One Pixel Solid

A steady stream of virtual existence. Notes and observations on design. A narrative by Scott Mackenzie.


Redesign→ism

September 14th 2012


My experience with the decisions, processes, and politics of website redesigns — in the corporate realm — have left me deflated and baffled. Here I attempt document how the process commonly flows, its problems, and a possible solution.

A Cliché Storyboard

The Marketing Dept. contracts a design agency to deliver a new homepage design. The brief contains a design and feature wish-list, and doesn’t relate to any analysis or business objectives. It’s a gruelling process that often sees more attention focused on logo sizing, rounded-ness of buttons, and squeezing everything above the fold. There is no fold!!! Eventually all the shapes look pretty enough and the layout is approved.

Up until this point, other departments have not been informed of the redesign and coincidentally have missed their window to offer insight, address current issues, and pose new ideas.

The CEO is given first preview and approves. The project is given high priority, and is fast-tracked to meet a random date in the near future.

IT are briefed (told) and have little room for feedback on the design or the deadline. Armed with indesign files (3 cheers to the design agency) they head back to the dev cave to evaluate what can be salvaged of existing frameworks, formulate a plan of attack, and commence build. As a bonus, mobile devices weren’t factored into design and will need to be solved on the fly.

Nom Nom Nom…

Skipping ahead: A handful of late nights, internal arguments and interdepartmental one-uppers later, and the new look website is launched.

In Summary: The design agency made good money and have new work for their folio. The Marketing Dept. can tick a box. The CEO has short term bragging rights at the golf club. The IT Dept. feel uneasy about the whole experience. Other departments are furious having missed their long awaited window for providing input.

Nom Nom Nom…

Two months later and any responsibility or loyalty the staff had toward the website has been replaced by new KPI’s and company agendas.

I know, I Know

I’ve purposefully over generalised above as it’s impossible (and frankly boring) to cover all basis and be politically nice. Instead I’ve covered what I consider common (from my experience) with a few cheap shots thrown in.

Grains of salt aside, below are two ways to move forward form here:

1. Clear the signals

It is of optimum importance that your website carries the true message/voice of your company. And for this to happen you need to know what’s happening within your company, behind all doors.

To do this you need to breed a culture of communication, respect, and most importantly open-ness. All departments need to feel they can be heard.

In the process of a website redesign this is particularly important during the early phases of planning, research, and design. Providing the right avenues for input early could prove priceless.

2. Specialists

I feel there is a need for specialist teams in the interactive realm who are able to facilitate all processes of website redesigns, from the first motivation, through to launch, and afterwards with evaluation and on-going analysis.

Specialists would be fluid, with the ability to expand on-demand. When required for services outside their expertise, they handle the procurement of fellow specialists within their network.

Such a team would always have a balanced focus between getting things done, and the overall goals for the project. They would constantly work in tandem with various stakeholders to formulate recommendations and monitor progress.

They’re a new breed of professionals, offering a new angle on an old problem. Very much a result of generation flux, I predict a certain ‘rise’ of specialists in the not so distant future.

All that said, before specialists can be embraced to their full potential, I see two obstacles in their path:

A: Companies need to know about them.
B: Companies need to see value in such an investment.

I think solutions to both of the above have started to progressively occur naturally, however from my experience the opportunities for specialists to be involved are still slim, and in turn we’re still seeing sub-par websites from some of the largest and well resourced companies locally and abroad.


Twenty Eleven

January 1st 2012


The big wet, code, processes, code, office, code, little people. A look back at 2011.

That flood thing

We were welcomed to 2011 with days of unusually heavy seasonal rain. While novel at first, this continued for a solid week and eventually things got… complicated. Being a river city, we live comfortable in the knowledge that a series of dams exist upstream to control the flow of water below. This nifty construction became our undoing as it was discovered not enough water had been released leading to the rain season. We were informed (by someone) water needed to be released to prevent the dams from overflowing, and so it was done.

Shortly after, as many predicted the Brisbane River broke its banks and it was inevitable flooding would occur, potentially bigger than the infamous floods of 1974. The following week was spent anxiously watching news coverage, monitoring the weather radar and tracking updates on social networks. We could only look on as our beautiful city drowned at the mercy of its swollen river.

Eventually the rain stopped and water receded. As many as 15,000 homes and business were directly affected. Luckily we were spared. See a collection of before and after photos.

Tough loving courtesy of mother nature and a not-so positive start to the year.

Business Stade 2

2011 was our second year of business for ZHC and proved the most real yet. The flow-on effect from the floods meant no new work for January and February. This fuelled motivation asses our status and provided mental space to re-invent how we work. The result was a site redesign, a refined mission statement and slight re-work of internal processes. Within a month we were at capacity workloads. Coming up Millhouse.

Products

Since starting ZHC, we’ve developed in-house tools that make tasks and management easier. Our goal has always been to release these as products for others. We set out to release two web applications in 2011. Sitting snuggly between business and productivity tools, we felt both had good potential for growth. Unfortunately it was not meant to be and neither were launched in 2011. Whilst aware of the common pitfalls of not shipping and the rewards of failing often, we have a strong belief in quality and timing. Stay tuned for 2012.

Service

My biggest lesson learned in 2011 is in some circumstances you have to take what you can get to stay afloat — sorry Seth. In a change of style we decided to give priority to our goals for income over being particular about the style of clients and work we produced. That said we despise working with clients who’s ethos isn’t ethically right, so all leads were run through this filter before pursuing. Looking back at the year, 70% of our 2011 projects won’t make it to the folio, the upside is we made budget every quarter.

Props to Tre Bartel for another solid year. It’s amazing to work alongside someone who shares your views on many things while having their own reservations, sensibilities and ethics.

Elbow Room

In 2011 we were well chuffed to finally upgrade from personal home based workspaces to a permanent residence. A place to call home. Another great milestone. Feels good.

Wee James

Somewhere amidst all that happened this year, the Mackenzie’s added a new member to it’s clan. On October 5th 2011 we welcomed a new human — James Mackenzie (after his great grandfather) — to the world. The raddest little man I know.

Being a father constantly grounds me. I’m super proud of my two and I’m thankful to have such a fantastic partner to create and share a family with. New beginnings are amazing and occasional late nights, smelly nappies and crying don’t compare to the warmth in your heart a little earthling brings.

Mo Code

I did some hard yards towards expanding my repertoire as a programmer this year.

To take our internal apps further I dove heavily back into Ruby on Rails. It took me a while to reacquaint myself with the ways of Ruby and learn the nuances of version 3, but it all become comfortable eventually. I have the Agile book and CodeSchool to thank for the quick learning curve.

Additionally, as a personal hobby I’ve been tinkering with Xcode and Cocoa trying to get my head around iOS. It’s a realm I want to move into as I believe there’s a solid future in mobile applications. That said, iOS development is a whole new kettle of fish. Learning without any experience in a C type language has made it difficult, however I’m starting to understand the makings of applications and how various pieces fit together.

In Closing

2011 was both difficult and rewarding. Persistence was my running theme for the year. In all circumstances if you keep on keeping on you’ll eventually come up stronger.

Despite early challenges, 2011 was still a year of solid steps forward . Marred by a false start — an ankle-tap from mother nature — it was a symbolic year for testing one’s patience and ability to re-bound.

Heres to 2012.