What better time to discuss the shelf life of a website than as I contemplate creating a new one for myself. This website is about two years old and I’m rather bored of it by now. My first website actually hung around for almost four years before that. I would normally tell someone that three years seems like a good lifespan for a website and by the end of that time technology has made some nice strides and it’s smart to start fresh. If you just spent a fortune on a new website this might seem too soon and I imagine depending on the scale of the project you can make that assessment. I have some earlier clients who have not redone their website in 8+ years. If it still works and you are happy with it, why not ride it out. For me, my personal website is an amalgamation of all my skills and current knowledge. It almost feels out of date months after its done because I am constantly learning. It must be the same for companies looking to sell modern products that rely on being at the forefront of technology. Similar to the cell phone dilemma when you get a new one its never quite new or current enough. Before long its old news. The website industry isn’t quite that bad, but the web does follow trends and if you are caught in the middle, your site could feel dated very soon. I say as long as you incorporate some of the time-tested principles of design (nice typography, ease of use) your website will live a long and healthy life. As for me, the brainstorming begins and a new JLern.com is on the way… hopefully sometime this year.
The Icon Epidemic
If you've looked at a website or app in the past few years then you are very familiar with web icons. They are everywhere nowadays and it appears they are making actual text obsolete in a lot of cases. In an effort to simplify the message visually, web icons are a great solution that make both the designer and user have a more enjoyable experience. I fully embrace this trend and what I love most is that the general web browsing population has become "educated" on what many icons signify. No need for ugly drawn out lists of links - just throw up a nice grid of icons and a user has a very easy navigation to work with. My question is, how far does this go? Is simpler always better? Many mobile applications are becoming so simplified that they just contain a bunch of boxes with icons in them. Add in the swipe technology and there is even less use for any navigation at all. The ultimate goal being that you get the information you're after with the least amount of effort possible. And of course, make it look great. This icon trend appeases both the designer and the developer side of me. Not only can I simplify my web content and make it easier to navigate, I get to incorporate a new design element that actually has a great practical purpose.
Walking the Tightrope of Innovation
I find myself often at a crossroads when planning a concept for a new website. When I first began building websites in the days of Flash, there were no rules. If I could dream it up, then I could produce it and if all goes well it would be praised for its innovation. Nowadays there is such a stress on web standards and usability that a flashy unique concept just doesn't have the same appeal. A majority of the web audience would be turned off by something that doesn't fit their preconceived notion of what a website should be. As an artist I'd like to say well too bad for them, I am going to make this as creative as possible. Unfortunately the audience is such an important factor in decision making that I can't use that frame of thought or I would be out of a job. I find myself always thinking hard about how I can make a website introduce something new and exciting without alienating its viewers. It's a rather tough line to walk and you can't be sure without actual testing and analysis. I want to push the boundaries of web design, but in doing so I can't forget the standards that have come into play over the years. As technology advances there will be more and more options to create anything you can imagine for the web. The real challenge is how well your innovative ideas comply with web standards and keep your audience comfortable while navigating the website.
Can you do this?
One of my favorite questions to be asked by a potential client is if I can do something that I've never done before. What better way to learn something new than to be forced to figure it out? There are plenty of new technologies and tricks I'd love to learn in my spare time, but truth is those things are always going to be low on my priority list. When a new job comes along and poses the challenge of producing something I've never done before, I am more than determined to succeed. Wordpress is a great example of something I had been meaning to learn for a while and never really got started until I needed to use it for a real job. The best part of learning on the job is that failure is not an option. The blood, sweat, and tears that go into making sure I get it working are way more effective than any other teaching method I can think of. I've always thought that hands on learning is the best way to go. With the added pressure of having to deliver a product to my client, I can be sure I'll be fully dedicated to the task at hand. Next time I get asked if I can do this, I'll have a few extra gray hairs worth of experience to say yes.
This has been a rather monumental year for me in my career. It was my 5th year working on my own, my first year of teaching, and most significantly it was the year I became a real programmer. I started out as a graphic designer with a love for aesthetics. For a long time it felt like I was learning bits and pieces of code as an extension of my design arm. I never thought of myself as a true developer. The day I left Flash behind and embraced HTML as my primary way of building websites, I finally felt legit as a programmer. I love to look at code and organize it now, rather than avoid it. I find beauty in a perfectly written page of code that produces exactly what I want in a web browser. I find the design challenge to be two-fold now with the attention to detail both in the look of the page as well as the code that makes it happen. I realize I still have so much to learn to make my methods as effective as possible, but this year has been a big leap forward for me. I don't know what's next in the world of web design and that's half the fun. Can't wait to see where technology takes us in 2013.
