Archive for June, 2011

Web Design, Should I have? The follow on..

As a few of you may remember, a few weeks ago I wrote a blog summarising alot of my feelings surrounding my own experiences with starting a Web Design and Development business. In which I stressed some of the things, that we’re currently on my mind and a brief evaluation of my experiences thus far.

If you are planning on reading the rest of this post, I strongly recommend you at least give the previous article a little skim through, you can find it here

This post is very much a continuation of expression, using my blog as my tool and in doing so following on nicely from the post I wrote a few weeks ago.

Ok, so, onwards, a little over a week ago I took a short holiday and hoped to use it as a nice bit of relaxation and reflection time. Normally while i’m away I tend to lay on the beach thinking of ways to do things differently, the next big thing or just illustrating an idea in my head. However something rather strange occurred to me about half way through the holiday, I hadn’t done any of this. This was very weird, i’d taken the time to read a few great books from abookapart but other than that i’d thought about nothing relevant to work or sat their wondering what was going on back at home, without me. I tried to kick back and analyse why I thought this was, and, in honesty I didn’t find the answer. However I had drawn some conclusions from it. I was obviously stressed, tense, and wound up about work and releasing that largely over the weeks building up to my holiday, combined, with the perfect excuse to forget about them, I found myself happy enough to not be thinking about work and it’s in’s and out’s at all. Bliss.

The ability to attach and detach yourself from work is always a good one to have, at least for your health anyway, but when its your own company as many of you will know, this really is not easy to do. I still felt perhaps something more fundamental had changed. So since i’ve been back, i’ve been trying to work out what I thought that might be, and, why. I’ve drawn this from my feelings; over the last 3 years i’ve poured my life and soul into starting my business, my social life and my free time, and a whole lot of blood sweat and tears. Although i’m not going to sit here and complain, i’m open to admit, i’ve not got as much out of it as i’ve put in. However, it has given me the chance to be thrown in at the deep end and learn the tricks of the trade, admittedly very much the abnormal way round, but its been great none the less. My passion for designing and making things has definitely not waned in this period, which to me, is a great sign, as hopefully i’ve found something I really do love to do.

But what pouring your whole life and soul into often makes you forget, is that, life exists outside your little bubble, and if you just take a step back once in a while, quite often you’ve missed quite a bit. Just because things perhaps aren’t working out, it’s not the be all and end all of everything, theirs plenty more to come and plenty of other avenues and options to explore. So i’ve decided to try and relax about thing’s, learn from previous mistakes and just enjoy developing when I enjoy it and stopping when I don’t.

I also thought; you know what i’m going to think about what the downfalls of the last 3 years have been and how I might do them a little differently. One area that I particularly wanted to talk about was risk. That big scary word RISK. Avoid it like the plague some would say, other’s learn to embrace it, the best approach, who knows. Both can work, but they are fundamentally very, very different. We adopted the approach of avoiding RISK like the plague, looking back, i’d have liked to played my cards differently. Although RISK oftens shortens the time in which you have to develop projects under a budget, employing one or 2 more staff, also shortens the time needed to develop projects and brings 2 more heads into the business, 4 heads are better than 2 right? We only took the plunge to get ourselves an office 2 and a bit years into the 3 and a bit years we’ve been doing this. Again, something we should have done long ago. What taking no risk has allowed us to do is drag out what could end up being the inevitable, over a longer period of time.

For me I think the extra time has given me the time to concentrate on improving my skills as a developer, but has turned me into someone who has to do a bit of everything. And as we all know full well, you CANNOT be the best at everything, employing other people is far more efficient, providing you hire the right people of course!

As a web design and development business we could do with a full time sales manager, pulling in work, left, right and centre. But that’s never happened quite that way. We make alot of our own products (mostly online games) which when we’re not busy we get stuck into, either by upgrading or coding add ons. For which we could also do with a content manager, who would make interesting and awesome links between missions, achievements etc and manage the game experience, given to the players in a pro-active way. But who’s willing to work for a profit share these days? And finally a PR who gets our games and products all over the web. Now some of you might be sitting their saying well you could probably do all these things and run your own business, I say, you can’t. I will never be running my business as well as I could, so long as i’m also the Sales Manager, the Director, the PR, the lead Programmer, and Designer. Fact.

For me I say embrace RISK, it will help you reach either the end or the start of something quickly and without wasting years and years trying to build up to it. Don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t suggest you go out tommorow and try to secure a £250,000 bank loan, but perhaps try to secure some funding and take some risks with it. Business is all about risks, some come off and some don’t, thats life i’m afraid folks.

So perhaps i’m acting a little downbeat about things, but i’m feeling cynical towards the end of this post. I think my short break gave me som time to reflect and think about both my business as a whole and how it’s now fitting in with my life goals and personal objectives. I’ve given both of these alot of thought, and, hope I have some kind of master plan in my head. It’s very important to remember too assess how everything your doing fits with you, if what your doing ultimately doesn’t fit with you and your life or even your future, then likelihood is you won’t be enjoying it and thus won’t be making the quality of work / contribution you should.

