Category Archives: Thoughts

Fin.

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22 months ago, I joined Nathan at Building 13 as a minority partner. This was the culmination of a goal established while I was an undergraduate at the University of Dayton – to own (or co-own) a design business at some point in my future career. While it was happening earlier than I had anticipated, the idea of being a business owner was extremely exciting. Partnering with a longtime friend and someone who I greatly respect and admire on myriad levels was the salted caramel icing on the proverbial cake. We hammered out the details, acknowledged the risks we both were taking, and talked openly and freely about what we needed to do to keep B13 moving on the steady upward trajectory Nathan had established the two years prior as a sole proprietor.

The acclimation to becoming a business owner was definitely a learning-on-the-fly situation. After nearly 7 years of my only responsibilities being delivering creative ideas and design, I was now trying to learn all the other responsibilities of business ownership on a 2 year delay from my partner. I give Nathan all the credit in the world for being patient with me as I attempted to learn about B13’s existing processes, and we worked together to form new ones as well. The juggling act of day-to-day business tasks with idea creation and design execution was a welcome challenge.

I understand that this next part is probably going to sound like some boo-hoo, woe-is-me, my-life-is-so-hard type shit. It’s me admitting that sometimes life overwhelms, mindsets change, and priorities shift.

The birth of my beautiful daughter in Sept 2012 brought even more responsibilities to my life’s plate that felt like it was starting to overflow. Reflecting back on it, that was the beginning of my mindset starting to shift in the direction of wanting B13 to be just work, a job where I could live out the aphorism “do what you love.” The tedium of proposals and estimates and taxes and new business generation and x-y-z started to wear on me. I don’t think I fully realized that was the case until a year later, in the fall of 2013. In between, I tried to work hard and push through, even taking the reins completely for a month while Nathan went on his much deserved Epic Road Trip.

My naiveté about what it would actually take to run and grow a successful business coupled with major life changes all led to where we are now. Building 13 and I will be amicably parting ways as of today. Ultimately, B13 doesn’t fit with what I want professionally and what’s best for my growing family anymore. I absolutely don’t regret this experience. Being able to work alongside a great friend that is as driven and talented as Nathan has been tremendous.

Thank you, Nathan, for giving me the opportunity to help grow B13. I will always be proud to consider you a colleague and a friend. We may not have set the world on fire, but at least we survived mixing business and friendship, which in itself is no small feat.

Mobile vs Retina

Evolution

While the web is certainly in a state of constant evolution, a seemingly pivotal transition period seems to be underway. One of the last more significant transitions was going from dialup to high-speed broadband during the early to mid 2000’s. That evolution allowed higher bandwidth sites like Flickr and YouTube to flourish.

The latest evolution of the web does not come from the web itself, but rather the devices that we use to view it. Well, there are actually two parts to this evolution: mobile and Retina Displays (high pixel-density displays). And they seem to be, at least temporarily, at odds with eachother—more about this conflict later.

Mobile

Before Apple unveiled the iPhone back in 2007, mobile browsing of the web was, in hindsight, a total joke. Now, browsing the web on a mobile device can be an equal, if not superior, experience compared to on a laptop or desktop.

So, designing for the web is now a bit more complicated. It’s vital for designers to create sites that perform well on all types of devices. This has led to creating mobile versions of websites and more recently, responsive websites. ((These are huge topics and we plan on sharing some thoughts regarding responsive sites in the future.))

Retina Displays

Without going into too much detail, here is a brief visual overview of what a Retina Display is:

Pixel Density

It’s really pretty simple. Retina displays basically have 4 pixels jammed into the space that used to take up one pixel. This makes for really beautiful screens.

retina display diagram 1

Physical Image Size

The same size image on a retina display would be half the physical size of the same image displayed on a non-retina display. To “counteract” ((I say counteract because without scaling 2x, any images used for navigation would probably be too small to be usable. Also, scaling 2x presents the image more than likely closer to the creator’s original intent.))  this effect, the device’s operating system automatically doubles the scale of images (and text).

retina display diagram 2

The funny thing about retina displays is that when they display images ((Notice I mention images—as in static images. Videos, because they’re “moving pictures” don’t look nearly as bad)) that are not “retina” quality, the images look terrible.

Apple popularized the Retina Display ((Apple has labeled their high pixel density screens Retina Displays. That term, while really only refers to Apple’s devices, seems to be sticking. So, I’ll be using the term “retina display” in a more generic sense—say, anything with more than 220 pixels per inch. Sorry Apple.)) with their iPhone 4. Retina Displays are now availible on iPhone, iPad and most recently available on a MacBook Pro. HTC, LG, Motorola Mobility and others have followed suit.

Solutions

There are already several solutions to serve up high-resolution images to retina display devices. We even came across this which is very interesting, but seems a bit hack-y in execution.

At odds

The conflict between mobile and retina goes back to bandwidth. Mobile devices are increasingly showing up with retina displays. But for images to take advantage of retina displays, they must contain more pixels. More data. More kilobytes—megabytes even. This is a nightmare for the seemingly struggling carriers, and data plans they offer to the penny pinching consumers.

Our attempt to add to the solution

We thought we could add to the solutions ((We are using retina.js to serve up @2x images to screens with a 2x CSS pixel ratio and non-retina images to screens with a 1x CSS pixel ratio)) mentioned above by letting the user decide whether or not to display retina images. We present the user with the ability to toggle between retina and non retina images. With 4G/LTE still sparse and with limited data plans we decided to make the default set to show non-retina images. A simple toggle and the page refreshes with beautiful retina images.

