Category Archives: Web Design

A Layered Approach

An often overlooked element of the work-flow process is layers. All the Adobe products use layers. They are great – you can have a layer for every little line in your project if you want. It’s actually a great thing for editing a file later. So when aren’t they beneficial? When you haven’t named a single one of them and someone else has to use your file to edit a project. Note: the next person could be you in six months. Will you remember what Layer 135 is?

I think it all started when, at my first job as an in-house designer, I inherited all the files from the previous designer. I had to click through so many layers to find what I needed, re-labeling, re-grouping and deleting empty layers. A half hour at least for every file I had to open. Multiply that by even just 10 files and looks how much time is wasted. Right then and there, every file I created was labeled, grouped and clearly named. This became a blessing when the company hired two more designers and I already had a workflow in place.

Layers Mess

The Offending File

Another more recent example – I downloaded a template file that a client purchased. I open the file, ready to get to work and what a letdown. None of the layers have names or they are weird names that make no sense to me. It took me an unnecessary 20 minutes just to nail down the layers and where things were.

Sure, it might seem tedious to name every layer. How about folders? You can group layers into folders named Header, Footer, Right Sidebar, etc. and, even if you don’t name the layers, at least you can drill down right to the specific area you need to edit and instead of going through 50 layers you only need to go through 10. I do both.

Neat Layers

Neat & Organized

I name every layer and then group things into named folders. I’m a freelancer and, at this point, I’m the only one who works on my files but my workflow is so much easier because I can just open a file, zero right in to where I need to be. But who knows – maybe I’ll have an assistant someday. I wouldn’t want nightmare files slowing down the person who is supposed to be helping me. Besides being a bit anal and knowing that I have to practice what I preach, I just think it’s courteous and although I’m usually only being courteous to myself  – if I’m not courteous to myself, who will be?

Side Note: I recently worked with another designer who sent me the psd files that I would be using to develop the website. Of course, I was thinking the files were going to be a mess when I got them but I was wrong! Much to my surprise, this fellow designer created her files like I do. Naming every layer and grouping the areas in folders. The project was a breeze to develop.

HTML5 for Web Designers

HTML5 for Web Designers

HTML5 for Web Designers by Jeremy Keith

The first book of abookapart, HTML5 for Web Designers, whose goal was to be “clear, brief and specific with a touch of humor” were quite successful in their endeavor!

The book is 89 pages including the index, foreword, table of contents, about abookapart, about the author and a note on the font. Even the copyright and ISBN information are brief! Cleary brevity was achieved but can you be specific and clear in that amount of space? Yes and we’re not talking a 4 point font with no whitespace either. No sir! This is a great little book that manages to provide a history of mark-up, the new features of HTML and nifty little workable Javascript tricks to gracefully degrade in browsers without full HTML5 support thereby providing an almost seamless user experience.

It is a great little book with lots of good examples of how to use these new HTML5 elements throughout. I highly recommend! And a note to author Jeremy Keith: if you ever need back-up in your hunt for the users of autoplay and loop – I’ve got your back!

My Own Worst Design Enemy

A Corner of
My Future Site

I am currently in the process of redesigning my own website, which showcases a portfolio of my web design work along with my photography. It is long overdue and certainly could benefit from more copy and a more coherent design and flow. Looking at the site from a potential client or employer’s perspective one would wonder who this designer is. What does this designer have to offer? On the surface, it doesn’t look like much.

The design aspect of my site is definitely farther along than the copy which is unfortunate because it is really better to design with content than without. Designing without the copy can lead to a whole host of issues including continually redesigning and, were it for a client, extra charges. While I may not be charging myself, I don’t want to waste my own time either.

Writing copy for the web is a little different, as many articles will tell you. The copy needs to be succinct but as detailed as possible because it needs to be found by search engines and users otherwise it’s just a pretty element of cyberspace. The thing that gets in the way is the search engine optimization (SEO) aspect of the writing. While there are key phrases and words you want to find you in a search, you also don’t want to sound like you’re writing just for the search, which is part of what was holding me back writing copy for my site. I could blame it on writer’s block but I can eke out a few blog posts and a lot of poetry in a given time span so clearly it isn’t writer’s block. Part of it of course, is determining who I am as a designer and then making that work with ‘key phrases’ and part of it is my perfection confinement: it has to be right the first time.

