More thoughts by Geri Coady
I received my very first computer in 1998 at the age of 15. When I got bored of playing the MechWarrior and Pitfall games that came with it, I began scouring the web to learn how I could create my own website.
I struggled, a lot. I found basic how-to guides online, but I often had questions that went unanswered. I didn’t have any friends who I could ask for advice, and back then there were no classes in school that taught web design, so I couldn’t ask my teachers. I didn’t understand the concept of mailing lists. I didn’t know how IRC worked, but that didn’t matter since I didn’t know there were chat rooms out there, anyway.
There was definitely one good thing, though, about learning on a younger web. When I finally did figure it out, I was surprised at how easy it actually was. Armed with a text editor, all I really needed to learn was some basic HTML.
The learning curve was nowhere near as steep as it is today. Think about how simple browser testing was. Slapping a “Best Viewed In X” button on a splash page pretty much meant that, hey, you weren’t responsible if the site looked bad for another user. And let’s face it—expectations for design on the web were pretty rock-bottom back then. As long as your site had a few GIFs and a Webring graphic, you were pretty much good to go.
Fast-forward fifteen years. I’ve often thought about how it must feel to be a complete newbie these days who’d like to get started in web design and make really cool stuff from scratch. Today’s bar is set much, much higher.
Recently, a friend of mine decided that he wanted to learn how to make his own website. He’d heard of basic things like HTML and CSS, but a little bit of digging unearthed a whole other pile of terms he didn’t understand—wireframing, content management systems, frameworks, responsive design—the list went on. He was overwhelmed, and I certainly couldn’t blame him—even seasoned pros can’t possibly stay on top of every new thing.
As overwhelming as the web has become today, though, we’re lucky to have more resources than ever, and more importantly, we have a much stronger community. My friend was able to ask numerous people for opinions and advice, pick up a magazine, choose from a wealth of easy-to-read books, and try some basic online training courses. With some helpful guidance, he was able to get his own site up and running and learned a lot in the process.
I certainly hope that web design doesn’t become so complicated that it will discourage new talent from getting involved. Experienced designers should make the time and effort to help each other and pass their skills along to the next generation so that ten years from now, the web will be even better than we can dream of.
Changing someone’s opinion often seems like a futile endeavour.
While I’ve been designing websites for years, I only began to get involved in the community and attend conferences just under three years ago. When I first saw folks arguing on Twitter about the low number of women speaking at events, I was pretty quick to pipe up and say something I’ve heard so many others say — that I didn’t care about the gender of the speaker so long as they were qualified.
As time went on, though, I started to question my opinion. What exactly does being “qualified” mean, anyway? Who gets to decide that Designer A is more “qualified” to speak than Designer B, especially if both are considered successful in their field?
Having diversity in your conference lineup does not mean you are sacrificing the quality of the speakers, for I now believe that every hard-working person in this industry can bring something to the table that someone else can learn from.
Open your mind and listen to what others say without immediately dismissing them, no matter how passionate you feel about a topic — you just might find yourself with some changed opinions of your own. Mine certainly changed, and I’m glad it did.
It’s mid-February as I write this thought. Two weeks ago, I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life, but one I’d been thinking about for a long time—I quit my job.
I quit my job at a small advertising agency where I was an Art Director and Designer for nearly five years. I’m leaving a steady paycheck behind and learning how to fend for myself. Truthfully, it’s taken me nearly two years to build up enough confidence to hand in my notice—I’ve never really considered myself much of a risk taker.
It’s now time to focus on me for a while. I’ll be spending the month of March writing a small book and working on my new portfolio.
It’s my turn to call the shots around here, and I can’t wait to see what happens.
This is an exciting week for me, but also one where I feel a little bit guilty. Coming up on Friday is the Sixteenth Annual Skills Canada Provincial Competition for Newfoundland and Labrador (my home province). It may be a mouthful, but it’s definitely a wonderful opportunity for young people interested in trades and technology.
Skills Canada is a not-for-profit organisation which I’ve been a part of for many years as a competitor, coach, and technical committee member. It’s all part of the larger organisation, World Skills, which brings students who excel in their field together for four intensive days of competition. There are competitions in web design, graphic design, video production, cooking, baking, hairstyling, carpentry, bricklaying, and many more—I kind of like to refer to it as the “Nerd Olympics.” The ultimate goal, of course, is to represent your country at the biannual World Skills Competition (the next one is hosted in Leipzig, Germany this July).
I competed in Skills Canada throughout high school and college, in both web design and graphic design, and after college I stayed with the organisation as a technical committee member for graphic design. After seeing a greater need to help students get involved in web design, I switched committees and I now run annual workshops for students under the age of sixteen. This Friday, I’ll get to help run the provincial competition, judge the projects, and decide who’ll be sent to the nationals to represent this province.
I’m sure you’re thinking that this all sounds great—so why do I feel guilty?
I feel guilty because I don't spend enough time volunteering as I should, could, and want to.
