Inayaili de Leon
More thoughts by Inayaili de Leon
True expertise is revealed when faced with the most difficult problems. If we simply move the obstacles neatly to the side, ignoring them, can we truly call ourselves professionals, or experts at anything?
I like to see constraints (old browsers, small screen sizes, progressive enhancement, accessibility considerations, you name it) as challenges. If I can make something work without avoiding them, I will be prouder about my work and will have learned a whole deal more than if I just chuck them aside.
I would like to draw attention to a concept Antony and I introduced in our book Fragile CSS. With the ubiquity of CSS3 and increasingly complex and precise selectors, it is important to understand that, by using these sometimes too feeble rules, you might be adding a level of fragility to your code that will bring you trouble along the line. Think: Is your content likely to change? Are you making it hard to override this rule in the future? Do you need something more flexible, that you can reuse?
I remember reading an article some time ago (whose author's name now escapes me) about killing projects. Being part of an internal design team that works on various projects sometimes for months, I find this a particularly important issue.
How do you tell a group of people the work they've put their blood, sweat and tears into for the past few weeks, months or years, is not important anymore? How do you prevent team morale from slumping to painfully low levels? How do you prevent brilliant minds from leaving the group?
Discussions about tools without a context. Determining that something is inherently bad. Assuming someone else's point of view without ever challenging it. Taking someone's words as your own belief. I would like to see people question creeds more often rather than following someone's snappy and dogmatic opinion blindly.
I would be curious to know how design discussions, reviews, brainstorms, happen within other teams. Few things are more fascinating than seeing the process other designers go through to get to their results, but the documentation is often limited to iterations of visual prototypes. I wish there was a way to listen to the discussions, the argumentation, the things people say when an idea is still evolving, or when someone strikes gold.
There's something about how other designers' work can be brashly evaluated in under 140 characters that has been bothering me for a while now. Anyone who knows me agrees I'm not the warmest person; yet, the lack of empathy and the lack of basic politeness leaves me uneasy.
For a while I’ve been thinking conferences should start introducing shorter talks, so I was quite pleased when Christian Heilmann posted his most recent article “A Call For Shorter Talks”. Christian lists all the reasons I think less is more, including the audience’s short attention span and the need for the speaker to focus his or her talk into a more consise topic. Being someone who is often sitting amongst the audience and some times speaking, I would certainly welcome more 20-minute talks to the detriment of the common 1-hour ones.
Reading The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, I came upon (amongst many others) an interesting topic: collaboration between scientists, how sharing is such an important part of their careers and their success. How even though each scientist pursues individual recognition, that can’t be achieved alone. How papers are signed by 400 scientists, and how the most prominent scientists are also the ones who work with others more frequently. I wonder if there’s something about this way of sharing knowledge and working together that we could learn from and extrapolate for our own disciplines.
Easy to forget during our busy days, writing for me has to be one of the most important things we as designers do. Writing makes you pause to consider what you’ve done. It gives you time to understand problems and organise your thoughts. It’s a way to practice your so important communication skills and your capability to synthesise your ideas and express yourself.
About two years ago I started a little experiment with my personal inbox that has been working surprisingly well.
I have a personal inbox, through which I handle all my freelance work, writing gigs, family and friends, banking communications, etc., and a separate company inbox, which is provided by my employer.
For a few weeks, I decided to try to only reply to email from new contacts in my personal inbox once a week: Sunday evenings, when things are quiet, and people don’t reply back as quickly as mid-week. These emails include prospective design and writing gigs, recruitment agencies, admin stuff like bills, requests for help or interviews, and other non-urgent requests. They do not include current clients, (genuinely) urgent requests and my family.
I use Gmail for my private account. When I get an email, I star it and archive it. As much as I can, I try not to read the details, or I know I’ll be thinking about it all the time, which will distract me until it’s actually time to focus on a response. On Sunday evenings, I’ll sit down and reply to all emails at once. Some weeks this takes longer than others, but most weeks, because I’m completely focused on this task, it can take between 15 to 45 minutes (unless there’s a particularly lengthy email that needs a lot of planning and thinking).
This has been working really well, and since I decided to give this a try I’ve never looked back. Not only does it save me time because I don’t get distracted from my work throughout the week, but it also makes sure that everyone that sent me a genuine contact request gets a reply within a reasonable timescale.
A few years ago I read an article about those people you see in the street, walking about, shopping, having a coffee, in the middle of a weekday, when everyone else is at work. It caught my eye because I always wondered what those people were up to: are they millionaires that don’t have to work, are they just on holiday, what’s up with them?
I’m not going to tell you what they were up to, but it’s not mind blowing (as one might expect). Sadly I lost the link to the article. It’s somewhere on the Internet, but I can’t seem to find it anymore. So, if anyone knows what I’m talking about, I’d be delighted to find that article again.
We’re approaching the end of another year, and I suspect even the most cynical of us will invariably (even if just quietly within the confinements of our mind) look back at the year behind and decide we can do one or two things better in 2013.
Last December, I made one resolution: to sleep more. Throughout 2012 I don’t think I’ve slept less than I had in 2011, although I do notice a significant decrease in the number of naps I’ve taken — perhaps a product of me now sharing my home with two kids and of travelling more. Still, I am sleeping more, albeit still not enough.
This year, I want to sleep even more, I want to work less, I want to have more time to do nothing productive, I want to spend less and waste less, I want to eat more vegetables and fruit, I want to drink more water and less tea, and I want to be proud of the good work that I hope I’ll do and accept responsibility for the bad work that I’ll do too. I know it’s a tall order, but that’s the beauty of this time of year: we believe we can do it all.
Happy New Year.