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Photoshop or Illustrator or Fireworks or something else

01/12/2011 1 comment

So I use Photoshop to design websites.

I recently re-listened to Jason Santa Maria’s Big Web Show interview where he talked about why he prefers to use Illustrator over Photoshop and it got me thinking about why I use the tools I use. In the interview he compared Photoshop to a tool box, if you wanted to draw a square, you grab the tool that does that and you draw the square. He compared Illustrator to an open drawing environment like a sketch book, or a canvas, something that allows for a more creative exploration. While I agree with the Illustrator comparison, I don’t fully agree with his Photoshop analogy. I would say Fireworks is the tool box because it is designed more for fast prototyping and quick construction of web elements. Photoshop for me is a mix of both, I think it has the power to bridge the gap between creation and editing. There are probably a lot of reasons why I prefer it to other image editing/creating software products, but my top 3 reason are:

  • I use the layer comps feature all the time
  • Pixel perfect measurements
  • I actually know how to use it

The third reason is probably the biggest reason why I prefer Photoshop over Illustrator or any other program, I just know it better. I guess I just need to man up and design a website in Illustrator. Crash course it. Let me know if I’m missing out a better way to design websites, I’m always down for learning better, more efficient methods.

What image creation program do you prefer… why eh?

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Categories: Design

Flash Crashes?? (Best Tool for the Job)

01/04/2011 2 comments

Okay, Flash has never ever, ever crashed on me, not once. So why is it that every Apple lover I know complains of Flash crashing their browser? Is this Stockholm Syndrome? The “Turtleneck” just kidnapped you and you fell deeply in love with him, but you have no reason why… then he took you wallet.

You’re a Tool

Mac, your a tool. Your the best tool I know for web development. Your the best tool I know for design. Your the best tool I know for making most awesome things. But you’re still just a tool, you have your strengths and limitations just like any other tool. Development tools, software and languages all have their purpose. Each one has very specific attributes because not one of them can accomplish every task. Plus, using different tools and languages are a good way to separate task, for example, you’d never use HTML to design because that is what CSS is for. Each tool has its own particular set of skills just like people. So when a powerful company like Apple decides, for no other reason than to make more money, throws another company under the bus by calling one of their most revolutionary products “buggy”, it smacks of ignorance.

The Flash wars have been ginned up by a company who wants to generate more revenue by limiting web app access. Think about it. Apple takes a 30% cut of all the revenue generated from any app and Angry Birds is the number game on iTunes. Angry Birds is basically just a simple Flash game. Flash games are incredibly addictive, we all play them. So what if Angry Birds was just a simple web application that could run on every browser in every platform? The maker of Angry Birds would be 30% richer. Apple isn’t dumb though, by restricting Flash on its mobile platform, Apple gets to claim that 30% because it knows that the success of iPhone is based in its apps. Apps are the best selling point for the iPhone and iTouch, with out them, its just another smart phone with lame Blackberry like apps. If Flash were able to run on the iPhone, then we could all build really sweet games and apps in Flash and keep our 30%.

It’s About Using the Right Tool

I feel like I’m stuck in the middle of a war zone. I use Adobe products all day, my career is dependent on them and for the most part (except Fireworks) each piece of Adobe software is the far and away the leader. There is no other equivalent to Photoshop and in my eyes, there is no other equivalent to Flash (at least not yet). From design stand point, Flash still remains the heavy weight for web animation.  Its awesome for designers because you can easily build clean, fast animations that will run on any browser without being some super Javascript developer.

Despite my feelings with Flash, it does have it’s limitations (and some big ones) and that’s why we have other wonderful tools like jQuery, Scriptaculous, etc. I love using jQuery, it has a lot of power and can do a lot of the same things as Flash, plus, you can still use live text in an image slider or any other animation. But as of today, there are still thing that jQuery can’t do as easily as Flash. Knowing the limitations of each is key to using the best tool for the job.

Its our job as designers to learn and understand what tools we can use for what particular job we are doing. I would never use wire cutters to change my spark plugs, there are better tools for that. The best mechanics know which tools make their jobs easier and more efficient. The same goes for the best designers, they know what tools should be used to create the best product that will meet the client’s needs in the most efficient way. Flash is still widely important to the digital world. Let’s not forget that the innovation of Flash in web development sparked the dynamic web design movement. As Android continues to take over the mobile smart phone movement, Flash will still play a big role because smart app development firms will capitalize on its ability to run Flash.

