"W3C" entries

Panels and panel sets

Common patterns emerge from a variety of components.

Distribution room power panel

Picture a modern web application. It almost certainly uses interactive controls, perhaps a carousel at the start, probably a set of tabs or an accordion, or maybe it is based on a coverflow or deck. These are common user interface metaphors: if you use these terms, designers know what you mean, and people recognize and know how to use them. At first glance these design patterns seem to have quite different characteristics, but we’d like to convince you that they really aren’t so different after all.

Ok, convince me!

The idea of a panel of content comes from the printing industry. In printing, a panel is a single page of a brochure, or one face of a folded leaflet. A print panel might be visually unique, like the cover of a leaflet, or be like other panels in a set, like the inner faces of the leaflet.

The concept of a panel has been applied to web design multiple times, generally becoming interactive along the way. Panels of content can be expanded or collapsed, removed completely, or presented in collections. Each of these design patterns has a common purpose: display a collection or set of things, generally one at a time to save on screen space. They may cycle vertically or horizontally, or peel off in layers, but these transition effects do not change the fundamental purpose of the thing – to navigate effectively through some pieces of content.

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Cross-pollinating Web communities

The integration of the Web's diverse communities broadens horizons and technology.

Waterdrops inside The Animal Flower Cave, Barbados. By  Berit Watkin on Flickr.

Web projects are integration projects, combining skills from a number of disciplines. Lousy interfaces can obscure brilliant code, and ingeniously engineered back-end systems can still fail when they hit resource limits. “Content” lurks in many guises, requiring support not only from writers and illustrators but from video specialists, game designers, and many more. Marketers have built businesses on the Web, and influence conversations from design to analytics. You don’t have to be a programmer to do great work on the Web. The Web stack is vast.

Web development models include far more than code. Creating great websites and applications demands collaboration among content creators, designers, and programmers. As applications grow larger, supporting them requires adding a cast of people who can help them scale to demand. As projects grow, specialization typically lets people focus on specific aspects of those larger disciplines, supporting networking, databases, template systems, graphics details, and much more.

In some ways, that’s a recipe for fragmentation, and some days the edges are sharp. All of these communities have different priorities, which conflict regularly. Battles over resources sharpen the axes, and memories often linger.

At the same time, though, often even in environments where resources are scarce, different perspectives can reinforce each other or create new possibilities. Sometimes, it’s just because the intersection spaces have been left fallow for a long time, but other times, the combinations themselves create new opportunities. Read more…