What does a UI designer even do, anyway?


I get asked this question a lot! I’ve put together a quick overview of the services I offer, how I work and how your project can benefit by engaging a UI designer like me. I can help you with:

  • a logo design;
  • a memorable brand scheme;
  • an intuitive user journey through your website or app;
  • a contemporary, responsive interface design for your website or app.



roller

Here’s how I roll…




First, I take a brief

I like to meet in person where possible or set aside time for a briefing over Skype. It’s important to get an insight into what you’re about, your project objectives, target market and brand personality.

Deliverables: I follow up with a detailed proposal speccing out project requirements, deliverables, proposed timeline and a cost estimate.



Next, I do some discovery

What problem are you trying to solve with this new design? Who is your ideal customer? Who are your competitors? What will make you memorable and stand out from the crowd?

Deliverables: I make design decisions based on my findings and determine the best way to drive your site’s call to action.


Logo design

I can design you a bespoke logo from scratch or overhaul up your existing design. I start with lots of rough sketches on paper, then work up the best ideas in Illustrator. A logo needs legibility in both large and small format, over photographs, in black/white and colour. I put a design through its paces.

Deliverables: I typically deliver 2-3 logo concepts for consideration. I alter these following your feedback, we iterate back and forth and work up the most successful design into the final logo. I deliver your logo in EPS, PNG and PDF format and can size to fit specific applications like Twitter or Facebook.


Brand identity

Standardising your brand style will make your online presence professional and memorable. Practically speaking this means a colour scheme, typography, icon design and image style.

Caption

Deliverables: I get together a series of ‘style tiles’ like the example above. I find a style tile is an effective way of establishing the essence of a visual brand, outside of the constraints of a website layout. We iterate, then work the most successful tile into a simple brand style guide that you can apply to future design work.


UX wireframes/prototype

How will users navigate your site or app? What will compel them to sign up or make a purchase? I can map out your user journey or iron out the kinks in your current UX.

The quickest way is to get together for UX design session. With a whiteboard or post-its we can knock your UX into shape fast! For smaller projects I can suggest a site structure for you.

caption

I’m a big believer that everyone can draw (even the CEO!)

Deliverables: I deliver a clickable, wireframe prototype of your design. We test and tweak this until the flow is intuitive.


Website and app interface design

I can design you a fresh and contemporary interface with optimum keyword placement (for SEO), responsiveness (for viewing across different screens and devices) and most importantly to drive your call to action.

I begin by producing an initial homepage design for both mobile and desktop views and iterate following your feedback. I then move onto the design of secondary pages and elements and we iterate until you are happy that the design fulfils the brief.

responsive

Deliverables: I provide site designs for review in jpg format via an online preview tool. I deliver final designs as fully specced Photoshop PSD files, individual icons, retina graphics and a text file of key styles for your developer.


Why choose me?

I appreciate that taking on a new designer is a risk. I’ve got a bit of form that will hopefully put your mind at ease:

  • I’ve been freelancing for 6 years and most of my work comes from recommendations. Feel free to phone anyone in my portfolio for a recommendation.
  • Prior to freelancing I spent 6 years as a web designer for Merrill Lynch and 3 years as a senior designer for UBS Investment Bank.
  • I graduated with a BA in Digital Media from University of the Arts London, first class hons.
  • To minimise your risk I don’t ask for payment upfront. Pay me at the end of the project when you are happy that my design fulfils the brief that I’ve delivered on value.
  • I can build front-end so my designs translate nicely into code.



Development



You’ll get the most value from me as a designer. If you’re looking for a single-page marketing or brochure site, I can code this for you. If you need a back-end CMS like Drupal or WordPress, want to sell things from your site, have a complicated HTML build or need an app developed, then you will need to engage a developer to build your product from my designs. I work alongside a number of web and iOS developers and can often recommend someone to take on your project if you don’t have a coding resource. I regularly work alongside in-house teams and play nicely with others.



Ethos



I’m nice and I like to work with nice people. Open communication is key. I’ll always do right by you, work to our agreed deadlines and deliver good quality designs on budget. In return I ask you to respect my design decisions, to not micromanage my time and to pay my invoices within 30 days.

There’s only one of me so I have to be selective in the work I take on. I love to work with folk who are excited about their product or service. If you’re solely focused on driving down cost then I’m probably not the right designer for you! Where possible I work on one job at a time to ensure your project gets the care and attention it deserves.


If you think we’d work well together give me a call. I would love to have a chat about your project: 0207 193 5353

Standing desks: a view from the top

I’ve been toying with the idea of a standing desk for a while and I’ve finally taken the plunge. Why? Because sitting is slowly killing me. Chances are it’s probably killing you too.

As a UI designer I sit all day. I sit at my computer, I sit eating lunch. During downtimes I sit at the kitchen table or on the couch. I offset this by running for 4 hours a week, which when stacked up against the 50+ hours spent sitting seems feebly unbalanced.

I became interested in a standing desk after seeing a photo of this man. Wow. I’ve never seen someone look quite so much like they’ve just jogged up to their desk, done a nifty 250 one-handed press-ups before taking over the world. The health benefits he claimed, like improved concentration and feeling energised, really appealed.

Like most desk workers, I start the day renewed. Good posture, ergonomic setup, hot coffee. The 3pm post-lunch slump finds me slouched, grouchy, surfing the amoeba-like shallows of UsVsThem for cat gifs. I tried to counteract this lull by setting this time aside for emails and I found the most productive way to do this was standing up at the kitchen counter on my iPad. Perhaps there was something to be gained from standing?

Reluctant to splash cash on more freelance whimsy, I Googled for solutions. This article claimed a standing desk could be achieved with $22 parts from IKEA. I even went as far as going to IKEA and staring aimlessly at the little white packets of fittings. I admitted defeat; unless I shacked up with a builder, a DIY solution was clearly not going to materialise.

You can easily drop a grand on a standing desk. Some even go up and down electronically. I liked the idea of keeping my original desk and chair though, and still being able to sit on days when I was hungover or huffy. I toyed with this Kangaroo height adjuster but baulked at the price.

I eventually went for a Varidesk Pro and I’m really pleased with it. It accommodates a 27 inch monitor and super easy to operate – you click two handles at the sides to ease it up and down. The downside is looks – it’s been seriously hit with the ugly stick. If you are running a design studio where aesthetics matter, then this isn’t the kit for you. It’s also *incredibly* heavy, to the point it took two skinny developers several minutes to heave it onto my desk. At a cost of £300 however, it seemed like a good compromise.

Varidesk

Varidesk Pro: not exactly Kate Moss but easy to operate and keenly priced.

I read lots of blog posts saying you had to ease yourself into standing but I stood for around 5hrs/day from day 1. I’ve experimented with shoes and found barefoot running shoes suit me best. My desk sits on carpet so I haven’t had the need for padding or a mat.

Still early days but I can’t see myself going back to sitting. The crippling neck and shoulder pain I suffer from has evaporated. I move around a lot more and if I’m stuck on a design problem then it’s easy to just walk away for a quick break. This BBC article also claims that standing for 4 hours a day is the “equivalent of running about 10 marathons a year” in spent calories.

Just think, I might look like this by 2015:

Treadmill desk

I’m all about flat

Today is my birthday and looking back, the theme that overrides the past year is flat.

Flat Design

Over the past 12 months I’ve embraced flat design. After the excesses of the previous decade, it’s a relief to strip back the facade and focus on what’s important online; quality copy set in legible typography.

With the release of iOS7 in 2013, flat design bubbled over the edges of the design community into mainstream news. A piece I wrote on Medium about flat design received 7K reads — it’s clearly a subject that piqued interest. I wonder if my skills in skeuomorphism will ever be back in demand? I rock a hand-stitched, faux-leather binder.

Flat Shoes

This year, I switched to flat running shoes. For 10 years I’ve been running in the built-up, air-cushioned, springy-soled shoes sold to me by the experts at the running store to ‘fix’ the way my feet connect with the pavement. With my knees at the point of self-combustion I visited a running lab, staffed by physios with no affiliation to the heavyweight shoe manufacturers. They filmed me running with bare feet vs shoes and it became apparent that it was the shoes doing the damage.

