Browsing articles in "Self-Reflection"

The Eight Irresistible Principles of Fun

I found this video, quite randomly one day while looking through twitter links. It really inspired me. This video repeats a few of the messages I hear so many people say these days, but some how it captures how simple and yet how perfect fun is and how important it is to our lives and our happiness.

Original video link:


Fear and Mystery of Web Design

I presented at AIGA Arizona Say Anything on November 10th. Here is the write up of the talk based on the slides that were presented that evening. I hope everyone got something out of this presentation and please feel free to post comments regarding questions you may have on this material. 🙂 Thank you to AIGA Arizona for the opportunity to present and I hope to be back real soon.

Step 1: What is Web Design?

Often fear is simply a lack of understanding, so to begin this journey, let’s start by defining what web design, as a craft, is. I feel that Jeffery Zeldman of Happy Cog Studios put it best when he summarized web design as:

Web design is the creation of digital environments that facilitate and encourage human activity; reflect or adapt to individual voices and content; and change gracefully over time while always retaining their identity.

Wow, lots to digest there, let’s break it up a bit.

The creation of digital environments that facilitate and encourage human activity.
So basically all this is saying that web design is design within a digital space (i.e. the web) but more importantly that it’s main purpose is to facilitate and encourage human activity. We want to interact with them, give and get from the user. This allows for a special kind of communication that we haven’t ever seen from media before. Instead of dictating to the consumer, we can now receive and act on information provided to us, very powerful.

Reflect or adapt to the individual voices and content.
While the web is still a relatively new media format in the grand scheme of media and advertising, it’s still very customizable. We should harness this adaptability and use it to the best of our abilities to reflect and present the content in a very specialized manner. The web was created for the purpose of collecting and sharing information; web design cannot forget these roots as we move forward. Content is king, it’s the most important part, and should be treated that way.

Change gracefully over time while always retaining its identity.
Web design is unlike many other forms of media because of the way it can be changed over time. Unlike print, we can continue to add, take away and mold this space over and over again. The tricky part is doing it gracefully and staying true to the original brand and statement. If we change too often or off course of our brand in can alienate our users instead of creating those core connections and communications levels we would like to have.

Overall, web design is very similar to other types of design; there are still guidelines, best practices, and techniques that separate good design from the bad.  Also, just like all other types of media, it’s centered on communication, however there is a new addition that makes this a new frontier, the interactivity of the users who use it.

Now that we know our adversary, let’s delve into those guidelines, best practices and techniques that will allow you to be empowered to go head first into the fight.

Step 2: Knowledge is Power.

The more you know about why and what you’re designing for the web will help you in your quest.

Start with a purpose.
What’s the real reason behind why the design needs to be created? Perhaps it’s to share product information or to be able to process online orders. What ever it is, nail it down and keep it simple. Even if there are a few reasons, keep them concise and in front of you at all times. This will help you stave off the needs for the “wouldn’t it be nice if?” scope creep that can really get you in trouble later.

Define your users and what they need.
Who are your users? What do they want from you? More often than not they won’t need a sales pitch, they’re qualified leads or else they wouldn’t be there. So veer away from the extended sales pitch and instead focus on giving your users the information they need & want about your services or products. Need help figuring out what your users want the most? Check out your current google analytics statics to see what your users are looking for the most, or check out a heat mapping service such as Crazy Egg that will help you visualize what your users are looking for and clicking on.

Communicate to develop correct functionality scope.
Talk with your client, project manager, and development team to come up with a correct scope of functionality. When the client signs off on designs, often they’re not only signing off on look and feel but functional items such as searches, drop downs, user functionality, etc. Make sure that everything that’s depicted within the comps is with in functionality scope and doable.

Collect all content.
This is a tough one to accomplish, but stick in there and this one will pay off! More often than not timelines slip because the client doesn’t realize the scope of content needed to complete a web project. When you focus on getting these items right off the bat it allows the client to become more of an active participant in the planning and will help them understand how much work is involved in the design and development process. It will also keep them busy so they’re not prodding for more features or badgering you about deliverables sooner than the timeline suggests. Collecting all the content also helps you plan out an accurate site information architecture and will help you design with the voice and content already in place.

Step 3: Organize for the user.

Once you’ve got all your parts and pieces remember to organize them keeping the users and their needs in the forefront at all times. Knowing more about usability will help you out here, so check out this definition from Jakob Nielsen.

Usability: the users perception of how consistent, intuitive, and organized it is to accomplish tasks within a system.

