Category: Web Design

Random Thought (more or less) – Wake Up San Diego, UX is here

I read an interesting article posted this morning through the UX Professionals LinkedIn group, in regards to why UX salaries will continue to rise – the article is here.

It goes on to say that UX Designers and UX folk in general are in high demand but in short supply. Okay, I’ll buy that. I get that a lot from recruiters about how we are hard to find, especially good UX designers.

I’d say the software companies (custom solutions, government, video games, e-commerce) and retailers in the big markets get that, and the importance of UX design. Los Angeles, New York, Austin, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, the San Francisco surrounding bay area — they all get UX and covet the importance of having great user experiences designed. It’s mature in those areas. There are LOTS of openings for UX design folks in those places.

But somehow, the place I grew up in and love so much, San Diego, isn’t really getting it. I don’t know why, but it was kind of the same back when the web was forming. Those other places got it and San Diego was slow to the race. Okay, to be fair there are a few companies that get it, and there are single champions of UX in lots of companies shouting out loud how good UX is needed, the importance of it, and to the point of going hoarse because no one is really listening. In San Diego, for the most part, UX is a luxury. Most companies figure they have good developers who can code really well, and that’s good enough to get the job done.

The problem with that is even though developers make good code, they don’t have the insight to make a good product, or good customer experience. I often tell people that UX designers are like an architect and the developer is the builder. We listen to what a client wants and needs (we emote and listen to their feelings), and then design the perfect house or building (their app or website) for them. We design the plans, pick out the colors and furniture, or in some cases work with the interior designers to create a great experience. Then the builders come in, follow the plans, build it, and see the thoughts and vision come to life. THAT is one of the most amazing and rewarding parts of being a UX designer.

But a lot of companies are happy with having the builders. Until they hire or contract a UX designer. Then suddenly all the stuff they’ve built in the past pales in comparison to what the UX designer has created. And hopefully they get that UX design IS important. And sometimes they don’t.

So, when companies here in San Diego interview or are looking for a UX designer, most don’t seem to know what to look for. At least that’s been my experience as I’ve either worked on contract for, or interviewed at. Usually when I leave after an interview, it makes them consider really what UX is, and that they need to reassess their needs. The good thing is I’m helping them understand what UX design is. The bad thing is they then aren’t ready to hire – anyone.

Some want a UX designer who can do wireframes (check), interaction design (check), visual design (check) and program (uhh..). Okay, so three out of 4 ain’t bad. Some places I interviewed at have interviewed other UX designers who won’t even touch visual design (what??), and would rather farm it out (again, what????). Some want a UX designer who only wants to create wireframes… and some want them to come up with great ideas and leave all the other stuff to the experts.

So, I guess I’m not like a lot of UX designers, since I grew up drawing, designing, storytelling, engineering (you should see my plans for a flying Delorean..), taking really complicated things and making them simple, and yes, at one point even programming. Okay, so I don’t program now, but I get programming enough to know what can and can’t be done, to be able to look at code, or talk to coders and understand what they’re saying and respectfully speak their language enough that I don’t sound like some design lunatic. I can tell them what I want, point them to good examples, design out the kinetics so they get what the experience is supposed to be for the customer, user, audience.

I’m very passionate about great user experience design. And there are a lot of great user experience designers here in San Diego. It’s time companies stopped relying on doing so-so, “good enough” projects, whether they’re e-commerce, government, educational, consumer, marketing, or even entertainment based.

Time to wake up San Diego. UX is here and we’re ready to do great things.

And that’s my Random Thought for the day.

Greg – Renaissance something or other guy.

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Random Thought- Responsive Web Design (an Analogy)

I thought I’d get this down somewhere, recorded in history before someone else claims they came up with it.

“What is it?” you ask. Once in a while, somehow I come up with clever thoughts and analogies for everyday things. Interestingly enough, someone in the office brought up the subject of responsive design,  and how difficult it is to do well, or at all. My thought and then answer was “Uh, no, it’s not.”

And to be truthful, really, it’s not, or shouldn’t be. Really.

It’s not that I was being cocky, or arrogant, or too sure of myself. I just feel deep down inside that people make a big deal a lot of times about things that are really quite simple, if you take the time to really look at them from a less-cluttered mind. Or even from the eyes of a child. I’m not saying one should be childish and immature. That gets you nowhere fast. But as designers, we need to be child-like at times – seeing things with wonderment and simplicity.

