Tag Archives: design

I want it all, I want it now!

I think this is a problem that a few people face, particularly in creative pursuits.  You finally find something that you love to do. You become a sponge and read everything you can find, follow all the latest news and trends and you get an idea of where you want to go and the look and feel you would like.

But there is one small problem, you haven’t given yourself time to practice, to refine your craft and develop the strong foundations you need to support you as you launch yourself into the stratosphere.

Now as a few of you may have already guessed, this is a realisation that is hitting me hard at the moment.  I spent so long looking for something that I love to do, that I understand and that inspires me that I want it all now, I want to be an expert now, I want to know everything, to be able to do everything, to not make mistakes and be able to create the visions of design that I see in my head.  But alas this is not always the case.  Of late I’ve been pushing myself to the limit trying to get everything moving as fast as possible, I figure why wait? It took me this long to figure it out, I can’t waste anymore time in getting where I want to go.

But is it a waste of time to develop and hone and refine your craft?

I think not.  As hard as it feels to do at the moment, I’m starting to realise that I need time and practice.  That pushing myself to be a professional freelance web designer in one easy step really isn’t giving me the foundations and grounding I need to really succeed.

I’m beginning to understand that if I rush too much now, I’ll finish my degree and still be uncertain of my own style, still not have the foundations I need to be great, and still be unable to create the elusive visions that flash across my mind.

So if you’re at the beginning of something you really want, although it may seem better to move fast, speed through the boring fundamentals and get to the fun stuff at the end, my advice is take your time, practice your craft and give yourself the space to learn, to make mistakes and to grow.  Because if you don’t allow yourself the time to develop your foundations, you may fly high, but you’ll fall back down just as fast.

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Down the rabbit hole I go

On beginning this journey, I knew that it would be a challenge.  I knew that web design and SEO was more than a set and forget occupation, rather an interactive pursuit of ever moving targets, strategies and timeframes.  But I think it is only just starting to sink in exactly how detailed and vast my knowledge and experience needs to be to make myself an expert in the field that I love.

So to help myself think through everything that has been running through my mind, I’ll break down my main learning and focus areas at the moment:

  • Web Design

Now this heading is deceptively simple, however the breadth of knowledge needed to be an expert for this one portion of my journey is mind boggling.  Currently I’m refining my already well versed skills in HTML, XHTML, CSS, Photoshop, Illustrator, file naming conventions and the W3C standards of design.  To the uninitiated this may appear to be a fairly long list of experience and attributes.  Sadly this isn’t so.  My aspirations in this area of development include PHP, Flash, JavaScript, Ruby, Perl, XMS, Ajax, Asp.net, jQuery and MySQL.  Not to mention perfecting the graphic design, typography, color theory, accessibility, strategy and planning, wireframing, designing for mobile devices.

This may seem excessive (though I’m sure many of you can cite dozens more areas that I haven’t mentioned), but I’m a perfectionist, I want to know not only what needs to be done, but how to do it, and more importantly how to do it with flair and passion!

  • Project Management

Clearly as a freelance worker of any kind you need to have super human project management skills, and web design is no different.  To be able to manage your time effectively, deliver your clients objectives on time and on budget everything needs to be planned, re-planned, tested and re-tested.  Just like you can’t decide one day that you’re going to build a house and the next day start installing the fixtures, everything in the web design timeline needs to come in the right order and have the right amount of time to percolate and develop.

  • SEO & Social Media Marketing

You can create the best website in the world, with the most amazing graphics and the formula for everlasting youth, but if you don’t market it, no one will ever know.  The mere creation of a website is only half (maybe less) of the job, to make it work, bring in visitors and convert those clicks into sales/referrals/enquiries requires even more dedication and an extremely flexible approach.  Now I think I’m fairly good at letting go of my ego, evaluating what’s working and what isn’t, and changing my approach based on that.  This skill is ESSENTIAL for good SEO and SMM (Social Media Marketing).

