As you know the designing, and developing your own site is never an easy process. Im actually disturbed to say that mine has been a year in the making. And you know, it’ll probably be another year before Im content with just leaving it be.
Like many others I initially looked at portfolio site providers like Cargo and Behance’s Prosite, to create a really quick and easy site. These services are fantastic, albeit with a learning curve in some cases. In fact my previous site was using one of Cargo‘s templates.
The only problem I found with such sites is that even though you have the flexibility to customise your site (within reason) soon all sites however begin to look very similar. And I found that when that started to happen, surprisingly so did a lot of the work that were being shown. Mine included. What i soon realised is that my work was getting lost. Lost in all that good shit that was being created by very busy creative people. Ultimately I let it get to me, and eventually became lazy and just stopped adding new work. My fault.
So early last year I realised that I had to do something. 2013 was an extremely slow year for me. So initially to keep me busy and stop the mental despair during quiet spells I got to the task of a site redesign in the hopes that it would stoke and re-ignite some fires that i felt had been going out. You know get the creative juices going.
The first thing I decided to do was to cut back on the amount of work I was showing. I had work going back to the early 2000. Shock horror! But I liked it then (and now) but really thinking about it, it wasn’t to everyones tastes. So I culled a lot of my early stuff, and only decided t keep a few I felt could last the test of time. Shit moves fast now, and todays trend is easily yesterdays news if you’re not on top of it. So I started a big cull.
The second thing I did was think about what I wanted my site to say about me. Im a contractual freelancer, and although i consider myself quite multi-disciplined, I had to start looking at what it is I wanted to be hired for. I often get recruiters calling me up asking me to take contracts that just do not align to what I do, and at the back of my mind I’m saying to myself “have you not seen my portfolio?”. So something had to be done there. Culling old work wasn’t the only problem. Deciding what stayed and why says a lot about you, and what you want others to say about you too.
Now the great things about sites like Cargo and Behance Prosite are that you can literally be up and going in minutes. They often offer you a non payment package with limitations such access to certain features and limited customer support, but they can often come with plenty of community support, so you won’t find yourself in a rut too long. All that being said I wanted my site to offer me more, and reflect more of what i wanted to share and how i wanted to share it. Customisation is the key. And unless you’re a dab hand at coding, you’re left with very limited options. Ultimately you have to get a developer involve. Once I swallowed my lack of coding pride I went on the hunt for developers.
My first port of call was to ask around colleagues and associates that I had worked with. I spoke to a lot of developer friends who all seemed very eager at the time. But weren’t really that enthusiastic about the idea of moonlighting. Plus my budget wasn’t looking like it was going to stretch that far. Luckily for me it just so happens during this period, that I was working with a small jewellery startup company on their brand and ident. They had approached me on designing and producing their website. I started putting the word out on social media sites, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. The usual suspects. And it was probably the best decision I made. I quickly got talking with a company out in Poland called prollective who were really eager from the get go to work with me. And when the start up site got going and i was seeing results, I knew I was on the right track with them. They were really good at listening and as eager to work with me again. So i set about sketching ideas and planning for my new portfolio.
It wasn’t long when realised that my job in hand would be a huge one. Unlike my contractual roles where i was brought in to do one thing at a time. On my own project, I became the client, account manager, project manager, art director, planner and designer. Things got very taxing very quickly, but I knew i had to get it done. I sketched plenty of iterations before I jumped unto the mac to work up a foundation, and had begun a site map tree and UX journey.
I was spending a lot of time thinking and actually very little doing, and it wasn’t long before work started to pick up again and my site looked like it was about to take a back seat. So I began to rush things, worked quickly and and cut corners. And whn I thought I was happy with the design, I even went as far as to create an after effects prototype (see below). Once I saw the prototype up I kind just dropped the ball on things it I just stopped working on it.
