136. Stagnation

Paul Boag

In this week’s show we talk about overcoming stagnation and Ed Merritt shares a technique to achieve fixed footers without the use of javaScript.

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Design by committee vs design by community

We all know that design by committee sucks, but why? What is it that makes the process fail and what would happen if you took it to the extreme, and opened up the design process to an entire community?

That is exactly what Mark Boulton has done with the redesign of the Drupal website. With over 200,000 registered users this is a significant community and not the kind of environment where you would feel inclined to design in the open.

However, according to Mark it has generally been a success.

The key would appear to be scale. In design by committee you typically have a handful of decision makers, and one or two dominant individuals who overwhelm the others. It is an environment of conflict and compromise.

However when designing by community, the sheer scale of the community drowns out anybody who seek to dominate the process. You move from an environment of personal opinion to one where you are monitoring emerging trends.

So next time you have a client wanting to design by committee, consider opening up the process rather than locking it down to one or two decision makers.

Self Directed Projects

When was the last time you worked on a personal or internal project? Do you do anything that is not paid client work? If not, then according to IdeasOnIdeas you should start.

This post interviews several designers about their their non-client work. It becomes obvious as you read that self directed projects offer real tangible benefits. These include…

  • R&D – The chance to experiment with emerging technologies and techniques, that otherwise you would not get to try out.
  • Build visibility – Higher exposure online as people are attracted to your work.
  • Prove capability – Demonstrating your ability to deliver solutions not in your portfolio of client work.
  • Increase skills – Allowing you to improve your skills in areas where they are weak or have not been maintained.
  • Team building – Building a sense of common purpose among your team in a way that is more engaging than client work.
  • Creates passion – Allowing you to work on a project that generates excitement rather than ones that simply pays the bills.
  • As a release mechanism – The chance to play, and let off steam after the limitations of client work.
  • After years of spending all my time on client work, I have now reached a point where most of what I do is self directed and I can honestly say it is a joy. I also think it has been hugely beneficial for Headscape.

    Understanding Disabilities when Designing a Website

    Back when I was a teenager the government launched a massive campaign warning of the dangers of unprotected sex and in particular the risk of contracting HIV. It was a very powerful campaign and led to a generation growing up much more aware of the risks. However this campaign wasn’t followed up for the next generation and the rates of sexually transmitted diseases increased.

    Why do I bring this strange analogy up? Because I believe we are in danger of doing that with web accessibility. Many of us are getting bored of talking about accessibility. It feels like we are covering the same old ground. Why do we need another article about accessibility basics? We have heard it all before, right?

    Well maybe some of us have, but there is a new generation of web designers who have not. They need to know what we take for granted. Also, it wouldn’t hurt us to be reminded every once in a while.

    That is why I was so pleased to see Digital Web publishing an introduction to accessibility this week. Sure we have heard it all before and you might be tempted not to bother looking it up. However, I would encourage you to take the time. I guarantee it will give you at least one piece of advice which you fail to implement currently.

    More ways to find inspiration

    I often talk about how we need to look for inspiration beyond the web. In fact in this weeks Smashing Magazine, they post some incredibly inspiring graffiti that is worth a look. But, can we be inspired by other websites or does that always end in plagiarism?

    It’s a dangerous game when you start turning to gallery sites for inspiration. Before you know it you can find yourself lifting far too much of the design.

    How then can you be inspired without ripping off somebody else’s website? One way is to look at the design and ask yourself which specific elements you like. Is it the navigation, their styling of bullet lists or the way they handle the footer. By looking at individual elements rather than the whole you remove the temptation to copy the entire thing.

    This is what a designer from Portugal has done. He has made screen grabs of websites and placed them in his flickr account. However, rather than grabbing the entire site, in most cases he captures only a fraction of the page. He removes the temptation to steal a whole design and yet provides himself with inspiration next time he needs to design a comment form or build an online calendar.

    Take a look at his inspirational flickr feed and hopefully it will encourage you to take a similar approach.

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    Feature: Overcoming Stagnation

    For many websites the days of rapid growth have passed and they have slipped into stagnation. How then can you re-energise a site and start it growing again? We look at this in this weeks feature.

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    Listeners feedback:

    Ed Merritt (one of our very awfully clever designers at Headscape) has come up with a innovative little CSS technique I have encouraged him to share with you.

    Ed begins…

    A client recently asked me if it was possible to have a page footer which would stick to the bottom of the browser window if the content didn’t fill the window, but behave normally (i.e. be pushed down by the content) when the content was tall enough. Read more here.

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