Did you know that running stores fit you in built-up shoes because you’re less likely to fall over and injure yourself in them? I’ve been running in a completely flat, natural running shoe ever since. My aches and pains disappeared overnight and my cadence and speed has improved. I might be a year older but I feel like I’ve been given a new pair of legs.

Flat Whites

“Flet wytes” have gone mainstream in London during the past year which is something to smile about. I spent my formative years in Auckland enjoying flatties – a strong shot of espresso served in a small cup with textured milk. As someone who sits down for a living, good local coffee is very important. My current local faves are Giddyup and Climpson & Sons.

Flat Me

During the past six months I’ve lost a lot of weight, combining fasting with running. I’m looking kind of flat! I find it interesting to experiment with what your body can handle. The health benefits of fasting are immense, I feel lighter, faster, healthier.

 

I hope the theme of next year isn’t round.

Why are TV remotes so badly designed?

I giggled at this photo of the ‘parent remote’ on Twitter. My gut reaction was to laugh at the older generation who are unable to cope with all the buttons. Luddites! Second was to stop and think. Why are all those buttons there in the first place if you can operate the remote without them?
parent remote
I’m a UI designer for the web and usability plays a big part in my life. I’m intrigued at how we, as consumers, just accept broken design. We have this awesome technology with amazing back-end capability, yet often so little thought is given to the user journey and how we interact with an object, device or screen.

The parent remote

Remote controls are a classic example of broken design. It’s like someone laid down a template back in the 1980s and everyone keeps reiterating the same layout, just adding more buttons.

Just look at this Zenith remote circa 1950s. Imagine how your hand would grasp this little lovely and how intuitively your muscle memory would remember where to press. There is something satisfying about depressing a physical button, hearing a click.Zenith remote circa 1950s
Compare this to today’s television remotes. The Virgin Media TiVo remote that operates my cable TV has a bewildering array of functions. I use this remote almost daily, yet there are 13 buttons I have never pressed. The remote came with its own guidebook, in my opinion completely unnecessary if the product is designed intuitively in the first place.
Cable TV remotes
I can see how we’ve got here. Televisions today offer so much more functionality. But rather than just cramming more buttons onto the 1950s remote, should we not take a step back and look for a better way? Is a small, plastic clicker really the most intuitive means of input for the modern television?

The user-friendly ATM

UK cash machines have remained largely unchanged since they appeared on the high street in 1967. The user journey that my local ATM takes you on is comical. If you press ‘CASH ONLY’ it then asks if you want an account balance, then if you want a receipt. I want CASH ONLY. It’s little wonder my granny is still scared of ATMs.
ATM
Given that you are putting a card into the machine and entering a pin, surely the machine could respond in a friendly and reassuring “Hello Geri” sort of way. A clever machine would customise the user experience based on your previous transactions. I’m a cash and dash sort of person and I nearly always withdraw the same amount. How about remembering this amount and offering it as a one-click choice on the first screen? My gran needs some hand holding and her eyesight is not so good. Big type and ongoing reassurance would really help her out. It’s interesting how we just accept the current design as the way an ATM operates.

Parking meters need change (sorry)

Another example of a broken design I rage at on a daily basis is parking meters. The machines on my high street have a digital display and offer up useful error messages such as “subsequent insertion of a coin is a contravention!”. Help! I’m contravening!

I read an interesting study (PDF) by UX Alliance who compared interfaces of cash machines around the world:
Parking meters
Given the state of some of them, I almost feel that we’re getting off lightly here in the UK. Again, the main problem is the broken user flow:

I want a ticket! What do I do first > then what do I do next
(bear in mind I don’t have 20 minutes to read the guide).

Even for a non-designer it’s not really all that challenging. It’s a pretty straightforward proposition to work through, I wonder how it’s possible to get it so wrong?

Time to stick it to the man?

I do believe it’s time for us consumers to demand better. In most cases the technology is available and it comes down to cost. It’s cheaper to keep selling us the old broken version. Personally, I would pay more for something that worked intuitively (and I’d tell my friends about it). Perhaps next time you’re looking to buy a new telly or change banks you might just favour the one who provides you with a more thoughtful design and user experience.

Web designers are people too

This week a client sent me a brief for a new project. To demonstrate the concept, he had Photoshopped my photograph into the mockups. My own face staring back at me was strangely beguiling. The document neatly specced out of job and ended with “thank you for your time Geri”.

I was stunned. This simple, low-fi personalisation probably took less than 5 minutes yet was heartfelt and engaging. This person really cared about what I thought, clearly had a sense of humour and was enthusiastic about their product. This is the sort of the client I love to work with, let’s create something great together!

While I’m not saying everyone needs to get handy with the lasso tool, I can’t help but despair at many of the new project requests I receive. They typically look like this:

Don't be a dick

As a provider of a creative service the most important thing for me is to get on with my clients. If we share a similar vision, ethos and values I find the project runs smoothly, the end product fits and brief and everyone gets happy.

If you’re excited about a new product or service, then tell me about it! What are your goals, who is the target market, why is it different, what are your brand values, what makes your customers love it? If timelines and budgets are pushed then I might be able to help get things back on track but only if I know you’re taking the time to get it right. Surely your new venture is worth more than a quick hack?

Remember, web designers are people too. I might be selling you a service but on the flip-side you’re selling yourself as a client. Would you walk into a car dealer and shout “HOW MUCH DOES A CAR COST?”, then moan about how you don’t have enough money for the Maserati but they should give it to you anyway because your last car let you down?

The quest for authenticity

Beard

Cool hunting is a waste of time, MTV and Twitter put pay to that. For the middle classes the quest for authenticity has become the new way to lord it over the neighbours.

Hey Jones’s — no-one cares about your new car” (unless it’s a low-emission-eco-hybrid that runs on biofuel derived from your own compost).

Joking aside, everywhere I look I’m seeing folk with a yearning for a simpler, more honest way of life. They want to know the provenance of the goods they buy and how ethically they were made. They want to know if its transportation was eco-friendly.They want their bicycle hand-crafted by a man in a shed.

But is what we’re getting really authentic? Or just the same stuff packaged up retro-style and marketed to a generation who have never known financial hardship, yet are in love with faux austerity? I’ve recently been mulling this over and I’m beginning to wonder if we’re being honest with ourselves, getting the real deal.

Things wot my Nan did to get by

I’ve noticed my London peers are increasingly engaging in activities and hobbies traditionally seen as necessities to previous generations. Keeping chickens, making and mending, knitting, growing your own food in an allotment. My store-bought salad is regularly outclassed by the neighbour who rocks up with hand-reared micro herbs and charcuterie.

My Nan did these chores out of need; a hand-knitted jumper was cheaper than a bought one, you mended things because you either couldn’t afford a new one or there wasn’t one available.

Now everyone can afford store-bought goods, they’ve lost their cachet. We’ve come full circle and we want to make things ourselves. Get our hands dirty.

Well sort of.

We want to make things whilst wearing a stay-pressed hemp apron, using box-fresh, virgin tools from vintage packaging whilst our friends post photos of us on Instagram. Nan 2.0, only without the oldness or the hassly bits.

Is the cappuccino more authentic if the store is independently owned?

A hip looking coffee shop recently opened near me; reclaimed brick walls, brightly painted mismatched chairs, menu lovingly scrawled on chalkboards behind the counter by a cardigan-clad skinny chick. Located directly next to a Starbucks and a couple of doors along from Costa, it shone as a beacon of cafe authenticity amongst the evil corporates infiltrating our high streets.

I found out it’s all just a trick. Harris & Hoole, despite being a dead ringer for an independent local business is a fraud, owned 49% by the UK’s biggest retailer Tesco. Tesco have opened 18 Harris & Hoole stores in the south east of England since launching, generating annual sales of £5m.

Yes, the coffee tasted nice and the cakes offered organic, gluten-free goodness but the experience left a bitter taste. I felt duped. The perceived value of authenticity is clearly not to be sniffed at.

Ye olde pop-up shoppe

It’s pleasing to see recent trends showing consumers abandoning the giant hypermarket in favour of their local high street. The provenance of our food is more important than ever and we’re keen to verify that the chicken on our plate had a happy life.