Offer the user clear choices.
Don’t overload the user with options, stick to the purposes and users needs that you had outlined earlier. Keep it clear, easy to understand, and if you can make it so easy that the user feels like a GENIUS because it was so easy to use.

Use conventional terms, icons and positioning.
Sure we all want to create something new and fun, but try to stick with the normal terms, icons, and placement on standard web stuff. Such as don’t replace the e-mail envelope with the @ symbol, it will require your users to think, and to break that stream of consciousness enables poor usability.  However, just because you should stick with the standards doesn’t mean you can’t bend the rules, you just have to do it in such a easy way that it can be picked up with minimal effort. Most users scan the page in a F-Shaped eye tracking, so you most likely want to place your most important pieces within this pathing.

Easily digestible content blocks.
Avoid large / lengthy blocks of content if possible. Most web users tend to scan content vs. read it fully so keep it short and concise. If you want to overview content, stick to three to five bullet points with links that go to the full content for those who are interested.

Consider user flow.
Remember for every link you create in your design there must be somewhere that goes to. Remember standard user flows like what are the steps/process when a user registers, signs in, or tries to buy a product? Remembering these steps as you design will help you comprehend the whole flow and layout of the website as a whole.  If you would like help with some of these steps, check out a handy service called Product Planner.

Wireframes are your friends, you can’t have to many.
Wireframes can help considerably when you’re still planning out the placement of major items and user flows, they’re less time consuming and can be really amazing tools when trying to understand what should be the most important elements within a page.

Step 4: Roll up your sleeves.

Alright, with all that collecting and planning I guess you should be ready to actually design something right? Check out some of these tips to make your design to implementation time shorter.

Be smart about imagery/graphics

  • Too many images means it will take too long to load, while it loads it will look like crap. So, be smart and use the less is more approach. Also, all those images won’t have the search engine weight as text would have, so remember that when choosing typefaces as images, etc.
  • If you REALLY want to use a non-standard font face, check out sIFR for your implementation, but a few notes on this, sIFR uses flash to render the font so it will still impede load time. It will be SEO compliant, but it will also require flash.
  • Images can be an accessibility nightmare, if seriously informational text is included in graphics it needs to be in full text as the alt attribute for the image. Instead of having to remember all this, using a regular font and HTML text would be a better decision.

File organization

  • Organize your PSD to have all elements grouped together by area such as header, footers, callouts, etc this will make selecting and merging for cutting easier later.
  • Include on and over states for navigation, since this is an interactive space these styles will need to included so that they can be implemented later.
  • Keep all your layers editable, you never know when you’ll need to change a piece of text or a background color later, instead of redoing the entire PSD, just be smart and don’t merge layers.
  • Create a style guide that outlines all fonts, colors, and styles used so that creation on the CSS style sheet can be easily created without having to re-examine your PSD later

Stay true to the end user
Even though you’ve focused on the users during the gathering and planning processes, you can’t forget about them now. Through out design iterations it’s easy to forget about the end user in hopes to quell the client, keep in mind that this website isn’t for your client to use, its for their customers, so they’re most important.


America the Brave or America the Backwards?

Before I start this rant, I just want to make a small disclaimer. I’m not a political analyst, I don’t know all the facts. However, I am an American and I do have the first amendment to back up what I’m about to say.

Some things transpired this weekend that have brought myself to question the my American sense of pride and justice. When I think of America, I think of a country that embraces differences, allows for a variety of opinions, and above all the freedom to be whom ever you would like to be. However, we’re also a country that believes in justice, doing the right thing, and holding those accountable for their actions.

This weekend, as the election drew nearer each day, Republicans were becoming more and more defensive of their position, as were Democrats, I know I said some very shrewd things about Palin in the last few days. In any rate, this sets the stage for what I’m about to share with you.

I am sitting at a table of new acquaintances, all good hard working, delightful people, celebrating a birthday, a definitely enjoyable occasion. As I sit there, comments about the election are discussed, and soon I realize I’m the only Democrat at the table. But why should I be concerned about that? They have a right to their own opinion, especially considering some of them have considered way more factors than I have regarding their decisions. Initially I was intrigued, I wanted to know what had changed their viewpoint to the other side, did they feel differently about some hot topic? But then a experience happened that I thought was below everything I know about good Americans.

The man of the hour pulls out a card that he’s received for this birthday, as he looks at the front he chuckles slightly. I’m a fan of humorous birthday cards, so I’m excited to see what has him grinning. He holds it up for everyone to see. It’s a card with Obama’s face on it, someone has drawn a noose around his neck, devil horns on his forehead, fire behind him, and a large, red swastika on his forehead.

