Monday, January 31, 2011

Baltimore Print Studios: Letterpress Workshop!

On Sunday, I had the distinct pleasure of participating in the Baltimore Print Studios first letterpress workshop. I very much enjoyed their previous class, though I was thankful that the heat was working this time around.

Taking us through a historical summary of the life of letterpress, Kyle Van Horn and Kim Bentley presented their passion for the medium through their expansive knowledge of the process. We started out on the Vandercook machines using wood type. I learned a variety of terms (quoin, furniture, type high, packing, etc.) that are still swimming around in my mind; luckily they provided us with powder-pink folded pamphlets for reference.

Our class of six banned together to experiment with printing wood type. I volunteered the idea of setting type for the Peppy Premarital Potluck I'm hosting on March 26th (two birds, one stone). We were energized by the rushed rolling, the clacks and clinks, and the subtle unpredictability of the resulting blocky letter forms.

After printing a variety of posters for my potluck, we were introduced to metal type and the platen press. Tasked with making speech-bubble coasters, we got to work sorting-through the catalogue of tiny letter forms and setting them with different sizes of leading to ensure even pressure. The press was smaller and used a stamping motion to achieve the desired result. I'm not sure if I'll put a water glass on these new fresh coasters, but I will be sure to heed the messaging provided by my press partner Emily.

Overall, I had a great time! If you're not sure if a BPS letterpress workshop is right for you, here are some perks for your consideration:

*Learn the fundamentals and history of letterpress in all its glory
*Bond and collaborate with fun interesting local folk
*Break bread at lunch in a bohemian restaurant
*Build muscle with the Vandercook two-step
*Take home colorful and useful souvenirs
*Achieve the know-how to rent studio time at BPS for your next printing project
*Do something different! Even if you're not a printmaker, designer, or artist of any kind you'll have fun exploring this medium.

Below is some candid iPhone documentation of the day:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Web Accessibility with Reinhard Stebner and Refresh Baltimore

I recently attended a Refresh Baltimore event on Web Accessibility. The speaker, Reinhard Stebner, was amazing. Honest and humorous, he made a big impact on my perception of web design and development. He is also completely blind. He spent the first part of the presentation answering questions about his lifestyle; cracking great jokes and making us understand a situation that is almost unfathomable.

What makes a website both accessible and usable? Using the JAWS screen reader he showed us how another group of people see the world online. Moving through various government websites, we heard how a 508 compliant website sounds. We also saw that most of the time these sites lacked usability. Reinhard also broke down the MICA website; made primarily of lists, it was difficult to find the main content of the page.

Here are some great points I learned about coding for a screen reader:
Limit your links.
Before the reader moves through the website, it sizes it up and gives the listener and overview of the content. "150 links" seems overwhelming and a little daunting and is something to consider in your editing process. What is necessary? What is extraneous?

Headings are for structure, not font styling.
As visual designers, we often see code as something we can twist  and manipulate in order to establish a visual dialogue. Yet if the site structure and design are not in sync, then the screen reader is unable to establish a hierarchy for the listener. For example, "News Headlines" is a H5 tag while the headline "A mischievous puppy was found trying to eat a giant rock" (true story from a minute ago) is a H2 tag.

Navigation should be made with divs and spans, not lists. I think everyone in the room scratched their heads when this was said. One of the first things you're taught about coding is how to structure a navigation and this is normally done with an unordered list. This list structure, however, is not conducive to the screen reader's logic. The span tag is not recognized by the screen reader, so it is one of the ways you can simplify your content for accessibility.

Display and visibility traits should come secondary to negative margins. If it's not on the screen, it's not going to be read. This varies depending on the screen reader you're using. It is best to have the necessary text, which may have been replaced by and image, visible to the screen reader to maintain the cascade logic.

Label all your graphics and images with an ALT attribute. This is something that is well known, but is still not always implemented during the coding process. He emphasized that accessibility shouldn't be an afterthought, but present throughout the planning and coding process.

Load order is king. The screen reader works with load order to convey content. If your header is loading last, but your CSS is popping it up to the top of the page you're only creating a visual solution that will not work for a screen reader.

Overall, I'm excited that I was able to have this opportunity and look forward to the ones that follow. I may introduce myself as a web newbie, but I hope to continue to learn from experts and the Baltimore web community.