Are there good classes for web GUI architecture?
February 17, 2010 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Are there good classes for web GUI architecture?

I'm a GUI developer in a big company that thinks "developer" == "java". Through sheer force of willpower and talent, I've convinced them that thinking about the GUI as a structured aspect of the site rather than an "eh we'll take care of that later" value-add is important.

So I want to take some courses to move my career upward on this job I've invented here, but I'm having some difficulty finding things that are appropriate. I'm finding mostly wild ends of the spectrum: either "java enterprise programming" sort of courses, or "this is how you add margin to a div" sort of courses.

What I'm looking for is something like web gui architecture. We're a global site with many locales, so I have to think about the best way to structure our stylesheets and javascript. I don't like how we're doing css aggregations now, I'd like to learn better tools/methods for that. I want to implement far future expiration on our static content in a way that is invisible to the developers (like at build time, say). Essentially, the sort of complex GUI-related tasks that can still intersect with larger parts of the organization, like site architecture and operations. Also strategies for managing gui work of other developers, like how to effectively document standards for others, suggestions on how best to manage a page in divs in a flexible-width design that doesn't make me want to throw the whole thing out and build it out of 1997 tables, etc.

These are all topics I've seen individually around the web, but I learn better in a more structured environment, and these aren't new questions so I'm sure there are enough other people with this job that need training. Any suggestions?
posted by spinn to Technology (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Hell I didn't see the "computers and internet" category when I did this, probably should've been there.
posted by spinn at 1:36 PM on February 17, 2010

Not a class, but a book that certainly game me some great insights into designing our GUI: Designing the Obvious: A Common Sense Approach to Web Application Design
posted by pyro979 at 1:57 PM on February 17, 2010

Get the books by Steve Krug if you haven't already, read the Step Two blog and attached resources maybe, but it sounds to me like you want classes that are more along the lines of "information architecture".
posted by idb at 2:26 PM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

This courseis not exactly GUI design but it did give me a lot of things to think about.

Also subscribe to Jakob's column on Web usability which has a lot of information, even if they keep pushing you to take their courses.
posted by Arthur Dent at 2:27 PM on February 17, 2010

I used to be UX (UI) guy. The Krug and Hoekman books are good and recommended.

(Nielsen's a bit much of a self-promoting blowhard for my liking, and his taste is questionable once he leaves the common-sense sphere. The painful-to-read nature of his own website says a lot.)
posted by rokusan at 2:38 PM on February 17, 2010

The topics you mention are sort of all over the place. However, I have learned a lot about just about everything you mention by working with open source web software. I would recommend installing some of the more popular packages, perhaps even preferring those that are written in newer languages like Ruby, using frameworks. Then you have a little laboratory of development methodologies that you can monitor and inspect at will.

I've followed the development of some wiki software and have learned a LOT about CSS and JS file management, caching, versioning systems, etc. Then when I try different templates, customizing them for my own use, I learn a lot about the type of positioning techniques that are being used.

As a plus, you can usually ask people why they do things a certain way, and you'll get a straight answer. Many, many of the contributors are developing the software or adapting it for use in their business, and their preferred dev techniques shine through.

I have former students who come to me and offer to pay me for my time in explaining how they should do these sorts of things. Usually they are just starting out as web developers or web designers. But that could be a good way to go for you. Find somebody whose work impresses you, and ask them if you can buy lunch or contribute to their rainy day fund; in exchange, could they look over the PDF rundown you are sending over, and tell you if your work style is missing anything?

Worth a try, anyway. There are some REALLY smart people out there who are hyper-efficient and their advice is not to be ignored.
posted by circular at 3:33 PM on February 17, 2010

I'm an information architect. Much of what you describe is done by IAs. You might read Information Architecture for the World Wide Web by Morville and Rosenfeld, although that focuses more on web sites than applications. But it's a great introduction to some of the principles you're describing.

The field of information architecture has some overlap with the field of interaction design. (There's controversy even in what I just said, so take it as an oversimplification for the purposes of this question only.) I can also highly recommend Designing Interfaces in this vein.

Lastly, if you want examples of GUIs for ideas and/or a consensus that might (or might not) lead you to conclude a certain pattern is a "best practice," search on the phrase "pattern library." Yahoo, for example, makes theirs public. And here's a non-proprietary one that's fun to trawl through: Pattern Tap.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:43 PM on February 17, 2010

Response by poster: The topics you mention are sort of all over the place.

Excellent. Please contact my boss and let her know I should be getting paid for multiple jobs.

I do suppose I should have expanded my question towards books...thanks for the suggestions.
posted by spinn at 6:00 PM on February 17, 2010

I'm an information architect as well.

You want:

What you are looking for:

Designing Visual Interfaces

Some good process books:

Applying Use Cases

The Usability Engineering Lifecycle

User and Task Analysis for Interface Design

You want to be creating iterative wireframes before you design. You want a styleguide for your site / application. Look into it.
posted by xammerboy at 7:42 PM on February 17, 2010

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