What XGB Design Is About
Welcome to XGB Web and Software Design! XGB Design is a small, free-lance company dedicated primarily to designing and implementing websites for small businesses and non-profit organizations; and secondarily to producing custom software applications. Since its inception in mid-2006, XGB Design has either built, or rebuilt from the ground up, more than a dozen websites. Of these, nine sites were produced for outside clients, including four radio stations, two restaurants, a graphic designer, and two non-profit organizations. XGB's proprietor, Gordon Brown, continues to maintain three of these sites on a regular basis. XGB Design can also produce custom software to suit particular needs and purposes. For example, it has already produced an auction-managing program for a company that auctions musical and celebrity autographs and other memorabilia.
Cookie-Cutter, or Custom-Built?
In recent years many web-hosting companies have offered to their clients an array of tools for developing their own websites, including templates. Given the economic realities of our time, the temptation to "do it yourself" with templates and "drag'n'drop" tools is overwhelming, and quite understandable. However, in many instances the expedience of these tools is more than offset by a host of disadvantages. Before you decide between a home-built site based on a template, and one that is custom-built from the ground up, I hope you'll take to heart what I have to say below.
1) Templates are typically bland, and generic by design, so as to be made suitable for a wide variety of customer applications. It's difficult enough for a professional web developer to make a template look original, and built especially for the client (although many professionals use templates at least occasionally, for the sake of expedience); for those who have never built a website, the task of making a template look special is virtually impossible.
2) Template-based websites have a curious way of announcing to the world that they were built by novices. That's because, for all their blandness, most templates are reasonably well-designed by experts, with interesting shading effects and what-not. The problem is that many of the very people to whom the template approach is aimed have no eye for proper placement of elements, of element hierarchies, and so on, within their websites. The haphazard look of sites created by novices often contrasts sharply with the evident expertise of the designers who created the template as a backdrop for this confusion! This contrast of "expert vs. non-expert" elements becomes even more painfully obvious when the web-hosting company offers a scripted tool such as Lightbox for displaying and enlarging images. Here the sophistication of the Lightbox application draws too much unwelcome attention to the unknowing crudity of the amateur builder's own efforts.
3) Template-based websites sometimes impose performance and storage penalties, owing to their size. That's because online web-developing tools are simply code generators similar to Microsoft FrontPage®, Adobe Dreamweaver®, Joomla!®, WordPress®, and many others. Use of a code generator, as opposed to custom-building by hand, invariably results in web pages that are bloated with extraneous code to suit a variety of applications. Most of this extraneous code will never be used within any particular website. (See "The XGB Philosophy" just below.)
4) Designing a website around a template too frequently precludes use of clever and original special effects, both static and dynamic, that can come about only through careful, custom design and hand-building. The best argument I can think of to establish this point is simply to advise you to check out XGB Design's commemorative website, George Lacks: A Remembrance in Pictures, and roll your mouse over any of the links labeled "the photos." Be sure to do this over a number of different pages on the site. You should realize at once that the drop-down and pop-up menus you see there could not have come into being except by applying custom-building techniques throughout—from engineering a script, to creating the necessary graphical elements, to coding the webpage itself.
The XGB Philosophy: Get Under the Hood!
Do you believe even for a moment that anyone who enters a classic car in a prestigious car show such as the Concours d'Elegance could get very far simply by applying some Bondo® in the right places, and a fresh coat of paint? Much to the contrary, these cars are practically judged from the inside out! The judges at these shows meticulously examine every aspect of the car's restoration, and its fit and finish, from the underpinnings along the chassis and suspension, to the degree of refinement evident in the engine compartment, to the alignment of doors and hood with surrounding body panels, to the quality of materials used to appoint the car's interior. Even the wiring looms used to harness the wires that provide spark to the engine are subjected to critical and exhaustive evaluation by the judges.
