I really enjoyed this new episode of NPR’s It’s Been A Minute podcast. In it, host Sam Sanders talks to two writers who want to make remote work better.
The thesis of this book is that remote work — not remote work during a pandemic, not remote work under duress — can change your life. It can remove you from the wheel of constant productivity. It can make you happier and healthier, but it can also make your community happier and healthier.
Also recommend these helpful tips from my go-to productivity app, Todoist:
Tips for Productivity and Balance ⚖️
* Set regular work hours * Plan your days in advance * Take vacation days regularly * Make time for fun and leisure * Assess your priorities weekly * Switch off your devices at night * Prioritize rest and plenty of sleep
Earlier this year, I began work on sitemap and wireframe templates for our team to use on client projects. Before this initiative, we used Illustrator and InDesign to design these on a project-by-project basis. This workflow was not as streamlined as it could’ve been for a number of reasons:
Inefficient design tools. Illustrator and InDesign are great for graphic and print design, but these tools can be a bit overkill for UX assignments like sitemaps and wireframes. For example, if all you need is a way to draw rectangles, text boxes, and lines, Illustrator may not be the perfect fit for the task at hand. We’ve been using Adobe XD for around one year now, which feels like a faster and more natural way to accomplish these tasks.
Lack of reusable elements/consistency. Without templates, we were essentially recreating the elements we needed each time. This can create extra work upfront, since making and refining these elements adds up costly time. In addition, our work lacked consistency from project-to-project since each sitemap or wireframe was treated slightly differently. A shared system for sitemaps and wireframes that includes common, reusable elements is a smarter approach.
Lots of tedious manual work. Adobe’s traditional design tools like Illustrator and InDesign were not built for modern UX workflows. For example, manual resizing, lack of components, and other repetitive tasks plague these tools when used in a web design or UX capacity. In code, you don’t need to resize a button if you change its text contents—it happens automatically. Newer tools like Figma and Adobe XD solve these challenges and bridge the gap between design and development. Most recently, Adobe XD introduced Content-Aware Layout, a useful feature that speeds up UI design.
Our solution is a system of cloud documents in Adobe XD—a shared wireframe kit, a blank wireframe, and blank sitemap. Based on a wireframe kit my manager and I purchased, the shared wireframe kit includes common layouts and blocks for our websites, as well as base elements.
The idea is that since everything is linked to the master kit, we can adjust/add new components as needed. Each of the three files also includes an instructions layer with helpful tips for getting started:
I’m super excited to use these for real client projects so we can gain efficiency and improve our workflow. As a test, I also mocked up an example wireframe using our blank wireframe template. You can see a preview below!
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:
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.
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.
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:
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
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)
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
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!
I’ve heard this quote thrown around recently, and it’s really latched on in my mind: “Strong ideas, loosely held.”
What I love about this principle is how accurate it is, especially for designers working in teams. In a collaborative environment, generating valuable ideas and believing in what you create are so essential. At the same time, being receptive to feedback is an equally important skill.
So, what is possible with the marriage of these two concepts? I believe when you have good ideas and hold an open mind, great design can happen:
Successful design criticism
In critiques and conversations around design, this principle is helpful for bringing in new and different ideas to the discussion. One approach isn’t valued over others; instead, all ideas are treated as viable, and the goal of the exchange becomes iterating on and changing the work. In turn, the more rapid flow of ideas can lead to stronger outcomes because ideas that may not have been considered before are now included in the process.
In the design process, “strong ideas, loosely held” can help improve what you’re designing because ideas aren’t solidified early on. This means there is more time to reflect on and change parts up until the last minute, to deliver the best possible product.
Working in a creative field has shown me that communicating in a team and keeping an open mind to grow and learn are fundamental skills, not only for ourselves but for creating great work for our clients. With this mindset, you can more easily absorb and share knowledge, remain flexible, and be confident when it comes to design.