Outdated (or Overused) Design Phrases

September 11, 2009

Well hello there. Sorry for the lull, I was distracted by shiny objects. Anyway, let’s jump back into it, shall we?

There are certain phrases I see on design sites that chip away at their legitimacy. This is because the words/phrases are old and outdated. Let’s count down to the worst offender.

5. Multimedia. I don’t necessary agree 100% with the assessment that this is old-fashioned, but I have heard it overused. Back when the internet was kinda new for consumers and PCs were first able to play video, they said those computers were “Multimedia capable” or similar. One friend of mine suggested we use the term “multi-format” if we’re giving a short description of our skills, if they encompass many genres (such as Flash, print, CSS, etc.). HOWEVER. If you are applying for a job and they ask for “Multimedia Designers” then by all means, reference “Multimedia” so you catch their eye. I have seen “digital media” used in its place, but that also seems a bit…redundant if you’re looking at it on a website.

4. Rich Media. I’ve harped on this before, but nobody younger than age 26 uses this term, so you shouldn’t either. It’s an old-fashioned buzzword without much meaning anymore. It was replaced by “multimedia” which in turn needs replacing.

3. If you ____, they will come.  This is referencing the “If you build it, they will come” quote from the movie Field of Dreams. The quote itself usually replaces “build it” with something supposedly clever, but you really just end up dating yourself. I realize some designers may want to appeal to an older clientele, and that’s appropriate – HOWEVER, this phrase is so overused as to become dull and meaningless. It’s about as remarkably innovative a phrase as saying that you “think outside the box.”

2. Weblog. No. Just…no. It’s just “blog” now. Trust me.

1. “E” anything, especially “E-news.” Electronic news? Really? This is a VERY “old graphic designer” way of saying news. Drop the “e” already, we know it’s electronic because we are on the internet when we are looking at it. “E-Newsletter” is just as bad. I’ve been on the internet for 15 years now (whoa, street cred) and never once did I get confused and think “Gee, this newsletter…is it print or electronic?” You don’t say that Yahoo presents E-news, so don’t say it on your own site.

The Mediocre Designer says your site is crap, Part Deux

June 2, 2009

Let’s just bully our way in, shall we?  More tips, this time for your client’s sites, rather than your own web design company’s site (there’s little difference, but it’s always worse if your own site sucks).

  1. Do not have overly-compressed images on the site, anywhere. Most people have faster-than-dial-up internet speed AND images aren’t usually THAT large, so it’s safe to set your jpg compression to 90 or above. Images that are overly compressed look unprofessional and old. Example (check that top image)
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of that example page. Note the “XHTML Compliant” and “CSS Compliant” badges. Worn with pride! Ditch ’em. It isn’t pertinent to the client’s information and, in theory, provides yet another way to distract the viewer with a needless link away from the page. Maybe it’s OK to have them on your own web design company’s site…maybe…but never on the client’s. The average viewer won’t even know what they mean.
  3. Don’t call the index page a “Home Page.” That’s the phrase used in the 1990’s, when your little cousin Nikki wanted a page about her My Little Ponies. Personal sites have “home pages” but a business doesn’t have a “home.”  Call it “Main” instead.
  4. Did you know that some people are color blind? Keep that in mind when designing what color text to put over the background. Hate to pick on this site again (no I don’t…) but check the very top. You don’t need to be color blind to see that it’s very, VERY difficult to read.

What NOT to put in your design portfolio

May 14, 2009

Some of this may seem a little rudimentary, but there are a lot of fresh graduates or first-time-job-seekers (like former work-from-home folks whose spouses lost their jobs). I think they need this info.

I’ll be discussing things specifically on a design portfolio – that is, a site showing off your own web sites you’ve made, or interactive Flash modules or whatever. You do have one, don’t you? If not, get one now, I don’t care if you’re securely employed. It’s up to you to be proactive in a time of unsettled waters.