Other projects had taken over and work on my site was stagnate, I had to make money, so figured my stuff could wait. And to be honest i wasn’t looking forward to revisiting it. I knew I had rushed things towards the end of the beginner phase.
But I didn’t rest on my laurels. It just so happens that the new contracts I had picked up were a series of responsive site developments. This was great. It allowed me to pick up some fresh insights into my own workflow and also gave me the opportunity to pick up some valuable do’s and dont’s. I soon felt confident enough to to revisit my site again, I remember launching up the prototype clip only to stare at my screen and say “what the hell is this shit?!”. I wasn’t happy. Not at all. The design was too complex, too busy, the look and feel wasn’t right, and i couldn’t tell what was going on. I messed up, but had I not got this far then taken the step back I could’ve let this get out of hand. So I started again.
This time, with my new experience garnered, I wanted to keep things clutter free, and very very mobile friendly. Bold colours, large time face, and plenty of none webby images. I was after visual porn. I noticed that I spent more time browsing sites that used fullscreen images with bold type and minimal copy for longer periods than others. And I’m not ashamed to say I like that look. I like the clarity they offered, and the slick editorial feel. So I looked at achieving similar looks with my own twists and iterations. I spent weeks and weeks on UX and sketches, going back and forth with a very patient development team that was fully onboard an patient. I am no coder, so I was constantly asking questions and advice and suggestions, “Whats your understanding of the difference between a responsive and adaptive?”, “explain to me ‘em’?”, “I was thinking about this, but would it translate well on mobile you think?”. Always questioning yourself is the way forward. Why you did, what you did is a good self evaluation.
When I was happy with the UX journey, I approached the dev guys again with my latest iteration. All seemed good on first glance, but I would be hit with another hurdle. The cost. In my re-energised enthusiasm I UX’d and design with abandonment. Thinking I was going to get this and i was going to do that, without any implication of how much all this was going to cost. A long in-depth discussion with the dev guys and also counting the pennies had me reigning in my feature rich site in no time. After trimming away at the fat, and prioritising key functions, I finally got to a relatively content phase. I say phase, as I still intend to build upon what is currently live. (Still plenty of adjustments to be made going forward.
I toyed with working in with Sketch app at the very beginning of my design. I had heard a lot about it on blogs and such, and its gaining a real momentum. But I had to look at two key areas that would slow down the developing process. My learning curve, and also that of my developers. It was not the time to experiment. Once I was happy with my PSD files, I handed it off to build. With an extremely detailed UX included, I practically sat back, and and just waited tentatively for the first chance to see something online.
There are plenty of management tools online to help you oversee projects. I was in daily contact with my developers and they recommended Trello to me, but if ever i got confused or really needed a direct response, a quick Skype chat always watered down concerns. Once I got to grip with Trello (towards the ending of my site development that is) it was plain sail. I still know too little to want to recommend it as a tool just yet. So perhaps in another post.
Communication with the developers is key. And I would advise putting together a brief that stipulates contractual terms of agreement. I made a few mistakes in not stating clearly how we should treat amends and updates, so had teething problems at the beginning. Fortunately for I was able to reference my UX on plenty occasions when communication needed clarification. I also found that I was also able to use Firebug, (a Firefox browser extension) that allowed me to make changes live to the code on pages, such as changing specific font sizes and line spacing with any margin or error. And the developers truly appreciated my basic understanding, (a must).
To cut a much longer story short, in the end, my new site went up far more quickly than I had imagined, I had a very communicative development team working on my side, (honestly I think we only sent a couple of emails at the beginning and at the end of the project). My detailed UX documentation helped immensely as I was able to just let the developers get on with things and only began to provide feedback when the site was 3/4 done and in testing.
This is actually my first ever blog write up (hence the essay) I don’t know where i was going with this to be honest. Im not in anyway shape or form a writer of notable degree. But I wanted to share my process and say hello. So please be gentle in your comments if any at all. But thank you for your time in reading this.