Posts Tagged ‘web designers’

Great Designers Steal?

July 6th, 2009 No comments

You often hear designers say, “Good designers copy. Great designers steal.”

Well, anyone who says this is one of three types of designers:

One who copies, one who steals or one who admits that not copying and stealing is hard but still tries not to anyway.

For some reason, a lot of web designers believe that there’s nothing truly unique left to create and that there is no such thing as originality.

I disagree, or at least I don’t want to accept that notion. You shouldn’t either.


Designers who copy

These people are at the bottom of the design pyramid, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You have to start somewhere.

Designers who copy are novices who haven’t yet grasped what makes a great design great, and so they imitate.

They frequent web galleries, pick a site they like and find a way to recreate and adapt it to the project at hand. This is how anyone learns anything. In fact, this is how we learn to, among other things, walk and talk as babies. We imitate to build a foundation of experience.

My very first website was a fan site for the anime Dragon Ball Z, which I loved as a kid. In the process of creating this site, I taught myself HTML by copying the code from another Dragon Ball Z site that I liked.

I literally copied and pasted all of the code, but then I went through it line by line, learning what each tag did. By the time I designed my next site, I was able not only to understand code but to create my own code from scratch.

Designers who steal

These are, of course, the people who say, “Good designers copy. Great designers steal.” Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch once said:

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light, and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery; celebrate it if you feel like it.”

This sums up these burglars well. Once a designer has copied another’s design and feel they have a grasp of what makes a great design great, their natural inclination is to go and create their own great and unique design.

But they soon discover that doing that is not as easy as the other designer made it seem. They learn that the dirty secret of many great designers is that they steal.

In design, to steal is to take inspiration from other people’s work. Designers who steal may frequent online design galleries, like designers who copy, but they know how to hide their sources.

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” —Albert Einstein

They take only pieces of sites or just the overall concept or theme of something. In 2003, designer Cameron Moll wrote an article titled  “Good Designers Copy, Great Designers Steal” in which he shows the source of a logo he created.


Moll explains:

“The chances of someone else having used this particular piece of clip art were very slim. And the chances of the intended audience — or anyone else, for that matter — being familiar with such a piece were even slimmer. Translation? A perfect source for stealing.”

Designers who try not to copy or steal

It’s a fact that we can’t help but be influenced by our surroundings. Designers steal all the time without realizing it.

A designer may look at the curvy lines of Moll’s logo above and months later may create a logo very similar to it without actually recalling where they got the idea from.

Designers in this category are aware of this habit. They know that creating something truly unique is almost impossible, but they try anyway.

To try, they may start by looking at online print galleries, instead of web galleries. They may also begin looking at package design, architecture, photography, nature—anything but web design—in an attempt to be authentically inspired rather than simply steal.

They look not just for design that works but rather for ways to make designs better.

After walking around a park in search of inspiration for a blog on nature, a designer may find him or herself using images of grass and soil to dress up the footer of the site to look like ground. They might add some birds to the header.

Or, after sitting on a bench and noticing the relationship between foreground and background, they might play around with the user’s sense of perception.

The further a designer who seeks inspiration moves away from web design, the more likely their designs will turn out truly original.

To sum up…

The pursuit of originality on the web is not a lost cause. The web industry is still young, and some things have yet to be attempted.

Once you understand the basics of design, try to think outside the box, and try new and different things. Be atypical and unique. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to design from the heart. But keep this in mind:

“Things which are different in order to be different are seldom better, but that which is made to be better is almost always different.” —Dieter Rams

In our striving to be unique and original, trying different things for their own sake is okay because they could potentially lead to better things. It’s a lot like throwing darts at a target blindfolded. You may never hit the target, but you just might learn something in the process. But do try hard to make something better than just different.

Not too long ago, people thought the Earth was flat and the center of the universe. Not too long ago, either, designers used the <blink> tag and used tables to build websites.

Theories and conventions are always being questioned, challenged and broken, and they should. If you believe a better way is possible, you will often find your way to it.

“The most innovative designers consciously reject the standard option box and cultivate an appetite for thinking wrong.” —Marty Neumeier

6 Tools To Be An Effective Web Developer

April 24th, 2009 No comments

Over the last few years Rails has helped Ruby’s popularity explode. One of the biggest reasons for this is the time that Rails can save you. By working within a well defined framework a lot of development decisions are simplified and it is easier to be more organized. Throw in some great tools like ORM, Unit Testing, Mocking, and more and you have a powerhouse of developer efficiency and quality.

There has always been and probably always will be feuds over what is the best platform but what I want to show you is that those arguments are mostly irrelevant. Regardless of what platform you choose to develop on there are most of the same tools available in one form or another. The common components, for me anyway, that help me produce high quality code faster and is easier to maintain are a good IDE, easy to use unit testing and mocking frameworks, an ORM, a MVC framework, and a good JavaScript library.

I am a .Net developer by trade and a PHP developer sometimes by choice. I enjoy both environments for different reasons. I am going to talk about each of these components in a bit of detail and explain why I think they are important and then at the end of the article I will provide a list of each of these components for various languages (.Net, Java, PHP, Python, and Ruby). I have decided to only list free or open source tools because they are easy for someone to try out and we all like to save a few bucks.
The Integrated Development Environment (IDE)

To me this is the prime essential. Sure you can program in Notepad and compile with the command line but it will likely take longer and it will require more discipline to stay organized. With a good IDE you have easy project management (all you files grouped together with tabbed browsing), syntax highlighting, compilation (if applicable), and auto complete.

IDE are continuously getting more and more sophisticated and plugins allow for lots more functionality like svn and git management in the IDE.

