April 25, 2006
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It's a Lulu

We've got a little project that makes sense for a print-on-demand service like Lulu.com. So I thought I'd give it a try.

It's a nice Web site. The pricing model is fine, the workflow is good. The site has subtle css bugs that make is approximately unusable with Safari, because critical buttons are drawn beyond the edge of the window. (You wouldn't know these buttons existed unless someone told you)

A rule of Web service design: If your layout is going to break in some browsers, you're better off if it breaks badly. The most insidious layout error is one where everything looks all right, and isn't. Worst case: on ecommerce layout where everything is fine except the BUY NOW! button is absent.

The problem is, simply, that they aren't sure what input their workflow accepts, and what it doesn't. The idea is simple: you give them a pdf, they give you a book -- much like iPhoto. But iPhoto knows what it's going to accept. Lulu is trapped by the idiosyncrasies of print drivers, which (apparently) can't deal with some 'bad' pdf that certain programs generate.

Nobody really seems to know just what is 'bad' about this bad pdf, so there's a lot of magic and superstition. Quark is bad. Apple's Pages is bad. In fact, anything touched by a Macintosh might by bad. Or maybe not.

They have good tech support consultants. I spent hours on this yesterday, to no avail. It's been expensive for Eastgate, expensive for Lulu, and we still don't really know what (if anything) is wrong with the pdf, what sort of pdf would not have this wrongness, or how to move forward.

I have a more experience at this than lots of people, and I'm a lot more facile with my computers than the target audience of the service. And, for once, I'm doing something that should be simple and undemanding.

Hint to Lulu management: in the era of the Macintosh Mini, there's no reason not to buy some Macs for your tech support people. You're in business; you've got to give your people the tools they need.