Are mood boards 'anti-design'?
This post is partly inspired by a talk I went to recently, but mainly because design processes have become victim to a catch 22 situation (apparently EVERYTHING needs to adhere to a system!) I talk specifically about web (bias I know), which doesn't really have time to develop a suitable process, as its constantly evolving, but does need to follow a method which gets the best out of everyone involved. Clients need their product to achieve its goals (not unreasonable,) and its architects want to be able to produce their best work (hopefully!) So for a project to reach its potential, there should probably be someway of managing expectations and communication amongst all parties. This much is obvious, there's no secret in that. But what bothers me is how complicated and inflexible some processes can be; from the first meeting to delivering the end result can mean the difference between a project being heavily compromised and a massive headache or not. This way of working is seemingly inherent of over thinking, and trying to over perfect something which often will behave well enough organically, given you have the trust of the client - which you have to gain, but I'll come to that later - and a team that openly discuss issues properly, resolving technical issues before committing to a design, and trying out ideas (mocking them up in HTML) rather that being afraid to try.
One emerging trend I'm wary of is 'mood-boarding'. How do you establish a look and feel without applying it to a design? How do you chose elements of a design without designing for them? God it's hard! This isn't interior design! You can't collect swatches of the web in a SCRAP BOOK... Hang on, or can you? Pinterest, is solely a scrap book of found things on the web. Would it be acceptable to collect ideas that would work for a particular project? Whether they occur online or offline? So far I've resisted Pinterest as a concept, as far as web designers go, I can be pretty analogue. I have been known to attend meetings with my trusty none battery operating notebook in a room full of macs and still felt smuggly retro. I was trained in print before anything else, and my digital skills are down to experience and environment. But for web design and concept development, maybe it has a valid and wholly practical use, presenting ideas as a page of 'swatches' rather than a trio of fake and probably not a true representation of what will be delivered. Rather than, "Sorry, but you're using ie7 on a PC, the fonts won't render as well as they did on that printed mount board pitch. Cope!" Maybe, just maybe...
Published October 2012
A designers fondness for fonts.
"A font is defined as a quantity of sorts composing a complete character set of a single size and style of a particular typeface"
I realised I had a fetish for, well... anything designed for the better of human kind I suppose, when - as many kids did, I had my name fashioned onto my bedroom door - 'amy' in a pink bubbly marshmallow type set in wooden joined up text. Friendly and familiar. It didn't matter what else was going on in the world, that name marked the border of my territory. A threshold if you will, a place that I could pretend, have secrets, create a mess and stare out of the window (I did a lot of that). I didn't realise at the time, but I was becoming every texture, every transparent bit of coloured plastic, from packaging graphics to household appliances, from record sleeve artwork to book cover... I was probably a bit too obsessed with the form and function of product design, absorbing it and storing it. It wasn't just the visually aesthetic things either, it soon became books and the escape they offered (don't get me wrong, I didn't have a troubled childhood, it was rather lovely, I just enjoyed daydreaming a lot!) But you can be any character you like in a story. The heroine or villain. These days I read anything and everything, unfortunately I don't read fast enough to get through all the words I'd like to consume, I like to make each one count, so I take my time. However, since I've been rationalising much of what I do on a day-to-day basis, I've paid more attention to the little things. Realising that sometimes ODing on information happens (or IO - Information Overload) in the same way you might over-eat, or drink too much, a 'content hangover' is entirely possible, the prognosis just takes a while realise. Burn out is something I tend to work around, ignore, or sleep off when I have the time. Sometimes though, it's often a case of going cold turkey. Especially now that there's never really a time when the Internet is unavailable. My suspicions were confirmed when I recently watched a video on TED, a talk by JP Rangaswami discussing exactly how people consume information as they do food. And how, like food, information can become stale, it has sell by dates. Folk are hungry for fresh information, 24/7!
That we can become overwhelmed by what they see everywhere they go, means it is vital to focus on a main purpose or message in the content. It should be obvious. Or at least the path to it should be. Even for those who are browsing, eventually want to find something that triggers an emotion that keeps them reading.
Published June 2012
A Content/Design Seesaw
"In the web industry, anything that conveys meaningful information to humans is called content" The Elements of Content Strategy.
Within the first few months of this year there has been a flurry of web related initiatives (more resourceful than the usual well-intended NY resolutions too), teaching people from every background the fundamentals of coding literacy, and the importance of programming a solid and functioning website. Breaking open what was once a secret sect, or exclusive club of hard-assed code officianados to a wider audience. This is good because now there will be a better appreciation of the knowledge, discipline, effort, and patience that goes into building a website. Good - because now - web designers have better access and help using the proper tools to 'design for the web' rather than feeling the pinch of compromise on every project. Hoorah!!!