Break free Great Britain from the tyranny of the Ginster’s Pasty!

If we’re keeping it real however, I think we need to appreciate how fortunate we are today and stop romanticising the past. I regularly wander London’s Spitalfields Market and am lured in by the vintage shops with gold facades selling Mother’s Ruin Gin and tins of Campbells Tea. Verde & Co at Spitalfields with its hanging baskets. ‘Village shop in the City’ A Gold who sell old fashioned sweets, handmade biscuits in hessian bags and my favourite ‘Camp Coffee’, the chicory alternative used in the war when coffee was rationed.

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was quoted as saying “If you seek authenticity for authenticity’s sake, you are no longer authentic.”
I can’t help feeling that this is the case. Imagine how much mornings’ sucked without coffee. I doubt the folk buying Camp Coffee during the 1940s did so with a tin of Illy sitting in their pantry and Ocado on speed dial. What are we really buying here, other than a nicely packaged view of a sanitised past that never really existed?

Manor House Grey

Like many Londoners, I live in a Victorian terrace. We bought it as a student hovel that had been raped of all original fittings and set to work recreating our noughties version of an authentic Victorian house.

I spent weeks combing wreckers yards for authentic stairclips and even took a moulding of the cornicing so the builders could recreate the authentic ceiling. We agonised over Victorian Farrow and Ball paint colours. To this day I can run past a house and tell you if they’ve used Mole’s Breath or Smoked Trout in their hallway.

During the course of my research I came by an account from a scullery maid who worked in a house in our terrace. Our open plan kitchen extension was traditionally a scullery. It had a stone floor, was unheated in winter apart from the coal range that made the room unbearably smoky. Unlike us, they clearly did not benefit from underfloor heating and a German-precision downdraft extractor.

As much as I like to kid myself, my home is about as authentically Victorian as my iPhone.

Keeping it real

I’m glad we’re making steps towards a more authentic life, one that is more morally and socially beneficial. We are finally asking where our trainers came from, who made them and under what conditions. How many miles our food has travelled to reach us. The true human cost of that £1 Primark t shirt.

We’re starting to appreciate the value of craft over mass production and see value in handmade. It’s a joy to finally cut through the crap.

But I can’t help feeling like we are viewing life through the retro filters of a smartphone app. We need to demand authenticity from ourselves as well as the things we consume. Only then will we be truly keeping it real.

 

Also published on Medium.com

Reasons to be Creative : top 5

I’m just back from Reasons to be Creative, annual web design conference in Brighton. Leaving super-inspired after 3 days of brilliant talks. Here are my personal highlights –

Glorious stay in the Art Hotel

Best pancakes in Brighton. And this year I could see the West Pier from my toilet = win.
Art Hotel, Brighton

I sketch it Gangnam Style!

Brilliant session on sketching and visual thinking with Eva-Lotta Lamm, interaction Designer at Google. Great to get some tips on how to sketch simple objects and people – I’ll apply this to note taking and wireframing.
Doodling with Eva-Lotta Lamm

Variations on Normal

The left-field inventions and vision British artist and designer Dominic Wilcox were a real highlight for me. Sheep chair (L) and hands-free mobile nose for the bath (R). What’s not to love here.
Dominic Wilcox

Up all night to get happy

I was inspired by Stefan Sagmeister’s keynote on design and happiness. He shared photos of his Happy Show at MOCA (L) and captivating water shots from film shoot ‘If I don’t ask, I won’t get’ (R).
Stefan Sagmeister

Sagmeister Sing-along

I think he brainwashed us as I felt really happy for days afterwards.

Seaside

I ♡ Brighton. The seafront provides endless good vibes and photo opportunities. And chips.
Brighton

Poe’s Law casts a long dark shadow

Wow – I am REALLY excited about this project!”

. . . said the final line of the client’s email. The website was for a dermatologist’s practice who had opted for cheesy stock photos of smiling automatons.

I was young and doing it for the cash. She was a medical secretary with what I perceived as the unenviable job of getting together a desperately unexciting website. Was she serious? Or having a giggle with me at our shared predicament?

Clear communication over the web is tough. How often do you read an email or blog comment and wonder if the author’s sentiments are genuine? In my early days of freelancing I once added what I perceived to be an amusingly sarcastic comment to a client email which received a hurt and bewildered reply. My British sense of humour is not always appreciated and something I try to keep in check.

I came by an internet adage called Poe’s Law. Coined in 2005 by Nathan Poe, Poe’s Law states that without a “winking smiley or other blatant display of humour”, it is impossible to determine that someone won’t mistake the parody for the genuine article. The axiom was originally applied to fundamentalism and activism but over time has been associated with comments made online in jest but perceived as the real deal.

The sentiment stems from a comment made by Jerry Schwarz on Usenet, way back in 1983:

“If you submit a satiric item without this (smiley) symbol, no matter how obvious the satire is to you, do not be surprised if people take it seriously.”

There have been some fairly infamous incidents over the years, the most memorable for me being the satirical piece by The Onion claiming ‘Harry Potter Sparks Rise In Satanism Among Children’. The article was cited across the media and caused letters of outrage to the Readers Digest. I found a long list of similar scenarios in this post.

The emergence of the long shadow design ‘trend’ of the past few weeks is what has prompted my thoughts. Originating from a tongue-in-cheek blog post, the trend was picked up across the web and purported to be the next big thing. Its merits caused heated discussions on design forums and a series of long shadow iOS7 redesigns and icon sets. For me it came full circle when Designmodo illustrated their piece with this example:
Long shadow design

For the record the medical secretary really was genuinely excited about the website. It’s always wise to err on the side of caution, you never know who’s listening : )

The internet is rewiring my brain

Recently, I’ve been distracted. I’m working on a design, then suddenly realise I’ve spent ten minutes reading a website about cheese that I Googled after laughing at a goat meme on Tumblr, linked from Facebook, accessed via a link from Twitter that someone has emailed me. This distraction is a recent phenomenon and it’s starting to scare me. I’m beginning to worry that long term exposure to the internet is reducing my ability to concentrate. The internet is rewiring my brain.

I never used to be like this

Up until about a year ago I was a dedicated, freelance designer. I would regularly pull eight-hour stints at my computer, surfacing occasionally to upload a sandwich or flick through a book for inspiration. I would shut the door at the end of the day, switch my phone to voicemail and pick up again the following morning.

Work hasn’t changed – it’s still just as creative, challenging and rewarding. What has changed is that I never let go. When I leave my desk I reach for my phone. I spend the evening on the iPad. I go to bed reading tweets and wake up reading emails. This constant exposure to electronic stimuli seems to be taking its toll on my brain. Somewhere along the line I have swapped deep thought for flimsy distractions. I exist inside the Twitter feed of a needy teenager.

It’s not just me

I got scared so I started to read. I came by this book by Nicholas Carr ‘The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember’. Carr believes that constant exposure to fast data streams is changing the way our brains are wired. His theories resonated with me.

Human intelligence relies on our ability to transfer information from our short term or ‘working’ memory to long term memory – our brain’s filing system. When information and experiences enter our long term memory, we are capable of complex ideas and thoughts. Our mind draws on other memories to build connections and it’s this deep thinking that leads to true creativity.

The problem is, working memory can only hold a small amount of information at a time. With the distraction of a tweet or an email the thought is lost and never makes it to the filing system. In the blink of a LOL Cat that brilliant idea is forgotten.

See what I did there. I bet you can’t even remember what you are reading about. Was it something about cheese? Goats?

See what I did there. I bet you can’t even remember what you are reading about. Was it something about cheese? Goats?

Carr also believes that the internet overwhelms the brain, which can have detrimental effects to long-term memory. The immediacy and full-on nature of the web leads to cognitive overload which makes it difficult to remember anything.

Wired magazine presented similar views in its June 2010 issue:

“When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain.”

The Wired article states that there is nothing inherently wrong with quickly skimming the headlines – we’ve been reading newspapers and magazines this way for years. The problem occurs when skimming becomes our dominant mode. The plasticity of our brains means we quickly set this as the default; our capacity to absorb and retain what we read is reduced.

This is me. I am a serial skimmer. An amoeba, adrift in the shallows of initial blurbs, pull quotes and bullet points.