Choose Wisely

Whatever Apple says, Flash still plays a key role in today’s digital development. It’s not something that will go away anytime soon, despite what all the wannabe turtle neck wearing fan boys say. I think the better choice is not to jump on the “Turtleneck’s” bandwagon, grow up, and then learn to use the best tool for the job. I wonder is Steve Jobs has ever seen Handy Manny?

The great Adobe V Apple war continues…

Categories: Design, Random Stuff

How personal bias effects design

For years and years when someone asked me what music I liked I said, “Everything but country and rap.” A good friend of mine pushed me on my response one day and I finally realized that country and rap music is just another form of art that at that time I did not fully appreciate. I am not longer a punk rock snob, although I don’t listen country on a regular basis, I have a deep appreciation for the art form and its difference to the musical world. I have fallen in love with rap however.

We do the same thing in design, we have all heard it. “That design sucks!” Although most of us designers think we know and understand composition and can critique another works at lightning speed, do we really know why a design is flawed? Or is it just our own bias and perception that influence the way we critique and create design.

Popularity

Popularity, just like in high school, create copycats. Just because Facebook has three-bazillion users doesn’t actually mean that its design and composition is wonderful. I’m sure we can all find just as many wonderful compositional high points as low points (I’d root for more low points however.) Changing your header background color to solid #3B5998 to mimic Facebook will not guarantee the success of your Uncle’s Razor Scooter website.

Popular websites are destructive to the design world, but only for those designers who don’t fully understand why a popular websites design works. Facebook’s design works for many reasons but mostly because it’s form and function dance together very well. As another example, look at Web 2.0 and the rounded corner. When the rounded corner made its splash in the web world, every hip new Web 2.0 site had them, why? Because it was awesome. At the time every designer who wanted to achieve Web 2.0 (without even knowing what Web 2.0 was) would simply just copy the look and feel of a site that had achieved it. In many cases this meant implementing cool CSS tricks like rounded corners. But as more and more designers gave in to their popularity insecurities, the more and more the rounded corner became less meaningful.

Taste

I love corn on the cob, in fact, I don’t eat much corn unless its on the cob. But does this mean that ‘corn off the cob‘ is any less tasty or nutritious? Nope. It all boils down to taste. Some designers swear by dark text on light backgrounds and even work so hard to prove scientifically that it is better than the opposite. But light text on dark backgrounds can be more engaging in most cases. One is not better than the other, they both have their places in the vast world of web composition, but figuring out what compositional elements will taste better can be the hardest thing a designer ever does. The key is find out what taste your user prefers first.

If I have people coming over the house for a BBQ and I know most of them hate hot dogs, would I serve hot dogs to them just because taste wise, I KNEW they were far superior than hamburgers? Probably not, unless I was a jerk right. The point is, design is a matter of taste and one person may love your bright green text borders over your dead black background while others would say it was “stupid”, but what do your core user like? Who are your core users and what do they do on your site?

Utility

Just cause someone owns a truck doesn’t mean they are a construction worker. There is a reason why we design for familiarity but this doesn’t mean that we have to stick to stereotypes. In our minds we have a template for every genre of web design just like we have perceived musical formulas for music. We think that when we see a white background with three columns that is should be an e-commerce site. The utility of the website shouldn’t define the look and feel of it. Innovative, great design in most cases can break the utility convention.

The function of a website should marry with the form of a website, not dictate its look. This comes back to our user once again. What does our user prefer, or what will our user like? If you are creating a blog for a client, you’ll want to stick with the conventional elements of a blog, like having a sidebar with categories listing and tag indicators. These elements tell your users that they in fact reading a blog, but this doesn’t mean you have to use the formulaic two column layout with a large title header.

Closing Argument

Ironically, the websites that replicate every bias we have as designers are our wonderful design blogs we love to waste most of our days reading. Design blogs have been victim to popularity, taste and utility. Smashing Magazine is the QB of our all-state high school football team and then rest of us would really love to have the success that they have enjoyed. But the real brilliance of Smashing is its innovation. It was one of the first design blogs to really brand itself.