Granted, it isn’t easy. Since college, I’ve been trying to balance a full-time day job with freelance on the side and still make time to teach myself new things, work on my own projects, keep in shape, spend time with friends, and not get burned out in the process. Now, I’ve got a full-time freelance life to sort out on top of even more exciting opportunities. There are people out there who seem to be able to do all of this and much more—what’s their secret? Who knows.
I guess the most important thing is that I’m doing something, no matter how small or infrequent it might be. I’ll definitely try to do more than I have been doing, even if it just means increasing the number of workshops that I hold. These kids are our future, and without mentors, we might lose them before they even realise the opportunities that they have. And I’d feel much more guilty about that.
I’m not much of a ranter—probably because I’m rarely so opinionated about a given topic. But, every now and then, something happens that ruffles my feathers and drives me up the wall. Most designers tend to be irritated by bad kerning or Comic Sans abuse, but honestly, I’ve gotten over those long ago. So, what’s my pet peeve, you ask?
Simple—the double-space after a period (or full stop, for my British friends).
I get a lot of eye-roll reactions from people who think it isn’t a big deal, but as a designer who’s had to deal with laying out client-supplied copy riddled with the silly things, it definitely does matter. Double spaces in large bodies of text can create unintentional gaps called rivers which are distracting to the eye, especially when reading for an extended period of time.
I once did a job for a client where the supplied copy I needed to paste into the layout was full of not only double spaces, but also triple and even quadruple spaces. Yes, that’s right—four spaces after a period. Not even a find-and-replace could catch everything. What’s worse is that after I stripped them out and sent it back for approval, a second round of revised copy would come back with every double, triple, and quadruple space added back in. A disaster.
Before you say that websites strip them out, that’s not true. Plenty of content management systems preserve the double space when publishing content, and even Twitter’s website now preserves them in tweets. (I like the line break support, though.)
Some people say the double-space is a relic from the days of the typewriter where it was often required to tap the space key twice to make sentence spacing more legible. Eventually the habit was adopted by computer users, too, even though modern fonts support sentence spacing not supported by the typewriter. It’s still taught in many typing classes today, resulting in a rather large number of people who are convinced that it’s the right thing to do.
A person once tried to defend the double-space by presenting me with information of what some publishers used to do back in the 1800s. That’s cool, except that this is the 21st century, and the single-space convention was adopted by publishers many years ago. I challenge you to open any modern book, newspaper, or magazine, and observe what you see.
Are you typesetting a book that emulates the look of the original Sherlock Holmes novels? Sure, go ahead and use the double-space. Are you designing a poster that’s meant to look like Peggy Olson’s copy for “The Rejuvenator”? Fill your boots, I say! In these cases, designing with the double-space can be used as an extra detail to bring more authenticity and reflect the period in which it would have appeared.
But guys, I’m begging you. It’s 2013. Why would you waste valuable Twitter characters on such a useless thing? Try to break the bad habit, okay?
I lost my iPad on a flight and I’m currently stuck in a region of Italy with barely any wireless connectivity (and let’s not even talk about getting 3G reception or even being able to purchase a SIM card to begin with). The wireless hotspots I can connect to are so slow that most websites are unusable, so dealing with reporting lost items and filling out forms is not exactly a quick or simple activity. If you think the size of websites doesn’t matter because everyone has a good connection these days, think again. Even in a modern country like this one, proper internet access is a privilege. Don’t assume otherwise.
The student I mentored for the Skills Canada National Competition won a bronze medal in the intense two-day Web Development and Design competition in Vancouver last month. I’m really proud of him, especially considering that he only started to learn web design a couple of months ago. It’s nice to be reminded of what you can achieve if you really give it your all, and how great it feels to see a student develop a passion. It’s what teaching is all about.
Throughout my life I’ve struggled with my health and fitness. In high school, I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without being winded. I couldn’t walk to my friend’s house for lunch without breaking a sweat. I couldn’t get clothes that fit me (at least, not the clothes that I wanted to wear). I hated all those things, yet I continued to ignore them and carry on with the only lifestyle I was familiar with.
Five years ago I decided that enough was enough. I finally accepted the fact that I was headed down the wrong path and needed to do something about it.
Since then, I’ve lost nearly sixty pounds. Not only do I feel more confident, but I feel much healthier — and that alone is worth the struggle.
The nature of our industry makes it far too easy to slip into the habit of sitting in our chairs and staring at a screen for hours on end, day in, day out. But what’s the point of making cool stuff if we feel like garbage in every other way? That’s my motivator — I don’t want to feel like garbage anymore.
Let’s be clear — changing your lifestyle (did I mention I hate the word ‘diet?’) isn’t going to happen overnight. Baby steps are incredibly important. Set smaller goals so you don’t get discouraged. Work your exercise plans into your schedule, and never let work interrupt it. Make more time to prepare healthy meals, and learn how to order healthier options on days when you absolutely must grab some take-out. Read the labels on everything you buy. Cut back on sugar. Get more sleep. Doing something is always better than doing nothing.