The table roars in laughter. He hands the card around the table and each person gets a chance to have their own private chuckle as they review the handy work.

I’m simply stunned. I sit at the table, quiet, just watching the macabre of laughing faces. How could this be funny? How can I live in a country, so beautiful, so embracing of different opinions, and so just and honorable to be seeing this? Sure, they’re entitled to think that Obama isn’t the best choice for President, I can respect that. But to equate a man who wants to help and serve this country to the devil, to make a racist statement that he should be hung with a swastika carved in his forehead, how is this right and just? Sure this country has it’s problems, it’s dark side, it was not long ago that racism was a way of the public and not in hiding corners. Perhaps it was simply a joke, meant to be funny. But I would think in this day in age, these good, hard working, people would know in their hearts they had gone too far. It saddens me to see that mainstream society still accepts these items as acceptable ways of voicing their disagreement.

Honestly, I’m a bit upset by myself. For not standing up, for not saying something. I feel as if I’ve done my own dishonor to my homeland to sit there idle and not say anything to my fellow Americans. So, instead of letting this occurance go silently into the darkest corners of my memory without notice, I’m sharing it all with you. I hope that it shocks your system as much as it did mine, regardless of party, regardless of race. If it doesn’t, God help this nation.


Self-Inflicted Undue Pressure

I’ve been speaking to several colleagues lately within the web design community, and I’ve come to a harsh realization. I think that as a whole, our industry creates it’s own self-inflicted pressure with deadlines and customer relations.

Granted, some customers can come into the relationship wanting the impossible, but often, with a little enlightenment, customers can grasp how Rome cannot be built within a week. But I feel often, instead of investing in this conversation, we instead push ourselves to build things quicker, faster, and cheaper.

Sometimes we can just have a simple conversation with our clients, and often they’ll be totally accepting of our need for more time to create the desired product. Many times when I talk to a client, they themselves are not prepared for the product to be finished, they don’t have the content ready yet, they still need to gather all their product photos, etc.

Why do we tend to forgo these honest conversations that can strengthen our client relations and really give us a better working relationship in the long run? Is it our need for deadlines? Perhaps our procrastinative nature drives us to seek this adrenaline rush that is the last-minute push? Maybe a way to curb our creative natures that drive us to constantly expand the scope of possibilities for the project?

This issue has always frustrated me, why push ourselves to slam something out when there’s always more time to work? Sure, things have to get done, but does the quality of work have to suffer? We quit trying to achieve the best possible, and start undercutting to hit some date that really isn’t anything more than a spec of time in the span of the universe.

So I thought I’d toss it out there and see what you guys thought, why do we do this to ourselves?


Walking on the Ceiling

I was in a meeting with one of my co-workers today when she mentioned that as a child she would lay on her back with her feet up in the air, as if she could walk on the ceiling. It brought me back to that time in my life, remembering how life would be if you had to step through door ways and your head would bump on bookcases and chairs hanging from the ceiling.

Remember playing that the floor was lava? Jumping from one piece of furniture to the next, trying not to scald your feet on the red hot bubbles below? Your mom screaming at you to get off the entertainment center or the refrigerator?

The days in life, where you could make rabbits and dragons out of clouds, where ants crawling on the ground still made you point and stare.  Those days when rain drops and bubbles made you laugh and when that soft blanket made the worlds troubles go away.

Stop when the 9 to 5 starts to grind on you, when your love life seems not so lovely, or when you have to rush groceries in between the post office and the vet. Then remember, laying on your back, pretending that you’re walking on the ceiling and smile.


New Year, New Me?

Sorry I’ve been in hiatus the past three weeks or so… I was all on track to get some serious blogging done over the break and instead found myself in a mess of personal life crisis that made me wonder if Doctor Phil needs me to fill in some days.

In the last three weeks I’ve hatched an awesome Christmas plot to give Kaleb an HD TV, purposed to, had my dad visit from Kansas, took my father to San Diego to meet Kaleb’s parents, built a website for my father’s dream, landscaped my backyard with dad, drove straight through to Kansas to say good bye to my grandmother on her death bed, kicked out my brother’s girlfriend and some of her friends who were living off my dad in his house, enrolled my brother in college, realized how much my grandmother sacrificed her entire life to provide for her family in the time of her death, held confession for past love and realized crossroads in my life, flew back to Arizona the same day as my grandmother’s funeral, found good in restructuring our department for the second time in the past year, sent home from work for poorly executed light-hearted comment, became unsure of my employment for twelve hours, went back to work, met with co-worker to find our friendship completely intact, had life realization.