Considered from this aspect, why should construction of a website be any different? Arguably, the words of Longfellow at left aptly describe the objectives of the XGB design project. Too often in web design, it's what the prospective client doesn't see that has strong implications for her site's performance, extensibility, and maintenance requirements—to say nothing of the degree of professionalism revealed by a simple inspection of the site's source code.
The World Wide Web is a wild, woolly, and wondrously egalitarian place in which to live and work. Its egalitarian nature allows people who don't know very much about computer technology to develop their own websites; without a doubt, this is one of the major strengths of the Internet as it stands today. Unfortunately, this egalitarianism also explains why so many websites are designed so badly. I do not just speak of sites that are aesthetically awful, and rife with spelling and grammatical errors and broken links. For even when the site of a company or organization looks pleasing to the eye, and functions as one might expect, its source code often betrays certain weaknesses that can affect how the site loads, and—more importantly—how easily it can be modified, extended, and upgraded. These weaknesses can also convey distinct impressions about the company's investment in developing a quality site for itself.
All websites are essentially open-source software packages, which means that anyone can easily inspect the source code that underlies every webpage. (For the uninitiated: It's just a matter of selecting View >> Source from the main menu of your Web browser, or View >> Page Source, depending on the browser you use.) What's more, anyone with minimal knowledge can test any webpage against certain validation standards adopted by such organizations as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C, for short). Shockingly, many sites purportedly developed by independent "webmasters" don't even pass the minimal technical requirements of the W3C. I once selected at random the home pages of four independent Web development companies in California. I subjected each of these pages to a test by the W3C, and the tests turned up no fewer than 22, 22, 30, and 40 errors respectively.
Validating your webpages is vital because it is the only way to ensure that your site will be compatible with current and future Web browsers, as well as Internet-ready mobile devices such as cellular phones, tablets, and the like. Additionally, inspecting and testing the source code for your Web project could easily turn up numerous errors, warnings and other weaknesses that are professionally embarrassing. It can reveal that your site was created using a mere word processor or other "office" application—or a visual-editing, point-and-click, drag-and-drop, WYSINNWYG ("What You See Is Not Necessarily What You Get") environment such as Microsoft FrontPage®. The list of potential errors and oversights is a lengthy one. No document type declaration. Use of attributes not defined for a given document type. Tables nested within tables nested within tables. Font tags nested within font tags nested within font tags. Empty table tag-pairs. Empty font-tag pairs. Nesting mismatches. Images declared without the "alt" attribute. And so on. As the client and end-user of your site, you'd be within your rights to ask: "Why should I care about how my site was produced, or what its source code looks like? I just want the damned thing to work!" Make no mistake, though: A website that looks unprofessional beneath the surface bears tangible implications about a company's commitment to, and investment toward, projecting its best possible image.
To the end of producing sites that look and work every bit as beautifully underneath the surface as on the outside, XGB Web and Software Design hews closely to the following design principles and procedures:
2) I do not code my webpages using any document type that precedes the XHTML 1.0 standard. From the very beginning in 2006, I have always used either the XHTML Transitional or XHTML Strict document types. That's because I believe firmly in the core principle involved in XHTML's creation: to separate the structure of a document from its presentation. (It is staggering, and appalling, to see so many professional web developers declaring their pages in XHTML in an attempt to achieve currency and a certain cachet of sorts. Yet they remain stubbornly mired in the old HTML paradigm, writing table-based pages, and refusing to separate structure from styling in their markup. It's clear that these developers just don't get it.) For styling purposes, XGB Design wholeheartedly embraces the technology of Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS. However, embracing XHTML and CSS technologies, and the principle of separation that underlies them, amounts to much more than just an academic nicety. These technologies allow savvy designers to reduce dramatically the size of files on a site, and decrease the number of "hits" required of a host server before the site is fully serviced. They also ensure more rapid development than is possible with the old, table-based paradigm, not to mention vastly easier and more efficient modification, extension, and maintenance of your site.
