Thursday, September 30, 2010

30 Awesome jQuery Navigation Menu Tutorials, Plugins and Downloads

jQuery can allow for an enhanced user experience in a variety of ways, from image sliders and lightboxes, to tooltips, navigation menus and contact forms. When combined with other upcoming technologies like HTML5 and CSS3, the possibilities are nearly limitless.

We've gathered up 30 jQuery navigation plugins, tutorials and downloads to ease your jQuery development. Whether you're looking for a drop-down menu, a multi-level menu, a menu that floats along the sidebar, an accordion menu, or any other type of menu you can dream of, this post will have some useful tools for you.

Creating Graphs With Adobe Illustrator

Office applications are getting very advanced these days offering all sorts of fancy features for data visualization. Graph generation is a standard feature in desktop applications like Microsoft Excel or Calc, but it can also be achieved in non-spreadsheet applications like Adobe Illustrator.

If you're unfamiliar with the process of creating graphs in Adobe Illustrator, this article will help in giving you some insight into the work-flow. It might also help you decide whether Illustrator is the right tool for this kind of assignment.

[Offtopic: by the way, did you already get your copy of the Smashing Book?]

What Type of Graphs Can You Create in Illustrator?

Adobe Illustrator offers 9 graph types to visualize data. You can choose from the following:

  • Column Graph
  • Stacked Column Graph
  • Bar Graph
  • Stacked Bar Graph
  • Line Graph
  • Area Graph
  • Scatter Graph
  • Pie Graph
  • Radar Graph

There is also the possibility for making combinations from the existing graph types to achieve greater diversity. The only graph type that can't be combined is the scatter graph.

Creating graphs in Illustrator is as simple as selecting the Graph Tool (from the Tools panel), clicking on your Artboard and dragging and thus forming the area size of the graph. It is also possible to type in the width and height of the graph, which is useful if you want to create graphs with specific dimensions. If you decide to type in the dimensions of the graph, you should bear in mind that those dimensions are applied to the whole graph object (including labels, legend and x, y values), not just the graph chart.

Once you create this graph size and shape you will see that it's available as a single element (layer) in the Layers panel, usually with the name <Graph>. This might seem confusing at first but you'll get used to it very quickly.

The Two Faces of Illustrator Graph Functionality

Creating graphs in Adobe Illustrator is generally a straightforward task but once you get into advanced techniques of graph design, functionality can get quite annoying. You'll be surprised to discover that basic tasks like scaling and aligning are not instantly applicable on graphs.

Face 1 (Graphs as Objects)

The reason for the initial exceptional lack of functionality of the graph objects in Illustrator is that they are quite simply, 'objects'. That is to say, they are special groups of sub-elements that have a limited number of attributes the user can control. Graph objects are less flexible than usual Illustrator layers, layer elements and groups of layer elements.

Graph-layers in Creating Graphs With Adobe Illustrator

Here are most of the limitations of Adobe Illustrator's graph creation functionality that are instantly noticeable:

  • Transform panel is not available for graph objects.
  • No transform controls are available for selected graph objects, thus no instant scaling or rotation is possible.
  • Graph objects cannot be aligned to other objects nor can other objects be aligned to them.
  • Two or more graph objects cannot be grouped.
  • It's not possible to create a clipping mask from a graph object.
  • A graph object cannot be transformed into a symbol.

Maybe it's not really wise to initially dig for limitations, as you may get the impression that you're left with very few things that you can actually do to graphs in Illustrator. Of course, that's the wrong impression. As noted, creating graphs in Adobe Illustrator is generally a straightforward task.

But through knowing the limitations of your tool can actually help you plan early and work smarter.

Face 2 (working with sub-elements of the Graph Object)

Illustrator Graphs have sub-elements. The sub-elements are the brightest aspect of the graph creation process in Adobe Illustrator. They are flexible and you can do all sorts of modifications to them. From repositioning, scaling, mirroring, adjusting opacity and offsetting paths to applying special effects like brush strokes, glowing edges, pixelation etc. Sub-elements are your true friends as long as you don't make further changes in the graph data!