That afternoon I had an interview with a local creative agency to do some UX contract work, and the subject of responsive design came up again (coincidence?). The project would be for a pretty big web site, but had to happily live on the web, on a tablet, a smartphone, and even on someone’s big screen at home. So, the manager asked me what I think of, or more so, what does responsive design mean to me? How would I approach it?

My answer (and this is why I’m recording this for history): Responsive Design is pretty much the same as branding (if you worked in advertising or marketing you’ll get this – if not, then wait and you will). Take regular Coca-Cola as an example. It’s a good brand – everyone knows what to expect when they drink it, no matter if it’s from a bottle or can, i.e different packaging, but it’s the same exact experience.

So when designing a site, it needs to be the same exact experience — people need to feel like whether they’re on a smartphone or tablet or computer, there’s no shock in moving from one to another. And I truly believe in designing for the smallest thing first, where you don’t have a lot of real-estate, as well as people on the go want to get to what they want and need immediately. It’s good design. I highly recommend reading the 10 Principles of Good Design by Dieter Rams.  Or look at it this way. If you buy an 800 square foot house, are you going to buy a ton of furniture, or enough to make it a nice place to comfortably live? Also, think about what you need so that if you go up in square footage, it will work equally as well – but the idea is it still works and still feels like home. You might add on a few extra pieces to compliment what you already have, or lay it out a little different, but it’s still the same content.

Now that I have that recorded for all history, I can move on now.

Random Thoughts — The Wireless Mobile Web

We’ve been pretty much accustomed to having web access the past number of  years now on laptops, tablet PC’s or home computers thanks to WiFi, and even more so since the introduction of Apple’s iPhone.

Since the iPhone came out, and gave people true web access from anywhere without having to carry multiple devices, letting us view the web the way it was designed (anyone who had a Blackberry device and tried web surfing pre-iPhone knows what I’m talking about), it now seems all the phone makers have followed suit with their smartphones, hoping to be the ultimate iPhone killer.

This post is not so much about the iPhone, or other smartphones, but something I wrote about nearly 8 years ago. While at Stellcom, I was pretty hot about where we’d be in less than 10 years with technology and devices we could carry in our pockets that would let us surf the web, see movie previews as we drove past a theatre, and even buy tickets. This was before the advent of 3G. There wasn’t a 3G network, and we were still pretty much in what was the first generation phone or data network – eg it was very slow for any data transfers.

So, I present to you a white paper I wrote on what I called the wireless video world, though I do talk about how wireless devices would allow us to do so much more. I focused on video because I was really into video production and streaming, knowing someday soon people would be able to watch real time video on handheld wireless devices (FloTV anyone?).

Qualcomm hadn’t even begun to work on it yet, but a small company in San Diego called Packet Video had, though what they offered could be considered at the time something similar to the very early days of Apple’s QuickTIme — 5 frames per second video sent in packets to one’s handheld device. Note that only some phones allowed this as well as some early handheld devices, tethered via WiFi. The Blackberry could not – it was merely a portable email device when it first hit the streets.

So, I give to you the white paper I wrote. Keep in mind this was written about 8 years ago. Though my writing has improved over the years (whose doesn’t?), you should get the gist of what I was getting at at the time. I don’t consider myself any kind of futurist or Svengali of Technology. At the time I was just a senior designer, but I  wanted to take my best guess as where technology should be heading.  I think I came pretty close, but I’ll let you decide.

Although the paper was in it’s second draft (I never got to finish it), I challenge you to look at what I predict in it, and then look at what we have available today, less than 10 years later.

Wireless_Video_World(v2)

Web Design — Online Portfolios

I’m a big fan of LinkedIn. Not so much for all of the network connections I have (which til now have not proven to be of much value…), but more for the different groups one can join and contribute to as well as learn from. All of the groups, unlike Facebook or mySpace are designed by professionals for professionals.

One recent post under the Creative Design Professionals group had a link to a pretty great post focused on people’s online portfolios. The question was should designers spend the time creating a web site for their portfolio from scratch, thus showing off their mad web skillz (yes,that’s a Z), or use some third party tech and a template. I highly believe in creating a portfolio site from scratch using the latest web technology (web 2.0, Joomla, or whatever a designer is comfy with).

