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Blog of Front-End Developer/UX Engineer Ivan Wilson

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  • Building the Future, Day 1 – The Beginning

    Like all things, every story has a beginning. In this case, [Project] Ottawa started with the concept The Information Layer (2009). But what came before this?

    Well, it all started in Vancouver, Canada (February 2009) where I saw this film by BERG designer Timo Arnall:

    Wireless in the World 2 – https://vimeo.com/12187317

    In Wireless in the World, they were imagining wireless networks available in the surrounding environment. Now, this looks like an interesting film. But to me, it was a pretty eye-opening experience. You see, up until this time, I only viewed the Web as being static. That is, something that was only accessible from the comfort of a chair and a desktop computer.

    Step back for a moment. Now imagine all those dotted circles representing access points just like one of those desktop computers w/chairs. It would look funny at first but the main point is that each one of those access points is accessing data. They are accessing the same content I am through my desktop computer. If your concept of content is something that is seen through a desktop monitor, what does this do? The concept of having the same content available across all sorts of devices, being available at will – without the constraint of the standard web page format. Even without the author controlling how the information was displayed. The user now has the power not only to access the information but to display it in any fashion he/she wanted.

    That idea of information being free, not in the political sense but in accessibility, really changed how I worked. After that film and the lecture, I decided that my job as a front-end developer was not of creating layouts. My job became a person who tried to build products that allowed for easy access to information. Building the layout with excellent code was simply a means to an end. Improving upon the work simple meant improved access to information. Information, in my terms of my work, is equivalent to content.

    At this point, I was trying to find a way to explaining this way of thinking. It was only a few months later that I was looking at XSLT or XML transforms. Basically, it is a method of taking data in the form of a XML format and transforming into a format resembling a HTML web page. Well, XML is an open format, anyone can use it at will and modify the information to display it in any form they want. We have RSS feeds – XML format data streams that user can collect data and use. This is where all the dots began to connect. You see, XML or JSON, can carry content/information anywhere with the user applying the formatting.

    Going back to this point, I wrote some ideas and sketches which later became The Information Layer. What I realized was that the current UI model was not sufficient – it was simple not granular enough to fully describe what was happening at the time. One of the novel things I did was creating a separation of the Semantic (HTML) Layer from the Information (content) Layer. How important was this? It was very important because it depicted the free flow of information /content. It also displayed the fact that HTML has its own sense of meaning, which was further expanded with HTML5 semantic tags a few years later. This was not a new concept but was not fully realized until now.

    And so, that was the beginning. From here, I used this model for building my work.

    As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, Project Ottawa is simply the first practical application of the model. This was revised recently to deal with the concept of content, which will be the main focus point of Project Ottawa/Third Draft.

  • Why Is Project Ottawa Important?

    We [FEDs*] have tools for building,
    We just don’t have tools for describing what we build.

    FEDs* build things – things called web applications. We use code, graphics, etc. We have tools at our disposal to do this. But there is one problem. Architects and engineers can create blueprints and models to display their project.

    We don’t.

    We have have code and content. But all of this is just words without context. And unless your are willing to search and dig through all the code and comments, its still pretty useless.

    What I did with Project Ottawa was take the patterns of building – views, code blocks, scripts – and create visual symbols with reference to these items. Here, the advantage of Ottawa is giving a visual description of the web application. Not just its parts but also its interactions and their relationships among the various parts. Its not a comprehensive view, it just has to be as concise as possible without losing too much precision. And the possibility of manipulating this data to do more interesting things in the future.

    * FEDs – Front-End Developers

  • What is Project Ottawa?

    a method of building a visual model of an web application UI/front-end layer

    During the past four months, I have been presenting previews of sketches and notes from my notebook via Flickr.

    Preview Sketches:

    Project Ottawa [or the Ottawa model/diagrams] started in late February, prior to my trip to Ottawa for Jonathan Snook’s SMACSS Workshop. It was there that I did the first initial sketches post-workshop and a few weeks later, created the first draft.

    After some review and criticism from a fellow co-worker, I decided to work on the second draft. This took more twice as much time as the first, with testing and constant revisions. However, at this point, I am writing the final pages and presenting the Second Draft as a microsite in early/mid July.

    The Model

    In short, the model is based on a) recent work on modularizing CSS (via Nicole Sullivan, Jonathan Snook and etc), b) analog to linear algebra, most specifically linear transforms, and c) my ideas on the UI layer, based on a concept called The Information Layer.

    With these three items, I designed a visual “code” with symbols representing blocks of programming code and content. By examining mostly my own work, I developed the rules and basics to use the symbols to represent not the parts of the web application system, but also describing interactions withing the system.

    The original purpose of this was archival, record keeping for myself. However, I began to realize that there was nothing out there that visually describes the work that FEDs [front-end developers] were doing. We have code and and can talk about CSS, HTML, etc. But, maybe for the first time, there was something that allowed the work to be visualized and be more tangible.

    Status

    Currently, this is the second draft. Even though models are always being revised and changed, I kept the term “draft” because I wanted to present the working model in a state that was good enough for demonstrations. However, this draft appears, so far, to be close to being stable. Naturally, there is more work in the near future.

    Final Preview

    As I mentioned before, the final document will be presented as a microsite around early/mid July.

    Before that, I created a single page preview, giving a brief overview of the model and its use in “mapping” a single page, AJAX driven site. This is based on the sketches/drawing from the last Flickr preview and the same example will be used as a case study in the final document/microsite.

    Final Preview – Modeling a single page, AJAX driven site