An article I read the other day at Website Magazine really helped. And the thing that got me was that as a writer, the advice was so obvious. “Start by writing 2 or 3 bulleted points that you want to make….” Wow. Brilliant, eh? That’s the basis for essay writing in high school: the outline. (Incidentally, I don’t think I ever wrote an outline that was worth anything. I went right into the writing part – I guess its coming back to haunt me now!) Using this paramount piece of advice for the ‘elevator pitch’ at the beginning of my resume, which was also eluding me, I broke through these barriers and I feel that I’m ready to move on to tackle the copy on my website.

Another good point at the Web Designer Depot was to “Think about the story you want to tell at each point in the design process.” This is something that was definitely missing from my approach. Looking at how I was proceeding in my own site design, I was seeing each page as its own entity, separate from any other page but this shouldn’t be the case. A website, in this instance mine, should have a solid idea as a whole and each page should support that. I am my worst client. I was doing all the things that frustrate me in dealing with clients. Not provide copy, not having a clear vision of flow, not thinking about the audience. No wonder I have been stumbling all over the place.

I now have a much more clear vision of what I want the site to do and I see my little cyber niche becoming a much more enjoyable place to land.

Say Something!

Over the thanksgiving holiday, I was in West Virginia visiting my parents. They live across from West Liberty University where my father teaches theater. Unbeknownst to me, my father spoke with Jim, the web design teacher and asked him if he would like a practicing web designer speak in front of his class. That web designer would be me.

I was a little put off at first. What could I possibly offer to these students and I said as much. Dad said you don’t have to decide right now, think about it a bit. So, before drifting off into the sweet slumber of vacation, I thought about it. As it turns out a number of things began popping up that I thought might be good to share with graduating students. Some of the most important parts of being a designer, at least as far as what I’m going through, are being able to compromise and not being afraid to speak-up.

When a CEO or a marketer, for example, comes up against something that won’t work or isn’t the right strategy for a particular project, what happens? They aren’t afraid to speak up and neither should you. Why? You are the expert. The designer is the expert in his or her field just as a marketer or CEO are the experts in their fields. Designers (you!) know layout, placement, typography and how to use color to convey meaning. And that education is continued all the time. Think about all the blogs you read, magazines you buy, even if they aren’t design related. Designers keep up with trends just the way CEOs keep up with financial and business trends. BUT  a good designer or business person also knows that some things have to be let go, which brings us to…

Compromise. It’s a tough word to love. It means some part of what you wanted must give way to what someone else wants whether it’s a personal or professional relationship. Design is always a compromise from the start between the designer and the end market. What is currently accepted as a trend may not be what the designer would choose but the final piece isn’t for the designer. Throw into that mix producers, managers, art directors and I’m sure a few others as well and there could be a lot of compromising. Not every element needs to be fought for.  If the major element, say the header, is the piece that is really breaking the meaning, fight for that and let the grainy sponsor logos go. If that font is wrong and you know it and other people know it, it’s worth it. Show them a piece like it that worked because of the font change or show them a piece that didn’t work because the header wasn’t given the proper treatment.

These aren’t mind-blowing revelations by any means but I think they’re important. The in-house design department I work in suffered for a long time because we didn’t speak up. We also compromise a lot since there are more than 3 people involved in any given project, which can be frustrating but if you really believe that what you’re thinking should be done will benefit the project, say it.

Forays into twitter

So while I may not tweet myself, my current company certainly does and I figured it was only a matter of time before they were going to want to have their twitter pages more ‘design-y’ as they are wont to say. I was actually on the verge of offering to design one just to get familiar with the interface and so forth when voila! the outlook invite to a twitter design meeting appeared at my inbox horizon. And so I share my first three twitter backgrounds, which, are by no means as stellar as some of the ones featured on Design Reviver, they are certainly functional for the type of company that IIR is, which is an educational conference company.

Shopper 360 // Edge of Marketing // Future of Biopharma

New Site Launch

The most recent launch in my portfolio of events is the November ProjectWorld event/conference.

This program is what every advanced Project Manager or Business Analysts needs. It’s time to Re-Examine and Recharge core fundamentals, Lead Exceptional Execution through these challenging times and sustain long term growth for competitive advantage.

This is the second event in this particular conference series. The other, which was launched a few months ago, is the June ProjectWorld event. Both are very similar in look and feel though the gold element on the November event provides a more regal feeling.

It went smoothly, which, after working in this particular job for 3 1/2 years, makes me antsy. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop! It seems rare that an event would launch so easily. hmmmm…