HOWEVER, if a designer is busy working making a living, and really doesn’t have time to focus on building a site from the ground up, then by all means I do feel that one should and could use a template or otherwise to get their site up quickly in order to generate more work. Just because it begins with a template doesn’t mean it has to look like everyone else’s site. Also, the focus should be on the content of what that designer has worked on — i.e. their portfolio. And sometimes templates keep designers from making mistakes with how their site is laid out, no matter how good of a designer they are.

A portfolio site should be easy for your customers or future clients, and or future employers to easily navigate so they can see your work, find your samples quickly, and not have to go on a treasure hunt within your site to find your best work. The website Astheria.com points this out perfectly, because that designer realized how badly his portfolio sucked, and wanted to prevent other designers from making the same mistakes.

Admittedly, my portfolio site at gregschumsky.com was built with Apple’s iWeb. Yes, I could have spent countless hours making it in html, or some web 2.0 tech, or even Joomla or otherwise, but my focus wasn’t on all the programming. It was on the design of the site and all of my design, animation and video work, and I really wanted to get it up quickly, while making sure the site was easy to use and my work easy to find. So sue me.

I love Apple products and how they work without me needing to put a ton of time into making the software work, and I can spend more time on the creative process. I have yet to see anyone else’s online portfolio that looks like mine as far as the look and feel. And it’s easy to use and navigate. Plus there aren’t all the tiny thumbnail images that are some part of a bigger image. Bleh.

Meanwhile as I wait for more work, I’m busy designing a sound recording studio here at home for my daughter, who by the way is a pretty amazing singer — yes I get to say that because I’m her dad, but I’ll let you be the judge of her singing ability. Check out her youtube video here: After Hours.

Or I suggest you listen to some of her work, admittedly recorded by her and her friend on her MacBook and is on her mySpace music page. We’re building the studio so she can cut a better sounding demo, and get some of her tracks up on iTunes. Having been an audio engineer early in my career path (which that path looks like it was designed by someone who can’t draw a straight line…), this should be both fun and rewarding for both of us.

I’ll post some pics of the studio when it’s done.

Website Design — Chevy’s Transform Your Garage

I just got an email today from Chevrolet to enter their “Transform your garage” contest. In it you can win one of two Chevy vehicles, including a Camaro or Corvette  — the only reasons to really enter IMO. So I clicked on the email and was transported to the site here: http://www.chevytransformyourgarage.com/. Pretty slick site as can be seen in the screen grab, including an animated Bumblebee from Transformers.

Chevy Transform Your Garage site

Nicely done Flash piece but with some minor flaws. First, the images of the cars on the right scroll up and down so you can select your two cars. Good idea, but if you roll over a car just wrong, it pops up the description, and then leaves you there so you really can’t scroll up more or down to see the cars off screen. Second, when getting to the part to fill in your information to enter the contest, they present you with a standard pop-up calendar to enter your birthdate. I ended up having to hold down the left arrow button to scroll all the way back to 1963 for the year, which took a while. It was only after that I noticed the next entry field that let me select my birth year. They should have gone with 3 drop downs- Month, Day and Year. Simple enough.

Lastly, the biggest flaw, which isn’t related to the site’s design — they don’t offer as part of the sweepstakes to really have one’s garage transformed. I was kind of hoping that meant new shelving and storage, a cool checkered floor, insulation, good lighting, a nice work area — something worthy of putting a new Camaro or Corvette in….

Website Development — Joomla

I really like working with new technologies, whether it’s design related, a new TV, a cool watch, or when the iPhone came out. Also, when there’s new bells and whistles with some software I typically use that makes it more robust and makes my work easier – i.e. more efficient in the long run, I’m ready, willing and able to take on the new learning curve. Almost.

To be honest, I like change, that is once it happens. Sure, I’ve been known to effect change in my workplace and even in my own personal life. But when it comes to learning some new software feature, I tend to procrastinate. “Do I really need to use the new feature?” I ask myself. As I see other people learning and using it, I finally decide to jump in and find out that it wasn’t all that hard to learn, and once I do, it becomes a tool I use daily and even ask myself how could I have lived without it?

So, now I have to learn Joomla. I had heard about it a while ago, downloaded it, kind of played with it, then went on to other things. Now I have a freelance gig that is kind of relying on me learning Joomla to some degree, though I’m being hired to be a project manager (or what they call a web producer), and designer.

