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Jennifer Kyrnin

How the amazing site “Snow Fall” was created

By January 2, 2013

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How We Made the Snow Fall
Screen shot courtesy Source

If you read the New York Times online, you may have seen Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek. This is an incredible example of how the web can turn an interesting story into a phenomenal experience. I don’t live terribly far from where the events of this article occurred, and I read all about it on local news sites when it happened, but the moving images, videos, and amazing interactivity of this site made me relive it all over again. But you can read all about that in my Inspiration post next week, where the site will be featured.

What is most interesting to me is the article on Source about how they made the snow fall. This is a fabulous article explaining how they went about building this amazing site/article/presentation. If you are thinking about a project like this, or just are interested in creating more dynamic and innovative web projects, you should read the article.

As a designer, one of the most interesting sections of the article is the section on development and testing. In that section, you learn that they used a lot of libraries that are available to any of us like jQuery, HTML5 video, and more. I also really liked reading about their most difficult tech or design problems. It was very inspiring to me that they tried not to make trade-offs:

“ We tried not to make any technical trade-offs. The presentation techniques we employed needed to function and be visually interesting for the vast majority of our readers, no matter what device or browser they happened to be using. We took advantage of platforms that could handle more complex and rich behaviors, and we made sure less-powerful or less-sophisticated platforms received the best experience they could handle.”

This is the acme of progressive enhancement. No where on the site do you see an under-construction sign or a note saying “best viewed on …” Instead, these designers did exactly what they should do—they built a site for the best browsers and made sure it was as good as possible for the less capable ones. Yes, that means that they hired one person who’s job was primarily to work on getting the site to work in Internet Explorer 8. But frankly, since you can’t get IE 9 or 10 for Windows XP (which a large portion of the world still uses). And many corporations can’t simply upgrade everyone’s browser at the drop of a hat, this is just good business sense. The site needed to be functional and good looking on a popular (if old) browser, so they got someone to do that.

If your goal is to create the best experience possible, you should follow the blueprints that the Snow Fall team created. Or you can complain that IE 8 users should disappear and refuse to support them because it costs too much or takes too much time. Excellence is not easy or quick, but you can always choose mediocrity.

Comments
January 2, 2013 at 5:02 pm
(1) Service says:

Html takes time and practice to learn. And it still wont get you the best looking site unless you know photoshop or illustrator too for your images.

January 3, 2013 at 2:18 am
(2) Josh says:

Too many designers too easily forget that just because they constantly replace their toys a lot of people have no need or desire too. Not allowing for this = lost traffic = lost revenue. Simple equation.

January 4, 2013 at 3:36 pm
(3) Jennifer Kyrnin says:

@Josh: You said it really well. I like my toys, but I shouldn’t expect my readers to feel the same way. :-)

January 3, 2013 at 12:57 pm
(4) Shelley says:

Excellent point, and the last paragraph drives it home.

January 11, 2013 at 1:09 pm
(5) Daz says:

The site seems a little slow and clunky, but not a bad layout but doesn’t seem extraordinary.
Bit long for a news story, and personally I found the general layout a bit basic.
As far as the page goes, it’s not interactive and most of the eye candy is simply embedded videos?
No offence intended, I don’t get the “amazing” bit, I must be missing something!

January 15, 2013 at 4:33 pm
(6) Jennifer Kyrnin says:

@Daz

Well, as you know from my review, I don’t agree with you. And that’s fair.

But I would ask you – if you don’t think Snow Fall is an amazing site, what do you think is? What sites do inspire you? I’d love to be able to showcase sites that inspire more people than just me, but I can’t if no one submits any.

If you or anyone else out there isn’t inspired by the sites I choose, I challenge you to submit sites that do inspire you: http://webdesign.about.com/u/sty/HTML-5-Examples/html5-design-examples-from-users/form.htm

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