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Thoughts about web design

This is an area where progress is happening continually, and sometimes it seems like people do stuff for no other reason than that it is hard to do.

Hardly a thought is spared for the fact that most of what we expect from the experience of visiting a website was not even on the agenda when the World Wide Web was first thought of.

Adding mobile devices to the mix and the technical aspect of designing an online user experience becomes doubly hard.

In the struggle to keep up with technology designing for people is often forgotten.

As I mentioned music in my previous post an analogy from a guitarist’s point of view is fitting: There are countless young players out there (mostly male, which might have some bearing on the current state of affairs…), almost all of them are doing the same thing.

Learning to play scales as fast as humanly possible. And that’s quite fast – see for yourself on Youtube! Sadly, they forget to use their skills to make music.

Something akin to this happens with web design as well. Work with the wow factor is focused on, but the human visitor to the website ends up with something less than optimal when it comes to being able to do what they came there to do. Granted, it might look impressive and the site might actually work on any hand held device you could think of. But…

No, I don’t want websites to look like they were designed in the 1980’s, and I do want them to work on the devices people will actually use to visit them.

So, where do I fit in here?

I do enjoy the more technical aspect of web design, as well as the aesthetic side and the usability. And I like learning, which is a must for a web designer.

Perhaps this has to do with being a more mature person, having gained an understanding of people during my journey.

In my world, most things are about finding a balance. Somewhere between practicality and wow is where I am aiming.

 

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11 of 12

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By Dimitri Popov, on Unsplash

Finding your niche

What if I could work with something I actually like doing?

“When you love something, it doesn’t feel like work.”

Natalie Massenet

I don’t mind working as in doing something in return for payment – unless we are born to very rich parents (ones that doesn’t cut you off just because they can…) we all have to make money somehow.

And it isn’t a matter of being sensible either – I’ve seen eyelashes for cars, so I know it is possible to sell anything. And if you don’t believe me: follow this link!

So, with that out of the way, it’s time to delve into what I love doing!

If I didn’t enjoy creating visual design in one form or the other I would not be studying graphic design, so this would have to go on my list of possibilities. Music is another aspect of the same creative mind, and this right up there with design.

Specialist or generalist, that is the question

My personal view is that it is important to have a broad understanding of whatever area you intend to work in as it helps you making sound choices.

At this point in time I’m not entirely sure of where my strengths lie – studying is a sort of a fact finding mission in as much as there will be opportunities to try out things you never thought of before.

Photography and repeating patterns are two things I have had a fascination with for a long time, but one new thing I have tried and liked is animated GIFs, which I find almost addictive! There is also a commercial outlet for these as Flash animations are becoming unpopular due to the lack of support on mobile devices. A lot of advertising requires short and to the point animations.

In particular I want to look into animating SVG graphics. It is a complex area and I currently don’t know enough about this to even do anything useful, beyond experimenting. Perhaps something to consider for my final year.

 

10 of 12

Self promotion

You can be the best there is, but if no-one knows about you, it won’t benefit you.

I have to be honest – I’m no good at selling. While there are people who thrive on selling and really enjoy it, I am just not that way inclined.

Now, I want to be a graphic designer – and one who works for himself at that, so I’ll have to learn how to promote myself and sell my services. I know clients don’t buy features or services, they buy solutions, so I have to sell solutions to their design problems!

There are a few option when it comes to promoting myself, and I am planning to use the ones that will help me to get the jobs I want.

A CV is useful if you want to get employed, so here’s my attempt at writing one suitable for the creative sector:

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Curriculum Vitae PDF

Business cards are still used when meeting people face to face and a necessity for freelancers and businesses alike:

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Post card sized marketing material is something I personally like – useful for advertising a particular service or problem solving skill:

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A web site is a must for a web designer, and mostly for graphic designers, animators, and illustrators in general as well. Although mine is overdue for an update:

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Here’s a link to my website!

An online portfolio is a way to be found by potential clients and other designers that are looking for a collaboration partner. I have one on Behance, a portfolio site that is frequented by industry professionals. Just like my web site this is in need of an overhaul:

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Here’s a link to my Behance portfolio!

09 of 12

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A glimpse of a real life graphic design studio

Square One Creative is a Derby based multi-disciplined graphic design studio.

