I finished the design & build of my new site last week. I saw it as an interactive business card of sorts - my personal details, a quick snapshot of my work and an introduction to me. In all, it took about 9 days (rather than my original plan of 7), which isn’t too bad considering I was working on other projects as well. I experimented with some new tricks, a luxury I don’t normally get on client projects because the support isn’t there yet. The concept began with this small sketch:
If you want to see the end result (although there is still lots of work that should still be done), you can skip right to the end of this post. For those interested in a potentially interesting lesson, read on. For some of you, it may seem obvious. For me, I didn’t see it at the time.
Looking at my original objective, I made some average decisions. I don’t mind admitting that, I think making quick decisions and going to action is what being “iterative” is all about. When this journey started just a few of weeks back, my instant reaction was to build a site focused on helping me replace my previous job. As I said, an interactive business card designed to gain me an introduction to further opportunity. I worked long hours to hit my own personal deadline, learnt a lot and honestly had a lot of fun doing it. None of this is wrong in itself. But it’s not quite right for me.
My decisions were too reactionary.
I made my decisions based on my instant natural reaction to my new situation. I allowed those decisions to shape my objectives for what to achieve next - build a site, then find a full time job. At the end of the process, something didn’t sit right with me. Admittedly, part of the reason was that my site was far from “perfect”. The original concept blossomed into something that certainly doesn’t create an optimal experience in every browser. However it was something else, something far more personal. Once I began to look beyond my immediate next step I started to see the clearer picture.
I’ve long desired for something greater. Everyday, I want to work on projects and ideas I am passionate about. That could be a client I truly believe in, a project I think is going to have true impact on people’s lives, an opportunity to learn something new or a chance to work with someone I admire, amoung other things. It’s easy to desire something. Actually chasing it is the hard part, because it often feels like a “one day” scenario, for sometime in the future. Something for the idealists.
I’ve decided to make that scenario exist today. I’ve long planned to move to the US near the end of this year, and between now and then I will be using the time to work on projects I love, learn everything I can, and preparing for what is next over there.
Practically, what does it mean? I’m still figuring it all out, but it does means I’m going to be setting up my blog properly, sharing things I come across that inspire me, projects I find interesting, linking to great articles on interactive design and (hopefully) writing some of my own. I’ll be doing UX, UI and product design/consulting. I’ll be connecting with talented friends in the industry and meeting new people along the way. I’ll also be launching a larger, more complete website and better incoporate my blog.
Design, to most people, is thought of as visual styling on a digital canvas, and this misconception isn’t all their fault (whoever “they” are). Lots of designers fall right into this category – they feel most at home with Photoshop open, often starting with art direction long before it’s time. In fact, focusing on style too early can be detrimental to the overall success of a project. Wireframing and sketching are highly important steps in the journey to great interactive design, but that isn’t where a project should begin either. Design is every single decision made from conception to completion (and beyond). As designers we must commit to the practice of making decisions early, writing these decisions down and iterating along the way.
When I start a new project the first thing I do is open a text editor, gather my thoughts and write down everything I know; thinking as high level as possible, ignoring the inner artist in me wanting to concern myself with where I can use that new font, or what color scheme I might use, or what new technology I could implement. I feel like a big reason why many designer’s (including me) personal projects never see the light of day is because they haven’t demanded this discipline of themselves when no one else is there to do it for them - failing to plan, planning to fail.
If you are an interactive designer beginning a project, challenge yourself to become more complete at your craft - build the great habit of ignoring the instant urge to begin “designing” and instead start with decision making. Write out your objectives, consider the biggest parts of the project first, and give yourself a much higher chance of seeing that project succeed.
At the very beginning of this year, the time of year we all try to be especially self-reflective, I wrote down why 2011 would be different. I really believed it, for lots of different reasons. One of these ideas struck me as particularly important — Document the Journey — the idea that sharing the challenges, successes and failures along the way were of upmost importance; as a record of history and as a learning exercise in articulating my thoughts and ideas in the realm of interactive design and the Internet. It didn’t matter if other people read it or not, it was important in my own personal growth as a designer and, to some extent, as a person.
Smash cut to August 31st: the idea of starting a design related blog exists as an item in my to-do list only, a place where my (many) ideas like to gather and boldly mock me. There is more to this scene however - called in with the rest of the designers & developers (I was the Creative Director) to the board room of iP Internet’s office, our Managing Director gives us the surprise announcement of the year:
"I’ve got some bad news. I’ve received some advice… and that advice is to liquidate the company."
And in the blink of an eye we handed in our keys, said our goodbyes and left. It was definitely a shock to the system, and there are all sorts of small details that need to be wound up (including taking care of the clients we have built relationships with for years), but the truth was this clean slate was exactly what I needed. Even though I was proud of our team and the hard work we put in every day, I’m truly excited for the brand new challenge this puts squarely in front of me.
That challenge is simple: get a brand new portfolio online and start exploring the opportunities that lie ahead. I’ve given myself this week to launch, keeping all the important design lessons I’ve learnt along the way (I’ll be sharing these) in mind, I’ll design and build my personal online presence from scratch, be kept accountable via this blog, and definitely learn a thing or two along the way. That’s just the beginning. One thing I can do is make my to-do list one item shorter:
And now I just have to keep doing it. Hope this encourages other people to start doing the same.