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Practical imperfectionism

Monday, July 19th, 2010

I’ve always been pretty fast at getting things done.

My attempts at dress making have resulted in haphazardly created dresses, which got an initial 5 second sketch, and were then redesigned as I went, and changed features depending on my patience and (lack of) dressmaking skills.

I lament my quickness sometimes, especially as my career is now web design. Never have I met a bunch of perfectionists, who obsess on every detail, they look at me in horror and, I believe, can’t even comprehend how I could POSSIBLY leave something that is a few pixels out.

I learn fast, I design fast and I code up fast. I am pretty good about doing things semantically correct.  But, if I know that doing it semantically correct would take me another 3 hours, and a slightly non-semantic method is perfect in seconds and I have a deadline, my choice is always clear.

BUT I miss a lot of the tiny details. I’ll do things to get them done to a standard of 90% or so, and then go back and fix them later. When I’m learning a new technology, I’m okay with not knowing the right way of doing things, as long as it doesn’t impede my ability to finish things.

Perfection is a luxury

Most projects are impeded by budgets and often times there’s money for new features, but not for polish.  I know mine are, and while I’ll spend some of my own time (unpaid) to make it look a bit nicer, when you have as many projects on the go as I do, you have to stop somewhere.  Close to perfect has to be “good enough”. When you’re on a small team trying to do a lot, you have to sacrifice absolute perfection for speed sometimes. That suits me just fine (it’s also the theory of shipping by Seth Godin:  sometimes you’ve just got to ’ship’).

This doesn’t mean I go back and strive for perfection.

For example, during every release, I spend some time adding a few minuscule details in (a subtle border, moving things a few pixels or cleaning up some code, for example). Most people won’t notice, but occasionally I’ll hear, “It looks much better (for some reason they can’t put their finger on)”. I think you have to continually refine your front-end code. If you don’t, your code base gets completely unmanageable.

On the other hand, I know web designers who ALWAYS does it the absolutely right way the first time. Their designs are pixel perfect to their mocks. They won’t use hacks, but will spend HOURS figuring out the “proper way” to do something.

That’s okay too.  Different styles work for different projects.  I’m always more keen to get the user flowing through the site smoother, rather than making sure under the hood looks amazing.  Surely that matters more to 99% of the people using the site (1% are the ones that view source)?

I’m not scared

I have no problem with using a hack “just for now”, or if it’s an area I don’t know much about. It also means that I’m not super scared of new technology. It’s just the way I get things done; practical imperfectionism works for me.

Saying that, I am a bit tired of too many projects at one time, and am working harder to give myself enough time to actually think about the details.  Being imperfect is not a goal, just a necessary evil for the busy designer.


Planning Peru

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Yes, Peru. I am going with Ollie this November for three weeks! The problem is, I have a book about Peru, and it’s 656 pages.

That’s a lot of cool stuff to do.

I’m only there for 3 weeks, and while I want to do fun things, I don’t want to spend my whole time travelling on a bus if I can. I also don’t want to spend a fortune on flights. So, a route of some sort needs to be made.

How to plan without planning

The only thing we really want to do is walk the Inca Trail, and I want to be accustomed to the altitude before we do it, so I can admire the view, rather than cover the view with sick. So, we need to be at a good altitude for around a week. Besides that, we’re going to play it by ear. In order to determine a route while we’re there, I’ve created this infographic to help us cost things out, as well as plan our route!

Anyone who’s been to Peru, I would love to hear your recommendations! We’re not museum people, and not necessarily big campers (I reckon after the Inca trail, we’ll be camped out). We’d love to go to the Galapagos, but we’re not sure if there’ll be enough time (or money!). On my graphic, the prices are all in US dollars.

The trees represent potential amazon rainforest tours, and Colca Canyon is 3 times the size of the grand canyon. At lake Titicaca, there’s floating islands, and at Ica you can go sand surfing. My house mate tells me La Paz in Bolivia is amazing too. Besides the Inca Trail and Machu Pichu at Cusco, they also have white water rafting and lots of adventure stuff to do.

peru3


Redesigning BView part 1: It’s all in the past

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

I’m in the process of redesigning our website at work.

It’s a project I’m really excited about, and I thought my experiences with it would be helpful to anyone approaching a website redesign. A lot of the design in this post is quite embarrassing for me, as I made so many mistakes in both process and as a designer, but we are better designers for the stuff we’ve done in the past, and it makes the new stuff look oh so much better.