For me my favorite IDE is Visual Studio. There are some other great programs out there like NetBeans and Eclipse but for whatever reason I have become partial to Visual Studio.
Unit Testing And Mocking

These two items go hand in hand. No application is complete without proper testing. There are plenty of people on both sides of the fence when it comes to testing. I know, I was a skeptic for a along time. It just felt weird to spend time writing code to test the real code I was going to write. Finally I just decided to give it a try and it has changed the way I program. When you are focusing on how to test your code you just write cleaner code and it’s nice to have a quick way to know if the change you just made broke anything.
Object Relational Mapper

If you have ever used an ORM you know that it can save you a huge amount of time. One of the concerns I had before jumping to an ORM was performance. I wanted to know if using an ORM would make my application slower but I was asking the wrong question. I should have been asking whether or not the small performance hit was worth the huge time savings. The answer to that is a definite YES! Rarely in an application will the ORM be the source of poor performance and if it is it can be refactored to improve or you can use straight SQL if need be.

It all comes down to not worrying about performance issues before you have any. Yes it is important to keep performance in mind but using an ORM shouldn’t be anything to worry about.
MVC Framework

MVC has become very popular thanks in part to Rails and it’s revolution in the way we do Web Development. The key component to it’s popularity is that it separates the different concerns of your application into seperate pieces. This separation allows easier testing, better design, and makes your application more maintainable overall.
JavaScript Library

It seems there is a JavaScript library for just about everything these days. I remember not too long ago there were that many and JavaScript use hadn’t exploded yet. A JavaScript library is important to your productivity. The library shouldn’t compensate for poor JavaScript skills, you need a solid foundation, but should compliment a good understanding of it. The library will take care of browser compatibility issues and low level operations letting you focus on getting the job done.

IDE: Visual Studio 2008 Express
Unit Testing: NUnit
Mocking: Rhino Mocks
ORM: NHibernate
JavaScript: jQuery

IDE: NetBeans
Unit Testing: JUnit
Mocking: EasyMock
ORM: Hibernate
MVC: Struts
JavaScript: jQuery

IDE: PHPEclipse
Unit Testing: PHPUnit
Mocking: PHPMock
ORM: Propel
MVC: Symfony
JavaScript: jQuery

IDE: PyDev
Unit Testing: PyUnit
Mocking: PythonMock
ORM: SQLObject
MVC: Django
JavaScript: jQuery

IDE: RadRails
Unit Testing: Test::Unit
Mocking: Mocha
ORM: Sequel
MVC: Rails
JavaScript: jQuery

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Categories: Webmaster Tools Tags: ,

7 Great Podcasts for Web Designers

March 19th, 2009 No comments

Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a student just diving in to the web design field, audio podcasts are a great way to learn about new techniques and listen to discussions with big name pros without spending a fortune on conference fees.

They’re perfect for busy multi-taskers. You can listen to them during your commute or while performing menial tasks at your computer.

Below is a list of 7 great podcasts for web designers:

1. UIE Brain Sparks


Put out by User Interface Engineering CEO Jared Spool, this professional podcast focuses on usability and interaction design. Jared is a usability expert and frequent conference speaker who has worked with big clients like Microsoft, Apple and IBM. He invites big names like Molly Holzschlag, Luke Wroblewski and Cameron Moll to share their expertise.

2. Boagworld


Created by Paul Boag and Marcus Lillington of the UK Web design firm Headscape, Boagworld is the longest running (and perhaps most listened-to) web design podcast around. It has thrived because it is both entertaining and educational. Paul and Marcus banter back and forth while covering a wide range of topics of interest to both developers and designers. They know what they’re talking about and bring in great guests like Dan Rubin and Andy Budd. Along with the podcasts on the site you’ll find an active forum and follow-up blog posts that include summaries, links and interview transcripts.

3. The Rissington Podcast


Jon Hicks (famous for designing the Firefox and Thunderbird logos, among other things) and John Oxton produce this informal and humorous show. They answer listeners’ questions about web design, conduct interviews and pick a typeface of the week. The hosts are smart, smarmy and fun to listen to.

4. TypeRadio


While not specific to web design, this podcast is a great source of inspiration for designers of all types. Hosts by Donald Beekman and Liza Enebeis chat up designers at events around the world. Each designer brings something different to the table. Some are more interesting than others, but all give you valuable insight into their process and personality.

5. Rookie Designer


Rookie Designer is a weekly podcast by graphic designer Adam Hay. It is aimed at beginner designers but the content is useful to just about everyone in the field. Adam is friendly and humble, sharing brutally honest stories of “rookie mistakes”. He also shares tips, tricks and lessons learned… like how to get a freelance client to pay and how to survive a critique. He also covers specifics like Photoshop, SEO and Email design.

6. Web Design TV (video)


This one isn’t strictly audio, but it’s published by .net magazine and is well worth sitting down and taking time to watch. Older podcasts are hosted by Paul Boag of the aforementioned Boagword. Newer videocasts run 15-30 minutes and feature practical in-depth tutorials on specific web design projects and applications like Photoshop, Flash and Dreamweaver. .net is a great magazine filled with informative content and the videocast is a great way to get some for free.

7. You Suck At Photoshop


The first reason to watch this is that it’s hilarious. The second reason to watch is that you’ll actually learn a thing or two about Photoshop. Created by ad guys Matt Bledsoe and Troy Hitch, the podcasts are narrated by a socially-inept cubicle warrior named Donnie Hoyle. His bitterly sarcastic commentary is not only funny, it’s helpful. Each tutorial shows you a number of photo-editing tricks, which Donnie demonstrates by doing things like removing a wedding band from his cheating wife’s finger. It’s a YouTube phenomenon. If you haven’t seen it yet it’s time to get caught up.

The next time you’re bored at your computer, why not download a podcast or two and learn something new?

Written exclusively for WDD by Mindy Wagner.

Categories: Designing Tags: , ,