Responsive Web Design – Should We?

Responsive Web Design (RWD) seems to be causing quite the storm in our world at current, and I myself am quite engrossed within it’s inner workings. At face value it seems like it could be the answer to designing for different, DPI’s, Resolutions, and screen sizes. Whats more is it really could be the answer…..or could it? I’m not writing this to suggest my opinions are right nor wrong, this is just my analogy thus far. I’ve read a few books and have been keeping track on the on-going arguments on various other blogs and sites, but i’m by no means claiming to be a genius on the subject (disclaimer over with).

RWD for those who aren’t familiar is in summary – all about cleverly designing your css stylesheets, to specifically target, segment, and adapt to changes in browser Resolution and DPI. Most importantly making it possible to target particular hand held devices like the iPhone, iPad etc. Using the css @media-queries functionality provided to us since CSS2 we can effectively target different devices within a few simple css rules. It’s actually a great and inexpensive way to build an adaptable stylesheet so that your website is far more versatile to change.

It allows you as the designer to simply target and adapt my website, specifically to different resolution screens straight from your normal css stylesheets. Now don’t be fooled, the ability to do this has been around for a while. But, only of late, with the steady traction of mobile browsing and surge of tablet’s into the market, viewing our websites in lots of different ways has become a huge headache. But what we’ve also found has changed is peoples needs, from device to device, and how they interact with our websites. We’ve identified clients/customers/general public want a much different browsing experience when viewing from an iPhone to what they do when viewing on their PC/MAC. And thus far nearly all major websites are following the trend, opting for smart, toned down versions of their main sites to better serve their mobile visitors. Which I think is great, and precisely the right attitude to take. So long as you provide some means to view the normal site as a fail safe.

RWD looks to also change the way we design, instead of designing our desktop css and site first, instead we should opt to design for the simplest, most ancient and out of date displays first and build up to our most elaborate (in most cases: the desktop) last.

Now here’s where my opinions come in, shoot me down if you will, or ride with me if you agree, neither matters to me very much as i’m probably about as un decided on the matter as you.

RWD for me, brings about a different way of approaching stylesheet design, and to the most extent, it provides a much better base for any website (given its worth the resources and time to create the extra stylesheet rules and you have a genuine use case). Here’s what I mean by base:

If your site already has a specifically targeted mobile site, then great. No doubt you’ve got a major need for the mobile version and thus most likely the budget to support such a move. This would serve up in most cases a completely tailored experience to the user, dependant on screen resolution and DPI, which in my opinion cannot be bettered. However, this requires significant time, large investment, and very often a complete reworking of functionality. It can also often cause duplication and ever growing code bases to manage, which if your freelancing or a small team, might not be desirable until you know its worth the resources.

Otherwise I think RWD holds significant value, its a lightweight, inexpensive, and pretty simple way to make your site much more adaptable to change, and with the ever changing market, who wouldn’t want that?

Now this having been said, like any tool out their, you can royally f$*k the implementation of this up and alot of the arguments and debates i’ve seen on this topic thus far have been hemmed on this. Specifically on when to use and when not to use. RWD would argue changing elements widths dynamically as the user resizes the screen is great, and you should do it on any device. However, I say, it depends largely on the implementation, and even more significantly on the implementer. It is 100% a useful tool given the right implementation in the right scenarios, however, much like anything on the web, interpretations are different and tools like this will often be overused. Whether RWD works for your site is down to your developer or if you are a developer, then its down to you. Don’t sit their thinking simply adopting this movement will make your websites, amazing, cutting edge or WOW anyone. You’ll only be putting your own head on the guillotine if you think RWD is necessary and needed for every project from now on. Instead carefully weigh up the pro’s and con’s, and make an informed decision based on results, demand, budget, and implementation time.

If I was to really stick my neck out, and risk it being severely beaten off by any interested passers by, I might go as far as saying I like to adapt design for small screen resolutions including the browser, to a certain upper limit. After which I think its pretty pointless endlessly expanding a design. Also I think you open up alot of potential problems when doing so, which with more complicated sites is definitely more of a headache than its worth.

As with anything in our opinionated little world of web development, you’ve got your haters and your lovers, that will never change. RWD can be a very useful ally, when you choose the right time to make allegiances, but don’t expect it to be a complete game changer should you decide to take the leap of faith.

Why web design is something I got into, but should I have?

Lately i’ve been spending a little time reflecting on my day job (running a small web design firm) and asking myself a few questions as to why infact I do it. I’m not going to go into the reasons why i’ve been taking sometime to think about it, but what I am going to do is use this blog post as a methodical and perhaps helpful way of me expressing myself.