A daunting start

I have been working at BView for over a year and a half now, and I have learned so much since I’ve been here. Being in a small company (there’s only 6 of us now!) means that each role is important.  When I started out in October 2007, we had up to 16 people (a lot borrowed from another company), and I inherited a logo, and a basic design for the few key pages.  I was asked to work on this project as the designer 2.5 days a week (with the other few days on the parent company’s site).

The development was already over a year in, them working solely off complicated wireframes, but the design could change (ie. I could change colours and icons), making sure functionality didn’t. Therefore user flow couldn’t change.

Here’s the original screenshots I inherited:

Business Profile original mock

Business Profile original mock

The original search results mock

The original search results mock

Original methods meant a doomed design process

BView had a LOT of functionality to start off with:  we wanted to launch with the ultimate resource for business owners (very ambitious).  We had lots of tools that solved every problem (even before anyone thought of it), and scope creep had been rampant.  We had too many features, not a lot of design or usability experience (from me or from anyone else), no time to do proper usability on any of it, and we were launching in March 2008 (5 months away).  Working only 2.5 days a week meant that I wasn’t always in the picture, and the design process was completely dominated by old school management and tech sign-off processes (reems of paper, reems of screenshots, all requiring stringent sign off on them).  We were about as agile as an elephant in a London apartment.

I knew there should have been some processes in place and made a few attempts to implement some, but unfortunately had no experience implementing them in the past and had also come into the game very late.

We all made design decisions haphazardly, and we changed our minds all the time. I know I changed the button style more than 10 times before our final launch. There was more than 25 required screen shots for the business profile alone (each page had 5 tabs, plus you needed to show ‘logged out empty’, ‘logged out full’, ‘logged in empty’, ‘logged in full’), the same again for the user, and then there was a lot of search related stuff.  We also wanted everything in there and we didn’t pay enough attention to what the site looked like when it was empty.

With no hierarchy, a very flexible grid, an obsession with getting everything above the fold, a personal dislike of the logo design, no ability to change functionality or userflow and requiring sign off from everyone and their mother, the design came out, well…..  It lacked coherence.  It lacked polish. It was not that good and it was very very blue.

Mock from pre-launch

Mock from pre-launch

Pre-launch search results mock

Pre-launch search results mock

Doomed design lead to doomed front end implementation

Our front-end developer was also just working 2.5 days a week on implementing it, and because of the disorganization, hap-hazard design decisions and complicated nature of the site, couldn’t even get close to getting all the design into code on the site (and because of these constant changes, we ended up with a bloated style sheet that was pretty much completely unusable).  He’s a great front-end coder but (not surprisingly) became really frustrated with the whole thing, and a few months before launch, he left the company. We were left with a temp worker, who did his best to finish implementing the site in a very short period of time (less than 1.5 months left).

Day before launch, I cried.

The front end didn’t even look close to my design (which wasn’t exactly amazing to begin with), and I refused to tell anyone I knew which website I worked for.  Frankly, I was incredibly embarrassed.

It’s darkest right before dawn though…

Since our front-end guy had left, and the search for a competent front end coder was a barren one, our java developers were nice enough to pick up the front end a bit.  I had been begging to at least go in and clean up some of this code for months, as I was fairly competent at css and html at that point, but was met by a “tech lock-down” (also known as, “Don’t let the designer near our beautiful code!” and to be fair, the backend is pretty good looking and efficient, so I can understand the concern).

Finally, our head of tech (who is fantastic at tech, and the backend of BView is incredibly well built because of him), bless him, said that I was to take over the front end coding completely, because “there wasn’t any more work to do on design”.

Excuse me?  Anyone who looked at our site would realize what a farce that comment was. No more design work?  The look I gave him. haha!

But I did it, and with a lot of hard work by both me, the head of product, Colin, and the wonderful support of the entire dev team, we’ve made the whole site a lot simpler, and a lot easier to use.

BUT it’s still not EASY to use.

It’s too busy, we have to repeat ourselves over and over (buttons need to appear twice because they’re not thought out) and styles are still created hap-hazardly based on personal preference.  People look at the site and go “AHHH!” and don’t know what to do.  I know I do.

Current business profile (live screenshot)

Current business profile (live screenshot)

Current search results (live screenshot)

Current search results (live screenshot)

And, frankly, the site could be a lot more exciting and beautiful.

This is ME saying it, who’s built it from scratch. Not everyone sees the available functionality we’ve actually got some really good functionality in there.  The css is also still a bit bloated (although I have shaved a few thousand lines off of it already) because of random ‘designing as we go’ decisions.