Maggie Lucas whom I spoke to is the Sales and Marketing Director, and she agreed to answer a few questions. And was kind enough to supply an image to use as well! These are her personal views and not the ones of Square One Creative:

 

01: Tell me about the inception of Square One Creative. Who is Maggie Lucas and why did you decide to start your own agency instead of working for someone else?

Have worked in the graphic design industry for over 25 years, I did see the good and bad of different design agencies and felt we could do it so much better.
02: What are some important character traits in a graphic designer? Being a graphic designer is about many other things than designing stuff. What other qualities are important?

Attention to detail is very important, being constantly appraising/ critiquing your own work – I have found that it helps if you are a good communicator, you have to have a good degree of patience. If you are thinking of starting your own business in graphic design you have to be good at networking/finances/be very organised etc, this is why a lot of freelance graphic designers struggle getting new clients as they do not have the skill set to get new business.
03: There seems to be many design businesses in the area, so there is plenty of competition around. What is it about Derby that makes it a good location for this type of business?

The tables have really turned in Derby/Nottingham. A few years ago Nottingham was seen as where the creative design agencies were but because of Derby Uni, a lot of talent has studied at Derby, set up home here and in deed their business. 
04: Speaking of businesses, how important is it to be a good business person for a designer?

If you are a graphic designer working in an agency or in a corporate position it doesn’t really matter if you have a business mind BUT if you are working as a freelancer or in your own company it is essential.
05: As for me, being a new kid on the block – what’s the best way to find clients? 
I have in the past tried networking groups and done the whole breakfast networking routine without any success. Would you recommend joining Chamber of Commerce, or any other local organisations or groups?

I have mentioned this above, this is the hardest part of the whole design industry and I think if I had the solution I would be a very rich lady. It is down to hard graft networking – I have been doing it for 25 plus years, and have found it is all about building your reputation, producing good, reliable, consistent cost effective work. Making good contacts, finding the right network that works for you, probably finding a niche that you like designing for ie a particular business sector, get some experience in that sector and then sell yourself as a specialist in that field. Things have changed, you must have a good website, you must use all the different platforms out there, twitter, linked in etc to build your brand.
06: What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started out in this industry?

If I had realised how competitive and hard this industry was I would have thought twice about setting up my own business, it is very hard work but equally rewarding. Prices are constantly being driven down by sites like fiverr, also some people think that is design and creativity is not something tangible it should be free!!
07: I have to mention the B-word at some point. What’re your thoughts on Brexit? Not so much if you are for or against it – I’m more interested in your thoughts on how the design industry is going to be affected by Brexit – perhaps you’ve seen some changes already?

I think Brexit through a lot of businesses into panic. We don’t work with any European Companies so I do not feel it will affect us BUT I do know designers that have struggled as some businesses based in UK that were Euro businesses have decided to move now so those designers have lost that work.
08: Do you still use Adobe CC, or are you looking to switch to other applications, after their decision to switch to a subscription model? My impression is that this new model benefits big agencies and I’ve heard and read that many individuals and smaller agencies are now looking elsewhere for creative software.

Have not heard about professional designers looking at alternatives. Adobe Creative Suite is available at reduced cost to students and is the industry standard, we have been using the Creative Suite on subscription for several years and find it easier that having to pay huge chunks to upgrade to latest version.


09: Anything else you’d like to tell me that might be important for me as a graphic designer?

I think I have mentioned above but find a sector that you enjoy working in and specialise in that, find where these type of businesses hang out, network with them there, write articles and try and get them published on platforms they read/frequent.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. It is much appreciated!

08 of 12

Slip Sliding Away

Embed from Getty Images

Time management is hard. Not just for meeting deadlines, wasting time is just so easy when it comes to all parts of your life.

How can I separate work time from the rest of my life? Should I even try to do that?

Being an employee at a company, where you go to a workplace during the working week automatically separates work from all other types of time. Even when I worked as a service engineer and was based at home this separation was quite easy as when a job was assigned to me I had to get it done within a certain time.

Now as a student I have to produce work at specific dates and even if I can chose when to finalise things there is still the date looming at a horizon – admittedly one that is creeping closer and closer.