  1. As soon as you can, REMOVE any projects you did in college. Yes, I know it’s your favorite, or innovative or whatever. The sooner employers stop thinking of you as a recent grad, the better (or, worse, as having a college-age mentality). Showing off your college projects works against that goal. Replace them with your awsomely mediocre work from your freelance projects and/or current employer.
  2. Do not put a bunch of text on your main page. Be succinct. Let your projects speak for themselves. By all means, introduce yourself, but an employer doesn’t want to scroll through what is essentially a generic cover letter.
  3. Employers DO NOT CARE about your fascination with soccer or that little Marilee just graduated from kindergarten. Ergo, do not post personal info. Keep it pertinent. I know you want to make your online presence more “human,” but you won’t be hired because you enjoy scrapbooking or kittens.
  4. Do not put references to your religion anywhere, even though it’s very important to you. Let’s be frank for a moment: Evangelist Christians have a rough reputation in this country. You do NOT want a potential employer to think you’re going to try to convert the office. It doesn’t matter that you wouldn’t try to do that, you don’t want them to THINK you would. Perception is key here. You want the focus and emphasis to be on your abilities, not your beliefs. I’m not asking you to hide that aspect of yourself. I’m asking you to make the choice to get (or stay) employed by not putting it out there.*
    (The only obvious caveat to this rule is if you are applying for work at a church of some sort. And of course, if you did nice work for a church, DO list that in your portfolio.)
  5. DO put a brief explanation of each piece you are showing off, such as a website or fold-out pamphlet. Explain (again, briefly!) what you were asked to do. If the client had a crappy site beforehand, screencap that before the new site goes up, and show the before and after. Yeah, it’s a minor stab to the person who originally designed the site but screw ’em. This isn’t their portfolio and they shouldn’t have done such sub-mediocre work.

I recommend having 3 sections:

  1. The “Portfolio” section. Duh. You can split it up into multiple parts based on what it is you’re showing off. I have “Web,” “Print,” and “Interactive.”
  2. The “Resume” section. Be sure it’s spotless. Emphasize what you did that worked well for your company. This is not a resume blog, and there are a ton of resources out there, so go check it out.
  3. A “Contact” section. I actually recommend having your email listed on every page somewhere, but the Contact info page will be an obvious way to contact you in case the employer is dense and misses the email address…it’s also the place to list your phone number.

As a final note, learn how to set it up so that if someone emails your domain, you receive that email. Then give out that email instead of, say, your gmail account. It just looks more professional.

*I bring this up because I recently saw the portfolio of a fresh-out-of-college fellow. His home page, VERY long with text, included multiple references to his religion. It made me uncomfortable to read it, and I’m a pretty open-minded person. I can only imagine an employer would kind of crinkle his nose and say “Well, that’s a bit much. NEXT.”

Working with friends – Part I. Your friend wants a site.

May 12, 2009

At some point as a mediocre designer (or a beginner or ultra designer), one of your friends will ask you to make them a site or work with them on a project. I’m going to break this down into two parts. Today’s post will cover making a site for your friend and the Part II will cover working with friends on a mutual project.

You want to complete this project while keeping your friendship intact – depending on the size and nature of the site, the stress level could be high. Remember that your friend is now your client. Repeat that with me: Your friend is now your client. I will expound on this further in a moment. First, however, I want to discuss what to watch out for:

  1. Does your friend understand what’s involved? Many people feel it’s Geocities-style building, where you just click some buttons and it’s done. Your friend may not realize the time involved.
  2. Will your friend be making constant updates? If so, you’re going to want to show them how to do that themselves, otherwise you WILL always be the go-to person. Be clear on your responsibilities after the hand-off.
  3. Sometimes, if someone doesn’t pay for something, they value it less. Consider asking for a trade of services or slight monetary compensation. Naturally, if you’re setting up the whole thing, purchasing space or domain names, you’ll want to be reimbursed. Clear all costs with them beforehand.
  4. Consider making a small contract. You could make it a “fun” looking contract so it doesn’t scare your friend, but this will serve the purpose of clarifying your role(s) and responsibilities on the site’s construction (see #2). Mention any monetary or trade compensation, if there is any.
  5. Figure out a timeline. Work it into your schedule. If you don’t think you can get this done within, say, 3 weeks or a month, don’t take the job. There will always be other things you’ll want to do rather than your gratis work, like play video games. Putting it off means possibly upsetting your friend. If your friend is bugging you about “is it done yet?” then you’ve probably put it off too long.
  6. Don’t slack. Seriously. I realize that you may have been coerced into making the site, and you aren’t really into it, but this is YOUR chance to shine. Make a site that will look good on your portfolio. If your friend doesn’t really know much about web design, you can probably get him to allow you to design whatever you want.

