This post is part of the Ask a Designer series. You ask me questions, I answer them to the best of my ability. The questions can be about design process, branding, software, technical things — or even completely unrelated. Want to play? Leave me a comment here, or use the contact form. I will answer it in a few days.
In graphic design related subjects, my hugest concern has always been design coding for websites/blogs! I never seemed to be able to commit to just that: code, everytime because there were a lot of details that were occupying my thinking resources: writing subjects, the graphics themselves, the php scrypts to hunt, the good practices to apply, etc etc.
My question to you Lisa: are you a coder as well as a graphic designer? If yes, does coding disturbs your creativity in graphic design? Because in my case, it does horribly, and I’d like to find a solution.
This question has two parts to it, so let me tackle the easier one first:
I am not really a coder.
I am a closet geek, and I know more about PHP, HTML and CSS than I let on – but this is not a main skill for me, nor do I want it to be. And, while this website you are looking at (as well as several others) was created by me, I am quite happy to outsource the coding part when I am working on the bigger projects.
Because, to me, focusing on one thing is what works best.
This is true on more levels: I find that I write best if I don’t think about the images that will accompany my writing, or which word should be made bolder. I come up with the best concepts when I don’t worry about execution at the same time. In fact, I do my best creative work away from the computer. With pen, pencils, and paper. Without thinking about the technical implementation of whatever it is I am coming up with.
That doesn’t mean I don’t worry about it at all, mind you.
It just means I worry about it later. As the next step.
And that brings us to the second part of the answer: clarity on the concept should come before everything else.
This isn’t true just for website projects – though in all the website projects that I worked on, the first step is always the mock-up. No coding, not even super defined images – just a rough mock-up with the most important elements in place.
What are those most important elements? This will vary based on the project, but they are the ones that communicate the main message most clearly. They can be words or visual representations, but these are the building blocks. In the case of my website, the header you see at the top of this page is one such element. It really shows how I approach the projects I work on. It’s playful yet professional, and it shows off my skills. Other such element is my manifesto, and that is all about what I have to say. Of course, those words had to be prominent as well, and that is why you see a quote from it on my home page.
I could have wasted a couple of years making those elements even better, finding a “cooler” way to represent the concept in the header, or making that quote on the home page flashier somehow, interactive, making sure it has the cleanest code possible, etc.
To me though, that would be a pretty deep rabbit hole and I am not sure when I would emerge from it. And so I establish priorities with my own projects, just as I do with my clients’ projects.
One such priority is the time and effort it takes to complete it – while still answering my criteria of good design and clear message.
Could I have gone and made that header better, shinier, more interactive? Could I have added something more? Sure. It would have probably involved hiring a photographer and spending many more hours and extra money trying to find the best way.
The way it was actually done was finding a stock photo that I could retouch and manipulate – a process I know takes me no longer than a couple of hours.
“Could I do this better?” is not a question I ask myself. Anything and everything can be made better, given time and resources.
The question is, does it communicate what I want it to communicate?
And if the answer is yes, I move on.
There is always time to make it better. There is always, always room for improvement. But if I focus on the message – and I always do – it will still accomplish its main objective.
Design — or any creative process — is very open-ended. If you don’t establish priorities, or what exactly this project has to accomplish in order to be complete, you will never be finished.
Focusing on one thing at a time – be it copy, design, or code – keeps me from getting distracted. If I tried jumping back and forth between them, I’d probably never finish anything. And establishing priorities – or making mock-ups that show the main elements – gives me a defined end point.
At least for the version 1.0. There is always a possibility for 1.1 etc. in the future – but most often, we end up worrying too much about details that aren’t really essential to the big picture – and depriving our potential customers and fans of something they need while we try to figure out how to make it absolutely perfect. Keeping that in mind helps me finish my own projects — rather than keep them as work-in-progress indefinitely.