Going Off on a Tangent Lesson
I wouldn't say I have the greatest attention span in the world. I can be easily distracted. I think most creative people are. We are cursed with the pleasure of having a steady stream of new thoughts flowing through our mind at all times. As in most cases, the squeaky wheel gets the grease and thoughts are no different. Sometimes I can't help but go off on a tangent and explore an idea whether there is time for it or not. I love to learn something new and if my brain is saying lets learn this, I can't argue. I find in general that you can't really learn anything unless you want to. Sometimes it can seem boring or uninspiring and no matter how hard you try, new information is just not going to stick. When those moments of inspiration come along, I say go with it and ride the wave. You can't really bottle up that feeling and you never know when it will come again. I may fall a little behind schedule and work a few extra hours that night, but the reward of having added a new weapon to my arsenal is well worth it.
The Coffee Shop Office
I am one of those people who works exclusively at coffee shops. I don't have an office space nor do I even have a desk. Sometimes I wonder how many others there are like me who just float around with their laptop, working remotely in various locations. It has its obvious perks such as no rent and a constant change of scenery to keep the mind fresh. I can even meet clients in my coffee shop office and have a pleasant discussion while we sip our tasty beverages. For someone who works alone, this seems to be the ideal working environment. No need to isolate myself from the world in my own depressing cubicle. Coffee shops allow me the opportunity to integrate into my community and really enjoy where I work. I wonder if the future will bring more remote workers and less rented office spaces. In my opinion as a creative professional, it is the way to go. It may seem like a waste to shell out a few dollars for coffee multiple times a day, but in the end I am getting so much more than that.
Is Scrolling Back in Style?
I remember when I first started building websites I learned one of the key design rules was that all the important information should appear above the scroll. It seemed to be a consensus that users didn't like to scroll and therefore anything that required scrolling might never get seen. Lately this rule seems to be taken out of play. I see many designers starting to design websites from top to bottom with great attention to detail. No longer are ugly bread crumb links thrown at the bottom of the page hidden from view. The footer is well thought out and brings as much to the design as any other part of the page. I love to see this and it makes me excited for the future of web design. So many innovative websites today rely on scrolling to deliver the full experience. It is refreshing to see that perhaps users are developing more of an attention span and are willing to go exploring. Why not design a website the way you do a brochure? You can't see everything at once, but as you open it up and sift through the pages, the design unfolds with the paper. I would love to think of websites in the same way. Maybe its just me, but sometimes its nice to browse the internet a little slower and take in all the details.
Revisiting the Dinosaur Websites
I really hate working with old websites. It feels like trying to play a VHS tape or blowing on a Nintendo game so it will play. The problem is that the amount of work to convert old code to be efficient is just not feasible when dealing with minor web maintenance. I just have to suck it up and work with yesterday's mistakes as they silently mock me. How could I have built something so dysfunctional in the past I often wonder. Alas technology changes everyday, so even a website I built a month ago might have some code that could be better written if I did it today. It's part of working in an ever-changing medium - the acceptance that your best work today will most likely not be so great tomorrow. I suppose it is similar to the way new and better phones come out all the time leaving your current phone feeling old and out of date. I'm embarrassed of my old websites and having to update them periodically is a reminder of how little I knew back then. Of course if I thought a website I created years ago was still structurally sound today, it would mean I haven't learned a thing since then. It's important I go back and cringe once in a while to assure myself that I've come a long way. I think to be truly successful in any technological industry, you really can't ever be satisfied with what you know right now.
I've always thought of myself as a rare hybrid of designer and developer. My passion for design started first, so I feel that side always wins out when asked which I prefer. Only recently, however, has coding become a new design challenge for me. In the past I had always used a 3rd party program such as Flash or Dreamweaver to build my websites. Now, I have fallen in love with coding from scratch. There is a level of neatness and organization in code that is pretty unique. It has captivated the design side of me and pulled it over to the coding side. I look at my websites from two perspectives now: the end result of course, and the beautifully arranged code that made it happen. Graphic Design at its core is about organizing information. Why not use my passion for design when I code as well? There is something very aesthetically pleasing to me about well written, well formatted code.
The Art of Being Busy
As someone who works for myself, I've discovered the value in keeping busy. No one wants to be so busy they are overwhelmed and stressed out, but to be busy with manageable tasks is an essential part of life. I would love to read more into the studies on the effects of being busy vs. idleness. It seems my overall happiness is directly related to how busy I am. My day is made up of goals to reach and checkpoints for when those goals should be done. If there are no goals, my day seems pretty pointless. The hard part is finding the balance between hair-pulling stress and a full day of meaningful work. When my day is in perfect harmony between working and short break intervals, I am a smooth running machine.
Where's the spinny site?
After a few years of rotating website fun, I thought it was time to retire the design. We had a good run and I appreciate all the love/hate feedback I received. The world of web design has changed quite a bit for me lately and I'm excited to start a new chapter. I was a big advocate for Flash when I started building websites and now I finally feel it's time we see other people. It's not that I don't still like the work I produced in Flash, but I'm seeing greater potential in working with other mediums. This website is my first exploration in building a fully interactive experience coded with some plain old HTML, CSS, and TLC. I have to admit I'm enjoying the new challenges and learning to be innovative with a different set of tools. For anyone who would like to visit the old website, it is still online for your viewing pleasure.