Back to the your friend is now your client thing. You know how when you meet with clients, you are respectful, professional and clear? Yes. Be that way with your friend. Have friendship time and professional time. Do not mix the two else you find yourself forgetting things: “Oh yeah, I was gonna discuss ____ with him, but we started playing video games.” Right. Don’t do that.

Hopefully, this is all clear. Questions?

Web Design Gimmicks aka “Please Avoid Doing This Right Away, Thanks.”

May 4, 2009

I was looking around for ideas to give me a little inspiration, so I decided to randomly look up animation studios’ websites. Now, I had the misconception that many of the websites would be stellar; clearly I assumed incorrectly.  Some of the companies were actually animation/design studios. Fair enough. In that case, I’ma lay down the smack twice as hard.

THUS. These are some outdated gimmicks to avoid:

  1. Letting the viewer (I hate the term “user”) pick their own color scheme. Sure, it shows off your CSS skilz, but unless you are a freelancer trying to be hired FOR your CSS skilz, it’s kind of pointless. Sites that you design for clients usuallly don’t have that “feature,” so your web design company’s portfolio site shouldn’t either. It’s even worse, however, when you have to pick a color scheme in order to progress to the next page. Example. Heck, in that case, all the different colors lead you to different pages – not even with swappable CSS. That’s even worse. Dang, guys, that’s 3 Mediocre check marks against you (let us try not to notice the incorrect copyright date). Listen: picking your own colors was “cool” when it was new. It isn’t new anymore.
  2. Animated gifs should be avoided. This is only true if you are trying to cram more than 256 colors into the gif and it has to dither the color (that’s the little dot pattern you see if you take something above 256 colors – say, a photo of your mom – and set it to gif’s 256 color scheme). It looks very unprofessional. If you want that animation, use Flash instead.
  3. Animation for the sake of animation. What I mean is: animation can distract the viewer away from the content. So unless your animation IS the content, keep it to a minimum or to the main page only. The waving computer with pulsating lights may feel good to you when you’re plopping it onto your page, so you can “jazz the page up” but there are better ways than distracting the viewer with useless information. You CAN create engaging, attractive design sans gratuitous animation.
  4. That damn talking head “type in your message and I’ll say it back to you” woman. It does NOT enhance the message, it’s cheesy and it distracts. Avoid it. Fortunately I don’t see this too much anymore.

Rest assured, I’ll be adding to this list as time goes on.

How about you, any bothersome gimmicks you notice on some mediocre sites?

The Mediocre Designer says your site is crap

April 30, 2009

…so you KNOW you’ve done wrong. Take note, designers, these tidbits are referencing pages that actually appear on various web design companies’ own sites. Yes, your high-end or mediocre brethren made these errors:

  1. Your design website still has a “copyright 2004” at the bottom. It is 2009 and, as of this posting, nearly 5 months into the year. Update your site, it looks mighty unprofessional to have the wrong year. It also looks like maybe you aren’t in business anymore.
  2. Woman with wind-blown hair wearing headphones. Example. It’s overused and doesn’t have any clear message. It’s likely supposed to give the impression of “airy freedom” but what it really says to me is “I was feeling uncreative that day so reached for the low-hanging fruit.” This image is the opposite of innovation. *
  3. Business man or woman with folded arms (or laptop) and a blue sky behind them, looking smug. What? Why? Again with the “airy freedom” that really says “this is overdone and improbable and, more importantly, uncreative.” *
  4. On your company portfolio, having a blurry snapshot of a site you designed. I really like Metaspring’s stuff since it’s colorful and catchy (no, I don’t work there), but this? Bad news, man. If it were up to me, I’d actually clean off a couple of their more aged items, since their newer stuff is more interesting.
  5. Anything that re-sizes my frickin’ browser when I click it. This just happened.  I won’t even link to the offending site it ticked me off so much. Check yo javascript before you wreck yoself.
  6. Last, and likely the most important one: If you are using the term “rich media” anywhere on your site, put down your mouse, find a phonebook and get a hold of a nice job-search expert because you need to find a new career right now. That is an old term that only old fogeys use, coined back when people called links “hyperlinks” and the term “hypertext” was also commonly used. Do not ever use this term. I don’t care WHAT that 10-year veteran of web design told you. He doesn’t know jack and his designs probably look like Geocities cast-offs.

