Recently in Design Category
Yours probably had a more legible address; I've blurred mine to foil people who don't have access to phone books or the Internet. Clever, huh?
I especially like this observation: In fact, more clutter is a permanent shift, a desensitization to all the information, not just the last bit. A cluttered website, Godin claims, doesn't simply minimize the value of the added "information," it reduces the usefulness of all the surrounding content.
One of my goals as a designer of websites is to keep things simple and uncluttered. It's harder than you might think. Just as people tend to be uncomfortable around pauses in conversation, website clients are often uncomfortable with so-called white space (although clutter comes in different forms, not just in the cramming of additional design elements into the canvas). My challenge is often in convincing them to look at their sites through their audience's eyes.
I continue to cope without internet access for my desktop computer - for just another few hours, I hope - relying instead on my iPad's 3G connection. As I posted previously, I'm finding the iPad to be a poor replacement for a notebook computer for anything beyond the simplest of tasks (email and web browsing), and its limitations are glaring in some areas.
But I'm also finding that not all the problems are the fault of the device. Some of them are due to poor website design/development decisions. I've found a workaround to most of these situations (more about that in a moment), but it's annoying that I had to go to those lengths.
If you have a smartphone, you're probably accustomed to seeing so-called mobile versions of the websites you visit. This is generally a good practice, as those sites load more quickly, optimize the use of the limited screen space, and eliminate features that don't work in mobile browsers (e.g. Flash in mobile Safari). Unfortunately, this has created a new set of problems for a device like the iPad which falls into the gap between a smartphone and a full-featured/full-sized notebook or desktop computer.
This is partially Apple's fault, because its iPad version of Safari delivers a user-agent string that identifies the browser as "mobile." When a website that offers a mobile version queries that user-agent string, it will usually send the iPad to that stripped-down version, even though the device can easily handle the full version (or most of it, anyway). This behavior is often frustrating for the iPad user, especially if he or she needs the full functionality of the website for business purposes.
I have two examples. First is my webmail. When I access it via the iPad, I get the mobile version of the webmail program (in my case, it's an application called Horde). The mobile version lacks many of the mail management features of the full version. For example, I can't delete messages from the server using the mobile version.
The second example is the website I'm using to create this post. In mobile Safari, Movable Type (my blog platform) automatically delivers a barebones post creation page that basically allows me to type in text and that's about it. I have no formatting options, no control over publishing (e.g. time and date), etc. Movable Type apparently decided that those options were not important to smartphone users, but the iPad could easily take advantage of all of them. Unfortunately, we don't get to choose the version, because there's no option to force delivery of the full version of the website.
I mentioned above that I've found a workaround, and it's a pretty good one (so far, anyway). I download the Atomic Web Browser from Apple's App Store (a $.99 purchase) and this browser allows you to change the user-agent string to, in effect, impersonate the desktop version of Safari. This means that I'm being served the full version of a website, rather than the stripped-down mobile version. This has its own set of problems (if a site is built in Flash, then I'm out of luck) but it does solve the above-mentioned problems. Plus, it's a pretty good browser in its own right, incorporating tabs, View Source, multiple search engine options, ad blocker, and much more. Some have reported that it's buggy, but I haven't yet encountered any problems.
But web designers and developers need to deal with the real issue of figuring out how to serve up non-crippled versions of their websites to iPad users (and, really, even to legitimate mobile browsers). Mobile versions shouldn't lack important functionality in order to achieve simplicity. That borders on laziness. At the very least, the mobile version should provide the option of navigating back to the full version (Sports Illustrated is a good example of a website doing just that).
This is unusual for two reasons. First of all, there's this "asking permission" thing: who does that in the Wild, Wild Web? Sadly, all too few. Source code is too easy to "borrow" and embedded graphics too easy to download. So, props to the organization that approached my client.
But I'm afraid they lose all that goodwill based on the second reason that the request is unusual. You see, the organization had approached me a couple of months ago about redesigning their website, and they had specifically mentioned my client's site as one they'd like to emulate. I worked up and sent a quote for the project, and never heard from them again.
Until yesterday, that is, when my client emailed me to see if I had a concern about granting approval for the aforementioned request.
I'm kind of on the fence about the ethics of this situation. On one hand, I don't retain any intellectual property rights in the work I do under contract for a client. So, if the client wants to give away his design, that's entirely his call. And while there may be some implied copyright issues in play, we couldn't actually prevent another organization from "borrowing" the source code and adapting it for their own purposes.