I’ve been learning all I can about webdesign in my free time too, which means that I am now 1000 times more capable of making the site work well.  All my other designs since I’ve started here have been at least a bit fun, and had some character.  I wanted that for BView.  I also want to, when asked, “Who built this site?” to be able to proudly say, “I did.”

So, kids, what have we learned?

1. Design should be involved in designing the functionality from the start.

2. You should make it as easy as possible for people to interact with your site and give you content. Functionality is nothing if people can’t use it.

3. Sites should start with a few key features and do them (almost) perfectly.  Add features as needed: you don’t need to start with EVERYTHING

4. Doing technical work actually makes designers more disciplined (which is fantastic for big sites).

5. Planning is important, and everyone should be involved.

6. Personal preference for how something looks should take a backseat to usability.

7. Designers need to gain their tech and their management’s confidence so they are trusted to do the job properly without being micromanaged.

8. Design by committee leads to dull, dull, complicated websites.

9. The broken record every designer goes through: Not everything needs to be above the fold, not everything is required on every page, white space is very important and links don’t need to be link blue and underlined to look like links.

10. Most pages on a website will be empty (so those should look just as good as a full profile), and you can’t trust users not to put THINGS IN ALL CAPS AND MAKE THEM REALLY LONG SO THEY WRAP OVER 3 LINES.

11. Designing things simply and well takes time and talent.

12. Designs are never perfect the first time you implement them.

13. Your website has a brand and a personality, and you should make sure they’re good ones.

14. No one will care about making things perfect as much as you, and it’s your job to be anal about the details.

Next:  priorities for the redesign!


L’Oreal versus Webdesigner

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

webdesigner

hehehehe My sad attempt at cartooning on the tube this morning. Post it? Sure, because I’m worth it!

P.S.  I haven’t actually bought a new MBP, I am just making fun of everyone who has because I’m jealous.


New safetygoat!

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

new_goat

Well, well, well!  I said I was going to fix up safetygoat, and it’s taken me a lot longer than I thought….but it is here!  It has been a time consuming endeavor. For example, adding in a simple plug-in often took three hours of frustration (followed by 2 minutes of knowing bliss!), sometimes two days, but it was never as simple as people said (which leads me to believe that I’m a wordpress retard).  I will post code snippets that I figured out in the coming weeks so hopefully others will learn from all my pains (and hopefully the codies out there will tell me if I’ve done a really big ‘faux pas’ or two!).

Some of the things I really wanted were easy-ish… getting flash and jpgs into the same gallery for my portfolio, for example, but my main goal was to make the front page more interactive.  This meant having haikus that people could scroll through and add to, a sneak peak into my portfolio (I’ve grown quite fond of that frame and don’t feel bad for one second about how much of your bandwidth I’m taking up!), somewhere where I can pull in photos of safetygoat that other people have taken (add yours to my flickr group!), as well as feeds for my last.fm, brightkite and twitter. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be tweaking it and testing it in different browsers, but I would appreciate all of you lovely people to take a look through.  If you could let me know if you spot any bugs, or if you have any tweaks I can make to just tidy it up, I will put on my tough girl skin and take your advice lovingly into my arms.


My 5 Women Web Designer Heros

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Bonnie thinks we need heros. It’s true. But I was getting worried when all of my web design heros were men. I really didn’t think that there weren’t any girl heros to be had…

Lots of girls are fantastic graphic designers or illustrators, but that’s not enough for me. I’m talking about the whole package here, with extra emphasis on webdesign. So many of the girls’ sites I looked at had glimpses of genius, but when you’re looking for a hero, you want someone whose complete portfolio blows you away, and makes you wish you were a better person. And some lists, including this one from Just Creative Design, made me embarrassed that these women, although very talented, were not heros, especially not to us girl web designers, as some of their websites were unprofessional, badly designed, or just PLAIN plain (the exception being Marian Bantjes who is my typography hero… from both genders, but this is supposed to be about webdesign, so she’ll go on my “general hero list”).

I’m just beginning my web career… I need heros to look up to!

Here’s the attributes I was looking for in my heros.

1. Every piece was polished

A lot of people have one nice piece, or others had a beautiful personal site, but their portfolio was mediocre. She needs to inspire awe with every piece of work she has done.

2. They have their own website portfolio

I know some girls that have designed a site I really like (perhaps being the art director), but they don’t have their own portfolio, so how can I be sure of their greatness? I don’t want to be disappointed.

3. They create something awe-inspiring

I know how to make mediocre stuff already. There is a lot of good stuff out there, but the stuff that inspires needs to achieve a whole new level.