*I will try not to apply sciences to these, but since you asked: Girl with headphones is usually pictured standing indoors. Where is the wind coming from? Why would business people be standing outside? In suits? What are they smug about? I think it looks pretentious.

When your overbearing boss wants template-like design

April 30, 2009

One of the, uh, “challenges” where I work is that my boss likes a specific kind of web design. Mind you, he has never taken a class in it (not that doing so makes one more knowledgeable, but USUALLY it helps), and, in fact, does not do any design at all. In his case, he likes shadows. On. Everything. Literally I must put Photoshop’s “outer glow” onto every square, circle and logo, swap out the yellow for black, set it to Multiply and hit “BARF.”*

This, of course, means that I cannot really spread my proverbial creative wings at work.  It’s a KILLER for the portfolio, and when I get home from work, I do not want to work on more web design for that portfolio.  There are, however, steps that can be taken:

  1. If you typically have some downtime during the day, don’t spend it surfing the internet. (I say that as a monstrous hypocrite.) Instead, ask your supervisor/boss/immediate overlord if you can get involved in some gratis non-profit work. Point out that it’ll make the company look GREAT. It will also make you look like you have initiative (bosses love that). For YOU, this means an important thing: If it’s not bringing in money, the boss will likely not care to be involved. That means you can interact with the non-profit yourself, giving them designs of your own making and influence, rather than as seen through template-eyes. AND it gives you something good for your portfolio once it goes online. Win!
  2. Again, if you have a little free time and your boss isn’t hyper-sensitive, make a second design of your own imagination. Thus you can present two ideas to the client – yours and his. Assuming your boss doesn’t throw a hissy fit if the client picks your design, this is an excellent way to sneak your own stuff in there. (This is also assuming the client AND boss provided some direction.)
  3. Returning to the “initiative showing,” if all else fails or the above do not apply to you, you might put together a list of links that show excellent, non-boss-template design. Explain (gently) that there are some new, fresh trends and your clients may like to see some of those in action, since they see them around the web. Even if he shrugs it off, at least it shows that you’re interested in improving the company’s bottom line. Bonus points, friend.

These probably apply more to companies that have a web design component, rather than web design companies – those would ideally be FAR more open to new, fresh or innovative designs.

*I actually like a little shadow on things, but his concept is that EVERYthing must have it. I will perhaps post an image sometime.

If it’s “Royalty Free,” be Certain to Check the Fine Print.

April 28, 2009

I am on a constant search for good, free stock photos – or “very very cheap” like fotolia.  I happen to love ImageAfter. Do you have any favorite stock sites? Please comment. However, one problem I run into is the proliferation of tricky “royalty free” wording.

First, I’ll tackle the wording in sxc.hu. Their photos are “royalty free” in that you don’t have to pay the photographer.  Most of the time, that’s the end of the story. Sometimes I’ll run across ” ______ must be notified and credited when using the photo for any public work.” This is when I cringe. Where does the credit go? There usually isn’t a “credits” page on a website. On the “About Us” page that is so common? Well, the photographer isn’t an “us” so it shouldn’t go on “About Us.” Frankly, the usual response I receive from clients is “Uh, no, we don’t want someone else’s link/name on our website.”

Now, we can look at it from the photographer’s perspective: “I went to the trouble of taking this picture so that you could use it for free, why won’t you give me credit?” While I can understand this perspective, sometimes it can cause the emphasis to shift from the website’s content to the photographer. For instance, I recently designed a (gratis) website for a small non-profit company. I needed images of happy, smiling children and teens. Most of the images I wanted had “___ must be notified and credited.” From the non-profit’s website to the photographer’s commercial one? No, I don’t think so. Hey, I don’t get to put my name on the site, either and I built it. I ALWAYS keep track of where I get photos from, so if someone does indeed ask me “hey, where’d you get that photo?” I can tell them. It’s simple: when you save them, put “by blahdeblah” in the file name.

