“I want everything we do to be beautiful. I don’t give a damn whether the client understands that that’s worth anything, or that the client thinks it’s worth anything, or whether it is worth anything. It’s worth it to me. It’s the way I want to live my life. I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.”
On my last day as a 19-year-old, I went and got my eyebrow pierced. Now that I’m freelancing, and never really know where I’ll be working, I can’t go putting holes in my face all willy nilly. So a few weeks before my 28th, I came home from Hot Rod Piercing Co. with this little guy.
Happy birthday to me.
In case you missed it, new post on The Photoletariat.
“Like many necessary tasks, uploading your photos to your blog can be tedious: after a while, all that resizing, tagging, and watermarking gets old.
But there are lots of ways to make this process more efficient, and one of my favorites involves making your watermark a custom brush. Custom brushes give you more flexibility (color, size, placement, etc.), and you can watermark your images in a fraction of a second. Plus, it’s really easy.”
“My life is a testament to the idea that you can achieve whatever the hell you want if you possess a modicum of creativity, and a certain amount of naïveté concerning what is and isn’t possible in this world. I’ve had one-man shows of my paintings in New York, but I’m not a painter. I’ve authored several books, but I’m not a writer. I’ve made a living as a recording artist for the last 30 years, but I can’t read a note of music or play any instrument. I’ve somehow managed to make a career out of doing a great number of things I’m in no way qualified to do”.
- Boyd Rice
I found this via Sean Bonner’s site a few days ago. I’ve been out of graduate school for about four years now, so I’m not sure the work I’ve done so far constitutes a career. But I’ve certainly made a habit of doing things that I’m not really qualified to do. I’m technically an award-winning filmmaker. I’ve taught at a college. Sure, I have degrees in Design and in Film, so maybe I’m at least moderately qualified for those. I also took a job as a webmaster with only very basic HTML and CSS skills, and learned on the job. I’ve been paid to write, and I not only lack a degree in writing, I also never really considered myself a writer. I started a photography business. I’ve run heavy machinery, assisted in surgeries at a veterinary clinic, and taught myself to play a handful of instruments.
It’s my dad’s fault, really. The guy that built our living room, despite having no real carpentry experience. The guy that took a job he had no idea how to do, and learned by reading a manual over the weekend. He’s also taught a college course, without having a degree in anything. Where most people say, “Jeez, I can’t do that,” he says, “How can I get this done?” Whether it’s a nature or nurture thing, I was raised to figure stuff out.
Maybe that makes me qualified.
(Title via Hugh MacLeod.)
Yesterday, I got a phone call. I get a lot of phone calls offering me various outlets for advertising (for the photography business), some more suited to me than others. This one seemed like something I may be interested in, so I heard the guy out.
The initial spiel took a little long, but overall it wasn’t a bad opportunity. It did, however, cost more than I wanted to put into advertising for the year. Most of my business comes from word of mouth referrals, or internet searches that land folks on my blog. I book consistently with next to no advertising, so buying ad space isn’t high priority right now. I told him that it’s something I couldn’t commit to right now, but thanks for calling.
He gave me the “act now, supplies are limited” line. Sorry, not right now. He says maybe he hasn’t showed me the value, but no, I get it. Limited number of competing listings, high search ranking, I hear you. He asks what’s keeping me from signing up right now, and now I’m starting to get just a little bit irritated. I tell him that it’s just not in the budget for this year, and he counters with “See, when people say that, what they usually mean is…”
I tell him it means I’m not signing up. But, thanks. Really.
I know, the guy is doing his job. Hell, I’ve done his job. Tech support for most companies is just an excuse to try to sell you something at every turn, whether you need it or not. I don’t fault people for using certain sales techniques – they’re effective. But nobody appreciates the hard sell. Give me the information, give me your “10% off if you sign up right now”, but don’t badger me. After the fourth “No, thank you,” I’m running out of polite ways to get you off of the phone. If I ever was considering buying your product, chances are slim now that I associate your company with being harangued by your salesperson for 15 minutes. This is why I usually let sales calls go to voicemail.
It’s easy to forget (especially over the phone, or the web) that you’re talking to a person. I mean, would you buy from you?
About a month ago, I was given the opportunity to give a lecture on web usability at Waynesburg University, and now I’m passing it along to you, people of the internet.
When most people consider web design, what they’re really talking about is graphic design – the layout, imagery, color, styling, etc. This all has a huge effect on user experience, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. Things like effective marketing, information architecture, accessibility, and quality production have just as much to do with how usable (and how effective) a site is.
