Exploring my web design process

January 24, 2020

These past two weeks I’ve been exercising my visual/web design skills by redesigning a site for a dream client. I started out by brainstorming a list of industries I care about and would like to work with. Ultimately, I was drawn toward the music, tech, editorial/news, and design industries.

I landed on Princeton Architectural Press, a publishing company that is adjacent to the design world, as a client to practice with. Below are some snippets of information about the brand from my research:

  • Founded in 1981, Princeton Architectural Press publishes fine books on art, architecture, design, photography, landscape, and visual culture, with over 1,000 titles to date.
  • PAPress has made their reputation in part by identifying new trends and publishing first books on emerging talents, as well as definitive works on established names, and by creating books of unsurpassed design quality and production values.
  • PAPress’ products have been described in professional and popular media as “visually inviting,” “elegant and charming,” “useful as well as beautiful,” “lovingly produced,” “authoritative,” “thorough and comprehensive,” and so on: we try to make books that are smart and beautiful.
  • PAPress’ mission is for surprising, inspiring, and informing those curious about the visual world.

I’m familiar with some of their books and authors from reading in college, and I really admire the quality of their products. Their current website, however, is not great. The site is visually underwhelming, missing functionality in places, and is cluttered with confusing pages.

For this mock project, I found it helpful to define an audience and goal:

Audience

The main audience for this website is people interested in design and visual culture—professionals, hobbyists, students, and educators. Visitors who land on this website will expect a highly functional, visually-appealing design that helps them achieve their particular goals. For example, a visitor may be looking to browse new releases, search for a particular book or author to find where to purchase it, or find the perfect book for a gift to a friend.

Goal

My goal with this redesign is to modernize the look & feel of the website to reflect the beauty and quality of their products, as well as align them to be competitive with other leading publishers. In addition, the site redesign should focus on usability, creating a simpler way for visitors to achieve their e-commerce goals.

I then spent a day or so researching inspiration and competing sites in the publishing, art, and retail spaces. This helped me gain a better sense of what other companies are doing, particularly in regards to e-commerce UX:

Next, I tried to make sense of their existing sitemap by listing out all of their pages and arranging them in new logical groupings. Reordering the pages was challenging since they include many categories and footer pages on their current site. Although my notes for this section are quite messy, I came up with a plan that promotes the main product categories themselves, with additional sub-pages for secondary categories. This way, it is clear up front what PAPress sells and what they’re about.

At this point, I also began sketching wires for the homepage and e-commerce detail page. I wanted to transform the product carousel that exists on their homepage currently into a much more visual slider in the header. In these rough sketches, I also experimented with new components for things like promo blocks:

Using these ideas and research, as well as looking at their catalogs, I developed a refreshed look for the homepage that adheres to their brand while becoming much more visual and engaging. See below for my current homepage design concept:

Overall, I’m content with the progress I’ve made so far and I’m looking forward to working on a couple detail pages and responsive layouts to really flesh out this project. This exercise has shown me so far that there’s a lot of knowledge and ability I’ve accumulated over time, but still some areas to improve when it comes to my design process.

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Music and Web Design

January 23, 2020

Love this article by Brad Frost about the parallels between music and web design/development. Who knew there were so many?

I hope we in the web field will arrive at the same realization that I did as a musician: complexity is not synonymous with quality. Not everything needs to be At Scale. Not everything requires ultra-hydrated isomorphic architecture. We don’t have to shred like Yngwie Malmsteen on every project we work on. There’s a ton of power in simplicity, and I absolutely think there’s the web equivalent of a solid, grooving bassline.

The CSS Cascade

January 23, 2020

Wonderful interactive article giving the lowdown on the CSS cascade:

We style our websites using CSS, which stands for Cascading Style Sheets, but what does Cascading really mean? To save ourselves from future angst, let’s take a step back and learn this thing for real.

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Goals

January 10, 2020

2019—my first full year at Brokaw—was marked by tremendous professional growth. I learned a lot about teamwork and communication from being immersed in a collaborative agency environment. And by working hard on web projects big and small, I improved my skills in many areas, from design and coding chops to broader knowledge in advertising as a whole.