As designers we need to be making the interwebs better, not worse, that means trying out best to be innovative. When we are tempted to copy we need to smack our selves in the face and wake up, we need to not force feed our users designs that we think are great and next time you are working on an e-commerce project, add some freaking color!


If you liked this article, do me a favor and re-tweet it…

Categories: Design Tags: , ,

Re-post: Keeping Safe Those Things We Hold Precious; Our Memories

Here’s a freaking awesome article from 52 Weeks of UX guest author Alan Colville. Here’s a quick teaser, click here to read the full article.

Brooklyn Beta was a most memorable web conference. It can be relived through peoples’ stories, anecdotes, images and more, which are strewn far and wide across the web. Although not altogether typical, the quantity of data created around this event demonstrates the ruthless efficiency with which we record moments that matter to us.

We’ve never recorded so much in so many ways. In theory, the delight in rediscovery should be richer than ever before. However, given the complexity involved in these recordings, not least of which are the multiple sites, devices, formats we use, will our online recordings still be there in years to come? Decisions users make and actions designers take now could decide how easy it will be to relive memories with the richness we recorded them.

Living in the here and now
We’ve become intensely focused on the here and now. The single point in time or update in a our ‘lifestream’. So fastidious are we at updating, checking-in and tweeting, that our recordings become instantly submerged in a sea of updates. With this focus on the here and now, there’s an acceptance that in leaving a site, the rich recordings we’ve spent time building there are lost. Without these recordings, we rely on our own memory. I was recently reminded, proving the point, that our memories don’t serve us well. In fact they’re often wrong as Susan Weinschenk’s highlights in ‘100 Things you should know about memory – Your most vivid memories are wrong’. The human mind is good at piecing together memories to form a picture of an event. The web is still learning how to collate in this way. The mind is poor at remembering detail. So, what we can’t remember, our mind sometimes make up and fills in the gaps. The web can support this human frailty by being the place to hold the detail to accurately remind us later. For this to happen, we need to be able to find the detail in years to come as memories fade.

This wonderful story from This American Life beautifully demonstrates the creative license our mind can take.

The delight in rediscovery
We’ve always compensated for the inefficiency of our memory. From the first cave paintings or stories to photo’s, we record to help us remember and share. What has changed in this digital age is the sheer quantity of data being recorded. Whereas before, only the important events were recorded, such was the overhead in recording. Take for example portrait paintings, which was time consuming and a luxury of the rich. Now we record even the most mundane with infinite ease. Recordings of an event happen in multiple places, formats and ways across the web, whereas before there was a single recording of an event held in one place. We’re industrious like never before. Blogging and publishing on our own and others people’s sites. An intricate and intelligent web of data is quickly created around a place, opinion, moment or event.

As with any recording, there’s delight in rediscovery. As our memory falters overtime, the value of the recording grows. So focused are we on the here and now, that we seldom think that far ahead. An additional benefits of all this recording is that it compensates for yet another human frailty. We’re poor at knowing how important moments are when they happen! Retrospectively, it’s clear that some events that seemed minor at the time prove to be very important. Scott Berkun calls this ‘The Impact Ratio’. He defines it as the relationship between your perception of the importance of something, and how it turns out to be a year or ten years later. Because we capture more moments, chances are, even as our priority changes, the ones we considered minor are recorded nevertheless.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE @ 52 WEEKS OF UX (WEEK 40)

Categories: Design, UX

My Web Super Heros

I sit in front of my TweetDeck all day and receive tweets from awesome web people. Awesome people who have tons of experience and knowledge in web design, UI design, development and programming.

These people are the ones who get me excited to come to work and expand my knowledge, they have more influence on me and my career than any college professor I had or any other web professional out there in the web quagmire (that’s the word of the day, everybody scream!) I’m gonna share these people with you. If you are someone who follows the interwebs regularly, you have probably heard of most of these people, if not, here you go. They are listed in no particular order..

