Guest Post: It's Good To Be Newb

We'd like to thank Suzanne Boben of 11Mystics, one our latest third-party designers to offer their own Sandvox designs, for contributing this lesson in overcoming "newb" tribulation when it comes to Sandvox.

Hello folks. My name is Suzanne and that's right, I'm a newb. That's newb as in newbie, new to Sandvox. Ah, the pains of having no clue, of asking stupid questions and of bothering everyone around until their ears fall off. Some may dread this embarrassing phase of the learning curve. It certainly isn't the most pleasant part of the process. But just as a moth builds strength breaking out of its caccoon, so too does the Sandvox beginner. One might argue, when you are new, you have the greatest potential to reach the peaks.

For the last six weeks I've been digging deep into the Sandvox architecture, learning what it can do and how it does it. In the process, I've discovered much... the well-traveled avenues, a few interesting dark corners and some entirely unexplored pathways. All of this, of course, feeds my design work - a workable mishmash of the status quo and the surprisingly unconventional. When you're new, you don't have limits wrapped around your experience, you don't assume "no". In fact the opposite is true. Your frame of reference is firmly rooted in "how?".

As I've completed my initial designs, I've also fleshed-out a kind of stable design framework that will ensure consistency, accuracy and speed of development. This is a natural by-product of being new. You hate to make the same mistakes twice. Why not create a framework with all of your wisdom built-in? Makes sense. But the problem here is that we all tend to become complacent when we're not challenged to think any longer. We give credence to quantity and overlook the fact that, within that underlying framework of efficiency, lies potential we've long forgotten.

I'd like to encourage the Sandvox community to revisit its newbie roots. Stop assuming "no" and start asking "how". Some of what we discover will fuel further development of the application. Other aspects will inspire designers to expand the boundaries of the designs. In all cases, we give permission to the clueless newbie within each of us, to demand something better, something more intuitive, something more fun.

Now, with all that said, I have a few tidbits to share that I found noteworthy as a newb. Some of you probably know all this, but even if you do, give it some consideration and ask if you've truly exhausted the potential that's sitting there for you.

Sandvox Pro versus Sandvox

If you've read any of my commentary in the Yahoo group, you know I believe Sandvox Pro is the version you should be using... that is, if you ever want to have anything your way. No design will ever suite your desires entirely, but having the ability to use the Site/Page Code Injection feature and the ability to edit raw HTML is by far worth the extra $49 it costs for a pro license, especially if you're managing a business website. These two features allow you to tweak a design with relatively little effort and I'm certain any third-party designer would be happy to help you with the tweaks should you ask. The barriers to having a design your way are much greater in your mind than they are in reality so consider Sandvox Pro and then start asking "how".

HTML Is Not The Monster Under Your Bed

Following my sentiments from above, I would love to encourage some of you less-technical folks to embrace a little knowledge of HTML. For many, the mythical nature of the acronym itself is enough for you to say "no". But suspend your judgement for a moment. HTML is not "code". It's nothing more than "mark-up". What's mark-up? Well, it's a set of what we call tags, that we wrap around your text to indicate to a browser how to display the text. There are a few basic tags for things like headings, blockquotes, lists or tables that, if you knew them, could extend the potential of your website. Don't use the Format menu to color and size your text. Just wrap a heading in one of the HTML headings. Any quality Sandvox design will have embedded styles for these HTML elements so that, when you use them, the resulting display of your content will beautifully match the design itself. 

If you view any of my design demos, you will see that I have taken great care to style HTML elements to match the designs. This is a huge benefit to those who take a little time to learn how to make use of them.

Photo Pagelets versus Rich Text Pagelets with Photos

Working with a handful of you these past two weeks has been very helpful. Designers and developers understand how things function and therefore have a somewhat sterile view of how an application should be used. We tend to miss the fact that the non-technical mind uses the app in very different ways. One such situation I discovered was the use of photo pagelets to display products where the product name, product description, product price and add to cart buttons were inserted into the photo caption field.

This worked. But this was never the intended use of a photo pagelet, and therefore the design did not sufficiently support the use case. As I sat here, intrigued by it all, it then crossed my mind, "Why aren't you using a rich text pagelet? Those allow you to insert images too, and then you have significantly more flexibility for styling the product name, description, price and add to cart button." Neither of us had even considered this until the problem was revealed through the design. So, the moral of the story on this one is, don't assume you can't do complex things within pagelets. The rich text pagelet and the HTML pagelet will let you do just about anything.

Sidebar Sitemaps

What? Indeed! This is a strange little accident I stumbled into the other day. It's not a perfect solution as sub-pages are not linked, but it is possible to have a two-level site map displayed in a pagelet. This also requires that your top-level pages are "Sorted Title" collections and not collections with textual summaries. In Sandvox, select your home page and then add a collection index pagelet. In the inspector, drag the red target onto your home page to indicate the index should be top level for your site. Next uncheck the box entitled Maximum. Next, check the box entitled Summaries. This will reveal any sub-pages beneath your top-level pages. If any of your top-level pages are summary collections, the text will appear rather than the list of sub-pages. If the design you're using has done a good job of styling pagelet lists, you should now see what looks like a site map hierarchy. Hopefully that little trick might make someone happy.

RSS Feed Page or Pagelet

Did you know the RSS Feed page and RSS Feed pagelet let you display a list of articles from someone else's website? Perhaps you run an information site that has ties to other sites providing similar information. It might be very helpful to display a list of their articles with this widget. It does require that the other site have and RSS feed, but most quality news and information sites do these days. Just grab the feed URL, enter it into Sandvox's RSS Feed widget and there you go - instant extension of value to your readers.

Photo and Video Arrays Using Pagelets

Here's another trick I discovered when I was styling photo and video pagelets for my designs. It's one thing to add a photo to your sidebar, but what about a photo array of 2 or more photos with only one title at the top of the array? All you need to do here is add, for example, three photo pagelets, set the photos for each pagelet, then erase the title for the second and third pagelets. You can provide captions for all three if you want. Now you have three photo pagelets that *appear* to be grouped together under one title at the top. You can find examples of this in any of my design demos. Note that if you add borders to the pagelets, the array won't look as uniform.