2014 past, 2015 future

It has been a fantastic year. I am working on a project I have been stoking for several years, and managed to gain experience in User Centred Design, which I want to pursue more in 2015.

This blog, and the website are long overdue a refresh. I set this site up in 2009. I was doing a very different job, web development in a small agency dreaming on designing full time; fast-forward 6 years and I am a Designer for a company who’s website receives 2 million visitors a week – a number that staggers me.

The industry is forever changing, but this year for me as a front-ender it has changed most drastically. Embracing tools such as CodeKit and Grunt mean that assets are optimised in fractions of a second with no hassle. I really don’t know why I stayed away from these things as long as I have – it reignited my interest in front-end development.

But I am at the stage of my career where I attempt to specialise in my profession. This year I was still programming PHP, HTML, SASS and working on wireframes and user testing. With focus comes a competence and authority in your opinions. So as much I have enjoyed coding I look to do less, apart from some functional wireframes where required.

2015 is where I really begin experimenting with A/B and MVT. Gathering feedback from users and designing improved experiences, and measuring these things. This is my future.

Why Do I Design?

I design to make things better.

Design is not about the ‘creative’ – The fluffy, blue sky thinking where an idea will be magically plucked out of the air, and time is spent prettifying something.

Design is about making something for someone that doesn’t exist yet, and does something they need.

In short, design needs constraints. It needs a user, it needs a goal and it needs to be measurable.

Design must solve a problem.

For that reason design cannot and should not happen without research; lots of it.

Start thinking about who will use it, and how you can solve the problem for them. Don’t lose sight of the user. It has to work for them. They must be able to understand and be able to use it.

Design isn’t inspiration. It is observation.

Observe, learn, and understand. Always ask questions and figure out why it works.

Being a designer means constantly observing and understanding our surroundings.

Design is how it works. The whole thing. The visual part is just the tip of the iceberg.

Getting a big idea is not an act of inspiration, but one of discovery. Immerse yourself.

Observe the world around you, because design is everything. Everything.

To predict the future, we must design it.

Top 5 Mac Apps for Web Developers

I am now the proud owner of an Apple laptop! I use Macs all day at work, but still used an old Dell laptop for personal stuff. It was time to upgrade. So with my shiny, aluminium toy I immediately went to Twitter to ask what apps people use to code on as well as their top 5 apps. I had a huge response, and here are the top 5 mac apps for web designers:

Sublime Text 2 ($70) – sublimetext.com

Sublime Text is a sophisticated text editor for code, markup and prose.

Now, before you stop reading – I still use Dreamweaver, but purely as a text editor, and use Notepad++ on my PC, but this app had so many positive comments I have to check it out.

Coda ($75) – panic.com/coda

We revolutionized the process in Coda (of coding for the web), putting everything in one place. With Coda 2, we went beyond expectations.

First impressions are this is the nicest looking app – you can see why they won their Apple Design Award and this is equally as loved as Sublime Text 2. Tough choice here, but I think I’ll go for ST2.

Alfred App (free) – alfredapp.com

Alfred saves you time when you search for files online or on your Mac. Be more productive with hotkeys, keywords and file actions at your fingertips.

I can see how power users relish an app like this. Whilst this laptop won’t be my primary machine, now I have seen this app I want to check it out on my work machine.

Hammer ($23.99) – hammerformac.com

Forget writing front-end code the old way. Hammer will save you time.

Built not too far away from me by the Riot team in Bath, another beautiful app that has some very cool features to build static sites with the flexibility of things like header includes and variables.

CodeKit ($25)- incident57.com/codekit

CodeKit helps you build websites faster and better.

Another web development app that seems to do a lot of things by ‘magic’ including image optimisation and file minification.

TextWrangler (free) – barebones.com/products/textwrangler

TextWrangler is the “little brother” to BBEdit, our leading professional HTML and text editor for the Macintosh.

Although not as jazzy as some of the other apps listed, it is free – which is always a good price!