I have to learn Joomla to see if that’s the way we need to go on the project — it has a lot of very cool features and extensions; also because the main programmer won’t have enough time to do all the programming, thus I’ll need to do some of that as well. My thought is to find a pre-made template from someone like RocketTheme.com, then modify that to my design. So, I get to design, manage, and program. The company who is hiring me also mentioned Drupal, but for now I’m staying with Joomla. Wish me luck.

Website Design Part 5 — Helping your users get to where they need to go

Hello out there in web land. Yes, I know it’s been a few weeks since I last posted anything on my blog. To explain, I’ve been out of work now since I was laid off for about a month, give or take. Interesting how one loses track of time when one isn’t working. Important things start to come up like how one’s bills are going to get paid, not being able to send your kids to college, feeding the family, keeping the house, etc. When I was laid off, lots of co-workers said the same thing: ” You’re very talented, not a lot of people can do what you do, and you should be back on your feet rather quickly.” The good news is I’ve had some interesting interviews, and 3 of those so far with a company that’s been a dream of working for since I was 5.  So, as of now I’m hoping I get another call back from them today or tomorrow for the next round of interviews, and I’ll be back on my feet soon.

What I’d like to talk about today is another issue I have with most websites in general — lack of good navigation. Now, to be clear up front, I think no matter how well one designs or architects a site to be easily navigated, there will always be something someone can’t figure out how to get to, being that everyone on the face of the planet functions differently.

everyone on the face of the planet functions differently.

What I’d like to propose is something not quite revolutionary, but something we’ve all used but as far as I’ve seen not in this capacity. We all (or almost all) have used Microsoft Office, and have come across one of the most annoying features that’s designed to help us get our work done. That annoyance was called “Clippy”, and his other friends — the dog, the wizard, the Mac (for us Mac users)…bleh. On the other side of the coin, those who use Macs have had a pretty nice help system built in since around OS 8.5. When you type what you’re looking for, it brings up the most common questions in ranking order. You select what you want, it gives you an answer, and even offers to take you on the Mac to what you’re looking to do. Neat. I don’t think enough Mac users really know that Apple took the time to put that power there, and most Windows users who switched to the Mac even realize it because they’re used to doing things on their own when having used Windows.

I have yet to see a website that offers anything like “Clippy” in the help section, or like Apple’s very neat help system. If I’m wrong, then please point me to those because I can’t wait to try those out. My proposal- take the idea of an intelligent help assistant, what I would call an Intelligent Media Guide, or IMG. “How would it work?” you might ask. Simple. Click on help, the assistant pops up as some form of animated character and asks how it can help you. You tell it in plain English “I’m looking for such and such”. It checks a database of commonly asked questions (and being intelligent, it adds new questions it hasn’t encountered to that database), displays the closest thing to what you might be looking for. You pick it, and then the IMG, being in a dynamic frame that remains onscreen, brings up the page you need. No clicking on button after button, no digging around the site getting frustrated. Yes, big sites have a nice search feature, but you can get dozens of results of what you might be looking for. Not too neat.

Tell me what you think, and comments are always appreciated.  Keep in mind that this idea is now on record as mine (unless this already exists), and basically means it’s copyrighted, etc., etc. etc. If you want to explore this further, please contact me anytime. I’d love to talk.

Web Design Part 4 – Do you need an Intranet?

First off, let me begin by saying thanks to anyone who reads these posts on my blog. That’s right, thanks to both of you.

So, the other day I was thinking about the Internet, and also, what an intranet is. It seems a lot of people don’t know really what an intranet is, or if they need one. So hopefully by the end of this blog post I’ve explained what one is, why some companies need them while others don’t, and what they should be used for, though there’s a lot more ideas than I could probably come up with in one sitting, and that’s why I believe in working with like-minded creative and business individuals in order to make something that works well for everyone. Unfortunately we all know not everyone will get the same benefit from any website, product or service that someone else would, no matter how hard you try to make that happen — thus the story of the committee and the camel.

To start, the thing we use all day long – the World Wide Web, runs on the Internet, which most people know. The network (Internet) that every Tom, Dick and Harry has access to to get to websites, ftp files, and so on, runs pretty much on an unprotected network that everyone has access to — thus the issue with sensitive data, and the need for secure (HTTPS) websites when doing things like paying bills on-line.  That’s one reason why corporations and governments started using intranets — secure networks that only their employees have access to, either from within their corporate offices, or from home by logging in with secure access via some sort of password and digital key FOB.