I got into web mainly through 3 avenues; the first of which has been feeding my creativity ever since I started doing it. I’ve always been creative minded, (i.e. I can come up with some decent ideas, amongst, admittedly some not so great ones). Although i’ve never been that great at artsy forms of creativity (cant draw for toffee), i’m not bad at graphic design and designing systems but im certainly no Van Gogh. The second of which, I really love, problem solving, it has to be one of my favourite things, and it can be very satisfying, formulating a plan to solve a complex problem. And lastly my love for computers, since a young age i’ve been into computers, both playing them and getting involved with the technical side (under the hood). I built my first computer when I was only 15, it wasn’t the greatest, but hey, I went onto make better icon smile Why web design is something I got into, but should I have?
I also spent alot of time learning visual basics and creating complex Access and Excel solutions throughout high school and particularly in my year out from university, so coding was at least familiar to me.

I’ve now been solidly working in web design and dev for just under 4 years, am fluent in PHP, jQuery, HTML, CSS, Javascript, MYSQL, dabbled with Python and Ruby and tried out countless other entourages along the way. All self taught. I’ve even now built my own PHP game framework, with hundreds of addon libraries. But truth be told, as the old saying goes “its a developers curse”, the more you know, the more you want to know and we all also know that evantually just like anyone in any position “you’ll fall out of touch, if you don’t keep up”. I often feel that as a developer, especially working for yourself, there’s no one to tell you “hey that piece of work is really ace, nice job.” or anyone to say “hey, you’ve really progressed lately have a bonus”. Tar very much. Doesn’t quite work like that in my world.

Outside of work im an active, sports enthusiast and have a small hatred for sitting down in a chair burning deep down inside, which gets made worse by the fact, at times, I can sit in front of the computer much like I am right now and not even notice that well over 2-3 hours have just dwindled out of my life. I suppose that could be a good or a bad thing, on the one hand i’m clearly not bored, as time flies, but on the other, I need to be active as well and thats also something I love. Balancing the 2 can be interesting, in a rather more shit, than interesting way, lots of early morning gym or warewolf style moonlit runs, are the order of most weeks.

When things don’t necessarily go entirely your way, or even, at all your way. Your first port of call is to question yourself, well at least it is with me, I have to constantly say to myself am I good enough to be doing this? Which I find a right pain in the ass at times. And truth be told the only real answer to this question is within myself and in the evidence of my work. You start asking yourself, are you working hard enough? Could you work harder? Could you start earlier? finish later? work weekends? freelance? twilight? And all these questions often just become a little overwhelming, to the point at which a headache is usually the final outcome. Working for myself, has its perks, yes I can start when I want, yes I could choose to have a day off when I want and yes if I want to have a long lunch I can, but invariably I do none of these things. Maybe I should? Once every now and then. Or maybe I just feel that when I’m earning the sort of money where I feel I can afford to kick back and relax a little more than I can do these things. But in the mean time I just feel like i’m letting myself down if I don’t work as sodding hard as I can.

I also ask myself, as much as I love being involved in the designing/coding/planning stages of all projects, i’m not sure I could see myself doing the “grunt” work forever. Having never worked in the environment where I’ve had the time, to take my time, so to speak, nor the environment where someone will be scrutinising my code, I’ve only ever had coding standards to base myself on and only myself to benchmark and learn from. Which i’ve actually found a pretty heavy burden. I’d far rather be working in a room with 20-30 likeminded programmers all bouncing ideas and what have you off of each other. Much more fun and beneficial way to learn. Alas unless of course my company takes off, then thats unlikely to happen in the near future.

I don’t like to bitch and moan, but I think, or hope, whatever it may be, that their will be some other like minded dudes / dudettes & whatever else out there, with some similar thoughts, maybe even some experience of going through similar things. I’m coming up to 25 years old, 4 years out of uni, and 3 and a half years running my own company, i’ve learnt so much in this time, but i’m currently not sure where its all taking me and what direction i’m heading in. My company hasn’t advanced enough in the 3 and a half years we’ve been doing it to progress with my life (buy a new motor / move out of my parents home) and my friends around me are starting to achieve these things. I don’t mind being the last one or even if it doesn’t happen right now, I just kind of want it to happen at some point and know that i’m heading in a direction which is working. Most things in life, evantually reach a crossroad, knowing where that point is and for how long to pursue it, is the hard part.

In the mean time, I continue to work hard on the projects we are currently working on and hope I can get my head round the situation, so that I can really start to attain some of my life goals. Not that i’m at all one for following a life plan or anything of the sort (just had to get that clear). I guess anyone who’s gone into business with themselves in the past, and things haven’t taken off or quite gone as swimmingly as they would have hoped will have been in a situation like this before and hopefully (not in a cruel way, of course I hope your business did well really) you might be reading.

Hopefully this will be a half decent read and not just a bitch and moan about how hard done I feel, because I don’t, I’d do it all again, just maybe this is the time to put it all under a magnifying glass. Please don’t view it that way, drop any constructive comments below.

I’m really kinda hoping that it might also be useful for anyone else feeling a similar way to have a read.