Sorry to interrupt

Aside from client meetings and the odd collaboration, I tend to work alone. Just me, my mac, my books, my delusions of being a grown up. The sad truth is that I like being interrupted because each interruption brings me information from the outside world.

I feel connected. I am delighted by the Instagram of your lunch. I am entertained by the email flaming your boss. I crave the immediacy of knowing, despite the shallow and fleeting superficiality.

Pulling the ripcord

I was inspired by this account from Paul Miller, detailing his year without the internet. Miller lost weight, read Greek plays, travelled and went on bike rides. Hell, the man even cried during Les Mis. I felt desperately jealous. To be honest, mainly of his age (26) and the circumstances which allowed him the luxury of giving up the net.

For me, giving up the internet just isn’t an option. I am a web designer. I have a mortgage. I have two children addicted to Minecraft. The music in our house is powered by the internet. Without online shopping my family would starve, or at least go without Babybels. Is there any hope for my hippocampus?

Joined up thinking

This short foray into my mind has been a wakeup call. It’s time to change the way I use the internet. Set aside specific times for reading and replying to emails. Turn off the Twitter widget that shows new interactions. Stop checking my phone. No one will notice if I take an extra half hour to reply to a message or a tweet but with luck my brain might thank me in the long term.

I need to nourish my brain’s filing system with good quality, well connected thoughts. Farewell to the superficial, fast food of short term pleasures!

It’s time to close up the iPad for the evening and get out the Twister.

Clerkenwell Design Week 2013

Just returned from another year of design loveliness and covetable things.

Clerkenwell Design Week 2013

My highlights here:

Clerkenwell Design Week 2013

A whole floor of beautiful lighting this year – some really innovative designs.
Clerkenwell Design Week 2013

Corner from Swedish designers Swedese. ♥ Farmiloe Building, fantastic space to showcase work.
Clerkenwell Design Week 2013

Blinded by these color-pop legs in the Platform collection by Arik Levy for Viccarbe
Clerkenwell Design Week 2013

Crazy swinging chairs and table, from Duffy London. Thank goodness my children did not attend.
Clerkenwell Design Week 2013

The flat design trend – where to from here?

I’ve always subscribed to the Swiss style of less is more, so wholeheartily embracing this era of flat interface design. Given the design excesses of the past decade, it’s interesting to see how we’ve come full circle to reach this point. But I can’t help wondering – where to from here?

When I started designing websites back in the year 2000, all the world was flat. This was more by technological limitations than by choice, or possibly because we hadn’t considered there was any other way. Web 2.0 exploded in 2004, giving rise to a ‘richer’ user experience of gradients, rounded corners and 3D buttons. I spent the Web 2.0 years working in-house for investment banks, designing financial services websites. That’s a whole lot of beveled edges and drop shadows!

From here a host of web design trends emerged, first embraced, then vilified by the design community. Skeuomorphic ornamentation like hand stitched edges, forked ribbons and leather-effect binders had arrived! Designers argued that they were bringing realism to the web by introducing ‘visual metaphors’ or elements from everyday life, thus making interfaces more engaging and intuitive.

It always surprised me how wholeheartedly Apple embraced skeuomorphism, given their clean and minimal design ethic. iBook’s faux wood bookshelf and iCal’s moleskin ‘hand-stitched’ leather binder, while initially enchanting now seem terribly passe. This month, Apple profits fell for the first time in a decade and many commentators see their failure to evolve as their downfall. It suddenly seems as if Apple have lost a bite of their cool.

Flat design is quickly being adopted by market leaders. Facebook and eBay have introduced flatter versions of their logo and icons. Microsoft, traditionally the uncool laggard of the biggies, struck a winning blow with the flat interface of Windows 8. Rumour has it that Apple are now embracing the flatlands with iOS 7.

There is something about this design ethic that feels honest. Giving users what they want without the additional noise somehow seems kinder, more straight up.

Layervault, an early champion of flat design have gone as far as calling this “The Honest Design Age”. This sentiment is echoed by many across the web.

These changes aren’t all about fashion. The increase in web browsing on smartphones and tablets is forcing designs to adapt for responsive scalability on the small screen. Clear, crisp typography is also evident as part of the flat design trend with fonts like Open Sans and Promixa Nova leading the way with carefully crafted glyphs. It’s interesting to see the trend in mobile usage from my own site stats – up 18% in the last year.

I can’t help wondering where do we go from here? When everyone jumps on the flat design bandwagon will it suddenly look bland and outdated? Will my skills in creating a hand-sewn leather border ever be back in demand? It’s harder to stand apart from the crowd in a flat world.

Like the Mighty Boosh, I can’t help feel we designers have taken retro to its logical conclusion.

 

Update: November 2013
Back in April I posted this article on Medium.com and it’s had over 6K reads. Flat design is clearly a popular topic!

Pick Me Up 2013 @ Somerset House

Just returned from Pick Me Up, the contemporary graphic arts festival at Somerset House. Now in its 4th year, the festival is an 11 day celebration of graphic art, design and illustration.

Despite its grand setting, the event has a refreshingly student feel to it. There is an inspiring showcase of work, from established studios to new graduate collectives.

Here are some pieces that caught my eye:

Helen Musselwhite papercraft

Delightful papercraft by Helen Musselwhite

Fatherless prints

Prints with attitude by Illinois collective Fatherless

Kama Sutra alphabet by Malika Favre

Clever Karma Sutra alphabet by Malika Favre

It's Nice to be Nice, Hazel Nicholls

It’s Nice to be Nice – screenprint by Hazel Nicholls. [This could be my company strapline].

I came away with this fab Helter Skelter print from Tris Tolliday from the Coffee Club Collective. Lovely fresh work from such a young group of designers, their enthusiasm was infectious.

Helter Skelter by Tris Tolliday

Helter Skelter by Tris Tolliday, Coffee Club Collective

Pick Me Up Runs till 28th April. Best year yet, you will leave inspired to create.

Branded interactions: Hey, I own that gesture!

I’ve been working on an app that has an innovative navigation. It got me thinking about how certain apps are defined by user interaction. When the interaction is unique to the product, it becomes part of the user experience and ultimately part of the brand. These “branded interactions” are fast becoming a valuable commodity.

Can a user interaction really form part of a brand?

There are countless interfaces which require the same methods of user input. We tap, we swipe, we type on tiny keyboards whilst walking, we occasionally fall over.

The memorable interfaces are not only intuitive to use but those which engage us on an emotional level. Interaction typically involves one or two simple actions, used repeatedly.

In Designing for Emotion, Aarron Walter suggests the most engaging interfaces “surprise and delight” the user. A product that is not only useful but a joy to use builds positive perceptions of the brand to create lasting brand loyalty.

What if an interface could help you complete a critical task and put a smile on your face? That would be an experience you’d recommend to a friend; that would be an idea worth spreading.” — Aarron Walter

The app that defines this for me is Clear, the colour-pop ‘to do’ list. I found Clear’s interaction intuitive from the outset; pull down to add an item, pinch to insert a task and left swipe to ‘clear’ or delete a completed task from your list. Few actions used repeatedly. ‘Clearing’ the list is the user’s objective, which packages up the brand beautifully:

clear

Clear: image from iTunes store

Another is Rise, the super-simple, user-friendly alarm app which has revolutionised my mornings. Drag your thumb up or down to select your rising time, the screen colour changing to reflect day and night. Swipe right to turn on and off. The colours, font and user interaction all add up to a defining brand experience:

rise

Rise: image from iTunes store

So if a user interaction is unique to your product, can you claim legal ownership?

If you own an Apple device you unconsciously ‘slide to unlock’ countless times a day; it’s an easy and effective interaction. Apple owns a design patent on the “ornamental” design of the lock screen, so while they haven’t exactly patented the gesture itself, they have copyright over the design that forces you to make the gesture. This is possibly why the unlock screens on Android phones won’t allow you to pick an unlock gesture of one single slide, left to right across the screen.

Another interaction we immediately associate with Apple is ‘pinch to zoom’. Apple did have a patent on pinch to zoom but this was recently overturned following their billion dollar lawsuit against rival Samsung.

