Web designers love tinkering with HTML/CSS. Give me a nice looking photoshop mockup of a navigation bar and I’ll happily spend all day getting it just right in HTML/CSS. It is ultimately satisfying to see a working version of an image arise after a day of adjusting the pixel widths and styles. Building out a great front end design for killer content is fun for us…But its not always practical to reinvent the wheel (or an entire UI for that matter) every time a website or web app needs to be built.

Whats the answer then, you ask? The pragmatic thing to do is use a CSS framework. This way, the fundamental platform of your site starts off strong and you can spend more time on higher value items (like that navigation bar!). You are also guaranteed a basic level of compatibility with browsers, screen sizes and some responsiveness in your design. So then, what is a CSS framework you ask?  - Its a ‘package’ that allows you to define some baselines like a grid, typography, standard css layout for your site and general rules. Think of it as a well organized boilerplate that gets your site’s foundation off the ground quickly. You should pick one that aligns with the site’s design philosophy best (you can also make your own). There are many pro’s to using one, just like application code, you are normalizing on base code, reducing rework, mistakes and enhancing the overall quality of your website. Essentially, it will make your work better, faster and more accurate. There are cons though – the biggest danger is to become over reliant on one, as well as the fact that you are using someone else’ code and are tied to how efficient their code will be (But working off the shoulders of gentle giants is rarely risky I think). There are several well made CSS frameworks available today, the majority of which are open source and hence free to download. Three stand out:

 1. Bootstrap (from the team at Twitter)

Bootstrap is a CSS framework from the good folks at Twitter. Its become increasingly popular since its release and just works. I personally use it the most and have had good results so far. Customization is well supported and the framework is actively discussed and used via a community and strong documentation. If you have never used a CSS framework before, this would be a good starting point. And yes, it plays well with jQuery (most all frameworks do) . It is actually very deeply integrated into jQuery UI projecs too.

Continue Reading…

We all have some books that resonates with us for years to come after we read it. These change our lives in some meanginful way, and some of them make us re-evaluate or think deeply about the way we approach our goals. Here are 5 books that had an impact on me and are great reading for anyone trying to do a startup or build an app in today’s environment.

So you’re not a salesperson. And you sort of like the fact that you can come into work, not have to drive around all over the place and work from a well setup desk with your custom rig and your screens give you all the data you may need. I like that too… but sometimes it helps to talk to actual users. Sometimes its not ideal but you have to go, with or without your sales team and visit the end customer. For some projects, you may need to live inside customer environments for awhile. Validate the information you are getting through several layers of salespeople with actual customer feedback. Think of it like a mission :) Not easy and not always possible, but it may allow your product to cross the chasm between good and great.

Watching what a customer does, understanding if its same or (usually different) from what he/she says is how you get insight and may get a leg up on that elusive and difficult process of product discovery. As a product manager finding key customers (inside or outside) your organization is an important aspect to developing a minimum viable product. Initially you may never have as many users as you’d like, so you have to find some and then keep them happy with iterative upgrades that continue to elegantly solve their problems. Ultimately, you will need to move from individual feedback to a more data based approach, sure, but even then direct human feedback can offer sage like advice. A good general always knows whats its like on the ground – not just what the map reveals.
Continue Reading…

About 4 years ago, I did a fairly successful session during a developer conference on app design. Thought I’d share again, it does help me keep fundamentals in mind, especially when you may be inclined to ever so agree with a developer who wants to ‘add’ some details that were not in the spec.

“No I don’t need training, this is pretty simple” – User after piloting our new enterprise app in 2012.

By far, the best compliment I have received. The user may have not realized that this was a compliment, but achieving “simple” is actually was fairly time and effort intensive. Getting to ‘Easy to use’ or ‘Simple’ entails many facets of application design – it also means you have to really understand one rule of thumb – For most people, all that matters is how painlessly and quickly they can achieved the task they are using the app for i.e. how effectively and elegantly their problem has been solved.

Continue Reading…

In what seems to be a long time ago , I used to blog quite alot. Back then, Tumblr wasnt invented, WordPress was new and exciting and Blogger was not owned by Google. My blog used to be called “ITT – ITTazee” and it was sort of a mini ‘tech’ news blog for Middle East/South Asia. It was popular (50,000 readers over 3 years) , gave me great positioning on Google (number 1 for many terms) but most of all, fun to write and from what I hear, beneficial for many of my readers.   Continue Reading…