It’s great that you know HOW to enter SEO information into your webpages, but unless you know why, who you’re wanting to attract, what action you want them to take once they get onto your site and how you’re going to build the relationship beyond a single click or transaction, then your not marketing, your just on the sidelines hoping that people will miraculously be drawn to your site on the 88th page of Google results.  Good luck with that 🙂

  • Web Analytics

Not only do you need to create, upload and update websites, but more than that to be successful you need to analyse what you’ve done.  You need to test your formats, check your clickthrough rate, your conversion rates and your bounce rates.  You need to keep coming up with ideas and inspiration and test them against your other ideas.  Always be testing!

  • Domain & Database Management

As I’m discovering very quickly, the design of a website is great.  But where do you publish it?  What domain do you use? Do you have keywords in your domain?  Do you have a main domain that is your brand, with other keyword domains that redirect to the same content? How do you keep track of all the domains you acquire?  Keep them fresh, keep their content coming, make sure they’re registered loaded and have maximum uptime.

Once you get customers, or subsctibers, where do you track them?  How do you store their information? What do you use their information for?  What do you disclose?  Do you use a mySQL database to keep your customer data in or do you generate an offline portal?  Then comes the issue of needing to communicate between your site and the server.

  • Personal Branding
  • Business Management
  • Logistics and order fulfilment
  • And on and on and on….

Down the rabbit hole I go, will I stop, I’ll never know


In for a penny, in for a pound

When embarking on a journey such as this you start to question your previously held beliefs about your value in the world.

At the moment my ‘day job’ (which is actually a night job so that I can study and create while my mind is fresh) pays what is a decent amount of money for my skills and expertise.  But as soon as you begin to create something, to branch out and generate thought, ideas, content and creativity all preconceptions about what your time is worth go out the door.

Looking into the winding and unknown road of freelance and entrepreneurialism makes you double check the value you’re putting on your time.  At the moment I’m selling the precious hours of my life for a price that on the surface seems acceptable even inflated for the work I’m doing, but on contemplation feels ridiculous.  My time, my life is worth less than $30 an hour.

Don’t get me wrong I really enjoy my job and the people I work with are great, but it’s not what I love.  It doesn’t excite me the way even the vaguest daydreams of my own freelance Web Design & SEO business excite and energise me.

This is what Robert Frost lovingly referred to the road less travelled by, and as with everything that is not a standardised, prepackaged, mass marketed portion of a ‘normal’ life experience, comes an inherent danger and fear of the unknown.  The unknown in the journey and the unknown in yourself.

So how much am I worth in this new world?  Who knows.  At the moment I’m working on web sites just for the pure fun and experience of it.  My time is reimbursed through knowledge, experience and ignited passion and creativity.  Now thats a trade that makes you smile.

But how to make the change from the mainstream to my own stream?  How much will my time be worth?  How much will I need to compromise myself, my creativity and my values in order to make a living doing what I love?

 


Am I a strategic thinker or a creative?

Recently scrolling through the myriad of blogs, articles and tutorials around web design, I came across a post about the different approaches one can take on in an effort to create and promote themselves as a web designer. Even at these the initial stages of my web design journey, I find the dichotomy of the need to be creative and the push for strategic and logical thinking within myself hard to reconcile to say the least.

In her article ‘Creativity vs. Strategy: What do people really want?’, Kendra Gaines (2011) addresses the need for both creative and strategic thinking to become a great web designer. On the one hand she describes the way that creativity is the essence of design and a sensitive beast that can be stifled by overthinking or too much analysis. Conversely she describes the benefits of being strategic and ensuring you prepare yourself logically for what is to come and what you need to undertake. To me, the ideal balance between these two worlds is illustrated in web design by the creation of wireframes on one hand, and storyboards on the other. The wireframes represent the strategy, you are logically and deliberately planning in the simplest way possible how to structure a website to optimize usability and return on investment for your client. The storyboard (the most fun for me) shows the aesthetic of the site, what colors will be used, how the menu will be dynamic, the imagery you’ve created to deliver optimal branding to your client.

As found by Gaines (2011), I too am a mix of strategic and creative thinking. But the real challenge is finding the RIGHT mix between the two, and ensuring that they nurture and enhance each other. Because you can be the most creative person in the world, but if you have no strategy around what to do with it, you won’t get very far.

Gaines, K. (2011) Creativity vs. Strategy: What do people really want?, http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2011/11/creativity-vs-strategy-what-do-people-really-want/ (Accessed 4 November 2011)