If you don’t know where to start, download an app like My Fitness Pal for keeping a food and exercise diary, or if you like geeky gadgets, pick up a Fitbit. Find a friend who’ll take on the challenge with you — it’s always easier when you can hold each other accountable.
Being successful means nothing if you aren’t around to enjoy it in the long run. Let’s start taking better care of ourselves — not as a New Year’s Resolution, not next week, but right now. Seriously. Those e-mails can wait.
I was really hoping that ridiculous job titles in our industry were on the way out. You know, things like “Web Weaving Wizard with a Black Belt in Social Media Kung-Fu.” But sadly, I was wrong.
Call me a party pooper, but I’m tired of how immature it sounds—this stuff isn’t actually magic.
Can you imagine other well-respected professionals adopting these types of job titles?
Why not visit a Surgery Superhero to save you from that tumor?
Is that ice cream just a little too sensitive? You could always check in at the Tooth Fairy.
Are you suffering from that funny burning sensation when you pee? Best make an appointment with a Genital Guru!
Ray-Bans going out of style? Your neighbourhood Vision Magician will be sure to outfit you in the hippest new specs.
If none of the above will solve your needs, you could see a Computer Necromancer, Artisanal Accountant, Hair Architect, Tax Deity, or Customer Service Craftsman. Or maybe a Radiology Rockstar, Photo Conjuror, Insurance Artist, Word Processing Warrior, or Import/Export Idol.
Enough said (I hope).
If we expect our clients to respect us and treat us like real professionals, let’s respect ourselves first.
So, tell me again, what do you do?
I really like the idea of doing one thing and doing it well.
I’ll admit that I was one of those people who wanted to learn how to do absolutely everything, but I’m getting much better at controlling where I spend my time and effort. Once upon a time, I wanted to learn Flash, software development, After Effects, 3D modelling—the list went on. It was even difficult for me to drop the “Photographer” title on my business card when I went freelance. But these days, I prefer to focus on illustration and web design only.
Introducing too many products or services can weaken your brand and the quality of your work if you aren’t careful.
I remember when I was obsessed with Threadless and had a wish list of t-shirts I was going to buy. These days, I don’t even bother looking at the website. There’s too much stuff—too many contests, too many types of products, and what I think to be too many sub-par designs. Call me picky, but I feel like the overall quality of the basic idea—their t-shirt, has gone downhill over the past couple of years. It doesn’t feel special or exciting anymore.
Remember the time when there were six versions of Windows Vista, and one version of OS X? Giving customers too many choices can be overwhelming and confusing. If you do it, you’d damn well better make sure you do it right and never allow it to affect the quality.
I just got back from New York City and noticed the same idea in shops—one of my favourites being One Girl Cookies in Brooklyn. Don’t go there and expect to get a Starbucks-sized menu, because you’re not going to find it. One Girl Cookies is arguably famous for their delicious whoopie pies, and besides their namesake cookies, you might find only one cake option per day. They know what their customers come for, and they do a fantastic job at keeping consistent quality.
It can feel stressful in a world where designers and developers are expected to know everything about everything. I’m certainly not advising for a designer to not bother learning code, or for a developer to not care about visual details, but try not to lose sight of what really makes you special.
Last night I was speaking to a good friend of mine about the state of design trends in the industry. Like me, he’s an illustrator, but with a little less experience in the web world. He’s now working in a studio that specializes in app design, and his stories are all too familiar.
“A guy told me I couldn’t use a button in an interface because it wasn’t very iOS 7.”
Um… okay, then.
I should say that I’ve liked Apple and have exclusively used Mac OS and iOS since switching from Windows back in 2004. But as devoted as I may be, being a fan of the brand is not an excuse to hop on a bandwagon.
I find it pretty alarming when a single company’s design decisions can make other designers develop a fear of falling behind or looking dated. It’s even more alarming when these design decisions are taken as gospel with no deeper thought.
Should we really be dropping buttons, even if it negatively affects intuitive interaction patterns or confuses people with cognitive disabilities? Should we really be using thin type to look “modern” at the risk of decreasing legibility? And tell me, should we really be dropping textures and reducing contrast because it’s the “stylish” thing to do this week?
“I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘Oh, this illustration has texture, I think it would look better flat and a little more 2013, don’t you think?'”
My friend made an interesting analogy between illustrators and app designers―most successful illustrators have their own signature style that’s attractive because of its uniqueness, but everybody wants apps to look the same. Most illustration styles seem to stand up to the test of time, but last year’s app now looks like this year’s Uggs-with-leggings fashion faux-pas.
Design is homogenizing, and I’m not happy with how one company can have such a strong effect over the entire industry. We’re supposed to be figuring out the most appropriate solution for each design problem—not simply apply a trendy veneer.
Can we all just try to be a little more appropriate? Who knows, we might even look a little more unique in the end.
One more thought by Geri Coady will be published
- Tuesday, 10 December