Hannah Williams

March 4, 2016

Buzz-y Bees

 

This month’s topic for the Astek team: an industry buzzword or bit of jargon that we particularly dislike.

I’m going to take a step back so I don’t just sound like a grouch. While sometimes jargon is a load of complete rubbish, it also has its place, and a quite important one at times. Randall Munroe did a wonderful job of tackling this question in the discussion around his book Thing Explainer; he uses the way the shape of the earth is described to demonstrate both the importance of jargon and the pitfalls of using it. In calculating flight trajectories, plotting orbits or planning shuttle takeoffs or landings, the earth’s shape as an oblate spheroid is critical. In general conversation, however, referring to the earth as a sphere is perfectly adequate, as there’s no need for precision in that context.

So how does this apply to the world of design and digital strategy? The lessons I take from Randall’s example are:

  1. Words or phrases that we think of as “jargon” can be important in certain applications (and therefore aren’t inherently BS).
  2. Not all contexts call for the use of these words, and sometimes (often?) their use is in fact gratuitous.

Distilling that down: jargon’s value lies in its ability to add precision for the members of the specific community that uses it.

Now back to the grouchy part. With this method of evaluating jargon and its usage, I’m going to pick on a particular word: learnings.

Prior to this context for evaluating jargon and buzzwords, I didn’t entirely understand why this particular term always sounded like nails on a chalkboard to me. It’s just a thing people say, and by no means the silliest or most pretentious of this industry’s jargon. So, Thing Explainer, why has it always made me so nuts?

It adds precisely zero value in terms of additional clarity or precision to the conversation, while also making it less accessible to the average listener. It’s used where “results”, “findings”, “data”, “information” or sometimes just “knowledge” are completely interchangeable and wouldn’t create any errors in our flight trajectory calculations. In short, it’s a term that exists only for the sake of sounding jargon-y without any inherent value.

So what’s the lesson from this?
Chances are, your clients aren’t as up-to-date on the industry as you are (then again, if they were, you might be out of a job). So even if you’re not ready to crusade against gratuitous usage out of pure zeal, consider accessibility when you evaluate your own use of jargon. I’d like you to ask yourself if you’re adding anything by using a buzzword, and use those learnings to adjust if necessary.

Hannah Williams

January 26, 2016

Work Clean: Layers, a Piece of Cake?

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What does “Work Clean” mean on the design side?

“If you hand this Photoshop file to a developer, they will never speak to you again.”

Well, yes. Possibly that. But beyond token attempts not to drive our coworkers insane, what else should we be doing, and why?

Working clean while designing is akin to cleaning as you go if you’re preparing an intricate meal for lots of guests. It slows you down during the process, especially if you’re not accustomed to working that way, but if you don’t do it, you’re asking for trouble. To extend the cooking metaphor: if you don’t clean as you go, it won’t affect you much at first. You can probably keep most stuff out of the way, or put it in the sink. Gradually, though, you start spending more and more time moving dishes around, restacking things, trying to find space. Maybe you start chopping things unevenly because you have other things taking up the cutting board. And then the moment comes when you realize just about all your pots/pans/large bowls/whatever are in use, so now to do anything you need to wash something. Somehow. Around the giant mountain of dishes already lurking in the sink that you’ve been managing to look away from all this time. Before long, instead of focusing on the meal, you’re gazing around at a kitchen that looks something like this:

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Clearly I love both cooking and pushing the limits of my metaphors. Working in a program like Photoshop, though, can feel quite similar when things get out of control:

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What a mess. Not only is it unpleasant to look at, it’s just inefficient. Making updates takes much longer when you have to hunt through so many layers, hiding and showing different groups to try to figure out what’s what. Frustrating at best, setting you up for real problems down the line at worst. So, how do we avoid Layerpocalypse?

Heading off the Photoshop equivalent of a hoarder’s basement takes some practice, but there’s one place to start: NAMES. Name your layers; each and every one. Making it a point to banish “Vector Smart Object copy 27” or “Rectangle 8 copy 6” will go a long way toward keeping your files organized. It seems simple, of course, but when working quickly it’s easy to duplicate something, manipulate it and then move on without making sure everything is in order.

Once you’ve got naming down, the rest of the organization is easy to keep up, sometimes surprisingly so. Sure, this is basic (bordering on elementary), but “working clean” is truly about getting back to basics. Creative Cloud has some lovely tools to keep track of your color palettes, custom shapes and more in Libraries, but those tools can’t do it all.

“Take care of the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves” doesn’t apply to every situation, but here it goes a long way towards keeping you sane… and on speaking terms with your developers.

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Aaaaah.

Hannah Williams

November 21, 2015

Crafting at the CoreNet Classic

Cantigny Golf Club in Wheaton, IL: the setting for a late-summer day of golfing, networking and a few drinks before fall really sets in. As a Platinum Sponsor of the Chicago chapter of CoreNet, Astek has an assigned hole on the course to make our own.

 

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In past years, our “How’s My Drive?” setup filmed each golfer, then sent them to a custom microsite to see video of their swing (accompanied by an excellently randomized selection of music). This setup was a hit with the CoreNet members, but we decided to change it up this year. In the interests of bringing something unusual, and with my own love of crafting, we hoped to get this corporate real estate crew feeling colorful.

I started by designing the outlines of our collaborative art project in Illustrator. Think “paint by number”, except…without any numbers. Projecting the Illustrator file onto a board made it easy to trace, despite this very serious focus face:

 

 

With this done, I loaded up way, way too many paints and we headed to Cantigny. Just setting up this project became a bit of an adventure, as arts and crafts aren’t typical golf course diversions.

 

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While I was excited about this project, I wasn’t entirely sure how it would go over with this group. After all, many of the CoreNet members are used to corporate golf outings, and I’d venture to say they likely haven’t had someone shove a paintbrush in their hand at a previous one. As the golfers started passing through, however, my doubts disappeared more quickly than the Bloody Marys in their hands.

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Over the course of the day, the project came together better than we hoped! While some golfers weren’t too enthusiastic about painting, others made up for it by paying more attention to painting than teeing off.

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After dozens of golfers and an entire day of painting, our result was a chaotic table and a colorful banner! This being the Midwest, it was adorned with plenty of sports team representation. While some of our guest artists were rather inexperienced, their enthusiasm more than made up for it. Watching the piece take shape throughout the day was unexpectedly amazing.

We brought the finished product inside for the dinner, excited to display the combined handiwork of so many participants.

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As the raffle auction was going on, there were enough inquiries about bidding on the finished product that we decided to auction it off on the spot! Astek is proud to have turned our craft project into an additional $300 for CoreNet Chicago’s chosen charity, Designs 4 Dignity.

Hannah Williams

February 25, 2015

Muse-ability: Complex Menus Go Mobile

Our Muse-ability posts are a series of observations on experience design and UX practices, sparked by our daily interactions with sites, apps and more.

When it comes to site navigation, we’re walking a fine line, right? Organize the information we have to work with in a way that helps the user understand where to go without confusing or overwhelming them. It sounds like a straightforward goal, and yet it’s an incredibly hard thing to nail, especially for a retailer looking at a lot of different categories. This challenge only increases (like we needed that, right?) when you go to mobile.