There has been a lot of chatter about Twitter’s patent application for the ‘pull-down-to-refresh’ function. Pull down to refresh has got to be the most intuitive way of refreshing content on a mobile device; it’s used by Gmail, iOS and countless others. Twitter claim they acquired the right to pull down to refresh when they bought iPhone client Tweetie back in 2010. There is still no decision on this patent, though legal commentators say the ruling is likely to be in Twitters’ favour.

When you start searching for patents you sure come by some random ones

Microsoft owns a patent on “gesture profiles” that users create when using Kinect. The user creates a custom profile shape (say an enchanted unicorn, mid prance) to open their favourite game. Microsoft OWNS THAT MOVE and they could potentially prevent other companies from allowing you to create a similar “gesture profile” for a competitors’ product. Microsoft also owns a patent for “flicking your pen” at something. The jury’s out on that one.

A serious consideration for designers

Granting legal ownership to user interactions is a serious business and sets a real precedent for future design and development. As an interface designer, it also makes me a little nervous. Should we be paying heed of these patents (like pull-down-to-refresh) — or are they just for the big fish?

In such a crowded market a unique and memorable interaction can really set you apart from the competition. It’s clearly a key area for consideration when designing the mobile user experience.

The psychology of colour

Lego football player

…or how website colour schemes are influenced by football strips

I keep being asked to base websites on football team colours. This month I have designed an interface for a trade union website (“make it red like Liverpool FC”) and for a learning charity (“make it blue and yellow, like Leeds”).

I mentioned this to a group of web designers at a conference I attended this week and the response was loud. There wasn’t a single designer who hadn’t been asked to base a site scheme on an unrelated football strip.

It got me thinking about the psychology of colour. Colour associations develop so stealthily that most of us don’t realise why we associate a particular colour with an emotion, a product, the winning team or the losing side. So if you’re designing a brand or identity from scratch how do decide on a colour scheme? Should this be a considered, scientific choice or just a personal preference?

Can it be my/my bosses/the chairmans favourite colour?

My kids are big on this. My favourite colour is grey. Grey is calm and makes secondary colours like yellow and pink really pop. That said, it probably doesn’t score me highly on the Jung/Myers Briggs personality test.

Can it be blue?

The standard corporate fallback is blue. Blue is widely regarded as a safe colour, traditional and dependable. In the UK, blue is the healthcare colour: the NHS logo is blue and nurses uniforms are often blue. We trust in blue. On the flipslide, can you think of a TRUELY AWESOME website that is blue?

Can it be really fashionable, like Henry Holland?

Trends in colour go across design media. Yellow on the catwalk turns up as yellow in cushions and curtains in the portfolios of interior designers. This filters through to web and graphic design. If you’re on the cutting edge and have a budget to regularly update your site’s skin, don your skull-print leggings and rock it like a flatlander. If you’re in for the long haul, then perhaps a more measured scheme is needed.

Can anyone be offended by this?

Colours have different meanings in different cultures. For example, in the East white is the color of funerals while in the West white is the color of weddings. Check out the colour chart of cultural symbolism.

Has anyone actually thought of asking the customers?

If you’re unsure, the best people to ask are the end users. Do they all actually support Aston Villa? Your winning colours might be claret and blue but it might not be a good fit with your audience. Test out 2-3 colour variations with your target market. This doesn’t have to be a formal process, it can be done on your iPhone in the pub. A quick, gut reaction from the right demographic will tell you if you’re heading in the right direction.

Not very Flash

Thoughts on my first website*

I built my first website in the year 2000. It was built in Flash, naturally. I had tried building a site in HTML, painstakingly flipping between Dreamweaver’s WYSIWYG view and my copy of Netscape 4. There appeared to be little correlation between the two. It was so hard! This HTML stuff would never catch on.

In Flash you effectively drew yourself a website. At last, I was webdesigner! I set about crafting an awesome portfolio site that would undoubtedly showcase my work for the rest of my career.

The website was blue and the font was Arial, inexplicably all in lower case. Like most Flash sites of the period it eschewed all usability standards, contained no hard text and opened in a pop-up window. One in the eye for you Jakob Nielsen, with your yellow site for boring people! The piece de resistance was the opening animation that took 3 minutes to load and equally long to enjoy. This featured a series of flying screen grabs of my degree projects set to a repeating loop from a dance track.

There was an innovative take on navigation, an attempt at a 3D dice (perhaps inviting potential clients to take a chance on me?). A moving arrow pointed out the navigation, in case anyone hadn’t clocked quite how dreadful it was.

Really terrible Flash website

Cutting edge animation! Very proud at the time, not really rocking the party today

In this shiny new world of HTML5, it’s hard not to feel a little sad and nostalgic about Flash. At the time it felt so exciting and full of possibility.

Flash started its life as an animation package and joined the web in 1996. The technology was adopted by market leaders like MSN and Disney, it grew in popularity and spawned a derth of interactive web pages and games. It was bought by software giant Adobe in 2005. I remember this as the year I started designing all Web 2.0, we got a broadband connection and web video suddenly exploded. YouTube appeared, making it possible to upload and share video online and Flash became integral for enabling multimedia across the web.

It was getting all very exciting for Flash. Then in 2007, Apple released the iPhone.

The story goes that Adobe was in talks with Apple to make Flash work on the iPhone but it just didn’t cut it on a mobile processor. YouTube made the decision to offer up access to its videos in a format optimised for mobile phones, bypassing the need for Flash. The final nail in the coffin was Steve Job’s famous memo, Thoughts On Flash which denounced Flash, highlighting its many failings.

* The reason I’m getting all nostalgic about Flash is because of an email from 123-reg, inviting web designers to take part in a shared reminise about My 1st Website. And they’ve got a rather tasty MacBook Pro up for grabs…(not that I’m cheap date on the tech front).

I’m glad something’s prompted a rummage through my year 2000 CD archive – it’s nice to be reminded of how far I’ve come since my shabby beginnings at age 23. These days I would start by downloading a free HTML boilerplate and hit the ground running. Back then it was all so new, exciting and painfully homemade. Creating something in your bedroom that was suddenly visible to everyone online seemed like a revelation, your own small place on a world stage.

Keyframe animation did make me feel pretty flash. I hope the kids out there today get as excited about building their first site, despite never knowing the joy of a shape tween.

Jessica Hische is my typographic girl crush

From CreativeMornings/Vancouver on Vimeo.

New Year’s Resolutions are not generally sticky

According to this morning’s Metro only “1 in 11” people will stick to their news year’s resolutions. I read this to my daughter who said her new year’s resolution is to “eat more sweets”. Kind of made me wish I was 6 again. Here are mine, let’s hope they are more than 9% sticky.

Sticky

1. Get excited about lovely fresh webfonts

I was browsing the Typekit gallery over the holidays and there are some beautiful new webfonts at my fingertips. A fresh headline font can really lift a site from ordinary to a bit special.

2. Design responsively

Responsive web design means the site scales to fit the device you’re viewing it on – a desktop computer, a tablet or phone. You can achieve a responsive design through a mix of flexible grids and layouts, images and an intelligent use of CSS media queries. With the advent of so many new devices and ways to browse the web it is essential that we designers provide a consistent user experience.

3. Keep my coding skills up to date (for me, this is the boring bit)

The majority of work I’m taking on is interface design, which I LOVE. However the more specialised I become, the less coding I do. I read a brilliant article from Smashing Magazine on the evolution and refinement going on in the front end and strategies for keeping yourself up to date in 2013. First on the list for me are CSS preprocessers LESS and Sass.

4. Design for the brand

I must stop subscribing to trends because I like them. I must stop subscribing to trends because I like them. I’ve been known to occasionally go a drop shadow too far.

I vow to make these sticky for 2013.

Keeping it real

Keep it real

I regularly sift Designspiration and Behance and every so often something slaps me around the chops with originality. Interestingly though, most clients I meet don’t want a website that’s original. They want a site that looks like someone elses.

When you see a site up and running, live and beautifully crafted it’s difficult to see past it. You’re probably admiring the site because it’s doing a great job of promoting the product or organisation it’s been designed for. But will this site provide such a good fit with your product or your brand?

