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There we are, one minute a couple of us are playing around with Google's Web Toolkit, and the next the Boss looks over our shoulders and starts jumping up and down excitedly. No, it's not his bladder problem flaring up again. It's not even because Alison's 'accidentally' elbowed him in the gonads again. It's worse than that, it's because he's seen nice colours on the screen.
So, a week later Alison and myself are in his office demoing a new business expenses app. It's our first GWT app, so it's got all of the Ajaxy interaction you could ask for, with a light-weight Apache Derby backend on a decidedly elderly development server. It's a bit too gaudy for my liking, but the Boss likes lots of bright colours and big friendly fonts. It works too, but he hardly seems to have noticed.
With us is Gilbert, who works upstairs where the air is rich with oxygen and minds are attuned to higher things.
'Well?' the Boss asks, having been allowed to click on the buttons and drop-downs and combo boxes all by himself.
Gilbert nods sagely. 'It looks good,' he admits grudgingly. 'Very modern looking interface compared to what you lot usually deliver.'
The Boss does an embarrassed grin. Alison looks for a sharp knife. 'Well, we know that some of our less competent users will find this easier to deal with,' I reply. 'Notice the big bright buttons? And the bright, child-like colours? And all of the data's on the network, so you can't accidentally reformat your machine while…'
The Boss coughs sharply. 'That's a nasty cough,' Alison tells him. 'Have you tried switching to a higher nicotine brand of cigarettes? That should work wonders.'
'I do like the colours,' Gilbert admits. 'Though I think that red is a bit on the insipid side.'
I look at the screen. It's bright red. A bit like the Boss's face.
'Perhaps something blood-red?' Alison suggests.
I check that she's not got anything sharp to hand. She hasn't, unfortunately. 'We could hack the style sheet,' I suggest, nudging the Boss from the driving seat.
I fire up a couple of tools, find a suitable candidate red and whack it into the appropriate CSS file. I hit refresh and we have a red that looks like it's freshly spurted from a punctured jugular.
'Better?' I ask.
Gilbert nods. 'I like it. There's something almost alive about it. But it does make that blue look a bit weak. And the yellow's not right.'
The Boss is not to be outdone - we're into the realms of management now. 'You're right. Let's ditch the yellow and go for something green.'
I make some changes to the CSS file and hit refresh again.
'No, no and no,' Gilbert declares.
'Is it the green?' the Boss asks, crestfallen.
'It's just so…green-like. Can't we go for something on the orange palette?'
Alison raises her eye-brows to heaven and shakes her head sadly. I know what she means.
After the next round of changes we've got a main screen in bright scarlet, royal blue and freshly squeezed orange. It looks hideous.
'You know,' Gilbert muses, 'I kind of like the immediacy of it. But the font's not right.'
'You want something bigger and brighter?'
The Boss nods. 'Glad to see we're on the same wave-length,' he says.
So I swap up a couple of point sizes, change the font colouring and make it even more hideous.
Gilbert is following all of this intently. 'Can we actually change the font face? This looks far too… formal and unfriendly.'
'Why don't you mock something up?' Alison suggests. 'I'm sure we can get a box of crayons from somewhere.'
The Boss does another embarrassed laugh; Gilbert ignores her completely.
We spend the next hour going from colours to fonts and back again. Finally we're left with something that looks like the work of a colour-blind lunatic who's put together a ransom note by cutting up glossy style magazines and pasting them down at random.
Gilbert finally looks at his watch and remembers that he's got something important to do back upstairs. 'I've got a meeting,' he tells us suddenly.
'Toilets need cleaning again?' Alison whispers under her breath so loudly the people in the room next door must have heard.
'Well, thanks for that input,' the Boss tells him, rather too loudly. 'It's much appreciated.'
'Say nothing of it,' Gilbert responds. 'Always happy to point you guys in the right direction.'
The Boss walks him to the door.
'Oh shit!' I say loudly as soon as Gilbert has gone.
'Oh no!' Alison echoes. 'Oh, what a shame, Joe. And it was looking so good as well.'
'What is it?' the Boss cries, rushing over to the see what's happened.
'I'm sorry. It's all these bright, childish buttons and hyperactive colours…'
'I hit the delete key and trashed the style sheets.'
'Hell. Bloody hell, Joe. Shit, shit and double shit. I don't believe this, rally I don't. Hell and blast…'
'Do you know what it means?' Alison asks him.
'Well, sort of.'
'So you don't know?'
The Boss looks at the ground sheepishly. 'Well… No, not really. But I bet it's bad.'
'It is,' I confirm. 'It means we've lost all of Gilbert's input. We're back to where we started. Unless of course you want us to get him back again?'
The Boss looks at the evil grin on Alison's face. 'Er… Why don't we got with what we've got,' he decides.