What is Usability, and Why Should I Care?
Usability is how a user interacts with a website. Every website is looking to fulfill some business objective, whether it’s selling something, convincing people to read content, or raising awareness for a cause. Creating a great user experience helps meet these goals. Just like a traditional brick and mortar storefront, the better experience someone has, the more likely they are to return. Conversely, if you make it difficult for someone to purchase from your website, they’ll just go elsewhere. A few weeks ago, I was trying to order a poster. I tried a few times, and the checkout function just wasn’t working. Now, I’m sure I could have called the company, or emailed the webmaster, but instead I just found the thing on Amazon and called it a day. Whatever it is that you want users to do, it’s important that you make it easy for them.
Creating a great user experience comes from understanding the goals of your site, and the goals of your user. Design is a visual solution to a problem. What does the site need to do? What do you want to communicate? What is most important? The better you understand your site’s goals, the better experience you can design for your users, and the more effective your design is at achieving your business goals. Say your primary goal is to get users to book a trip. Is the most attention-grabbing element the call to action, to book? Can users easily find how to book? Is contact information visible and obvious? It sounds obvious to make sure that the most visible thing is also the most important. But it’s easy to get caught up in the look of a layout, without realizing that the thing you’re calling attention to may not be the most important element.
Don’t Annoy Your Users
Users become frustrated when they don’t know what to do to get the information that they want. Don’t make me search your site map like I’m Indiana Jones. Great navigation does wonders for user experience, and lets a person know where they are, where they can go, and what their options are from here. You’ll notice on a lot of larger sites (like Amazon, or Best Buy) they’ll have what are called “breadcrumbs” – links that show you how you got to where you are (for example, Electronics > Cameras > Accessories > Lenses). It’s an easy way to orient users to the site structure, and for them to navigate around several thousands of pages without becoming overwhelmed.
Users also want feedback when something goes wrong. This is arguably a bigger deal in designing forms and applications, but applies to websites as well. There are few things more frustrating than having a program crash, only to receive a vague “Program has quit. Error 504″ message. Effective error messages should tell me what’s going on, why it’s happening, and what I can do about it. That poster I was trying to order? The error message simply said that the order didn’t go through. Is there a problem with the server? Did I type in my credit card number wrong? Do you not process orders on Wednesdays? The site succeeded in telling me what was going on, but failed to tell me what course of action to take. You want to avoid frustrating your users. This means your goal is to anticipate what people are trying to achieve (or, what you want them to achieve), and help them do that.
Managing expectations also has a huge effect on how a user feels about your site. Anyone who’s worked in customer service can tell you that most complaints are a result of customer’s experiences not matching their expectations. Users also become frustrated for the same reason – if I click on a link titled “contact,” I expect to get your contact info. If I suddenly find myself reading your company history instead, then my expectations aren’t met. A great deal of thought goes into not only how the navigation is presented on the site, but how it’s actually structured, and this is where we get into information architecture.
Information Architecture: Where Should I Put That?
Whether you put “News” under the “About” tab or in its own section is an information architecture question. How you organize a site involves weighing a lot of factors, such as:
The site’s goals (Do you want all users to be made aware of news?)
The user’s goals (Is the company’s news of interest to all our visitors?)
and basic common sense (How much news is there going to be?).
This influences navigation, page layout, and effects overall user experience. More content means more choices, and information architecture is more important for larger sites. This site, for example, has three whole links. It didn’t exactly require a flowchart. When I was working on Jefferson Hospital’s website, on the other hand, weeks worth of meetings went into just deciding what information would go where. When you have that much content, the site needs to be split into sections, and you need to provide useful navigation between them. Good user experience is reliable, useful, and unambiguous – to the people using the website.
Aesthetics vs. Usability
Is one more important than the other? You can find an abundance of websites that are beautiful but difficult to use, or highly functional but equally ugly. And some of these sites are successful, so who am I to judge? Personally, I don’t find separating aesthetics from usability to be helpful. The problem is a design problem. Sites should be visually appealing and functional, and you can certainly find examples of successful sites that are both. Ideally, you want to create a site that is beautiful, useful, and gives the user an experience that will encourage them to return.
I don’t even have the vocabulary for how great I think this song is. The fact that they perform this live, and absolutely dead on, just makes it even more impressive. Insert superlatives.
Side note: I have no idea what nonsense the video’s trying to sell you, and am not affiliated with their shenanigans.
It’s possible that I’m watching too much Archer lately. Maybe.