For a future as a graphic designer I need to be organised and efficient. Time management and business practices has got to work for me.

I realise the key here is planning ahead. But how can I do that? Are there any tools available to assist me in achieving time planning nirvana?

I’ve looked into using software to make my working life organised and come to realise that more than anything else I need to be reminded of when something has got to be done, so here are some of the options that seem useful to me:

Appgenix Business Calendar 2 is easy to set up and use, and has got reminders as well.

Trello helps me to organise projects in more detail and has To Do lists and reminders.

I already use Pinterest and Evernote to collate ideas, as well as Box to store and share files.

Wave looks promising for invoicing, as well as a range of other services that could come in handy later on.

I’ve used Getty’s free images for non-profit blogs for this post. They are free to embed, easy to use, but if an image used is withdrawn from this type of usage there could be problems (as in no image). Worth a try though.

07 of 12

New Challenges

Discovering GIFs and learning SVG animation is the beginning – learning how to best use these formats is the other part of the challenge.

Making my first ever animated GIFs I found that I really enjoyed the process, even if the outcomes were very basic.

Researching how to make more advanced animated GIFs I came across how to use them in advertising, which is a useful application of a simple type of animation.

From a usability point of view the GIF file format is preferable to Flash as it works across most platforms and devices – unlike Flash.

As an example, here are the individual images that makes up one of the basic GIFs I created during my initial session:

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And here is the GIF itself:

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When it comes to SVGs and in particular using animated SVGs on the world wide web there are more than one issue to deal with.

Scalability is not one of them, as SVGs scale very well – and is why they work well online.

Animation can be done in a few different ways:

  1. CSS3
  2. JavaScript
  3. Editing the SVG file directly

For use on the web, I will likely have to do some or all of the above, depending on how complex the outcome needs to be.

After researching the subject matter I’ve come to the conclusion that I should use SnapSVG (http://snapsvg.io), even though I’ve looked into using a different JavaScript library called GreenSock (https://greensock.com) in the past.

As my Design Bridge project is a web site which is utilising animated SVGs to tell a story I have good reason to learn more about how to make the most of this format.

To conclude:

These short animated sequences do appeal to me and seem somehow manageable.

I enjoy telling a story is a simple format, which is a new discovery for me, and I will carry on learning more about how to best use these in real life applications.

06 of 12

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Taking the scenic route

One of my shortcomings is that I often go with the first idea I get. The first good one that seems worth developing anyway. Oftentimes, this is the one I end up using as well.

At least if I don’t hit some obstacle along the way and have to start over from the beginning again.

As I want to end up with the best outcome for every project I work on I really need to do better than that.

I admit that the motorway to Liverpool didn’t really qualify as scenic, but it was something different compared to the norm. Perhaps this is analogous to what I should do – something other than what I always do.

The work flow in any and every design project I do follows a familiar route. Breaking out of my self imposed boundaries is not going to be an easy task but if the results are worthwhile I must at least try to change something. At some point – perhaps not all the time as what I’ve done so far does work quite well. But could work better.

After a search on the web I ended up with a dizzying array of flowcharts and infographics that made me quite literally dizzy, I looked at how some of the graphic and web designers I see doing great work go about making the right decisions.

I learned a lot from the Brighton based firm Clearleft as they have a number of case studies on their website. Here is a link: https://clearleft.com

One takeaway is that they involve their clients in the design process when this is possible (and in some cases end users as well).

In the case of the feasibility study for the design and technology of self-service kiosks for Suffolk Libraries they use a week-long combination of feasibility study and design sprint, which uncovered issues they had to work around.

Working on the The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s fully responsive website they used a different method:

Beginning with planning a pilot scheme, performing extensive user research including public workshops with residents and council experts.

Creating an innovative information architecture design, a browser-based prototype for usability testing, and finishing off with giving training in responsive web design.

A different approach when needed – not stuck in one mode of operating.

Now I have at least some thoughts that hopefully will help me move forward in this respect. Instead of heading straight for the computer I will:

  • Research my audience
  • Get to understand who I am designing for
  • Check out the competition
  • Make sure I understand the media I design for
  • If possible have others looking at your designs
  • Choose the right tools, technology, and methods to produce the work

And I will remember to take the time to try more than one option as well!