Jeffrey Zeldman

Every time my Growl alert pops up and I see that blue beanie in the corner of my display I pause whatever I am doing to read Zeldman’s latest tweet. Some times the tweets are funny, some times they share good articles, but most of the time they are just way over my head. The problem with reading Zeldman’s tweets is that most of the time I have to do some research to figure out what he is referencing or talking about. This is awesome though. Zeldman’s tweets force me to learn and expand my web knowledge is ways that I never have. He’s like own Yoda of sorts. ‘Better web design you must.’

I first saw and heard Zeldman on 5by5’s The Big Web Show, episode number two, when he was interviewing Jeremy Keith the author of HMTL5 for designers (which I still don’t own and haven’t read yet). I was hooked on who and what Zeldman represented for web design. During the show I added him to my twitters and the rest is history.

Zeldmman manages zeldman.com where he shares his brilliant web ideas with the world through blog posts and conversation. He is the founder of Happy Cog and is most famos for his book on web standards called Designing with Web Standards. Zeldman is also the co-founder of An Event Apart, the best multi-city web design convention ever, and A Book Apart with Eric Meyer (he’s further down on the list.)

Jason Santa Maria

My freaking favorite web designer ever. If only I could just copy his style and get away with it. Jason Santa Maria is great on so many levels. He is great at bringing typography to the web in beautiful form. He designs information that is pure and readable. He lays out content in brilliant, simple and elegant ways so that it is usable and easy to navigate.

The average web surfer has used his designs on many occasions. I used dictionary.com (and its family of products) for years, and up until a few months ago I never knew that Jason Santa Maria was designer. He also has a really great portfolio that I have used in the past to inspire me as I go through the design process if I get stuck or if I am just bored with design.

Jason is the founder of a the design studio Mighty and is the creative director for A List Apart and Typekit and the co-founder of A Book Apart. Some of is design include; Happy Cog, A List Apart, Objectified, The Chicago Tribune, Dictionary.com, They Might Be Giants and much, much more.

Luke W

Luke W is a little green man that spreads the word of web design and usability across the world. Okay, he’s not really a little green man even though that’s his avatar, but he does spread the word of better web design and usability across the world. I was introduced to Luke W on somebodies design blog where I heard his presentation on Web Form Design in Action. I had a class on interaction design in college, but that class lacked any real education on the subject. After hearing Luke W present on designing web forms, I started to understand what interaction design really was. From there I started learning more about usability, a lot from other Luke W presentations. He was the first web ‘dude’ who really struck a cord with me on the importance of user centered design.

Luke W is an entrepreneur and the co-founder of Stealth Start-up. He was the Chief Design Architect at Yahoo! and was the Lead User Interface Designer at Ebay. Luke also does amazing presentations on web design, user interaction and usability at a variety of web conferences all over the world.

Elliot Jay Stocks

Surfing the design magazines one day I came across a site called neutroncreations and I was blown away by the design. I was like, “man, who designed this freaking site?” For some reason this site jumped out at me, maybe its because up to that point I had never seen anybody use typography and background images real well. Plus I had never seen anybody use content blocks and offset grid patterns in that fashion before. The layout was cool and it’s unique in that the layout changes ever so slightly between pages. Not enough to freak your senses out and make it unusable, but just enough to make you interested. After perusing this site I found out that Elliot Jay Stocks and Tim Van Damme were the masterminds behind the design.

Seeing more of Elliot’s work I really started to see a real original style developed in his work. It seems that most designer and developers love to recycle and not take the necessary risks to break the mold and create original designs. His use of background images blew me away, nobody uses background images, that’s so crazy! Plus, my professors had drilled it into my head that you NEVER use background images because it destroys load times. Well, now I know that they had no idea what they were talking about. Its not the image that destroys load times… its the method. I appreciate Elliot’s designs because he likes to push the boundaries and conventions of web design, which is just awesome. He’s not your father’s web designer, if that makes any sense.

Elliot currently tweets from London. He is the author of the popular SitePoint book Sexy Web Design, an extremely good illustrator, and the slayer of the “Web 2.0” look (thank goodness.) Elliot is also a musician known as Sourhaze, which makes me like and appreciate him even more.