You may notice an actual difference in the content of many the images—mainly images in projects tagged with web. Many of the sites we have designed are built at a static page width of 960px. So when we want to show these as retina images the 960px width doesn’t fill the entire frame. So you’ll just see a bit more background color. This just goes to show that the 960px width page is or is soon to be dead. #responsive

Still mobile

Apple’s has indicated with it’s latest MacBook that not only will our smaller devices sport Retina Displays, but, now, our primary workstations will too. The new MacBook is still very much a portable machine. So, bandwidth can be an issue especially if you’re using your smart phone as your internet connection.

When Apple starts rolling out desktop workstations with retina displays, we might have to reconsider our approach. But for now, we think it’s a dandy solution.

What do you think?

The Future for Web Design?

If you follow Smashing Magazine, as I do, then you are probably familiar with last week’s highly commented articles debating what the future might have in store for web designers.

For your reference:
Does The Future Of The Internet Have Room For Web Designers? (original article)
I Want To Be A Web Designer When I Grow Up (follow up article)

Cameron Chapman suggests that due to the recent surge of mobile apps and other content curators (Google, Twitter, Facebook) the future for web designers is glum and that demand for web designers will wane.

It is an interesting topic and I wanted to add to the discussion with some quick thoughts:

Cameron might have had better luck with a slightly modified title: “Does the Future of the Internet Have Room for Web Design?”

Consumers will go where the best experience is. Look at the movie industry. Consumers found a better experience watching movies at home on their large HD screes, Blue Ray players, and Dolby surround sound. Theaters fought back with 3D… and now with 3D tvs at home, the battle continues. If you want to attract consumers to your website, create a better experience.

Generally, a good designer transcends multiple mediums or will evolve as necessary. If you consider yourself solely a web designer the possibility does exist that demand for you will disappear (see: typesetting).

Google is smart

As I sit here watching the Djokovic/Federer US Open tennis match I was trying to remember how long the recent record breaking match (length of time) at Wimbledon was. I started my search query on Google with “longest” and Google suggested “longest tennis match” as the second suggestion.

I’m curious how that works. Is it based on other’s recent searches? Or is there some sort of a current events algorithm?

Anyway, I’m impressed.

A brief observation of customer service

I just got back from Trader Joes—one of my new favorite places to grocery shop. I was once again thoroughly impressed with the customer service during checkout.

It went something like this:

Cashier: You can rest your arms (pointing at the open spot to put down my basket).

Me: Oh, thanks.

Cashier: I like your shirt. (I was wearing my MuteMath concert T-shirt from a few years ago)

Me: Hey thanks!

After the transaction had been processed and the cashier was handing me my bag…

Cashier: Are you enjoying this weather?

Me: I sure am!

Cashier: Well continue to enjoy it…it’s beautiful!

This was a very pleasant conversation. It was nothing out of the ordinary. It was, however, authentic.

Everyone understands that customer service is an important part of doing business—especially in retail. But a trend that is starting to annoy me is when everyone at an establishment says exactly the same thing. For example, if you walk in to a Chick-fil-A, everyone says “how may I serve you” or “my pleasure.” This might seem pleasant at first but after awhile it comes off as artificial and robotic.

The lady at Trader Joe’s was speaking to me as an individual and not going by any script. And for that…I thank her.

Professionals, amateurs and…freelancers?

I really enjoy reading Seth Godin’s Books and blog. If you’re not familiar with Seth, I highly recommend reading his latest book, Linchpin.

In a post today he suggests hiring a professional—”someone who costs a lot but is worth more than they charge” or an amateur—”a talented person willing to trade income for the chance to do what he loves, with freedom rather than to get the job done.” He then goes on to warn against hiring “someone who just thinks it’s a job.”

I wanted to add to that list—consider hiring a freelancer. While freelancers can certainly fall under the professional or amateur categories, I believe they can potentially combine the best of both.

When you hire a freelancer, you typically get a professional who is very passionate about his or her line of work—you have to love what you do to take on the risk of working for yourself. An independent freelancer has their name on the line and they will generally bend over backwards to get a steady flow of work from you. A freelancer also has very little overhead, allowing you to get great value for your money, when compared to hiring an agency. Note that freelancers typically maintain a network with other freelancers that they can plug in when necessary, making them virtually as strategic and versatile as agencies.

Updates

So much has happened since my last entry, especially within the last 5 weeks.

On July 22nd I was fired from my full time job (I will probably write more about this topic later).

I immediately set up my portfolio on Cargo. I also set up accounts on various sites like Behance, Elance, Facebook and others. I’m still in the process of updating all my portfolio sites. I can tell already it’s going to be a pain to manage multiple portfolios. I may have to think about which sites I keep updated.

I reached out to some previous clients and some potential new ones. I talked to a lot of family and friends. My mom and dad have been very helpful. I got a lot of support and advice.

By the 26th I was up and running my own freelance business.

I have since landed a few clients and I continue working on a freelance basis with my previous employer. There is still a lot to do and people to call but things really seem to be falling into place.

Today I freshened up the blog with a new look. I downloaded the free theme called Modernist by Rodrigo Galindez. I made a few changes to the color and typography. While it’s not my design, I am very happy with it. I’ll probably keep tweaking it as I learn the ins and outs of a WordPress theme. When I feel I have it figured out I’ll probably create my own.

I plan to make regular updates to this blog. Please stay tuned.

All in all, things are good.