1) How did you get started in web design?
I took a single class in college on web design and I really liked it. My major was graphic design, so I did that for a few years. Right out of college I got a job doing graphic design along with some email coding for a sheet music company. Basically, I was adding the latest sheet music to the top of their emails. It was a horribly tedious job and I hated it, so I would sneakily finish my work early and work on this program that would generate email templates and do my job for me. It was cool because I could devote the rest of my time to making better art for the emails. Their UX department noticed, and told me they needed a UX designer and that I should apply. I ended up getting the job as a UX designer, and I worked there for about a year and a half. That is when I moved here to Charlottesville and got a job with Nectar and went fully web design.
2) Which side do you prefer more, the creative or analytical side?
That’s a tough one because I don’t think I could ever do only one or the other. If I had to choose, I would say analytical, but after a few days of getting stuck with a bug and hitting my head against the wall, I just want to make a pretty picture. That is the cool thing about working here- I am not just a cog in a machine and making the same widgets every day. I am doing all kinds of different things, which is great.
3) What were the main goals of the Presidential Precinct website project?
Mostly, we wanted to tell the “who, what, where, and how” of Presidential Precinct in a much more concise and modern way. We wanted to use a narrative approach to explain the “what they do” portion because that’s the easiest way for people to consume information I think.
4) Can you give a broad overview on the main phases of designing a website?
It starts off with discussion, where I ask the client a bunch of questions about what the website is going to do, who the website is for, and what imagery and general feel they are going for. After the initial information gathering phase, I start doing sketches and wireframes with just a pencil or pen and paper. I come from a graphic design background, and my graphic design teachers told me to do at least 10 sketches before you ever move to a computer. You’ll draw one sketch and realize it’s crap and looks terrible. But by your third sketch, you’re like “oh yeah, I like that, let’s go with that.” But then you gotta make another whole new design, starting from scratch. And maybe you end up going with the third one, but the process is still worth it because you’ll have an idea on the tenth sketch that you can merge into the third one. When I do this process, I start with just the homepage primarily because that is where most of the big design and structural decisions are made.
After doing a bunch of different sketches, I’ll pick two or three to actually render in higher fidelity on the computer. I move into a program called Sketch, which is really good for UX design. I do about two or three designs and cycle through a process of trial and error, along with an internal review. After the review, I pick two of the strongest designs and clean them up a little bit to show to the clients. I get their feedback and give the designs to them, so they can think about it for a while before choosing the design direction going forward. From there, I start building up secondary pages using the same design structure and language that I built up in the homepage.
After that, I bring it back to the client, and hopefully, they love everything and let me start programming. The goal is to have everything so well nailed down by the time you get into actual code there are no big revisions unaddressed. But in reality, there will be changes or additions, because there are some things that you can’t prototype that you come across later. During this stage, you’re definitely a little bit nervous because you are hoping that they like it, and you’re hoping that something doesn’t just randomly break on the site when you send it to them.
How do you communicate with your clients throughout the design process?
That’s honestly the place I need of improvement the most. I mean, I hate emails, but you have to mostly use email at various stages. If I’m not entirely sure what their feelings would be about a certain piece of functionality, then I’ll try to send an email about that before I get too far down the road. I use email for the smaller things and nit-picky stuff. But luckily most of our clients are close enough to walk to us, and having in-person meetings is the best way to explain something and get feedback immediately. It’s kind of hard to beat face-to-face communication.
6) Most Challenging Part of this Project?
Taylor: I’m going to let Geoff take the stage and nerd-out in his own words for this one:
7) What are some common misconceptions about web design?
If you don’t have a programming background, often times what sounds easy and what IS easy are two very different things. There are some ideas where people ask “could we even do that? Would it be possible or would it be too hard?” And I’m like, yeah, that’s the easiest thing in the world- I would just hit a button and it works basically. But there are other times where people say “yeah just throw that in and let’s go live,” and I’m like, “that’s a week of work right there.” Everyone is going to have an idea somewhere along the line because you usually won’t come up with everything in the beginning. But, if that idea trumps everything you are working on, then a project will keep getting pushed back. Being able to move things to a second phase after going live is an important discipline to have because you have to maintain your focus on priorities. You can say “that is a great idea” and mark it down, then figure out its priority on the task list with your client.
8) What did you enjoy the most about designing the Presidential Precinct Website?
The collaboration was really great. Occasionally, clients will come up with an idea that you really don’t like, and you have to think of how to move them away from it. But I was pretty much on the same page with them throughout, and we had a very similar vision for how the site could look.
Working with Drew was very much like “oh, I hadn’t thought of that but I wish I had because that’s a really good idea. Let’s do it.” So that was my favorite part; having a client that was on board with everything you were doing, and you were on board with what they were doing. It was very collaborative.
9) How do you pace yourself and keep from burning out?
A combination of Asana or (insert whatever project managing tool you use here), because I can’t keep track of more than a few things in my head. As soon as I dump stuff and create a list of tasks, that is such a relief. It is useful to block out your time to find out how much you have to give to everything, and you can start to look closer at your priorities. There is also a system called bullet journal, which I use a slightly modified version of. I was skeptical at first, but when I started doing it, I was like “Woah I am so organized. I have an index in my notebook. This is changing my world!” I’ll do a daily log or a weekly log of tasks and spend 5-10 minutes in the morning figuring out what I need to get done. During the day I don’t have to think about it, I am going down the list. I think that some of the biggest inefficiencies of your workday happen when you just finish a task and have to think of what to tackle next. With the task list, it takes that cognitive load off of you.you.
10) What is one piece of advice you have for someone just starting out in web design?
If you are not scared of applying for a job or starting a new one, then you aren’t doing it right. You should be kind of terrified going into a new project. You should always push yourself outside of your comfort zone, because odds are you can do it, and you are going to learn a lot. That was me pretty much every single time. I guess you can break everyone down into two types of people. The first one is usually “that is not in my job description, I don’t know how to do that so I’m not going to.” And then there is the other type of person who is like “oh yeah, I can do that.” And you end up watching a ton of youtube videos that night to have it down by the next day.