The appearance of the following sub-elements can be modified:

  • lines
  • labels
  • data points
  • graph legends
  • graph shadows
  • value axises
  • columns
  • pieces of pie graphs

However, if you make a change in the graph data, you instantly loose the control over the sub-elements' appearance and reset it to the bare minimum – fill + stroke. Actually, you reset the appearance of sub-elements with any action that causes the graph object to regenerate. That's why, as even Adobe advises, the sub-elements in graphs should always be styled as the final design process of a graph.

What about ungrouping Illustrator graphs?

Is it possible? Absolutely. As long as you're aware that ungrouping graphs removes the possibility of further changes in the graph data. Having this firmly in mind, it is only useful to ungroup a graph object once you're sure that you won't have to revisit its "Graph Data", "Graph Type" or "Graph Design" windows.

Graph ungrouping means simultaneously an increase AND a decrease in flexibility.

Ungrouping-graphs in Creating Graphs With Adobe Illustrator

Ungrouping the Graph Object means an increase in flexibility because it makes all graph sub-elements behave like usual Illustrator layers, thus unleashing the full power of layer editing in Illustrator.

It is at the same time a decrease in flexibility because it's a one-way road. After the ungrouping, the graph object turns into a group of layer elements (as funny as this sounds), and looses its touch with the special graph creation functionalities.

So, it's wise to use Adobe Illustrator for designing graphs one step at a time. First prepare graph data, than design the graph. This might seem too obvious, but it's very, very easy to get carried away in the creative process, forgetting about the two faces (before and after ungrouping) of the graph object. I know, as I have made this mistake several times.

What if you want to modify several graphs at once?

That's a very legitimate question and it deserves a decent answer.

You most certainly can select several graph objects at once, and apply various effects and transformations to them. With the help of the Group Selection tool, you can even select sub-elements from different graph objects and style them as you wish. Besides other things, you can also change the Graph Type of multiple graph objects at once.

Unfortunately, what you can't do is change graph data on more than one graph object at once. It's impossible and it's a shame. Instead of being able to change the data of 50 various graphs in an instance, you will need to do 50 separate changes (and waste valuable time).

How do Graphs Perform in Legacy Illustrator Formats?

Graphs-in-legacy-formats in Creating Graphs With Adobe Illustrator

Every incremental release of Adobe Illustrator offers options for saving working files in legacy formats. This way you can ensure that your designs will work in older versions of Adobe Illustrator.

However, even though the possibility is there, the practical value of this Illustrator feature, for graphs, is minimal.

A personal example

While preparing the final release of "The Graphs2", saving to legacy formats added extra "features" to my designs. For example, while working on a legacy AI file, after editing the graph data on a randomly chosen graph object, the graph object repositioned itself to false coordinates, and made the design appear to be broken. After testing this on other graph objects, I figured that it was a rule and not an exception. I wasn't able to get rid of this "feature" until I decided to minimize the backwards compatibility of my designs and save into Illustrator CS4 format.

Adobe does warn about the consequences of saving in legacy formats, but this is certainly a feature for Illustrator Graphs that could be improved.

What Could Adobe Improve in its Illustrator Graphs Functionality?

It would be really nice not to have to worry about loosing touch with the graph data after graph ungrouping. Why do graph objects have to be limited? In fact, why do graphs need to be generated in the form of objects? Why not serve them in the usual way – as a group of separate layers?

Perhaps Adobe should spend more time modularizing the graph creation functionality and serve them throughout the whole Creative Suite. Data visualization is important and shouldn't be treated as a gray zone, as a pending process in the development of the Creative Suite, especially not in the development of Adobe Illustrator.

Some 'would be nice to have' stuff for Illustrator graphs

In terms of flexibility and accessibility, Adobe Illustrator's graph creation functionalities are not polished at all. The main features are very obvious, but a lot of small pieces are missing for a rock solid graph creation module.