I touch so many lives, trying to right wrongs, trying to make life easier for people to cope with. Sometimes people need to see it for themselves, sometimes people will never be able to see through the haze, regardless, I need to realize that I cannot force people to see at all. As much as I want to open the eyes of the world to have people see what’s really important, they slam shut. I need to learn to open my own and remember the gift that has been given, free will.

I am not perfect. No one is. We all make mistakes, but the beauty of life to to realize those mistakes and become better for them. Don’t waste time wishing you had said this or done that. It’s done, it’s over, look at what’s next. What will tomorrow bring?

Sometimes we get so caught up in the daily grind that we forget there’s a higher purpose for us all. Realize your purpose and live through it every day.

Don’t be scared of change, the ebb and flow of life seldom is stagnate for long. Sometimes you’re at its mercy, but after the storm, you may find yourself washed up on a better shore than the one you left.


CSS Continued…

CSS is easy enough to start to learn, but it really takes some practice to master and understand the beautiful efficiency it provides. These techniques of efficiency separate the apprentices from the masters in the art of CSS. Now that I know what I know now, I wish someone would have told me these secrets from the beginning. The longer you practice great CSS techniques, the better you’ll be at it, so I’m giving you a head start with my first blog series: CSS Continued…

So listen closely Grasshoppa. 😉


Human Inspiration and Interest

Why do we do the things we do? When we’re born we can become anyone and effect anything. Why is it we choose the paths we do? Why are we so inspired by some experiences in life and not others? A person’s attention is very segregated to what they what to pay attention to. But what makes one item more of interest than another? How is it the human race is so diverse in interests and abilities?

Not only are we so diverse in what we’re interested in, but those interests change over time, and drastically. Just because we’re currently on one path, does not mean we can’t jump the track to an entirely new direction in a matter of moments if we so chose. We are never tied down by anything but our invested interest to stick with something. How do we so suddenly choose to become unstuck? What moves us to drop everything and run to something else, and even sometimes, to come back to that which once no longer interested us?


EVofC Search Term Going Nuts

I’ve been getting a TON of hits for the search term “evofc”. Now, at first I thought there had to be something else that was picking up the audience and mis-guiding them to my site. So I took a look at the results, headlamps and a soccer team… college enrollment codes…. hmm. But you’ll notice, the first two pages or so have a ton of all my personal accounts from flickr to myspace. Perhaps people just want to know what EVofC means? E-Visions of Creativity, my friend.

There was a year between high school and college where I was VERY lost as to what I wanted to do as a career. I had always had a love for the web and had been creating websites for myself and friends for a couple of years at that point. Tiny geocities, not awesome to look at, sites. In my search for a career, something to do for the REST of my life, I wanted to make sure that what ever it was I would love, I would want to do, for a lifetime. This kind of decision was very hard for me to conceive at the age of 18. I spent most of my time online, gaming, building sites, playing with photoshop and wondering what I was going to build the rest of my life on. In a particularly heated discussion with my father, I exclaimed, “Dad, I know you want me to go do something.. but I’m not sure what I want to do! I want to love it, I want to be it, for the rest of my life!! That’s hard.” My father shook his head, “April, why don’t you just build websites for a LIVING.”

DING, DING, DINNNNNGGGG!  We have a winner!!! An epiphany then crossed over me, like a cold shower. ” You mean they pay people to do this?” Finally, I had found my answer, this wonderful morsel of personal honesty and self-realization. The answer to the ultimate question after high school, “What do I want to do with the rest of my life.”

So, instead of working at a burger joint or a movie theater through college, I started my first freelance company, E-Visions of Creativity. And now you know the rest of the story behind what EVofC stands for. 🙂


Self Portrait through Trash

I was surfing some of my more design-related RSS feeds when I came across a very interesting artistic work featured on Quipsologies.

Tim Gaudreau has made a huge photo collage out of all the trash he’s thrown away in the last year to make a statement regarding America’s waste and energy consumption. After 365 days of photographing everything he threw out, he amassed over 5,000 photos of his own trash.

Check out his website to learn more about this interesting artistic expression of America’s consumption. Perhaps we can all take something away from this personal experiment and use less.

Self Portrait as revealed by trash - Tim Gaudreau

What is this?

This little blog happens to be the personal ramblings of one April Holle - I'm female, outspoken, webbie, a community evangelist, and Principal of Made Better Studio. Check out the about section for more info.

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