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  1. #1
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    I'm looking for information about design issues for web sites that are embedded in electronic devices. What I mean is that there are lots of devices that are now available that are configurable and controllable by a web browser since they have web servers embedded in them. Think about configuring your router and you'll know what I'm talking about.
    Most (if not all) of the information and templates I see about web design is for corporate web sites that have a certain style and philosophy about how the site will be navigated. Embedded web sites are not like that. With an embedded web site, a user will normally access a page to find the status of a device, and then maybe change a setting or two. No reading news, searching, or other things that typically happen on corporate sites. Since these devices have simple processors and small memory requirements, there's no Flash, video, or any other fancy thing that you'd see on a "normal" site.
    Has anyone ever given any thought to how you would design for one of these devices? Any resources that you can think of that address these issues?

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  3. #2
    WDF Staff mlseim's Avatar
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    Are you talking about designing pages for small screen devices?
    Or are you talking more about embedded servers that generate their own pages?

    I'm not sure what the word "design" means in your post.


  4. #3
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    Thanks for the reply.
    No, I'm not talking about small screen devices. Actually, it is the exact opposite. Instead of small client/normal server it's a small server/normal client.
    What I'm talking about is small devices that have web servers built into them so that they can be configured with a browser. On my modest little network, I have 6 or 7 of these devices: routers, network enabled webcams (the ones that have an ethernet port and not a USB port), network attached storage devices, etc. Companies like D-Link and Linksys make these things.
    The thing that these devices have in common is that the pages they serve up typically don't look so nice. I'm guessing that they're put together by engineers and not designers.
    Has anyone thought of designing for these devices? You could use normal web page designs for this environment, but it doesn't fit so well because of how the devices are used. Instead of a normal browsing experience, You use the pages served up to see the status of the device, and modify the configuration.

  5. #4
    ljm
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    I would imagine that the pages displayed by routers and what-not are generated dynamically by the firmware, due to the direct interaction they have with the hardware. As such, I would assume you'd have to rewrite the firmware to change the look of the page.

  6. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by ljm
    I would imagine that the pages displayed by routers and what-not are generated dynamically by the firmware, due to the direct interaction they have with the hardware. As such, I would assume you'd have to rewrite the firmware to change the look of the page.
    You're right, you would need to rewrite the firmware, but that's what I'm trying to do.

    Okay, maybe it would help if I gave a little more background. I'm an engineer, not a designer. I'm in the process of building one of these devices, and unlike many engineers, I do have an appreciation for good UI design. I just can't do it. I've built a web interface for this device, and it works great but looks horrible. I'm hoping to fix this.

    So now I'm looking for help. I've looked at a bunch of open source design sites and I've found a bunch of designs that look great. Unfortunately, they are totally inappropriate for my needs. I believe that the needs of a website that describes a company or product are very different from a website that confgures a device.

    There are lots of products on the market that have these issues, and a whole lot more coming down the pike as everything becomes IP enabled. From what I've seen, there's not a lot of thought given for how to create nice UI designs for these products. Could be a nice niche for someone to get into.

  7. #6
    WDF Staff mlseim's Avatar
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    This is the only tiny embedded server I've played with:

    http://www.siteplayer.com/main_content.htm

    They configured it so you can actual create your own web pages,
    so that part is already in place. And this includes upload images as well
    as HTML. I would have thought most devices like this would be similar.

    I bought the development kit and played around with it.
    This thing is really amazing ...


  8. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by mlseim
    This is the only tiny embedded server I've played with:

    http://www.siteplayer.com/main_content.htm
    Okay, so imagine you took one of these devices and embedded it into a toaster so you could control the making of toast from your upstairs bedroom (which has a computer in it). You'd like to turn it on and off, control the darkness, even schedule toasting for the morning (let your imagination run wild). The point is, that you control the toaster through a web browser that interacts with the tiny web server that's on this SitePlayer device.

    So here's my problem: everything I've ever seen about good web site design assumes that your web site deals with a company or a product. I've never seen anything about designing beautiful, functional, easy-to-use web sites that are used to control toasters. As I write this post, I'm looking at the WDF.net inbterface and I see a design that's pretty well thought out, attractive, and intuitive to use. However, if I try to copy/steal some of these ideas for a ControlTheToaster "web site", it simply won't translate. At least I don't think it will.

    So that's really what my question is all about. How do I go about making a great interface to control a device through a web browser?

    BTW, the project I'm working on is NOT a toaster. I'm simply using that as an example that everyone can understand.

  9. #8
    WDF Staff mlseim's Avatar
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    With the price of Gigabytes of "memory on a chip" so cheap, I would only guess
    that hardware designers would put more effort into allowing better site
    design capabilities for their embedded servers.

    If they were smart, they would follow the direction of SitePlayer and allow the
    product user/designer to create their own sites.

    Since there is no standard for that (that I'm aware of), it would take someone
    a bit of time to learn each device and then they would need to be available for
    hire. I don't think it's feasible.

    If I were to become a web site design expert for SitePlayer, I can't imagine there
    would be that much demand for my services.

    But, you have a point about a niche. I guess the same thing exists for
    small screen rendering (cell phone browsers).

    So, to answer your original question in the first post, there are no standards and
    each company creates their own method to program the device. It all seems
    very proprietary to me and thus, I would never give it any thought to specializing
    in programming embedded servers.

    But, that said, if anyone has purchased a SitePlayer and needs a site designed,
    please "private message" me ... I know how to do it very well.



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