However, there still remains the battle - and it is a battle - no matter how disciplined and organised you are, of maintaining an effective and well delivered content strategy within the design. Creating a pleasant experience which reflects this, means having the right brief, or at least a plan of what needs to be said later on down the line. Future proofing design, so that copy intended to be grown, information to be built upon, or archives to be stored, are all considered at the start, as part of the campaign. Long term strategy needs to be considered, in the same way designing for the right platform(s) has to be. Taking into account each and every factor, so that the end product not only functions properly, but people want to be there too. Designing for content, and writing for the right context! Which leads me to this article (which I firmly believe it was written for the sake of being controversial) Of course responsive design has not failed, such a bold and wide sweeping statement can not be supported by one person in one article. Responsive websites do not compromise content, they simply serve it better. Both content and design need to be fit for purpose AND appropriate for its user. However, the web and designing for content that needs to adapt to various environments and respond to different devices is still in it's infancy, and as we nurture this young and naive - yet brilliant - arena through it's teens and into adulthood, the produce of the internet needs to be guided wisely through the dark misty path of evolution, and meet it's potential.
A few things I try to remember:
- What comes around goes around.
- Never overreact.
- If you think you are good enough, you most likely aren't.
- Those you admire on a pedestal will have further to fall.
- Being happier is more fun than being sad.
- Normal doesn't exist.
- Hair colour does not indicate a level of common sense or intelligence.
- There is no context without content.
Published June 2012
A Twitticate rant.
Otherwise (more or less) introverted folk have been gathering across the World for a few years now, meeting up, lamenting over common issues, uniting against IE, and generally bingeing on new developments, releases, and code revelations. The rapidly evolving nature of development (the clue is in the name) and open source based code pushing what's possible forward at an unstoppable force means that there is a greater hunger and growing market for more and more meet-ups, hangouts and conferences than you can shake a stick at. Especially since the wave of freebie talks doubling up as great opportunities to network, make friends, and find support in others of the same field. However, the growing web of geekery comes with its vices. 'Open journalism' a term coined by The Guardian to encourage audience participation with daily news and events as they happen, is just part of a wider broadcasting bubble which means everyone is more at ease with sharing knowledge and information. Twitter, sector focused forums, and other social networks open up the doors for anyone with something to say. This is obviously old news, but it's reflective of everything in our environment, everything we take for granted, everything we don't think about, everything we just expect. Whether you are "on twitter" or facebook or not, everyday people encounter news that has in some way been influenced by opinion or comment. In the Western world, it's the benefit of a democratic society. These epistemic leaks are a benefit, but only if they are used as such, rather than taken as gospel. Recycling information can become a case of Chinese whispers.
It's merely my concern, not a warning of the impending demise of trusted content. But thinking about it, would it really be ok to sit through a university seminar or lecture tweeting every last full stop and murmur? For example - web conferences - Those not fortunate enough to attend every geek-fest on the circuit this year value those who broadcast valuable snippets of information, especially when the cheapest seats are 300 quid upwards a ticket (a wholly worthy cost for a few days set free in the wild getting down and dirty with other people who get excited about stylesheets and pseudo classes, nevertheless!) But at what point should twitter cease to be a source of reliable rumour? Spreading like wildfire, changing news broadcasting as we know it.
Cringe-fully, I have been guilty of making my 140 character minute by minute reports of a talk or similar event, I've been in the moment, taking pictures, quoting expertise, even clapped at the end in a glorious fulfilled smugness, safe in the knowledge that I can walk out to a foray of free beer and sugary snacks. But then, when called upon to actually summarise the topic and key points made, I falter, my memory seizes! Like it has returned to my body after patiently waiting in the foyer, watching people blag free t-shirts. I know whats happened here, I've lived the experience through technology. Like going on holiday and only watching the scenery through the camera lens. looking back through old videos spotting things you didn't notice at the time. It's a good thing to remember, technology bears no sentiment.
To put it simply, it's not terrible to upload personal points of view or recite overheard snippets. After all, sharing is caring! But there's a responsibility that comes with it. You never know who might be listening.
Published May 2012
Does being a graphic designer help me to understand and appreciate the structure of a users journey and experience better?
For a while now, I have been working with a crack team of developers, that push and encourage me to be the best web designer I can be. I came into this industry as a fresh faced print designer, straight out of an art school bubble. And in the last 8 years, I have embraced my inner geek, and learned to love digital. In recent years, the web has taken a rather (r)evolutionary turn, living through post dotcom boom, almost 'homosapien' sites of the 90's, and growing out of heavy loading graphics and flash based websites. It now adapts to our portable lifestyle. The internet is fast becoming an open source arena of mobile responsive imagery, slick animation and web hosted fonts meaning we are free from imagery clogging up navigations or relying on courier for an 'edgy' header. Digital is becoming more design lead and user conscious than was previously heralded by wcag in the early noughties. However, this means that web designers and developers now are even more responsible for whether a website is easy to use or not. More choice, more users, more places to get it wrong. Who's an expert? I recently found an article discussing 'experts' in User Experience (UX), which hits it head on. When did we become psychologists/social analysts/human hybrids who are tuned into every personality trait, having the ability to understand every type of user on the planet? Should we not simply appreciate that everyone is unique, and therefore user journeys will be too. The experience created must accommodate every eventuality, one that not only feels intuitive, but also leads your average browsing customer where they want to be, remaining impartial, but with a gentle guiding hand. And so we become - through repeatedly experiencing and observing these common human patterns - able to plan out the most appropriate steps for the job. All this scientific evaluation of society makes me wish I'd pursued my sociology a-level further. But as a graphic designer, I feel that it's better to leave counselling to the experts, and focus on what I know. And that's problem solving design. Making sure content on a website is logical, linear, and remains focused on the audience it's intended for.