But as I told my client, as a designer I find this situation akin to going into Dillard's and trying on a pair of shoes to make sure they fit and look good, and then ordering them online from Zappo's. If the second organization wants to hire another designer to do their website, fine...but I'd really prefer that they actually require that designer to do something other than adapt my work.
Perhaps I should feel flattered that someone wants to copy the design (although it's really nothing special). What do you think...am I being too sensitive?
The Dollar ReDe$ign Project brings many of those attempts into a central location, and it's interesting to scroll through the wide range of variations put forth by designers.
The design firm of Dowling Duncan provides one of the more innovative approaches, with a vertical layout (based, the company says, on research into how we actually use currency) and different lengths for different denominations. The latter would solve one of the great pressing problems of currency, and that's how to make it easier for sight-impaired people to distinguish among the different denominations of bills. But, of course, putting a living president on a bill is simply not going to fly, for any number of reasons. Nevertheless, their attempt at tying each bill's amount to a symbolic historic reference (e.g. $50 = the 50 states of the Union) is laudable.
Then, there are the designs put forth by Mark Scott, a Brit (many of the designs are submitted by non-US residents apparently eager to help drag our currency into the 21st century). Sensing the inevitability of ubiquitous corporate sponsorship, he's replaced the usual political and historical references with symbols representing iconic American brands, such as Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and the NFL. I'm especially fond of the $50 Apple bill, although I'm sure Steve Jobs would prefer that it appear on a $100,000 note.
There are scores of designs on this site, some of them quite whimsical (including a 10 cent note with the inscription "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?").
Hat tip: Subtraction
This is a pretty cool application; expect to see it more often around here.
Take commercial movie DVDs, for example. When they first appeared on the scene, it seemed that the studios were in a heated competition to see who could create the most convoluted, hard-to-read implementation of a menu. One often had to sit through an interminable animated sequence of sight and sound before finally being presented with the buttons to play the dang movie already.
I'm pleased to say that this is much better, for the most part, undoubtedly thanks to my writing about it lo these many years ago. But one area remains neglected. It's not a huge thing, but when you think about it, it's really illogical and annoying.
Almost every movie DVD has the option of activating subtitles/captions, right? And I suspect I'm not the only person with good hearing who still activates them because I watch movies while on a noisy treadmill or exercise bike.
So, here's the illogical annoyance. When one clicks the "Subtitles" menu item, why is the default always "Off"? I mean, isn't it logical to assume that one doesn't click on that menu item unless one wants subtitles or captions (since by default they're always off)?
Countless remote control clicks could be saved each and every day if DVD designers simply made the default for the Subtitles menu "English." If you're not an English speaker and want another language, you haven't lost anything, and you're still probably a click or two closer to your selection than you are with the default "Off.")
OK, I've done my part. I'll be watching for improvement, Hollywood, and not patiently, either. Don't make me come out there.
We just went live with a new website for Stacy Peterson, a local illustrator and graphic designer. Stacy is a design pro (she did the illustrations for one of Madonna's children's books, The English Roses: To Good To Be True) and as such certainly didn't need my limited skills in that area. So she brought me a fully realized design and it was my job to translate the printed layouts into something that rendered accurately in web browsers. I worked with Stacy's artwork which was in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator formats, and tried to replicate as closely as possible the vision she laid out for her site.
As gifted as Stacy is in the area of graphic design and illustration, she would be the first to admit that she's not an expert in website design and the mechanics that make a site functional. Her design presented some challenges from a development perspective - things that are quite simple to do in print media, like the nice drop shadow surrounding the main content window, or the seamless tiling of the flowery page background - are harder to replicate in a website. Finding solutions that work across a wide range of browsers and platforms is an ongoing challenge for everyone who builds websites, but especially when the design is conceived with no forethought about how those issues might come into play.
The new website includes some tasty jQuery scripts (for the illustration popups and the book cover slideshow) and some semi-complex CSS (I finally had to resort to a separate style sheet for Internet Explorer 6 and earlier to work around some conflicts between the aforementioned scripts and certain parts of the design; if you're still using IE6, you have my deepest sympathies, although only if someone is forcing you to do so).
