Building Preloaded.com: The Front-end

Warning This article was written over six months ago, and may contain outdated information.

This subject of this post is the redesign of my employer’s website, Preloaded.com, and is cross-posted from the Preloaded blog with permission.

At the beginning of the redesign project we agreed some design tenets: the new site should be a best-practice showcase and an opportunity to learn and use some of the latest web technologies; and it should employ existing services where practical.

To achieve the former we targeted users with the most modern web browsers, using the graceful (or progressive) enhancement method to ensure that even with older technology, no-one would be left unable to read all of the site content.

The most obvious example of this is in the design of the buttons; users with a decent browser (e.g. Firefox or Safari) would see these with rounded corners — because these browsers are capable of producing them natively with the CSS3 border-radius declaration — while users of other browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer) would see them square:

Browser comparison. Top: Safari 4; Bottom: Internet Explorer 8

While all users see the same content, those with a modern browser are rewarded with a slightly improved experience. We used other variations of this method elsewhere throughout the site.

Technology

Web Fonts

In order to achieve brand consistency we had a font in mind which we were going to implement using the Cufón Javascript technique. During the process of adding this the font foundry clarified their licensing, excluding this font from online use in this way, so we had to scrap it and look for a different angle.

While we were trying out various alternatives using Flash and Javascript (we now know more about font licensing and implementation than we ever wanted to), a new solution presented itself. Using Font Squirrel’s web font generator and Paul Irish’s bulletproof syntax we were able to use the browsers’ own built-in font support (with @font-face) and achieve our desired result for 95% of our users; the other 5% will see a standard system font, as per the graceful en­hance­ment method.

Glow

Glow is a BBC-developed Javascript library, with a jQuery-like syntax but a focus on interface widgets, which makes it easy to create animations and UI elements for websites. Having already used it briefly on a project earlier in the year, we decided it would be a good fit for what we wanted — and something new to learn.

The image carousel on the homepage was made with Glow, as was the slide-down contact details on each page, and the lightbox overlay effect for screenshots on the case study pages.

The only drawback we found with Glow was a bug in their carousel rendering in IE8; this meant that we had to force compatibility view for IE8 to display as IE7, but it’s something we’re hoping to change after the next Glow release.

HTML5

Under the bonnet we used some cutting-edge code to mark up our content. HTML5 is a very new specification and still somewhat in a state of flux, but we used it in two different ways:

First was to provide semantic structure to the pages with the new structural elements (the definitions of which are still being discussed, so may not be completely correct — HTML5 Doctor was an invaluable resource for this).

Second, and of more impact to the user, was using sessionStorage to take advantage of the opportunities for storing data in the user’s browser. We used this in conjunction with Glow to create the carousel and slide-down effects; if you have a modern browser these are created only once and held in the browser’s storage, whereas older browsers create them anew each time you visit the page — this leads to the site being somewhat snappier in modern browsers.

Conclusion

Working with brand new and cutting edge features meant spending time chasing down false leads and up blind alleys, but was a great way of learning and gave us invaluable experience to take into the sites we make for our clients in future.

There are still one or two changes which we’ll be rolling into the site in the coming months, but if you spot any problems — or just want to talk more in-depth about the methods and techniques we’ve used — don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

3 comments on
“Building Preloaded.com: The Front-end”

  1. Looks very nice Peter. Good design but clean and simple and I love the way you’ve used HTML5 and CSS3 to enhance the site, something that I’m looking to use on future projects (although it’s a little difficult as it does have to be the right project).

  2. Thanks Dave. Yeah, working on our own in-house website was a good opportunity to be more experimental, and also gives us something we can show to clients when we’re explaining graceful enhancement and cross-browser differences.

  3. Yeah that’s the most difficult thing that I find when trying to explain that websites don’t have to look identical in older browsers. Quite often I do find that it’s easier just to make them identical but when the right project does come along (or one of my own) then I’ll definitely be looking to use more HTML5 and CSS3 :)