Design is such a subjective thing and it’s hard not to bring your personal preferences to the table. One charity project I worked on was hindered by a director who insisted the homepage looked like his bank ‘First Direct’, which is like…errrr…a bank. I regularly receive feedback like “make it blue like Chelsea FC” because this is the football team that the client supports. It’s tough to explain that this isn’t what their 18-24 hipster demographic will engage with.

When designing from scratch, I think you need to cast your net wider than the web for inspiration. Good design is the result of great thinking. Getting away from the screen is vital. Books, films, signage, exhibitions, street art, it’s amazing what gets me excited. Modern design tools like Photoshop certainly make life easier but they do little to improve creativity.

I recently read an interesting article by Jessica Hische titled Inspiration vs Imitation. Some great tips in diversifying your inspiration and the joy of designing from scratch:

“If you copy someone else, you’re depriving yourself of the amazing feeling of creation, of making something that is yours and yours alone. You’ll undoubtedly love and care for the baby you’ve created more than the baby you stole from the grocery store.”

What an awesome quote. It’s time to step away from the computer.

Design feedback 101

The copy seems to be in Latin
I’m glad it’s not just me who receives client feedback like this.

Have a festive geek-out over these today

Pantone Baubles:

Pantone baubles

Toasted

The first time I saw a toaster was in the early 2000s. I had a shitty job at a small advertising agency and was hungover about 98% of the time. The toaster was painted on the inside of a window between Old Street and Moorgate and it used to cheer me up on the way to work. The building looked sort of official and I always wondered how someone had managed to paint it there.

Toaster on the window

Over the years the toasters seemed to follow me around London. Stickers on tubes, lamp posts, escalator risers. The triptych on the 141 bus route on New North Road. The bright orange flash of toaster along Hackney Road. The flying toasters across the Four Vinters at the top of Kingsland Road that got badly painted over to form an ever changing canvas of Rothko-esk weirdness.

I haven’t seen a new toaster for ages, just the ghosts left behind by stickers and paint overs. I thought perhaps the toaster crew had got older and were now pretending to be grownups, like me. Then yesterday I was running the Parkland Walk and HELLO! This spanky new toaster sprayed under the railway arches.

It’s jolly near made my Christmas.

Toaster on the Parkland Walk

Losing the will to input…the basics of good form design

I’ve been working on a site design that incorporates a lot of web forms this week and surfing the web for inspiration. It’s made me realise how much time and effort designers put into bringing users to sign-up and contact forms, only to present a poorly crafted form. Here are some of my form musings:

Break it into manageable chunks

There is nothing more off-putting than a long form that scrolls endlessly off the screen. Breaking the form into small, manageable chunks or stages make the form appear more manageable and less of a chore for the user. The checkout process on Game is a great example of this:

Good form design

Use live inline validation

This is where each form field is validated separately as the user types. The error handling is instant, with the user being told that their data doesn’t match the expected format. I gleaned a lot from this excellent article by Luke Wroblewski.

Form design
Twitter have really nailed live validation feedback on their signup form.

Add personality

Adding a bit of brand sparkle can lift a form from a mundane chore into something personable and dare I say ‘fun’. People enjoy relating to people and a small dose of friendliness and personality can make the input process a bit more enjoyable and human.

Form design
I love the hand drawn signup form on Christian Sparrow’s site

Offer multiple choice where possible

Choosing items from a list is easier than filling in a blank field with text. My user testing experience has shown that users are often confused when filling in blanks, especially if the labelling is not clear.

Form design

Buffalo
do this brilliantly with their contact form – you can select from set options rather than filling in blanks

A well-designed form that gives the user feedback can make the difference between a successful conversation and a drop-off failure. As Shawn Borsky says on Smashing Magazine:

We spend so much time getting people to the door that we forget to make the door as inviting and useful as the path to it.

Does my skeuomorphism look realistic in this?

I was in a meeting the other day when a client started fuming about Apple’s overuse of skeuomorphism. I nodded sagely and stroked my imaginary tecchies beard, hoping I would not be called upon for an opinion.

Skeuomorphism? A hasty and covert Google revealed:

A skeuomorph /ˈskjuːəmɔrf/ [skyoo-uh-mawrf], or skeuomorphism, is a design element of a product that imitates design elements that were functionally necessary in the original product design, but which have become ornamental in the new design. 

soooo….

skeuomorphism

…basically it’s a way of making new things appear comfy and familiar.

I often embed elements and textures from offline life into my interface design. An imperceptibly light shading can make an element appear more credible, or dare I say…realistic? So skeuomorphism is something I do every day just without the fancy title. Phew.

This thought process did get me thinking about the way I design website interfaces though. By adding a ‘real world’ texture or skin over an on-screen interface am I really making it more realistic? Or just adding an unnecessary layer of entirely superficial complexity?

I came by a blog post entitled The Flat Design Era written by Allan Grinshtein. Grinshtein encourages designers to strip back all unnecessary layers and risk creating entirely flat interfaces. He links out a number of fellow ‘flatlanders’ who have embraced a completely flat layout.

I was quite excited by this idea until I looked through the featured sites. They were all very clean and contemporary but none of the layouts got me particularly excited or convinced me to banish drop shadows forever.

Putting my personal preferences aside, surely this is just a question of usability.

If a slight drop shadow brings a button forward and makes it obvious to the user that it is a button then this is good design. If bringing a ‘real world’, familiar shape to an icon makes the user instantly recognise what it does and engage with it then this is good design.

Spending a week recreating the hand-stitched moleskin leather of Apple’s calendar is not a great use of design time.

I need to start ranting about this in meetings.

School website live

The prep school website I did the initial designs for has gone live and looks lovely. Beautiful photography of the students and gives a really engaging view of the school.

The school uniform did require the odd bit of virtual mothering!

school tie

Mumsnet Blogfest

I’m not much of a joiner so I almost surprised myself when I bought a ticket to Mumsnet Blogfest. I added a blog to my site a couple of years ago, mainly as an exercise in SEO to drive more traffic to my portfolio. It did markedly increase traffic and on the personal side it provides a nice writing outlet, regardless of whether anyone out there is reading!

I digress – the speakers at Blogfest were fantastic from Miriam Gonzelez Durantes to the fabulously funny Caitlin Moran. Main takeaways for me were from social guru Paul Armstrong on making social media work for your blog. He had me hooked from this slide:

Tip! Sleep with a designer/photoshopper 
It’s nice to see we designers are not completely redundant yet.

Paul presented some useful stats on the time UK users spend on the main social networks and user demographics. His main recommendation or “SEO crack” was Google+. Though still in its infancy it is linked to the mighty Google search and will help you get the most from your brand.

Social network stats
Source: Paul Armstrong, Mindshare

Another champion of Google+ was Matt Bennett from MEC Global who took a session on advanced SEO. He also advocated Google Authorship, where you can link content you publish on a specific domain to your Google+ profile. I will clearly need to spend this morning updating my presence on Google!

Brilliant day, I met a really diverse and interesting group of people and left feeling inspired. Have already signed up for next year, how’s that for joining in.

How to be a designer

helvetica

Spoilt for font choice?

Typography really suffered in its transition to the web. For years online typography involved choosing one of the few ‘web-safe’ fonts and making the best of it. Times New Roman or Georgia for the traditional, Arial or Verdana for the contemporary. Not forgetting every designer’s favourite, Comic sans:

Comic san

The advent of @font-face and services such as Typekit, Webtype, Fontdeck, and Google Web fonts means we now have thousands of fonts to choose from. But is this amount of choice making the web a better place? In my experience when a range of development options are given to the masses the result is rarely pretty. I’m convinced the downfall of MySpace was due to the endless number of fonts and backgrounds offered to users, which resulted in ugly and unreadable pages.

I read a great quote by Paul Scrivens that got me thinking:

“Instead of having a user agreement it would be cool if Typekit made you read a book on typography before you could begin using a font—the Web would improve tenfold”.

So what do you need to consider when deciding on fonts for your website? In his Smashing Magazine article ‘“What Font Should I Use?” Dan Mayer gives the following criteria for selecting the right font for the job:

1. Dress For The Occasion

Dress for the occasion

While appropriateness isn’t a sexy concept, it’s the acid test that should guide our choice of font. It’s like wearing the right dress to the disco. Personally, as a designer I tend to fall back on a few failsafe fonts for body text. They’re like a comfortable and trusted pair of pants.