We did have to compromise on a couple of rather insignificant design details that didn't work as well on screen as they did on paper, but overall, I think I succeeded in creating code that accurately brings Stacy's design onto your computer monitor while keeping it compliant with current standards and as visible as possible to search engines.
And, if I've played my developer role correctly, the only thing you're aware of is Stacy's beautiful artwork.
Wouldn't the basement on a floating house be, like, underwater? What am I missing here? The article doesn't even touch on this aspect of the home.
I have to admit that the sub-sea basement idea is pretty cool, especially if the level contained lots of viewports (which seems not to be the case based on the drawing...just a couple in the "bunk room").
There's also no mention of the depth of the water where the home is placed, so I suppose that the basement could actually extend into the seabed.
I'd also like to know more details about how they've run the plumbing lines.
And, finally, I'm curious about how much this cost to build...and what the owners are paying for flood insurance.
Technically, I'm a website designer/developer, but the distinction between design and development may not be meaningful to many people. It's not complicated, though. Every website goes through a design phase where conscious (we hope) decisions are made about layout, color scheme, font selection, graphics, etc. and a development phase where the coding and scripting necessary to make the design accessible to web browsers is applied. This is analogous to building a house, where an architect comes up with the floor plan and a construction crew executes it.
The design stage is the glamorous part of the process - it's where the obvious creativity takes place - but the development stage is where equal parts of creativity and practicality are combined, and that combination can be as challenging as it is non-obvious.
There's an unending dialog (or debate) in my profession about those challenges. Designers claim that developers always monkey with the layout and compromise the vision the former have worked so hard to create. Developers accuse designers of being impractical, of coming up with design elements that can't be replicated in the real world. And, often, I think both have legitimate complaints.
Lately, I've had more pure development projects than ever before, where someone comes to me with a complete design (as opposed to an idea or a vision) and wants me to make it happen. I'm working with ad agencies on a couple of websites, and with an artist on another, and they don't really need my design skills (which is a good thing, because those skills are pretty rudimentary). And, frankly, I'm dealing with some of the frustrations of the design-vs-development debate.
For one thing, a lot of designers come from print backgrounds, and the rules for print are often vastly different than for web. In some cases, print provides more flexibility and freedom, and the design elements I'm asked to implement just don't translate well to screen display. In other cases, the web provides possibilities that the designers aren't taking advantage of - to their clients' detriment - and I have to try to figure out a way to diplomatically educate them as to how their designs might be improved. In addition, print designers aren't necessarily keeping up with the latest trends in web design, which can result in layouts that looked dated from the very beginning. I'm not suggesting that all such trends are positive and should be blindly followed, but there is value in incorporating elements of current trends into more traditional layouts.
When I both design and build a website, my design ideas are explicitly influenced or tempered by my understanding of how difficult it will be to bring those ideas into practice. This is good for my client, as it makes me more efficient in getting the job done and saves the client money. But it probably results in more pedantic design work as I rarely push the envelope to try things that I'm not sure will work.
The designers I'm working with now have no such limitations, unless they've consulted with me in advance and we've discussed the technical pros and cons of their ideas (and, ideally, that happens frequently). Still, more often than not, I'm asked to do some things that left to my own devices I wouldn't try because I know they're impractical.
Despite the challenges, I enjoy playing the role of developer, especially when the designer has considerably more talent than me (which is most of them). I enjoy taking someone's vision for a website and figuring out how to bring it to life in a website using the appropriate technologies while adhering to web standards to ensure that all visitors can access the site. I know the glory is in the design, but the satisfaction at the end of the day for me is in knowing that I made something work...something that someone else finds useful.
In other words, I build websites.
It's a 24" Dell* display, and it replaces a six year old 19" NEC that had developed a disturbing...well, I'm not sure what to call it. It's like someone dribbled liquid down the inside of the screen, right in the center of the display. It wasn't always obvious, but while my mind had learned to ignore it, it was always there. Plus, it was just 19", and while I'm old enough to remember 13" monitors (OK, I'm old enough to remember TI Silent 700 terminals; what's it to you?), nineteen inches no longer seem to go as far as they once did.
I love the new monitor, and that may be an understatement. But here's the thing: I didn't anticipate the extent to which I needed to adjust my work processes to accommodate the increased screen real estate. I mean, I knew that on the old monitor I was constantly resizing and moving windows in order to work with the dozen or so applications I need to have open at all times to do my job, but it's not as easy as I thought to adapt to the extra space.