Other Apps

I had loads of apps suggested to me; far too many to list in detail so here is the full list:

Web Development Apps

Image Editing Apps

Writing Apps/Text editors

Productivity Apps

Other Apps

Thanks to the following

This list was compiled thanks to tweets from the following people, @bobthomson70, @amberweinberg, @steffanwilliams, @sturobson, @caleuanhopkins, @lurkmoophy, @joaoserpa, @relequestual, @henderslam, @irphunky and @cole007. Thank you!

* prices as of 2 July 2013

Make Them Care

I have this phrase as my computers background.

It is a phrase I use on a daily basis, because I find it so important to everything.

You have to make people care: to fill out a form, visit a website, give their details to you, make that event, try that new activity.

I see it as a scale of: not caring, which leads into a caring cutover point which leads into people caring.

If people don’t care about this thing you are doing, then they won’t interact.

If they do, they will.

To me, it is as simple as that.

But making them care can be hard.

You have to really understand them to know what will make them care.

Today, I saw a new website launched to the Electorial Commission trying to get people to register to vote.


I struggle to see how this makes people care about registering to vote.

If people don’t care, they won’t do.

Make them care.

Predatory Thinking Book by Dave Trott

There aren’t many books I buy simple because of the author, but I did with Dave Trott’s new book, Predatory Thinking.

(If you can’t wait until preorder, check out the website: http://www.predatorythinking.com/.)

I’ve been a big fan since his first book, Creative Mischief. This has been my most read, and lent-out book. I have started recommending it to everyone because although Dave is an Ad Man, the messages and stories are relatable to anyone.

As well as these books, I can recommend reading his blogs: http://www.cstthegate.com/davetrott/ and http://davetrott.campaignlive.co.uk/.

Finally some great videos on The Art of Persuasion from Dave: http://prandall.com/2012/11/03/dave-trott-on-the-art-of-persuasion/

That should keep you going until the book arrives!

If you consume, you should collate

I realised this today as somebody said to be ‘What new site are people talking about?’ my mind went blank.

Looking back at my twitter history (mainly links to GIFs and frivolous comments) and delicious (nothing of substance) I turned to my Readability list (just articles).

I’ve done posts in the past (http://prandall.com/2010/01/23/condensed-type-1/ and http://prandall.com/2012/04/25/linkspiration/) that collate what I have consumed over the week, and I think it is much better way of documenting what is going on, because otherwise I just forget!

I watched a talk by Gavin Strange (@jamfactoryhttp://vimeo.com/61248847 where he had a page full of things that interested/inpired him recently. Braun watches, old sticker packets and wicked-awesome camera rigs. I’d like to play with creating one of these a week/month as a visual representation for the things that I have consumed.

On The Jazz

First off, this phrase isn’t what you probably think it is. The version I am talking about is:

On a mission, focused, determined. Popularized by the TV series the A-Team. When Hannibal Smith came up with a plan to defeat the bad guys, they always referred to him as “on the jazz.”

As a big A-Team fan this is a phrase I like using.

It is also a powerful state-of-mind to be in.

Design is a form of problem solving

Design is thinking made visual(*), it is problem solving. But this process takes time. Things cannot be ‘designed’ overnight. That is styling. Unfortunately many don’t know the difference.

It takes a real understanding of the problem to provide the right solution. This means designers need to be involved at the very early stages of a project. Thinking that a designer can come along at the end and ‘design’ it basically means that they are looking for someone to simply style their solution.

Design is not simply styling.

If this happens, and if you willfully let it happen then you are harming the profession you work in. To get away from this situation, you need to educate those you work with.

Designers should be involved at the very beginning. This avoids a ‘chinese whispers’ effect of others interpreting the requests a certain way and relaying them. It is best to be with the client or stakeholder to understand their requests firsthand. Afterwards, write a brief and have all parties agree to it. This will be the brief that the design solution is marked against.

This is the start of getting away from simply styling other peoples’ solutions.