Friday, July 24, 2009


My entire knowledge of building interactive websites has been expanded. Coming from a person who's had a hard time learning enough Flash to get by, trying to learn Javascript seemed pretty impossible. Being such a visual person, all the code and learning the language seemed daunting.

I showed some of my work to a web developer who brought to my attention that the all-Flash websites I've been designing could be easily redone with Java and CSS. Considering the fact that Flash websites are a bit tricky when it comes to search engine optimization, I figured it might be worth my while to give Javascript a try. SEO is kind of a big deal, and although there are certain ways to optimize Flash websites for search engines, I knew it'd be worth my while to at least look into building without Flash altogether.

I literally knew nothing about it. But after a little research, I realized it isn't necessary to write Java on my own. Using a framework like jQuery has been super helpful and easy to understand. Before I knew it, 2 days later, I recreated something I did in Flash to be completely HTML, Javascript, and CSS. And it does everything I want it to.

Experiencing this has made me realize that it's not worth it to let yourself be intimidated by something you don't know. It just took some time and initiative to jump right on in, willingness to learn and try...And I've found that I actually prefer it. Another thing to tack onto my list of things I know how to do, or know I can learn how to use in future projects.

This probably sounds like no big deal, but learning something and having it turn out the way you want to is mighty refreshing.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Importance of Having a Workspace.

It's funny that for the 3 years I've been putting myself through art school, I've never had a proper designated place to work. My freshman year I had an iMac and a desk, but the kind of work I had to do freshman year was a cakewalk compared to what I go through now. 

I put that iMac through hell and the logic board failed me. Bought a Macbook Pro at the end of my sophomore year like most of my peers and from then on, my workspace consisted of wherever I chose to sit: the couch, library, Cass Cafe, various coffee shops, or tucked up in bed. The downside to this is the amount of time I spent doubled over a laptop put an insane amount of stress on my back, neck, and arms.

A lot of people don't realize the dangers of working on computers all day every day, and that goes double for laptops. Repetitive strain injuries and carpal tunnel can develop overnight. I realized this one night, after having been at work all day and school all night with hardly a break, working late into the night on a final project for my interactive class...My right arm began to feel numb. I realized the next day that it was hard to grip things. Someone went to hand me something and my fingers didn't close all the way, so I dropped it. There was a faint numb pain running from above my elbow to my wrist and fingers that wasn't going away. I did some research online and everything I read told me to give my arm a rest, which was impossible. When your job and classwork revolves around the computer, you can't afford to take a break.

Along with arm stretches and taking breaks every hour I discovered small ways to improve my posture and the ergonomics of my desk at work, but working at home on my laptop...There was no way to improve it. My tiny flat didn't provide me with the appropriate space for work, I didn't have a desk, and my entire life revolved around this thing. 

Now that summer's here and I've moved into a more accommodating space, I plan on doing things different next semester. Time for a desk, a supportive chair, and no more crouching uncomfortably over my laptop. I found this website with instructions on how to build your own cardboard laptop stand which I happen to think is pretty fabulous. Your eye level moves up so that your head is no longer pointed down and putting strain on your neck, you can attach an external keyboard and an ergonomic mouse, and it's altogether a drastic improvement.

I don't know whether or not other designers keep these things in mind, but if they don't now then I think it's important to educate yourself. Repetitive strain injuries and carpal tunnel can severely affect your life and the way you work. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

This is what I do.

I design websites every day. I don't know whether or not I'm any good at it. I mean, it's pretty simple. I could be better at a lot of things, like Actionscript and PHP and all that fancy shit. I know my way around Flash enough to make things look alright when I need to, although I usually do things the hard way to avoid learning how to code it all out appropriately. I have Learning Actionscript 3.0: A Beginner's Guide sitting in a box at my new house, ready to be unpacked tomorrow with all my other junk. But I know that once I place it on my bookshelf, I probably won't be able to sit down with it. I've opened it so many times but I end up going in circles, reading the same section over and over and not knowing how to apply the things I'm reading because I'm not completely understanding it.

It's entirely possible that I do not have a left side to my brain.

Interactive design is so strange to me. It requires both the left and the right side. As I get older, I find it's harder and harder for me to keep up with it. When I was a kid, I learned HTML on my own time. I copy and pasted code from websites and pieced things together the old school way with a text editor. I remember staring at lines and lines of code, learning how to make little Javascript menus and effects, rollovers and image maps. What happened to that kind of dedication? How is it that at 13 I had more patience to learn and understand a new language than I do now that I'm nearly finishing my last year at art school?

I was never any good at math. I realize now that trying to learn Actionscript is like solving a massive math problem. Hell, I tried multiplying numbers in my head yesterday and checked my math on a calculator only to find out I had screwed it up. I count on my fingers for fucksake.

Anyway, I guess my point is, I'm redesigning my portfolio website and I promised myself I wouldn't build it in Flash unless I learn enough AS3 to make it really fantastic. So I designed a placeholder to motivate myself and 3 weeks later, I still haven't made any progress.

There's gotta be a part of my brain that can handle this. Concept and research and development and design and creativity have slowly pushed all the technical logic I'm capable of into the deepest hard-to-reach places of my skull. It's time I dig it back out.

Inkd - The Beginning of the End?

If the design world had a hell, I imagine that this thing would be at its center, festering and cackling maniacally. Inkd provides prepackaged designs in a variety of categories, from Arts and Entertainment to Medical and Marketing businesses. Simply browse through the designs provided for you and choose the style you prefer to apply to your own company identity. 

For instance, perhaps you're leading an organization involved in setting up an art fair event in your community. Most people might go to a marketing firm or design studio, or perhaps pay a freelance artist for their time involved in creating the advertising, brochures, or event identity that is often required for such an event. Inkd removes this requirement, allowing you to purchase a predetermined design (basically a kind of template) at an astoundingly low price, to do with as you wish. Designers submit their work to Inkd, and if chosen, their artwork is put up for sale on the website. In the event that their design is sold, they receive a measly 20% commission. 

Business cards are sold for $39. Brochures for $99. Postcards for $29. 

In my eyes, this is wrong on a number of different levels. Is this not devaluing the design industry? Professional designers are putting time and energy into designing template work and being paid so little for their efforts. As an art student working my way through school, it's been drilled into my head that there is a certain process to approaching a client and a project. The design process is essential in providing a successful outcome. But in this case, there is no process -- The outcome is generalized to fit a genre instead of a specific person, event, or company. This redefines everything I thought to be true about graphic design.

From what I understand, once a design is purchased it may be altered to cater to a person's needs. I suppose that's simple enough. But where is the direction? The inspiration? The story? There's nothing in that when starting with a prefabricated design that was created with nothing in mind except a general idea and arbitrary font choices, illustrations, and graphics.

Successful design keeps these things in mind. There is research, inspiration, innovation, and reasoning behind choosing what goes into the project each step of the way. Inkd may provide well designed identity systems and brochures, but it is not successful. It goes against everything I've learned and come to love about design. 

If this is one step closer to drive-thru graphic design and marketing, I fear for the future. 

"Hi, I'll have the Logo Special Deluxe. That comes with business cards included, right?"

"It sure does. That'll be $5.95, please pull up to the next window."