Category Archives: Education

Woman with megaphone

Digital Ignorance is Not Bliss

Time to get real. The web is no longer a teenager. We live in the digital age. If you have a job building the digital world, it’s past time you learn how a web site works and how it is made. The time when a marketing strategist could get by saying “I’m a print guy. I don’t get that web stuff.” is beyond over. Web, mobile, print, TV, they all work together creating seamless experiences. Or at least that’s what your audience expects of your brand. Throwing up your hands in ignorance of one channel does not amplify your brilliance in those you claim to understand.

Woman with megaphone


At the risk of breaking into a rant I’ll speak plainly. I get it that you are a gifted graphic designer. Really, your shit is beautiful. Photoshop is an extension of your physical being. The problem is Photoshop is not your medium. Designing for digital means that screens, pixels, browsers and apps are your media. If you want to design awesomeness, you need to learn how to best exploit their attributes like a painter understands paint and canvas.

Myopically focusing on your pixels handicaps the teams who build what you imagine. You are limiting your own pool of ideas; limiting your usefulness in a world of collaborators. You are the lab partner that no one wants because you don’t do your share of the work. Pleading ignorance of the web is no longer acceptable for those designing for it. It is merely and indication of your lack of dedication to your craft. Don’t be that guy.

The web grew primarily through the spirit of those building on each others shared work (open source). Networks of self-motivated individuals figuring out what we can make this internet thing do. Self teaching is still the primary method of education among digital professionals. No one gets to stand off to the side refusing to learn and keeps a seat at the table. Everyone around you is learning as fast as they can. You need put on your big girl pants and step up.

You don’t need to become an expert developer. You DO need to understand the foundation of how the internet works. Understand HTML5, how data gets in and out of a web page, and how all of those computers talk to each other.

I’ll up the stakes just a bit more. If you have anything to do with strategy, marketing or user experience please for-the-love-of-Pete start participating in social networks. This is a major part of how brands are connecting with people. You need to understand how Facebook, Twitter, etc. fits into the collective experience. If you can’t empathize with those users, if you don’t understand it, how can you design for it?

Thanks for listening. Now go learn something.

End of rant.

photo credit: hebedesign via photopin cc

Made at MiKE

This past weekend I attended MADE at MiKE: Mobile Application Development Event hosted by Bucketworks, Project H2OScore, MiKE, and Spreenkler. It was a nice opportunity to meet local (Milwaukee, WI) industry colleagues and engage in conversations around mobile design and development.

Matt Friedel, of presented some good business background on the mobile market. His presentation Mobile Business: Strategy and ROI contained some nice stats on its ramp up over the past decade and forecasts for future trends. One of his main points was that you should look at the platforms of your particular user community when considering platforms and devices to target. Even though iOS and Android may be leading the market, your app may be targeted to an industry that mostly loyal Blackberry users. Once again, you need to get to know your users.

I also attended fellow UX guru, Gretchen Thomas’ presentation Mobile Design is for Mobile Users. It was a good primer to get people thinking about the contexts in which mobile users are interacting with the apps and sites that the audience is wanting to build. Like Matt, there was an emphasis on beginning with a mobile vision and strategy rather than modifying your current website to fit in a smaller format. I loved the fictional example she walked us through illustrating her point “Mob Buddy for Angry Townspeople”.

During the Q&A after Gretchen’s presentation, someone asked how she would approach Responsive Design. Her response was a traditional position that design should not be limited by implementation considerations. On this point, I disagree. As a matter of fact, I think that this approach is unattainable and also the main reason that designers encounter so much friction.

My theory is that a long time ago some designers had a difficult time coming up with creative web designs because they couldn’t think beyond pre-CSS HTML table layouts. So they were encouraged to sketch and design in Photoshop and think about the implementation later. That was back when the web was new. There were two major browsers and most websites were static. Today, interfaces are highly dynamic and computing is ubiquitous. To get a product to market quickly, designers need to collaborate with developers in order to get to the best design as fast as possible.

Designers need to understand the medium in which their designs will be built and the technical environment in which they coexist. How else can we create designs that are efficient and take advantage of the interface capabilities?If designers adapted to become better team members and let go of our hero designer egos, we would all make better products faster.

Information Overload

For the past few years I’ve spent a lot of time reading about UX design, mostly online. Blogs from industry celebs, online magazines and scholarly research when I can get it. I’ve learned a lot. I keep current. I sign up for new social networking tools so that I understand the landscape I’m designing for. Then there are the popular gadgets I’ve purchased so that I can understand the experience and design for the devices. It’s all led up to a frenzied information consumption-rate as I gulp gleefully from the fire-hose. I love learning, but there is a tipping point at which I need to stop…slow down…let it sink in.

Focus. Breathe. Contemplate. Consider.

It’s time for me to do more of that. Take a more organized and focussed approach rather than attempting to inhale all the articles delivered in that stream-of-consciousness called Twitter. A little sorting and organizing is past due. Set aside a time for reading and a time for sharing. Then get on with the doing, which is really the most important of all.