3) I do not release a markup page or stylesheet before it has been subjected to the W3C's strict standards for proper webpage coding, and is found to contain no errors or warnings. At the bottom of nearly every XGB-created webpage, you'll find links for validating both the markup and stylesheet code for that page. These links are a staple of my practice. Even in cases where a website is heavily content-driven, and addition/subtraction of content remains outside my power to control, it is often possible to correct these content generators so that they conform to W3C standards without sacrificing performance in any way.
Aesthetics: Conquer the Internet, One Pixel at a Time
Granted, XGB Design's original website wasn't much to look at. It was basically a two-page site, with a lot of flotsam and jetsam appended to it—and no images. At the time of its creation I wrote, "...the site you see at present is rather simple, and almost devoid of imagery. Rest assured that the glitz, the glamour and imagery will come in the next few weeks and months. Our goals for the moment are to make this site informative, and to ensure that it conforms to the highest technical standards for website production."
In any case, the virtues of using text editors (as opposed to code generators) make themselves plain even on the aesthetic side of Web development. Working directly with XHTML and CSS source code allows the developer to make very subtle adjustments in the size, color, and placement of elements on a webpage. I bring my experience as a professional draftsman to bear on my Web projects (yes, I was employed as such in the geotechnical industry in the 1970s), making adjustments left, right, up, down, one pixel at a time—literally!—until, to my eyes, everything looks absolutely right.
With all that said concerning XGB Design's technical and aesthetic inclinations, I will readily concede that XGB Web and Software Design will not be suitable for every client and every application; no one Web developer could be. However, if you feel that the XGB approach accords well with your organization's objectives where presence and promotion on the Internet are concerned, I will be delighted to hear from you, and pledge to devise a plan that is very cost-effective for your organization's needs.
What "XGB" Means
In computer parlance one sometimes encounters what are called recursive acronyms. These are acronyms in which the first word in its expansion is the acronym itself (or a close variant of the acronym). Thus we have the precursor to the Linux operating system, called GNU, which stands for "GNU's Not Unix." Similarly, Web developers often use a scripting tool called PHP, a recursive acronym standing for "PHP Hypertext Preprocessor." The label "XGB" follows this vein. "XGB" is a recursive acronym meaning "XGB's Gordon Brown." (For a more comprehensive biography of Gordon Brown, please visit this webpage.)
We call these acronyms recursive because, in theory, one could ask, "What does the 'XGB' in 'XGB's Gordon Brown' stand for?" And when the reply issues as follows: "It stands for 'XGB's Gordon Brown'", it could then be asked, "Well, what does the 'XGB' in that inner occurrence of 'XGB's Gordon Brown' stand for?" . . . and so on (I think you get the picture). Speaking of pictures, it's no accident that the theme of recursion, rendered visually on the home page of this website, mirrors exactly the recursive nature of the acronym "XGB."
You may have determined that the choice of a first letter for any recursive acronym might be completely arbitrary, and in that you would be quite right. On the other hand, the first letter could bear a semantic or quasi-semantic significance, depending on what's on the mind of the acronym's author. In this case XGB could mean "Signed, Gordon Brown"—performing as a kind of stamp or personal signature upon his work. Secondly, the letter X frequently turns up in computer labeling and jargon, and often (though not always) denotes the notion of extensibility. Notable examples include the IBM XT line of computers made in the early 1980s, the NeXt computer once manufactured by Apple, the X windowing interface for Unix, Linux, and other operating systems (for that matter, the operating systems Linux, Unix, Minix, Xenix, and Windows XP come to mind) and, most recently, the wave of extensible markup languages that includes XML and XHTML. Lastly, the letter X has always borne connotations of the unknown (think of algebra here), and has always exuded a certain mystery. (And what could be more mysterious to many people than how computers work?) For these and so many other reasons, I'm sure you'll concur that the letter X is pretty cool.