Excuse me. I seem to have stepped in some rant. Moving on.

So let’s take this one at a time, with regards to sxc.

  1. Royalty free, “standard restrictions apply.” Meaning: You can use for profit, just don’t use it for pr0nz, to defame, etc. Excellent.
  2. Royalty free, “standard restrictions apply and ____ must be notified.” That’s ok.  They usually just want to be certain their works aren’t being used in an untoward way (this is especially important with images of children and teens).
  3. Royalty free, “standard restrictions apply and ____ must be notified AND credited.” Bzzzzt. Unless you have specifically asked the client “is it OK to credit other people on your website,” do NOT use the image. Don’t even make a mockup with it. The client will LOVE the image but still not want to have a link to someone else’s site. Trust me.
  4. On occasion, someone will have a list of things that you can and cannot use the image for. Move on by, friend, or be forever locked into what you should and shouldn’t do with it.

DeviantArt has some of the same policies, but watch out for this:

  1. Cannot be used for commercial works (what? Why post it at all? So much better to say “use it for what you want, just let me know” so you can put it on your portfolio.)
  2. If you’re a part of the DevArt community, “Cannot be used for prints” is also a big no-no
  3. One additional note: often, people who make textures want to be credited too. I think that works well for DevArt, but mind you not so much for commercial works.

Here’s how I view the big three sites:

DevArt has good stock photos of people in billowy attire. Perfect for your fantasy painting with elves.  Also good for nature stock. In all seriousness, I don’t want to scare you off from looking through their stock area – it’s really loaded with some jewels, especially people in poses or in themes (pirate, ninja, etc). The problem is sifting through the detritus, but that doesn’t take TOO long.

Sxc is excellent for objects, although they have a fair amount of people images. The problem is finding a specific one in a specific pose that doesn’t have restrictions.

ImageAfter is best for objects and random locations (such as weathered buildings) as well as textures. There are NO restrictions. Part of this is, I think, because the photographers are not credited in the site itself, therefore, there’s no sense of ownership and/or protectiveness.


Introspective Blogness

April 27, 2009

Yeah, I’m going to personalize this with my own graphics, I’m just being extraordinarily fretty about creating it. Although I DO approve of the irony of a “Mediocre Design Blog” using only the WordPress templates….

Edit: Ho ho ho, nevermind! I’m too cheap to buy the upgrade to “use your own css.” So the irony stands.

Keep Two Folders:

April 27, 2009

New to design (any design)? I tend to surf the Interwebz a lot between projects (….looking for inspiration…). I recommend keeping two very important folders.

1. An “Inspiration” folder. Do you like the shaded corner of that website? Screencap and save. What about that photograph of blueberries on a white background? Save it. Later, when you’re scratching your head for a design idea, look through your inspiration folder. (Admittedly, I call mine “flowers” because I would stab myself in the eye repeatedly if I made a folder and called it “Inspiration”…that brings to mind delightful motivational posters..I’m more of a Demotivater person, myself.) Note that the goal is NOT to steal ideas. The goal is to look at these images and think “OK, I like this corner/header/border/fruit/etc. so how can I make something that gives me that feel?” Any designer who tells you 100% of their ideas are original is lying. Period.

2. A “textures” or “stock photos” folder. Places like Deviantart and sxc.hu have stock photos and textures for you to use – the KEY, however, is to ONLY save the items you are free to use on any project. Do NOT save images that say “you have to do blah de blah in order to use my photo.” The reason for this is that it’s all too easy to be in a hurry and forget which photos are “safe” and which aren’t (unless you’re really organized and categorize them accordingly but then you’ll want to use the Restricted Stock and get really upset when you can’t). In reality, the likelihood of you getting caught using an unapproved stock photo isn’t high for a small project, but it DOES exist. Don’t be that person. You’ll earn a terrible reputation for yourself and/or your company and, in the worst scenarios, possible litigation. In another post, I’ll go over stock images/textures a bit more, such as what some of the terminology means and why I rarely use stock if it says “you must give credit.”