Editor’s note: Last week, Cennydd Bowles published his “Letter to a Junior Designer.” Today, Andrew Clarke offers a different perspective.
To be honest, I envy you. I envy your energy and your enthusiasm and the fact that for you, design is still new, still exciting. I envy your self-confidence. You know you’ll be a better designer than me. Maybe you already are.
With age comes experience, and there’s no doubt that I have more of it than you—especially experience in balancing the needs of people who use what I design with those who pay for it. That experience gives me an advantage today, but you’ll gain it too, in time.
In the meantime, I’d like to offer three suggestions.Don’t slow down
You must never forget that it’s ideas that matter most, and that without your idea there would be nothing. You can’t turn a poor idea into a brilliant one by iterating, so don’t make fewer ideas. Make more. Don’t slow down. Speed up.
Your mind is a muscle, just like any other: you need to use it to keep it in top condition. To keep making ideas happen, make more of them, more often. Feed your mind with inspiration wherever you can find it. Exercise it with play. Make idea after idea until making them becomes a reflex.You don’t always need to think things through
You won’t ever predict the path your ideas will take. You can’t know the restrictions they’ll face nor the limitations that will be put on them. My advice to you is not to try. Too often I see brilliant ideas extinguished because people think about practicalities too early. How will this be built? How will someone use it? These are important questions, but at the right time.
Naturally, some ideas will fade, but others will dazzle. So before you pinch out the flickering flame of a new idea, let it burn brightly for a while longer, unhindered by practicalities.Sell with passion
Selling is frowned upon by a lot of people. It’s true: no one likes to be sold to badly, nor enjoys being interrupted unnecessarily. But being sold to well, by a good salesperson, is an experience that benefits both seller and buyer.
Learning how to sell was one of the best things I did early in my working life. Granted, I sold photographic equipment and not websites, but what I learned has served me immeasurably well. It’s helped me deal with people in a whole host of situations, not least in presenting (read: selling) my design ideas to clients.
Selling ideas should become one of your best skills. It’s a fact of life that it’s not always the best idea or the best execution that wins a pitch or presentation, but the one that’s been sold the best. So learn to sell. Learn to talk about your work so that the person you’re selling to understands your ideas and why they should buy them. Learn to inspire people with your words as well as your work. Make them feel like they’re so much a part of your ideas that they simply must buy from you.
Finally, I hope most of all that you never allow your energy and enthusiasm for design to wane. You’re young, you’re talented: revel in that. This industry has been good to me for many years, and I’m glad that you’re here too, to show an old dog new tricks.
Until now, Picturefill supported span-based HTML markup that mimicked a pattern we hoped would one day become a web standard: namely, the picture element and its associated features. Following the hard work of the Responsive Images Community Group (chaired by Filament Group’s own Mat Marquis), we’re pleased to report that there are native picture implementations in development for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and potentially others!
With this news, this week we released a new version of Picturefill that will make the real picture element work in existing browsers, which means you can start using picture today.Scott Jehl, Picturefill 2.0: Use the picture element today
Whether you’re giving a talk, sharing work with your team, or presenting work to your clients, there comes a time when you’ll need to show code outside of a text editor. Copying and pasting code from a text editor to say, Keynote, is an easy process. The difficulties come in when you want to preserve syntax highlighting, which is crucial to bringing code to life.
I’m in the midst of building a few talks that contain a lot of code, so I’ve been exploring tools to improve my workflow from my editor of choice, Sublime Text, to Keynote. I was looking for the easiest way to copy code as rich text—with my preferred color scheme, font face, and font size applied—to be pasted directly into Keynote.
The first tool I tried was a Sublime Text package, installed with Package Control, called SublimeHighlight. With SublimeHighlight installed, you can select code and trigger a command to copy the code to your clipboard as rich text.
Built on top of Pygments, it’s a really nice package for Sublime Text that fits my workflow perfectly. However, the available format options didn’t feel extensive or powerful, and I seemed to be doing a lot of tweaking in Keynote. The speed of copying directly out of Sublime Text was outweighed by the time I spent in Keynote.
I began looking for a tool that would allow me to spend less time tweaking styles in Keynote, and found Highlight, a command line utility with a terrifying amount of documentation. Fear not; the learning curve is low, and the possibilities are endless. To install it, either follow the instructions, or if you’re running OS X and Homebrew, just run brew install highlight.
To achieve my direct-to-Keynote nirvana, I played with the available command line options a bit until I was satisfied. What I came up with looked like this:highlight -O rtf -t 2 -K 40 -k 'Source Code Pro' --style twilight _output.js | pbcopy
Though verbose, it’s not as complicated as it looks: -O rtf sets the output format to rich text, -t 2 sets tabs to 2 spaces, -K 40 sets font size to 40, and -k ‘Source Code Pro’ sets the font face to Source Code Pro, my preferred font face. I created a theme to match my preferred color scheme, Twilight, and specify its use by including —style twilight. To use this without the custom theme, just leave the —style twilight out.
The final bit, _output.js | pbcopy, tells Highlight to run _output.js, the file containing code to be processed, through its formatter and copy the results to the clipboard. All I have to do is run that line, paste into Keynote, and I have a perfectly formatted chunk of code.