I’m excited about where I pushed myself beyond day-to-day expectations, too:

  • Introduced Notion to the agency to help keep us organized on web projects
  • Completed assignments, such as HTML emails, with minimal oversight (relying on my abilities and resourcefulness)
  • Developed new skills and training (PHP and WordPress)

In 2020, I’ll be working toward a creative goal and a handful of technical objectives. My manager and I developed these goals to leverage my strengths in places where there are opportunities to grow. Goal-setting for professional development is new to me, but I’m looking forward to all the ways I’ll be helping our company while learning new things in the process. Check out the full goals/descriptions below:

Creative

My creative goal is to improve my abilities in web design by leveraging my existing branding skills. Applying a brand’s look & feel to a website and focusing solely on visual design (not code or interactivity) is a valuable skill. By understanding the clients we work with more deeply—their values, products, and goals—I can deliver more nuanced, effective designs.

Some actionable ideas I might use to make progress toward my goal this year are:

  • Immersing myself in learning more about a client or brand to gain greater knowledge
  • Designing mock websites/redesigns for dream clients or current clients to practice my end-to-end design skills
  • Creating or following simple design briefs and assignments to exercise my web/UI design abilities

SCSS

This first technical area includes many sub-goals that will directly improve the websites our team builds. SCSS/Sass is something I learned on the job, but it has proved to be an immensely useful and time-saving language for coding stylesheets. This year, I’ll be:

  • Auditing our existing SCSS system to find what’s working and not working well
  • Researching CSS/SCSS systems
  • Researching coding standards/guidelines
  • Optimizing our base WordPress theme to improve areas of code (in tandem with documenting this)
  • Learning about an emerging front-end technique (i.e., CSS Grid, CSS custom properties, or text animations)

Efficiencies

Notion was just the beginning of becoming more organized and efficient in our projects and workflows. This second technical area focuses on ways to streamline everyday tasks. I’ll be working on the following for our team:

  • Creating and using Notion templates for projects in a consistent manner
  • Creating an Adobe XD template for sitemaps and wireframes
  • Creating a blank page template for designs with preset grids for Bootstrap

Knowledge Base

In our team, there’s an abundance of information that gets passed around and learned in a given year. The idea behind this third technical area is to centralize and document what we know and where we’re going—our systems, processes, resources, and inspiration. For our knowledge base, I’ll be:

  • Documenting our optimized SCSS system and guidelines
  • Creating and maintaining a roadmap for what to focus on next for our system
  • Documenting helpful resources for design/coding
  • Documenting processes for other types of projects within our team

As I work on these goals, I’ll also be sharing my learnings and progress right here on this blog. So for more insights, follow my latest posts by bookmarking this page!

Heinz Pour-Perfect

September 13, 2019


A Heinz limited edition glass bottle with an updated label to guide you to the perfect pouring angle.

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Brand Guides

September 13, 2019

Two incredible new digital brand style guides I’ve discovered recently:

Starbucks uses unconventional navigation elements, sleek UX, and clean design in their creative expression site. The result is a beautiful and useful guide for their brand.

The Guardian has an awesome, comprehensive digital design system guide, bringing order and rules to a complex website that could quickly get messy.

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The Data We Don’t See

August 28, 2019

Giorgia Lupi is an award-winning information designer and partner at Pentagram. She is an advocate for data humanism, an innovative approach to data visualization that goes beyond the trend of cool, surface-level infographics. I think this quote from a recent interview with her sums up the idea nicely:

I feel that data visualization shouldn’t be a simplification of reality; the visualization should make reality more accessible.

Giorgia Lupi’s work is fascinating and intimate in that it embraces the complexities of humanity. For a wonderful example, I recommend checking out her process on a recent project, Bruises.

I deeply believe in Giorgia Lupi’s goal to make data faithfully representative of human nature. In our increasingly complex and divided world, this kind of information design feels so necessary.

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Faux Crocs Redesign

August 12, 2019

Genius, unofficial logo redesign for Crocs by designer Stephen Kelleher:

This rebrand concept was inspired by the iconic Croc silhouette as a basis for their crocodile mascot. By streamlining and unifying both into one simple mark the new logo allows for more versatility at scale whilst continuing to embody the friendly spirit of the brand for a new generation.

View the full identity buildout here.

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The Necessity of Tomorrow(s)

May 3, 2019

Love this visual identity for a lecture series at the Baltimore Museum of Art, done by Post Typography. The concept behind the campaign is that only by envisioning alternative futures can we create a better tomorrow. This concept is carried throughout the branding through the use of striking design elements and bold typography. My favorite parts of this branding are the series of ‘interrupted’ objects where hopeful expressions disrupt everyday advertising and signage, helping “carry the conversation’s themes beyond the walls of the lecture hall and into the city landscape.” See for yourself at the link above.

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