Eye of the Beholder

I’m a print designer in an interactive design world. It’s taken me a while to adjust. There are habits, notions and assumptions that I’ve developed over time that I’ve had to challenge. My definition of beauty is one of those things.

What makes a website beautiful? I don’t think it’s trendy fonts, creative scroll hijacking, interactive videos or anything else that’s visually impressive.

Beauty on the web to me is being able to successfully search on a mobile device for an item on an ecommerce site. Beauty on the web to me is an accessible site that’s easy to navigate using a screen reader. Beauty on the web is a website that just works, no matter the circumstances. Trent Walton explains it very well in his post Device Agnostic:

Like cars designed to perform in extreme heat or on icy roads, websites should be built to face the reality of the web’s inherent variability.

If you’re a graphic designer branching off into web design, I want to impart this valuable piece of wisdom: care about your user. Put yourself in their place. Imagine them trying to access your site from a phone with only one bar of 3G reception. Be sympathetic to situations where users are accessing your site without JavaScript enabled. Prepare for everything.

I’m not saying, “Don’t build cool-looking websites.” Aesthetics are very important to user experience, but they’re not the most important thing. I would rather have a working, usable website that looks like it was built in 1996 on Geocities than a super-trendy, flat-design, huge-photo, non-responsive site that I can’t use on my phone.

Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Keep the beholder in mind.

On Brevity

I just read this fantastic post on email etiquette from Mattan Griffel, and it made me step back and examine the crazy long emails I am wont to write. In the post, Mattan highlights five rules for better emails. I won't list them all, but I will talk about my personal number one major email offense.

Keeping it Short

Anyone who's ever gotten an email from me can attest to the fact that I love to write short novels in place of emails. And they never. Get. Read. Ever. You'd think I would've learned by now. Mattan's advice is quite possibly some of the best advice you as a professional designer could ever follow:

If you can keep an email to less than 2 or 3 sentences, it’s much easier to read it right then. If your email is longer than a paragraph or two, people will often put off reading it and it will probably take you longer to get a response.

My special assignment for the rest of the month is to keep my emails short and to the point. Therefore, I hereby promise to resist the urge to provide backstory, share detailed instructions and ask impossibly long questions in email.

Read the entire article on Medium. It's life-changing.

Never Stop Learning

I’ve been a print designer for almost ten years now, and I’ve recently made a considerable effort to start transitioning into the web field. It’s been slow going, but incredibly rewarding, mostly because learning is what fuels me. It’s what drives me to grow as a creative. I wholeheartedly believe that if you aren’t constantly challenging yourself to learn, you’re going to die creatively.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share with you, the diligent designer, how I (try to) stay on top of things.

First of all, I have learned to become a student of myself. How can you do this, you ask? Take strength tests, self-evaluations, ask others who know you well what they think you’re good at, etc. Learn how you learn, and most importantly, learn what you’re passionate about. This will help you in your journey as a lifetime student. I love to learn, and my strengths include collecting information, as well as exploring new ideas, so I incorporate that knowledge into my learning. I read articles everyday and keep list of everything useful that I’ve read, as well as articles I want to read. That way, I have a searchable library of things I can reference at my fingertips. That brings me to my second tip.

Read. If you aren’t reading blogs and books and magazines, you’re cheating yourself out of a cornucopia of ideas ripe for the picking. Use what you’ve learned about yourself to focus in on the subjects that pertain to you. And make sure you read for enjoyment as well. Few things can enrich one’s life like a good book. I always try to have a good fiction book to work in with one or two non-fiction books.

Third, write about what you’re learning. I’m doing that right now. Writing, contrary to what Plato said, is a great way to solidify your knowledge. Journal, blog, tweet. I don’t care, just write.

Fourth, figure out what your opinions are. Take a stand on certain things, principles that you gather from what you’ve learned. Defend those opinions in open debate with others in your field. Blogging and social media are great places for this. Do this respectfully, of course, but always with conviction. If you want to debate with someone, give me a shout out on Twitter. I love debate.

Finally, do what you’re learning. If you aren’t actually applying what you’ve learned, is it actual knowledge? I don’t think it is. You have to use what you are learning in order to fully understand new concepts and/or techniques. Be creative in how you do this. Maybe you just finished an intense study of grid systems. Be conscious of how you use one in a new design. You just finished a book on typography, so why not go through all of your fonts and categorize them according to their design period?

Learning is a great way to avoid creative stagnation and derivative work. It is a practice that should never stop. We’ve been given the freedom to learn whatever we want, and at a time when knowledge is just a mouse click away, there is no excuse to pursue it without delay.