It’s not the perfect workflow by any means, but I love the amount of flexibility and control Highlight provides. You can see how I’ve been making heavy use of this tool in talks that I’ve posted to Speaker Deck.
Others have gone as far to say that the very concept of a user experience-focused agency simply isn’t a long-term play, largely because of what the big folks are up to. Facebook and Google went on a design/product buying spree specifically because they needed to figure out how to own this thinking themselves, and other tech companies have followed. And more traditional industries, like insurance, media, and retail? They’ll develop robust in-house capabilities soon, if they haven’t already.
Ready to pack up your things and start a landscaping business? Not so fast.Greg Hoy, Differentiate or Die?
In The Pastry Box Project today, Greg Hoy of Happy Cog talks honestly about why the first quarter of this year sucked for most web design agencies (including ours), assesses the new and growing long-term threats to the agency business model, and shares his thinking on what we in the client services design business can do to survive, and maybe even thrive.
I admit it: you intimidate me. Your work is vivid and imaginative, far superior to my woeful scratchings at a similar age. The things I struggle to learn barely make you sweat. One day, you’ll be a better designer than me.
But for now, I can cling to my sole advantage, the one thing that makes me more valuable: I get results. I can put a dent in cast-iron CEO arguments. I can spot risks and complications months in advance. In the wager that is design, I usually bet on the right color. People trust me with their stake.
So, if you’ll humor me, maybe I can offer a few suggestions to speed you toward the inevitable.Slow down
You’re damn talented. But in your eagerness to prove it, you sometimes rush toward a solution. You pluck an idea from the branch and throw it onto the plate before it has time to ripen. Don’t mistake speed for precocity: the world doesn’t need wrong answers in record time.
Perhaps your teachers exalted The Idea as the gem of creative work; taught you The Idea is the hard part. I disagree. Ideas aren’t to be trusted. They need to be wrung dry, ripped apart. We have the rare luxury that our professional diligence often equates to playfulness: to do our job properly, we must disassemble our promising ideas and make them into something better.
The process feels mechanical and awkward initially. In time, the distinction between idea and iteration will blur. Eventually, the two become one.
So go deeper. Squander loose time on expanding your ideas, even if you’re sure they’re perfect or useless. Look closely at decisions you think are trivial. I guarantee you’ll find better solutions around the corner.Think it through
We’d love to believe design speaks for itself, but a large part of the job is helping others hear its voice. Persuasive rationale—the why to your work—is what turns a great document into a great product.
If you haven’t already, sometime in your career you’ll meet an awkward sonofabitch who wants to know why every pixel is where you put it. You should be able to articulate an answer for that person—yes, for every pixel. What does this line do? Well, it defines. It distinguishes. But why here? Why that color? Why that thickness? “It looks better” won’t suffice. You’ll need a rationale that explains hierarchy, balance, gestalt—in other words, esoteric ways to say “it looks better,” but ways that reassure stakeholders that you understand the foundations of your craft. Similarly, be sure you can explain which alternatives you rejected, and why. (Working this through will also help you see if you have been diligent or if you’ve been clinging to a pet idea.) This might sound political. It is. Politics is just the complex art of navigating teams and people, and the more senior you get, the more time you’ll spend with people.Temper your passion
Your words matter: be careful not to get carried away. Passion is useful, but you’ll be more effective when you demonstrate the evidence behind your beliefs, rather than the strength of those beliefs. Softer language earns fewer retweets but better results. If you have a hunch, call it a hunch; it shows honesty, and it leaves you headroom to be unequivocal about the things you’re sure of.
Similarly, your approach to your work will change. Right now design is an ache. You see all the brokenness in the world: stupid products, trivial mistakes, bad designs propped up with scribbled corrections. That stupidity never goes away, but in time you learn how to live with it. What matters is your ability to change things. Anyone can complain about the world, but only a good few can fix it.
That fury, that energy, fades with time, until the question becomes one of choosing which battles to arm yourself for, and which to surrender. Often this means gravitating toward the biggest problems. As you progress in the field, your attention may turn from tools and techniques to values and ethics. The history of the industry is instructive: give it proper attention. After all, all our futures shrink with time, until finally the past becomes all we have.
You’ll come to appreciate that it can be better to help others reach the right outcomes themselves than do it yourself. That, of course, is what we call leadership.
Finally, there may come a point when you realize you’re better served by thinking less about design. Work and life should always be partially separate, but there’s no doubt that the experiences you have in your life shape your work too. So please remember to be a broad, wise human being. Travel (thoughtfully) as much as you can. Read literature: a good novel will sometimes teach you more than another design book can. Remind yourself the sea exists. You’ll notice the empathy, sensitivity, cunning, and understanding you develop make your working life better too.
But you’re smart, and of course you realize this is really a letter to the younger me. And, alongside, it’s a lament at my nagging sense of obsolescence; the angst of a few grey hairs and the emerging trends I don’t quite understand. Which is mildly ridiculous at my age—but this is a mildly ridiculous industry. And you’ll inherit it all, in time. Good luck.
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