2. Know Your Families: Grouping Fonts

Fonts are loosely grouped into six groups, some feel formal and old school while others more contemporary. Does the job call for a bold and punchy sans serif or a quirky, space-age slab serif? If you’re into the science, here’s a more technical guide.

3. Don’t Be a Wimp: The Principle of Decisive Contrast

We need to decide how to mix and match and most importantly, whether to mix and match at all. Some useful tips for font combinations here

Font combining
(Image: Smashing Magazine)

4. A Little Can Go a Long Way (or never exceed the recommended dose).

Applied sparingly to headlines a display font can add a well-needed dash of flavour to a design, but it can quickly clutter and over-complicate.

I have to add a number 5 to this list being –

5. Rendering

The ‘web safe’ fonts of old were crafted, adjusted or even developed for use on-screen so you could ensure the majority of your users would find them readable. Now we have a greater variety of fonts it has become apparent all are not equal over all operating systems, browsers and devices. I have had clients insist on a font that looks squeaky clean on a mac, only to be horrified at how nasty and pixelated it looks in Windows. The only way around this is to thoroughly test the fonts across all browsers. I also find the comparison tool offered by Typekit useful as it gives an approximation of how fonts render out in each browser:

typekit

In the end I believe it’s down to experience and putting your work in the hands of a seasoned designer. As a inexperienced designer you tend to cram in as much as possible, these days I find myself paring it back and taking away. All the points above really do come naturally after years of designing for online. Copy needs space to breathe.

I’m a designer. Does my code really need to validate?

This is a timely one for me. I’ve spent the last two years with this WordPress blog badly hacked onto the back of my site and the code didn’t come close to validating. And I’ve felt terribly shabby about it. Most web developers I meet insist your code should validate. But do clients ever check this, or care? More importantly, do search engines care?

w3c

What is code validation?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed a set of coding standards. You can measure your site against W3C standards using their code validator. It’s a bit like checking your spelling and grammar is correct (innit). Much like each language has different rules for grammar, the code you use has different rules depending on the doctype you specify in the code.

My sites looks fine. Why should I bother?

The W3C gives five reasons why your code should validate:

Validation helps with debugging

If your page isn’t displaying or functioning as it’s supposed to then it’s probably down to an error in the code. Validating is the first thing I check if things are looking a bit squiffy.

Validating helps ‘future proof’ your site

Web browsers are constantly evolving and what looks fine on-screen today might not work when you upgrade your browser tomorrow.

Validating eases maintenance

Creating web pages to an accepted coding standard makes them easier to maintain. I often inherit old legacy sites that are quicker to rebuild than repair.

Validating is a sign of professionalism

This is the deal breaker for me. I work in a very neat and ordered way and I want my code to reflect this. It’s all about integrity and good practice.

Does validation help with search rank?

This is a curly one. My blog has performed pretty well, despite its 287 validation errors. SEO experts like to tell you it makes a difference to your page rank but I disagree. For me, clean code = good practice. It makes sense that the cleaner your code the quicker Google can sniff out those all-important keywords. But will it be ranked down because the code doesn’t validate? Unlikely. Read this interesting debate between SEO experts.

I can’t validate 100% of my code. Am I destined for a future Photoshopping skies into travel brochures?

In an ideal world all code would validate but in many cases this just isn’t possible. Code for specific browsers is not written into the standard – the most notorious being -webkit and -moz which will never validate. Hacks for old browsers are often necessary to get the page looking right but don’t validate. Widgets and bits of code dropped in from other sources often clash with your doctype.

I always do my best to validate the sites I build but at the end of the day it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t score 100%. The fact my blog validates after 2 years is enough for me today.

London Design Festival

London Design Festival

It’s London Design Festival and after fielding the barrage of promotional emails for the past month it was finally time to get amongst it. Now in its 10th year, the festival is suffering from urban sprawl with events across London – from the V&A to the Southbank. I decided to stay East and visited Tent and Super Brands at the Old Truman Brewery in E1.

Tent had the most appeal for me, featuring new designers showing off furniture, lighting, ceramics, textiles and lovely covetable things you don’t need but really want. Leave your wallet at home if you suffer from a similar notebook fetish.

It’s on till Sunday and worth a wander, I always leave these events feeling inspired.

And as someone with a hall full of bicycles I was rather taken with this Pedal Pod bike shelf by Tamasine Osher:

Tamasine Osher - Bike Bookshelf

New site live: Etude

Etude

I’ve put a new site live today for a firm of sustainability engineers who specialise in environmental design solutions.

The brief was to keep it clean and contemporary and reflect the company’s ethos – creative, positive and sustainable design. The site is responsive and scales down to fit an iPhone or iPad.

www.etude.co.uk

Still Lost

Lost interest

Just returned from an aquatically-themed Lost Lecture in the docksheds at Trinity Buoy Wharf. A brilliant line-up; from adventurer Alastair Humphreys to marine biologist Dr Helen Scales to my favourite – legendary photographer Dennis Morris on his years touring with Bob Marley.

Aside from a sore bottom (they made us sit on Lost-themed inflatable rubber rings – honestly) a highly successful evening of diverse and interesting speakers.

Check out the next event, though as they say – keep it to a whisper: http://www.thelostlectures.com

My store design is live

Little Footies

The childrens’s shoe store I designed has gone live, check it out:

http://littlefooties.co.uk (the bright canvas shoes really pop)

Olympic vermin

Gorgeous viral from Beakus. It’s nice to see an unsanitised take on a Games so blighted by corporate sponsorship:

I’m sold(ified)

shopify

I have been working on a Shopify site this week and I’m really impressed with what it has to offer.  I have designed a number of online stores over the years and the majority of ecommerce apps I’ve skinned up have been rather clunky and cumbersome on the back-end.

By comparison I found Shopify very intuitive. Sites are built using its own bespoke code called liquid. It’s a small and fast template language which is quick to learn but offers powerful customisation. If you can code HTML/CSS you shouldn’t have too much trouble picking it up.

The only downside I can see is that store functionality is very template-specific. I’m used to WordPress where you can plug in any functionality – Shopify seems more complex to customise. There are some well documented hacks and a good support forum but you ideally need to choose a theme that does what you want from the outset, which invariably means paying for one.

I think it’s competitively priced too, given the features it offers – a secure payment gateway, advanced inventory management and well documented Wiki/support. I would definitely recommend it to clients. Looking forward to the site going live.

Artsmart 2012

artsmart

Caught a couple of lectures at Artsmart, an alumni event run by UAL focused on getting ahead in the creative industries. Brilliant talk by Laura North of Speaking Out on public speaking. I nearly ran away when she mentioned group activities but I’m glad I forced myself to do it. It’s useful to get feedback on your public speaking, it’s something I naturally shy away from.

Met some lovely, talented and creative people. Check it out next year:  www.artsmartlondon.co.uk

New site live

Jon Gower, Photographer

I have put a new site live today for Jon Gower, a photographer and digital compositor. Jon’s brief was a website that “wasn’t really a website” – resulting in the most minimalist site I have ever designed. His images are beautiful and the star: www.jongower.com

Are you lost?

Just home from The Lost Lectures. It’s a great concept: short, punchy talks from interesting people, delivered in an unusual and secret London venue they release a couple of days before the event.

Tonight was no exception. Henrik Dahle, an engaging fellow who climbed a different tree every day for a year. Max Whitby, a BAFTA-winning producer who spoke about identifying bumblebees and his new iPad app of Shakespeare’s sonnets and who performed a rather beautiful science experiment. Matt Durran, a glass artist and tissue engineer who is helping surgeons to reconstruct noses. And my favorite Alwyn Collinson, an Oxford history graduate who has been live tweeting the Second World War with events as they happened in real time.

I tend towards digital media and design lectures and found it a rather enlightening change to hear about so many weird and wonderful projects and ideas. Check out the next one: www.thelostlectures.com

Bauhaus, at the Barbican

Bauhaus at the Barbican

I’ve just seen the Bauhaus exhibition at the Barbican and I have to say I’m a little disappointed. I have drawn inspiration from the Bauhaus throughout my career, tubular-steel chairs and iconic, cubic buildings – I guess I was expecting to be slapped around the chops with something a bit special.