Little known to most of the public, the internet as we know it today was originally the first intranet, designed to allow universities and the government to send files back and forth as well as email each other, way before the Swedes came up with HTML and the idea of the World Wide Web. Yes, there was an internet before Al Gore invented it, though there is some evidence he did invent Bill Gates…

Turn to many years later, and you have everyone using the Internet — for email, getting on the web, sharing photos, transferring files, and even making phone calls.  So, companies and the governments needed a way to have email, file transferring, and sharing information not intended for the public away from the public. Thus the inTRAnet. Which even to this day I hear people in IT who should know the difference between that and the inTERnet continue to confuse. The question is, does your company need an intranet?

First, is your company less than 50 people? Than you really don’t need an intranet.
Does your company have a whole ton of people, spread out over a region in different offices? Then you do need an intranet.  Yes, I know that’s pretty basic math, and there are a whole lot of other reasons to have one, but that’s for you and your IT and business people to figure out.

So, among most of the reasons to have your own intranet would be:
1. Secure email solution
2. Posting of company information, including all the communications to the employees to keep them abreast of new things happening, how to get benefits and changes in those, upcoming meetings, videos of the CEO or President giving his quarterly speech, a company wide directory, and so on and so on. The point being is instead of mailing all this information to your employee’s homes, it’s all on your company intranet website, also known as an employee portal.
3. Secure file transfers to your servers.
4. Secure file transfers to each other.

And I could go on as more things come to me. Just remember that a good intranet website shouldn’t end up becoming a camel, and then you’ll have a great communications tool for you and your employees.

Website Design Part 3 – When big sites won’t work

I’m going to keep this pretty short and simple. Any website should work once it’s launched into the real world, especially if you’re company is a multimillion dollar entity whose online image affects their own bottom dollar.

Case in Point: Sony Electronics. More to the point, there online job search, or careers section. There were a few jobs there I’m VERY interested in, so I pop on over, put in what I’m looking for, what state, what city, click Submit — nothing. No response. No turning wheels, no progress bar in the browser, Nada, zip, zilch.

Now, to be fair, I’m on a Mac. I tried Safari, then Firefox. Still nothing. My guess is they developed the site in Windows, tested in Windows, and left it at that. Which my second guess is they’re only looking to hire people who use Windows.

I’d like my friends, or those reading this, to try it on Windows and let me know if my assumption is true by going here: Sony Jobs. If it only works in IE, then I’m stumped. The positions are for designers – one is an associate Creative Director, another for a senior designer. I’m guessing there are more.  What stumps me is that the majority of people in web design, marketing design, advertising and so on, use Macs.

What this also tells me is they need way better web people who know that Windows users aren’t the only people using the web.  I used to work for the company that contracted with the County of San Diego on their website. When I came on, the requirements were to make the sites only compatible for IE 5.2 then eventually IE 6. So, any San Diegans who used Macs that needed County based services (like paying taxes online, getting property information, or checking on current votes during an election), were pretty much considered second class citizens. That is until enough complained to elected officials. Then the county sites became Mac friendly, in order for those officials not to lose the valuable votes.

Now if could only get big corporations to feel the same way about consumer’s dollars that elected officials feel about citizen’s votes when it comes to the web.

Web Design Part 2 – Color

There seems to be a lot of people who like to design web sites, and or anything else, that don’t understand color theory. Let it be known that knowing color is very important in any design work, whether web, logos, print, even painting your house or office – if they let you have more than white walls or are stuck in a cube. I just came from an office that was an endless sea of gray cubes, with very cool spectrum lighting. Perfect for programmers and engineers, horrible for designers/creative types.

There are 6 separate color themes, all based on what’s called a color wheel. The color wheel is a pretty good representation of color theory. If you have any good paint program like Photoshop, Corel Painter (that has a very nice one), you know what the color wheel is. Even Mac’s come with one built in with tons of features. This is what one looks like:

color-wheel1

Or go to your local art supply store and buy one. They’re fun and cool to have around, and look like this:colorwheel

Plus, your friends will ask what it is. Make sure you put it next to a really sharp xacto knife, a straight edge, and a hand waxer (used for paste-up, way before cut and paste on computers), and then you’ll have some great conversation pieces. Just make sure you keep your thumb or fingers out of the way when showing how it all works. Trust me.

I can type up a whole lesson on color theory, but I suggest you Google it, or check out this site which I like a lot: Color Wheel Pro: Color Theory Basics.