Janko Jovanovic

Jankoatwarpspeed is pretty freaking sweet. It’s like a free college course on web design and usability, except you actually learn valuable stuff. Janko writes on everything UI from the ideological theories behind the human mind and how people react psychologically to the web, to the the practical side of just making things work better for users. If you want references for UI Design Patterns or know why you users aren’t sticking around, Janko will have the answer for you, not just the answer though, the reason why and the solution. In the world of web design and development there are a lot of ideas, some proven and most unproven. Jankoatwarpspeed is a practical blog that will not only show you if something works or doesn’t work, but he will tell you why. Janko is huge into Javascript and the Jquery library, I didn’t know that you could do so much with it. He shows you how to use Jquery to make your web pages sing with usability delight. Plus, its one of the most unique and coolest web sites I’ve been to.

Besides publishing Jankoatwarpspeed, he is also an artist and painter, go check out his flickr photostream. Janko has also published a lot of free UI and design tools like the Sketching&WireframingKit and HandyIcons, and if you are zipping around from design blog to design blog you’ll so more of his free designer tools pop up here and there.

Eric Meyer

CSS Guru. I use Guru because ‘Ninja’ is so overused and trite. Eric Meyer is a Bill Gates look a like who is one the foremost experts in Cascading Style Sheets and one of the rare individuals who have moved the web into a better place as a whole. I first found out about Eric after picking up his book CSS: The Definitive Guide. Then I realized that I had already owned his CSS Pocket Reference. If you ever want to learn CSS, learn it from Eric, either through his speaking engagements, his many books and articles or his blog where he throws in some of his own thoughts as well. And he has some great free tools on CSS, design and WordPress for you to use.

Eric Meyer is the editor and co-founder of A List Apart and the co-founder of An Event Apart and a founding member of Global Multimedia Protocols Group. He has written the best CSS books in business and pretty much every designer has purchased and owns his books.

Finding Inspiration

So I ask you… When you need inspiration, where do you go?

I had a professor tell me once that there is no such thing as writer’s block. Great writers just write, they don’t need some artificial form of inspiration.

I’m not sure whether I believe this or not, but I have often wondered, if there is no such thing as writer’s block then maybe there is no such thing as designer’s block. Which scares me a little because I have had my moments where I had nothing, moments where my mind was blank. Luckily for me I have never long periods of not being able to think of anything, I usually can by some time until something strikes. Sometimes it has been something I have seen while surfing the web or a blog post I have read that jolts my brain.

To say there are a lot of blog posts written to spark inspiration in designers is like saying there is a lot of salt in the ocean. Its countless, you could print out and line up all the blogs posts on design inspiration, add this one to the end, and be able to touch the moon. My problem with inspirational design posts is that when you actually look at them you start to see the same designs over and over again. Literally the same designs. There isn’t a web design inspiration blog post out there that doesn’t highlight or talk about MailChimp. Don’t get me wrong, MailChimp is awesome, but this creates a problem for designers. As designers we are supposed to be creative, we are supposed to create new, fresh looking designs and concepts. What these types of posts do is create cookie cutter websites because they offer no new inspiration, just recycled ideas, like the idea that every Web 2.0 site has rounded corners. These types of inspirational posts breed copycats and only serve to make trends, not spark innovation.

So I ask you… When you need inspiration, where do you go?

If only a writer could cure himself of writers block by reading more books. Original thought, like original design is hard to come by and it takes time, effort, practice and failure before you have that Billy Joel “In the Middle of the Night” moment of clarity. I for one have never woken up in the middle of the night with a brilliant design idea, usually its just to go pee. I have however had moments of clarity and trying to recreate these moments is like chasing your tail. These moments for me have never come from trolling design websites looking for inspiration, in my case they have usually come after working on a project for a while or even speaking with someone else about the project. It seems to me that my inspiration comes more from doing, not looking.

When I get stuck on a project or a design I have learned that if I want to quickly copy somebody I’ll hit the design blogs, but if I truly want to create something meaningful I will start working, start sketching, start wire framing, start typing or just start doing something. A lot of the time I never have a moment of clarity, but I have a moment of sheer adequacy where my average idea becomes something that will work, not something that will alter someones life. That’s okay too, I think sometimes the average ideas are like doors on a car, they’re not as important as the steering wheel or the motor but there function is still important to the overall safety and security of the vehicle. Unless of course you are Bo or Luke Duke.

So I ask you… When you need inspiration, where do you go?

Categories: Design Tags: ,