Published April 2012
Inspired by Mister Gagarin. Origami rabbits are a memento of good luck and fortune.
Published March 2012
Client Vs Designer: Who knows best?
I design websites. It's how I pay my astronomical London based rent, so that I can occasionally enjoy living in this beast of a town. I design websites with the user in mind, and with the content as priority. Having survived various degrees of feature creep, squinting as an otherwise successful product is turned into a crumbling camel shaped disaster. These days I'm a firm believer in standing your ground. However I feel that there should also be a case for helping the client to understand your point of view and sharing your experience with them, rather than pursuing a battle of wills. The nature of rapidly developing technologies means that there is a reason for keeping up with what clients expect/demand (and also need to be encouraged along with.) Early development stages of any new method or trial way of doing something will have teething problems, because the wider the market using it the more ways it will need to work and be used. If you need some reassurance in demystifying your reasoning however, this crazy site might come in handy. Ultimately, it's about letting the client 'in on the secret' a little, so that your well practiced and informed decisions are not a mystery, and your honest guidance becomes transparent and plain English. Rather than like a parent telling their child, "just because!" the client - after all - is paying.. Therefore it is your duty to make sure they know, and get what they are paying for.
Published March 2012
Detail: It makes a big difference to someone's user experience online. Small things like, should links take you away from an article you're reading? Or open countless new ones without notice? Making clickable items obvious so that navigation is intuitive. Ensuring that pages are designed so that content is listed in a relevant and logical order. Not breaking the fundamental rules of convention, only bending them, and pushing them forward. Progressing them. Because user experience is subjective in it's very nature, it changes over time as social circumstances evolve - therefore so does dealing with managing and planning a user journey to accommodate every quirk and habit, instead of second guessing someone into a corner. Using analytics and testing rather than relying on personal preference and blind opinion, will lead to a more future proof, adaptable presence.
Published February 2012
Short story #1
Moral of the story: Never pinch a quid from the pile of change left on the table.
Published February 2012
The 960 grid, the CSS prototype and responsive build: Optimising sites for flexible viewing.
As a designer, I'm no stranger to the grid. It's paramount to fixing consistency within layouts, both in print and on the web. The 960 grid has helped the transition from a psd mock-up to development by keeping the CSS in shape, and webpages down to a tidy template. In the last few months however, I have been experimenting with a CSS grid, which a colleague of mine has engineered in order to rapidly prototype a basic outline and format the designs I have put together as a photoshop visual. This means, instead of laying out a purely static concept, relying on comps and tweaking layers throughout what would ordinarily be a very flat and un-dynamic design phase (albeit one that establishes a much needed look and feel that gets signed off before build can proceed), I can test how the content will need to be listed out in the HTML by referencing the external CSS framework within the HTML file to position elements on the page. This doesn't mean however, that I'm shirking the role of floating elements left and right, fiddling about with clearfixes. The beauty of the grid is such that where the design dictates a float can be used. Rows can be set within rows, creating more flexible areas and so on. It also means that fewer media queries are needed (or rather only the essential tweaks are needed to tidy up the in-between break-points), and that the experience is overall more flowing, because it has been wire-framed in the browser, and tried and tested live, rather than dealing with potential issues later on in the day during development. The website is designed in context. You wouldn't sketch out an idea for printed material, for example - a magazine spread - on a beer mat and expect it to look flawless in print without applying the layout first. Working out how the functionality and formatting of the design looks directly in a browser, also reveals how it needs to affect the order of content on mobile devices. Which eventually leads to a more fluid and natural flow of introducing information. Responsive sites are future friendly and platform friendly. Producing 'live mock-ups' simulates how this works, and help the design process. Plan. Design. Evaluate. Evolve. Repeat.
Published February 2012
Short story #2
Sometimes we all need a bit of spontaneous adventure to take our breath away. This might happen half way around the world. But most frequently it's found in a single person.
Published January 2012
Some times toilet wall scribblings are an inspiration! [That's not my handwriting. Just so you know.]
Published January 2012
Welcome to Eightmadefour
"I'm not sure where I'm going, or where I wanna go.." I'm sure there's a lyric in there somewhere. Here's a bit about this site:
- Hopefully this site will change often.
- This site is not for anybody else's benefit but my own.
- This site will never be perfect.
- This site is a working process of the things I'm learning.
I would like to credit a few people for their advice and assistance:
Christian Armstrong - Co-hosting, beats and rhymes.
Guillaume Roderick - Co-hosting, technical support, and overall good egg.
Mike Simmonds - Architect of the awesome grid structure that whips this site into a frenzy.
Adrian Lynch - Life long mentor, creator of aw.com
Sam Stimpson - Technical assistance and creator of the Octopus of Success.
Published January 2012