On the old monitor, I could take in everything on the screen via direct or peripheral vision. On the new one, I have to either shift my eyes or turn my head to see stuff on the edges. And I can't put everything in the middle of the screen. That pretty much defeats the purpose of having a large display.
I had also grown accustomed to having both sides of the screen dedicated to menus in applications like Photoshop, with my work situated in the middle. But it's now a lot of mousing to move from one side to the other to change tools or settings. I need to come up with a new toolbar workspace to cut down on that.
Nevertheless, these are problems I'm happy to deal with. Being able to put two full-sized documents side-by-side is nothing short of a joy, and I can now actually identify the 60 icons that rest perpetually in the Dock at the bottom of the screen. But, for now anyway, I'm glad I didn't fork over the extra bucks for a 30" monitor. After all, sometimes more is too much, something I've learned well by observing Congress lately.
*Yes, I know...why is a Mac guy buying a Dell peripheral? For one thing, I haven't had an Apple monitor since the 80s. I had a 15" Sony CRT prior to getting the NEC. For the price, I'm not impressed with Apple's monitors. But, primarily, when I started looking for a new monitor I confess to being completely discombobulated by the plethora of choices, and the disparity of reviews for any given model. I was locked in analysis paralysis until I had a meeting with my pal Darrell, who's the head creative guy for a local ad agency. He's also a Mac user, and the last time I was in his office he had a big honkin' Cinema Display on his desk. But this time, he had a Dell, and I asked him why. He basically said the same thing: for the price, the Dell is a fabulous value, and it was perfectly calibrated right out of the box. I figured that a recommendation from a graphics pro whom I know and respect was better than a thousand anonymous website reviews, and I went home and ordered the same model he had on his desk. Great call, Darrell!
Even on those occasions when I put my money where my mouth is, it's for stuff that I don't really care much about anyway. Debbie will bring home two or three new shirts for me, and it bothers me not a bit to toss an equal number of old ones (I have shirts that originate further back into the 20th century than is comfortable to admit). But if I get a new iPod, do you think I'm deleting an old one? Heck, no. One can never have too many iPods.
I'm sporadically successful in convincing my wife to discard old drinking glasses or mugs when she buys new ones, but even that's an uphill battle. Who knew one could develop a sentimental attachment to crockery?
What we do try to do is not acquire stuff that we won't use and enjoy, or to expend so much of our income on acquiring things that there's nothing left to give away to others. Frankly, I feel pretty good about the balance we've achieved in creating a comfortable lifestyle. And I'm dead certain that our sense of well-being would not be improved by shoehorning it into 96 square feet.
- Now, about that cover... is a post from the author of the book by the same name, and it deals with how the quite striking cover of his book came to be. The photo shown on the front cover depicts a book that has been soaked in water and the pages arranged into a striking organic shape. This technique is the brainchild of Houston-based photographer Cara Barer, who is quick to point out that no valuable books are harmed in the making of her pictures.
I feel compelled to note that my wife has at times created this effect by nodding off in the bathtub with book in hand.
- And speaking of bending paper to your will, check out these amazing origami creations by Won Park. Given the value of the dollar lately, this is as good a use as any for a bill.
- I'm a sucker for panoramic photography, because I can't figure out how to do it myself. Here's a great example, taken at Shoshone Point in the Grand Canyon National Park. If you have a fast internet connection and faster computer, click the "full screen" link to get the full vertigo-inducing effect.
- And, last but not least, I was happy to see that Texas Governor Rick Perry garnered Bicycling Magazine's "Wheelsucker of the Month" award for his veto of the Safe Passing bill at the end of the last legislative session. Perry claims to be a cyclist, and, indeed, recently injured himself during a ride, so you'd think he'd have more empathy. But he's a politician first and foremost, and thus can't be counted on to do the right thing. Anyway, BikeTexas, the state's cycling advocacy group, has an online petition urging passage of the bill (while simultaneously expressing displeasure at the veto). If you're a Texas cyclist, pedestrian, farm equipment operator, or "concerned motorist" (which should pretty much encompass all of us), please consider dropping by to sign the petition. It may not accomplish anything more than making me feel better, but this is, after all, all about me.
The more perceptive among you may also notice a large button on the right side of this page that links to the petition, in case you weren't able to read this far.
