It is an exciting week here at Info et Cetera, as we’re getting ready to go live with a big project — a new version of an online vehicle auctioning system to replace an older classic ASP version that we created years ago.  The new site is powered by ASP.NET 2.0 with a SQL Server back-end, and really represents a leap forward in web application design.

From a design standpoint, we were able to streamline the site layout through the use of a standardized design (using ASP.NET 2.0 master pages), so all pages have a consistent login box / status and layout.  We also applied standardized layout throughout the size (using ASP.NET 2.0 themes), decreasing the amount of developer time that had to be spent on design.

From a user interface standpoint, we used AJAX wherever practical to streamline the user interface.  The main bidding screen of the application is the heaviest component of the interface (in terms of download size), having roughly a double file size compared to the same screen on the old system.  However, the advantage is that the new bidding screen uses AJAX, so there is never a complete page refresh during the bidding process.  So while the initial page load is higher, the overall time to bid is dramatically decreased.  In addition, the interface should be more comfortable to users (particularly novice users), since the screen does not go completely to white and then reload from scratch everytime a change is made.

Another interesting user interface aspect of this project is that it is multilingual.  Currently, the entire site can be viewed in either English or Spanish.  Within the near future, our client is planning on expanding the language offering to include French, with other languages likely in the future.  To accomplish this, all string resources were placed into a database and then populated on-the-fly at run-time.  This increased design time, as no strings could be embedded into controls or source code, but will make changes easier in the future, as our client will be able to make minor wording adjustments without requiring our assistance.

Tools…. beyond Microsoft tools, our main tool was the Telerik r.a.d. Controls suite.  The Telerik r.a.d.grid is particularly nice, with built in AJAX and a greatly improved paging interface.  We also used the Telerik r.a.d.window control to create pop-up windows that won’t be blocked by pop-up blockers.  Finally, we extensively used the r.a.d.callback controls, which make AJAX development very quick and easy.  Their r.a.d.callbackpanel is simply fantastic.  It is not the lightest-weight solution available, but it just doesn’t get any easier.  It acts just like an asp:Panel, except anything you put inside of it will act asynchronously.  You just put standard controls (buttons, textboxes, labels, etc) inside the Callbackpanel and it just magically works.  We cannot recommend this product enough!

Check back later in the month for more updates, including a screencast demo (we love Camtasia!).