The top floor is largely work from the early days under the new-age influence of Jonathan Itten. The early pieces were rooted in Expressionism and it’s clear that the school’s functional style took a while to develop. I felt that too much space was given to early work, aside from the teapots and the final space on typography it seemed a little mediocre.

It warmed up downstairs with the lower floor focusing on the lives of the students, the staff and the community they created in their purpose-built premises in the industrial town of Dessau, under the of influence of director Walter Gropius.

It was here that Bauhaus came into its own. Contracts were signed with lighting manufacturers, and Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s bulbous, opal-glass desk lamp has since become a classic of modern furniture design. The Bauhaus building became iconic too, with its concrete skeleton and glass- curtain façade, through which all three storeys of workshop activity were visible to the outside world.

Bauhaus design will continue to inspire me, I’m sad to say this exhibition didn’t.

http://www.barbican.org.uk

New site: Applecart Live

Applecart Live

I’ve just put a new site live for Applecart – an arts initiative in the East End who create live theatre, film, music, comedy and drama. The brief was “from the street…but er…not street” and I think it’s turned out surprisingly on-brand! I’ve really enjoyed this project, the design evolved with lots of texture and dirtied up edges, something I haven’t got my hands on since my work for Save the Children.

Check out the site here: http://www.applecartlive.org (and buy yourself a hoody, they are well cool!)

Dezeened in Hackney

Designed in Hackney

I have been enjoying Dezeen’s ‘Made in Hackney’ series promoting local designers. With so many websites jumping on the Olympic bandwagon it’s nice to see a nod to the event that’s both inspiring and well executed. I especially love the furniture and lighting from SCP, I was in there the other day lusting over their Cedric desk!

Check it out here: http://www.dezeen.com/designedinhackney

Sweaters

The Sweater Book

Picked this up in a charity shop in Suffolk this weekend. Given my love of Christmas jumpers it’s officially my coffee table book of the year. Can’t help wondering who the ‘top designers’ are, my money’s on Stella Mccartney…

Stencil

stencil

Just spotted on Church Walk in Stokey. Nice.

Have a butchers

Caught this on my alumni blog. It’s a design studio and gallery opened by four students in an old butchers’ shop on Portobello Rd.

To introduce themselves to the local community, Butchers Hook (clever) set up a digital display in their front window. Using an old Nintendo Wii remote, custom-made infrared pencils, a wireless door bell and a printer they enticed passers by to create their own artwork and print it out (their business card on the back).

Take a look at their film to see it in action. What a creative way to get people talking and distribute your cards at the same time!

http://butchershook.co.uk

Pick Me Up

Managed to squeak in to see Pick Me Up before it closed. If you haven’t stumbled upon it it’s a graphic art fair held at Somerset House each year. I first heard about Pick Me Up through ArtSmart, an alumni event I attended last year and I was keen to make it along.

The fair showcases the best new work from around the UK, the nice thing being you can buy original works and prints from as little as a tenner. I love the way the work is pinned and pegged onto boards and it’s really accessible – like cult comic Modern Toss who were running a portrait booth and would immortalise you for £20. Peepshow’s ‘Encyclopaedia of Things We Didn’t Know’ also good fun – each participant in their workshop creating a collage to appear on their ever-expanding wall frieze of little-known facts (above).

Worth checking out, can imagine it will be even bigger and better next year. http://www.somersethouse.org.uk/pickmeup

Kusama at Tate Modern

Infinity Mirrored Room

Finally caught the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at Tate Modern. I’ve loved seeing Kusama’s work over the years – from the polka dot trees in Singapore to Louis Vuitton handbags to the cover of last years’ tube map.

The first rooms give you a background to Kusama’s journey and inspiration throughout her career. Her designs are so iconic and contemporary, you forgot she is an artist in her 80s! Her works are more arresting on a large scale like ‘Love Arrives at the Earth Carrying with It a Tale of the Cosmos (2009)’ a crazy series of panels that I could have stared at for hours.

The highlight of the exhibition are the two rooms designed by Kusama, pic above. The Infinity Mirrored Room was fun to get lost in, lights which glint and change colour and endlessly repeat. I was seeing spots for hours afterwards, perhaps the artist’s intention? Highly enjoyable, go see if you’re in London.

http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/yayoikusama/

In love with this light

utzon cloud

I’ve just bought this for our new kitchen, a glorious design classic by Jørn Utzon. I love the way it echoes his design for the Sydney Opera House and the way it illuminates up through the shades as well as down. Luscious.

http://www.lightyears.dk/designers/joern-utzon.aspx

New website live

London Digestive Health

I’ve put a new website live today for London Digestive Health – a partnership of Harley Street gastroenterologists.

The group have developed a contemporary brand and have a fantastic stock of images from the London Clinic that really bring the site to life.

The brief was to provide a current online presence for the practice, professional yet approachable and I hope I’ve gone some way to achieving this.

http://www.londondigestivehealth.co.uk

Hate mail

The wind is my only friend

Mr Bingo, the self styled ‘master of pens’ is worried. He’s worried that people don’t get enough fun post any more, so he’s come up with an idea…

“You send me a fiver (plus postage) and I’ll send you a vintage postcard with a little drawing and an offensive message on it. (that’s why it’s called ‘Hate mail’). So you get an original signed drawing, the postman get’s a laugh and the world get’s a little bit happier.”

I’ve been following this guys work for a while now, he has an endless capacity for making me smile. His ‘Skatebeards” are legendary.

www.mr-bingo.org.uk

The right colour

Colllor colour picker

Just come by this brilliant tool for colour matching, finding hues, tints and tones. I usually do this by eye in Photoshop but it’s nice to find an app that’s reassuringly scientific.

http://colllor.com

Mac decals

I ❤ these decals for the mac and iPhone. I’ve been toying with the idea of a Lazerwood cover for ages but ordered one of these instead. Something to make me look even less professional in client meetings!

Check out their other designs here.

Making ideas happen

Just finished this – inspiring read. Far too many ideas go to waste when left in the hands of disorganised designers. Making ideas happen

Cobbled Yard Vintage

Cobbled Yard Vintage Store

Just finished a site for the Cobbled Yard in Stoke Newington. It’s a fantastic shop and a bit of Stokey institution, some cool vintage finds.

We went through a few logo designs but plumped for a beaten up, distorted font with lots of noise. The yard has a quite an urban, industrial feed so I think it works well.

I built the backend with WordPress WP E-commerce. Stock can be updated by the owner through the WordPress backend.

Drop by and give them a like! http://www.cobbled-yard.co.uk

Just my type

“Comic Sans walks into a bar and the barman says, we don’t serve your type here.”

just my type

Everyone laughed when I got this book for Christmas. A good read, especially for the font-obsessed.

After being walked through stories of font revolutionaries, from the money-motivated Johannes Gutenberg to the sexual deviant Eric Gill, it’s difficult to even look at a cereal packet in the same way again.

Monkeys

monkey

Spotted at the V&A today ❤

This is What Happens When You Give Thousands of Stickers to Thousands of Kids

stickers

this is pretty legendary:

http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2012/01/yayoi-kusama-obiliteration-room/

New site live

suzanne

Just finished a site design for Suzanne Fisher Murray, a Canadian writer/editor/journalist now settled in London. Suzanne wanted visitors to explore her own “personal tube map” of the countries she has worked in. We went through a few iterations, it was a tricky one to get right!

The site showcases her extensive portfolio, from the BBC World Service to international charities.

Check it out http://www.suzannefishermurray.com

The back-end was build by Joe Mewes of 4 All Digital

Hello Southbank!

nft

Got projected onto the wall of the NFT last night by Aviva Big Picture.

Sunflower Yoga

Sunflower Yoga

Just finished a new WordPress site for a local yoga teacher. Was blown away by her photos, I wish I was that flexible! I went through a few logo iterations – I think this one really encapsulates her brand.

Check it out http://sunflower yoga.co.uk

You might just get inspired to don some lycra!