My Response to "Hiring a Designer: A Client's Perspective"
August 11, 2009 8:26 AM | Posted in: Design
I'd like to extend the discussion by adding my perceptions and opinions to the points raised by the author. The original articles points are shown in bold type.
- I don't know what I want. In my experience, that's not usually the case, but it's very likely that the client doesn't know if what he wants is (a) what he needs, or (b) realistic. Web designers with basic business and marketing skills and experience can provide helpful advice regarding the former, and their technical expertise will allow them to guide the client in the latter area. Listening carefully to the client and being willing to discuss rather than dictate are keys to getting this right.
- I need control. Again, my experience is that some clients are strangely willing to cede almost complete control to me, even going so far as to request my input on developing their fundamental business strategies and marketing tactics. I'm flattered when that happens, but that doesn't mean I'm always comfortable with it. The best situation is where the client wants to brainstorm those issues with me, or use me as a sounding board, because the better I understand her business goals and strategies, the more likely I can create a website that facilitates their execution.
- I'm unsure about pricing. This is probably the most uncomfortable area of discussion for client and consultant alike. It took me a while to understand that my fees are what they are; I don't have to justify them, and if the client's budget or preconceived notions get in the way, then we're both better off with other partners. That said, the client should understand that if I quote $xx per hour for website maintenance, his focus should probably be on what I can get done in an hour, not just the cost of that hour. As a professional, I will be significantly more efficient than his non-design staff in getting web-related tasks accomplished. Many small business owners say they want to take over website maintenance once the site is up and running, but very few will actually have the time and skills needed to do the job right. [One more thing about pricing: it helps if the designer can spell out her pricing on her website so that the client has no excuse for being "surprised" by the rate.]
- I appreciate honesty and quality. Website design as a profession is in danger of becoming this century's snake oil salesmen (no offense to any snake oil salesmen in the audience). A significant part of my business comes from fixing problems caused by other "designers" who failed to deliver. Sure, it's a hard thing to tell a client that you can't do what they're asking you to do, either because you don't have the time or [especially] because you don't have the skill, but there's almost nothing that the client will appreciate more than hearing that exact thing. For example, I don't do Flash-based websites, period, for a variety of reasons. I often hear from prospective clients who say they want a Flash website, and just as often, after I tell them that I don't do that kind of work and explain why, they decide that they don't really need Flash after all, and I end up doing the same project using different technology. [Now, there will be times where the client's requirements will legitimately require you to expand your technical skills, perhaps even moving outside your comfort zone and taking some risks to get the project completed. This is not a bad thing. As a designer, if you're not learning, you're losing.]
- I want you to stick around. Again, here's where the "snake oil salesman" comparison comes into play. Unreliable or disappearing designers are the bane of the profession, and they make us all look bad. I know why it happens, and, frankly, clients bear part of the blame. They think that if their nephew in junior high can design a site for them for $50, that's a better deal than paying a true professional. Then they panic when the junior high student discovers the opposite sex and decides there are more important things in life than working on uncle's goofy website. Just because someone has a copy of Front Page and Photoshop doesn't mean they can do the job, and the low barriers to entry into the profession also make for non-existent barriers to exit. There's just no substitute for availability and reliability on the part of the website designer. It will pay off in repeat business and referrals. In fact, my experience has been that reliability will even trump design skills, especially when dealing with small businesses and organizations.
In the course of the conversation, I asked about his wife, specifically where she was working. His reply went something like this: She's a nanny, and works for a family that's pretty well off. Johnny Ive and his wife have twins and...
I interrupted him, making a huge leap of logic: Johnny Ive...as in Jonathan Ive? Apple's chief designer?!
Yes, that's the fellow.
Excuse me for being an Apple Fanboy, but I think it's pretty dang cool that I know someone who knows the guy who created the iPod, the iPhone, and the iMac, among many award-winning designs.
*Bible Life Group is our church's new-fangled name for Sunday School. I guess the latter term sounds too old-fashioned.
The revised layout that you're seeing now is an unstyled template provided by Movable Type, which is the blogging platform I'm once again using. It's ugly (in a way; but in another way, it's attractive in its simplicity) because it's being display on your monitor according to the default styling settings of your browser. Over the next xx days, I'll begin to override those defaults and [hopefully] return the Gazette to more or less the same layout I was using just before this latest change.
Please bear with me while I get this done. If things work out the way I fear, I'll be devoting more time to designing than to writing. I hope the end result will be worth your time and my effort.