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Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977

Archive for February, 2004

Time Management

Sunday, February 29th, 2004

I have a problem. Whatever I do I always seem to be late. Whether it’s an appointment, deadline, assignment, article, column or thesis. Status: late, delayed or cancelled. A few years ago I couldn’t care less about this issue, but life tends to become slightly more serious and I have to pay bills (yes, those are late too, but I’m not about to change that!).

First of all, RSS feeds and aggregators are evil. They consume so much time. Maybe I should learn speed-reading or something. Today I decided to remove some feeds that either post too much random bullshit or are of limited interest. Aside from these rather small measures I need to really organize my life.

Being a student doesn’t really help matters. Students are so lazy. If an assignment is due by Monday morning 9:00 AM I’ll be working all night to hand it in at 9:01 AM. Though if I’m late I’ll always blame technology (“Uhmm, sorry professor, but the upload function was f*cked.”). I don’t think I’ve ever handed in an assignment or article two days or even one day in advance. Nope that’s just not me, got to rush the job.

Working under pressure is fine, even stimulating. However with clients time management becomes crucial. I can’t tell them to bugger off and wait for 2 more weeks. That’s just not professional. So my question is: How do you effectively manage your time?



Why Scoble Is Wrong

Saturday, February 28th, 2004

So, I’m a bit late to join the party. But heck, it was a busy week and
I only got a chance to dig through my RSS feeds this weekend. It seems Scoble
thinks design is useless
, eh? Big deal. While I don’t care much for
Scoble’s views on the matter, I do however care about design as a fundamental
part of daily life.

Reading his rant against design I pictured Scoble at the movies: “Uhmm,
no thanks, dialogue transcripts will do, pictures are just embellishment of
data, don’t need that”. Surreal. Yet, he’s saying exactly
that in his post.

Jumping into the field of information management, theory holds that there’s
an unambiguous distinction between data and information. However, my purpose
is not to debate theoretical details, but present an analogous concept applicable
to design. Moreover the difference between data and content should be noted.
In essence content is (re-)packaged data.

Scoble is clearly data oriented. For Scoble the package (or wrapping) in which
data is delivered plays an inferior or even detrimental role. I’d like
to remind people that data as such is useless. To become both convenient and
effective data requires to be interpreted to fit human processing. Whether,
in the end, design is good or bad is a subjective matter, prone to hefty (unproductive?)
debates. But arguing design or aesthetics are not required is bogus.

Next time Scoble boots up Windows, he should be reminded of the fact that some
folks at Microsoft spent a considerable amount of time designing its interface.
Oh wait, maybe we should get rid of that too, it’s just a nuisance, right?
Design matters! More than



Copy & Paste Mentality

Monday, February 23rd, 2004

We all know that a digital environment is prone to illicit reproductions: songs, movies, stylesheets, markup, code, graphics, software etc. You name it. All your bits are belong to us! As such this is nothing new, I remember the days when tapes were hot, hot, hot! But somehow there was at least some level of effort put into getting that wicked new album on tape – after which you shared it with your friends getting drunk while playing NHL or Road Rash on a Sega Genesis (yup, those were the days).

Presently sharing requires as much effort as switching on your computer. Aside from the fact that sharing is inherent to a network, a worrisome trend is taking shape: copy and paste mentality is infecting all layers of society, not only the computer literate and hardcore geeks. In the great tradition of client stories from hell, here’s my version.

While working on a corporate web site I get a phone call from the client: “Umm, yes, we just had a meeting with our 3 CEO’s and would like to expand the site with a few extra sections, is that possible?” Ok, first of, what the f***? 3 CEO’s? Ugh, welcome to feedback and approval cycle from hell. Anyway, more business is always good, so I told them I’d send a revised offer and contract. No biggie. Right?

Two days later I get another phone call: “Yeah, errmÂ… we had a look at your offer but found its price rather disturbing.” I get these types of answers most of the time, clients always think any price is ridiculous, whatever the amount (tip: odds are a client will try to bargain, make sure you calculate some safety margin; anywhere between 15% and 20% will do). After getting the “this price is ridiculous” preach, I explain how I calculate my fees, the amount of work it will take and of course offer them a 15% rebate since they’re requesting more business (safety margin, remember). But at that exact moment lightening strikes: “Yes, yes, yes, that’s all fine, but isn’t a few extra pages just a matter of copy and paste.”

Click, click, boom! Copy and paste mentalityÂ…

It’s during moments such as these that I hate clients more than I need them. As if matters couldn’t get any worse, my sensible explainations failed miserably to convince the client otherwise: “Yeah, well, if you’re going to charge for these few extra sections we’re afraid that we’ll be forced to take our business elsewhere.” Talk about extreme measures. Worst of all, I already finished all the compositions and just got approval, from all 3 CEO’s, which is close to a miracle.

So I ask you? What would you have done? Give in, and finish the project without billing for the other sections and keep a client happy (and get the full initial amount)? Or, refuse to do work for free and tell them to f*** themselves, accompanied by the traditional middle finger. Yet bill for the hours already worked and risk losing a referral and money?



When Good Design Falls Into The Wrong Hands

Friday, February 20th, 2004

Let me tell you a little story. It’s about a client who decided to end a project early, before all the work was completed, so they could take control of the finished product. All work was paid for, as-per the contract, so no complaints, right?


Almost four months after handing over the project files to their IT department, along with clear instructions (not that many were needed, since the layout and markup were fairly straightforward, as was the CSS), we receive an email letting us know the site was finally live. “Terrific!” we thought, “Now we can link to it and show off some more recent work!” Then we clicked the link.

Horror. Disbelief. Shock. Page after page, bastardized–results Dr. Frankenstein would be proud of. A monstrosity wrought not on the operating table, but within Adobe GoLive, and at the hands of what can only be assumed is a madman (or even worse: an entire team of madmen).

Gaze in horrified wonder at the accessibility statement, rendered false by the mangling of markup and navigation. Stare with morbid fascination at the once text-based navigation now rendered as images. Run crying from the room when you see the body text, once styled and pure, now stark naked and barren.

Is this a work of fiction? Sadly, no: you can view the ghastly reality right here.

“But wait!” you scream! “What did the original, unfinished site look like before it was rendered helpless by these monsters?” Well children, I’ll show you…just peek behind this velvet curtain…

As we grieve for our loss, it would make us feel better if someone, anyone would share with us their stories of similar atrocities and client-committed crimes against design, so we might find some comfort.



More Noise Is Better

Monday, February 16th, 2004

Last week I was watching a German television show (they actually do have worthwhile programming at times) which investigated and tested noise levels of household appliances such as vacuum cleaners, dish washers and kitchen robots, among others. Generally I would conclude that the less noise these various machines made the better. Yet, user research indicated that a vacuum cleaner, for instance, which made less noise was perceived as less powerful and therefore less effective. Odd, is it not?

Towards the end the research concluded that some product characteristics are so fundamental to the (positive) value assigned by users that removing (or reducing) them will translate into a negatively affected perception. There is an interesting line to be drawn to design and usability. However the question remains how this would apply to user interfaces and web design in general. I’m still trying to see what role user expectation, accustomedness and perception play and how some assumptions designers make can have an opposite effect. Can you think of any analogies similar to the vacuum cleaner case, but applied to user interfaces or web design?