouts

I hate dealing with CSS-based layouts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’d rather use tables. It’s just that I don’t relish the idea of fussing with the hacks, negative margins, floats, and more to get the page looking good in all browsers.

This problem was solved a few years ago by a series of layouts donated to the greater good by wonderful developers. This gave me the ability to ignore layouts and concentrate on semantic, structural markup and using CSS to turn this into a great set of modules on the page. This is the stuff that makes web development fun for me.

Over the years, new layouts came and went and cross-browser layouts developed to a science. It’s now even easier for you to build a web site layout that is predictable, flexible, and lightweight.

The YUI-Grid

Just because I work at Yahoo!, doesn’t mean I immediately jumped onto the YUI-Grid when it was released. I’ve built several sites without it since its launch. A developer becomes comfortable with a solution and change hurts. However, I recently began working on a very simple, small gallery site and gave this tool a try.

First, a bit of an explanation on some of the nomenclature. The YUI has laid down the law on some naming conventions, and while it may seem a bit bloated, the resulting hooks allow a site to easily incorporate the YUI JavaScript and CSS.

Each main container div has three children, class=”hd” for the header, class=”bd” for the body, and class=”ft” for the footer. You can delete the hd or ft if they are not needed, but you need to at least have the body element. The main portions of the page use the same naming conventions, although with id instead of class. The header has id=”hd”, the body container: id=”bd”, and finally the footer has id=”ft”.

YUI flexibility

Nate Koechley, the man behind the grids, has created a series of rules that let you change the width of your grid, the number of columns, position of columns, and how nested columns divide the avialable space by simply changing a few classes on the parent containers.

It’s a very powerful set of controls. Here’s an example of how the classes change the widths of nested divs.

YUI Grid demonstration
The standard grid-unit interplay always divides space in two, evenly. To create layouts of more than two units (e.g., three), and to create layouts divided unevenly (e.g., 66% and 33% or 75% and 25%), we employ special grid holders. While “yui-g” tells the two children each take up half the space each, “yui-gc” tells the first unit to take up two-thirds of the space, and the other unit to take up one-third of the space. Everything else remains the same: units live within grids, and the first of a set must be indicated.
Nate Koechley – Yahoo! UI Library: Grids CSS


Now, if you are like me, your head has begun throbbing after reading the YUI Grid CSS page several times, making notes on how it works, and reading it a few more times before figuring out how to start. The package is complex and yet easy to work with once you dive in.

However, it’s easy to skip most of the headaches and begin building your site immediately. Dav Glass, also of the YUI team, created a great Grid Builder that makes it sinfully easy to build your complicated layout. Not only does it generate the HTML for your basic page, it also incorporates the full YUI CSS library.

This means you also get the YUI Base CSS, YUI Reset CSS, as well as the excellent YUI Fonts CSS. All of these are combined into one CSS file that has been akamized for faster downloads. This means your final site CSS can focus solely on the things that make it unique. You’ll be surprised how small your custom files will be when all of these issues have already been dealt with.

Take it one step further

I was prompted to write this post after seeing the latest extension of the Grid CSS from the outside. Christian Heilmann just published a simple javascript, Enhancing YUI grids with equal height columns, that builds on the established nomenclature of the Grid CSS. It’s a demonstration of the power afforded by a standardized class and id naming convention.

Christian’s javascript also utilizes the basic YUI Javascript library to take all of your nested divs and make them the same height. So, with the addition of one more js script, you now have complete control of your grid layout and your nested divs are all the same height.

Here’s how Christian describes the simplicity.

All you need to do is to add YAHOO, YAHOO Dom and YAHOO Event (easiest with the collated yahoo-dom-event package) and the script in the bottom of your document’s body. The script automatically equals all columns in nested grids. If you don’t want all of them to be equal, define only those that need fixing by adding a “columnfix”CSS class.
Christian Heilmann – Enhancing YUI grids with equal height columns

Future flexibility

This powerful package of YUI CSS and standardized nomenclature for establishing the building blocks and the YUI JavaScript library for building interactions will allow developers to spend more time creating the elements that make their site unique and reduce the cross-browser issues caused by individual mistakes. We’ll see more extensions from within and outside the YUI developers as the usage becomes more universal. They YUI libraries are not doing the work for me, they’re just making it a lot more fun and productive.

Looping and Reg Exp helpful links

I’ve been dragged into the world of command-line processing and Unix. Arrggh. These links have been helpful for me over the past couple weeks. The first is a new post by Christian Heilmann on looping.

Goodbye Amazon Badge

I have been neglecting this site’s coding for too long. I was shocked this morning to find a ton of gibberish in the edit css window in Firefox/Web Dev Toolbar. I was able to track it down to a huge mangled mess of JavaScript coming from an badge. I first installed the badge while reviewing a book.
Here’s a brief snippet of the junk code:

<script src="function%20%28iterator%29%20%7B%0A%20%20%...

<script src="function%20%28iterator%29%20%7B%0A%20%20%...

<script src="function%20%28iterator%29%20%7B%0A%20%...

<script src="function%20%28iterator%29%20%7B%0A%20%20%...

<script src="function%20%28iterator%29%20%7B...

<script src="function%20%28iterator%29%20%7B%...

It’s pretty ugly stuff. This is only about 10% of the code inserted into the pages. Hopefully it’s just a small bug on the Amazon badge service that is sending the encoded scripts. Regardless, it’s pretty nasty to import over 40 script tags with a complete library of Amazon js files. Check your site’s generated code if you are using Amazon’s associate program. You too may have this junk.

Browser wars get the star geek treatment

The Web Sig in the Silicon Valley is putting together a very impressive meeting at the end of the month. Browser Wars, it’s a spoof of Star Wars and the dreaded browser wars of the 90’s.

Browser Wars
I’m the first to cringe when someone discusses Star Trek or Star Wars in reverential tones. The theme alone is enough for me to think twice about this event. However, this night at the Yahoo! campus will bring out the big guns of the browsers (Chris Wilson from IE, Mike Shaver from FireFox, and Håkon Wium Lie from Opera are members of W3C).

The three of them will discuss the DOM object, the future of browsers, and more. Here’s a snippet of the announcement.

Attack of the DOMs is very relevant in this Browser Wars Episode II as Web 2.0 increasingly utilizes AJAX in interface design, functionality and web applications. Each browser implements its supported DOM. IE7 is known to suffer in performance from memory leaks that are related to its inherited DOM architectural design. Firefox quickly gains popularity with its DOM strategy among Web 2.0 communities with faster loading time. DOM Level 2 CSS allows programs and scripts to dynamically access and update the content and of style sheets documents. No designers can deny the importance of the interaction between CSS and DOM in rendering site design properly across browsers.
Web Sig

If you are in the Silicon Valley, hurry up and reserve your seating today! This will fill up quickly and you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Håkon Wium Lie, the inventor of CSS and one of the original creators of the “internet”. The event is free to attend and Yahoo! will provide snacks and free sodas.