4. Made me wish that I had done it.

If it doesn’t make me feel inferior or if it doesn’t make me feel like I have no talent at all, it can’t be from my hero. Design heros are there to smash your self-confidence. Period.

5. I didn’t just pick them because they’re a girl.

There’s a debate on whether it matters if a designer is a girl or a guy. For my list, I wanted my choices to be so good that it could be a list of just “web design heros”, not just because they’re girls. Does it matter? Maybe it shouldn’t, but I just haven’t seen that many girls around, and I really want to relate to other women designers. I’m sorry, but girls and guys ARE different, even if I don’t agree that one sex is more capable than the other.

So here they are in my personal order…
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How many things should you learn?

Monday, August 18th, 2008

The obvious answer to this is, “as many as you can.”  And with the web, you really can keep on going and going and there’s so much more to learn.  You start learning photoshop and illustrator, and do your best to learn the tools, learn the rules of design.  And then you decide you want to build a site, and start using dreamweaver, but things don’t turn out, so you learn to hand code your html and css.  This opens up a whole new can, and now that you’re designing cool stuff, you want to learn how to make it “cool” for people to interact.  So you put some javascript in using jquery, but things don’t work as you want them to, so you start rooting around to find out how to fix it.  Suddenly you’re spending all your time coding and you’re not designing any more at all.

This is a problem.  While I agree with (some of) the experts that all web designers should be able to do decent css and html, it becomes a problem when a designer has to spend all of his or her time coding. (The debate on learning both is still raging on this actually– some experts say designers should only do photoshop, others say they should have an understanding of the coding, but that’s beyond my expertise.)  When there’s no one else to do it, how do you refuse to do it?

I have always been one of those people that likes to do and learn lots of new things.  Hell, I’m learning how to spraypaint, how to sew clothes, how to use blender (a 3-D program), how to make silicon moulds, besides the fact that I play piano, would like to do gardening, and like to read a bit of philosophy.  A person that stretches herself or himself too far– is he/she destined to never be an expert at anything?  Have I stabbed myself in the foot by trying to do too much?


resources for boxes and graffiti

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

I lllooooooovvvvvve boxes. It used to be just little boxes, such as the ones you’d get for business cards, or new cartridges (they must be square or rectangular or pentagon, or octagon or round… not one of those terribly packaged products. Everyone must have standards!).

Lately it has just gotten worse. The boxes are BIG now. And I mean BIG. I have been cutting them apart for their cardboard to use for learning spraypainting. One box that I found on the street was so big that, even collapsed, took me 1/2 hour to get into my room (it kept getting lodged in the stairwells). My room is now PACKED with cardboard… it’s tucked behind my bed, behind my wardrobe, and behind my piano. It looks like my room is actually some sort of stock room.

So, for other box lovers, I thought I would find some links of things to do with boxes…. And, more importantly, some resources on how to spraypaint graffiti!

  1. 37 box related crafts for kids
  2. How to make a beautiful cardboard castle
  3. Make a safari miniature golf set (complete with elephants!)
  4. Make a desk!
  5. Disney’s list of all their cardboard box crafts
  6. Lyrics to Rebekah’s song, Cardboard boxes(and just for the record, Rebekah, they ARE cool!)
  7. Join the group to say that you want to learn how to paint graffiti on 43things.com
  8. Learn from some pros how to graffiti in easy lessons on this site
  9. Geeky examples of graffiti
  10. Video: How to draw graffiti-style people
  11. The cans festival official site. Amazing graffiti! Go down to leak street in london to see what the hooligans have done

Making of a (plastic) goat

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

The project: to make multiple copies of the goat to attach to keychains. The question is, how does one do this? After inquiring around the UK about producing them from a 3-d model, smaller companies said they couldn’t do it. The other option was to get it produced in China. Minimum runs are at least 1000, and I wasn’t sure if I *REALLY* wanted 1000 plastic goats (now I think I do, but when I started all this, I was nervous about the number). So I started looking into making my own silicon mold, filled with poly-eurathane (plastic).

This post will go through my entire process of making a two sided mould, and detail all the stuff I learned, and show you my (limited) successes!

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learning to spraypaint freehand

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

For some reason or another, I’ve decided to learn how to spray paint.  Obviously, I really should have taken this up in my rebellious teenage years. That way I wouldn’t have to compare my stuff to a blindfolded 4-year old’s. This weekend I spent some time learning about shading and shadowing, and here’s my process. I’m not exactly proud of this work (she looks kind of weirdly proportioned) but it really taught me a lot about how spray paint works, and what I can and can’t do with it (yet!). Luckily I took a picture at every phase of the works.

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