  • Axes: Though it might be illogical for some, why isn't there an option for generating graphs without value axes? Hiding them manually takes additional time and it's specially annoying if you need to use the "Show All" option for hidden layers, while trying to exclude the value axes from reappearing. An extra option that will allow hiding and showing of value axes is needed in the "Graph Type" window.

No-soft-shadows-for-graphs in Creating Graphs With Adobe Illustrator

  • Shadows: Why would you implement a shadow sub-element for graph objects if you don't provide proper options to control its appearance? And, who needs rough shadows these days when ray-tracing has spoiled us like children? We need realistic shadows for graph objects in Illustrator. We need to be able to control the light angle, the dens and the opacity of the shadow, the level of softness. We need all things that you normally get when applying a "Drop Shadow" layer style on a Photoshop layer. While saying this, there are manual ways of getting smooth graph shadows, like applying "Drop Shadow" effect on sub-elements or applying "Feather" effect on the default graph shadow sub-element.
  • Inter-object styling: What's the point of providing styling options for graph sub-elements, when there's no freedom in choosing when to apply them. The appearance reset for graph sub-elements has to go away! Data has to be separated from presentation. We need to be able to make unlimited changes to graph data regardless of the appearance of the graph object or its sub-elements. We need to be able to change things whenever we feel like we want to, not necessarily last.

Summary of Illustrator Graph Features

Here is a summary of the most important features of graphs in Adobe Illustrator.

  • Graphs are special groups of sub-elements and have a limited number of attributes you can control.
  • You can create 9 main types of graphs in Adobe Illustrator.
  • You can import graph data from external files.
  • You can copy and paste data from spreadsheet applications into graphs in Illustrator. You need to paste the data into Object → Graph → Data window for this to work.

Paste-data-from-spreadsheet-apps in Creating Graphs With Adobe Illustrator

  • If you ungroup a graph you cannot make changes to its data.
  • You can apply all sorts of effects to the sub-elements of a graph and not so much to the graph object itself.
  • Graphs and symbols do not get along quite well. A graph object cannot be converted into a symbol. However, there is an option for importing symbols into graph designs.
  • It is possible to create graphs with custom designs (by including images and symbols), but we won't explore this in detail in this feature. Maybe you can write a great article on this topic?
  • You can copy and paste charts from Microsoft Excel or Calc into Illustrator.
  • Illustrator offers excellent support for exporting graphs in SVG file format. Graph data remains editable in Illustrator, for SVG files created with Illustrator.
  • If you require advanced graph creation features, make friends with spreadsheet applications in famous Office suites.

Save some time along the way!

Here are a few quick tips (shortcuts) that might come in handy for beginners or may act as a reminder for advanced Illustrator users. These are all obvious things that will help you from wandering aimlessly around Illustrator menus and the workspace.

  • Instead of going to Object → Graphs → Data…, anytime you need to access the data of a specific graph, select the graph object and double click the Column Graph Tool icon from the Tools panel. Or, you can achieve the same by selecting the graph object, choosing "J" from the keyboard and then pressing the "Enter" key.
  • Right click a graph and you will find another quick way to access specific options for graph objects, including:
    • Type…
    • Data…
    • Design…
    • Column…
    • Marker…

    Quickly-edit-graph-object-data in Creating Graphs With Adobe Illustrator

  • Instead of selecting graph sub-elements within isolation mode, use the Group Selection Tool to select them without isolating your view in the workspace.
  • Click and drag a graph while holding the "Alt" key on the keyboard, to quickly duplicate it.
  • Delete graph objects with "Backspace" or "Delete" from the keyboard.
  • If you want to create Line graphs with curved lines apply "Round Corners…" effects (Effect → Illustrator Effects – Stylize → Round Corners…) to line sub-elements.
  • If you want to create a Pie Graph with empty space in between pieces, apply an "Offset Path…" effect (Effect → Illustrator Effects – Path → Offset Path…) to the graph object, and a miracle happens!
  • If you want to create a 3D graph, apply an "Extrude & Bevel…" effect (Effect → Illustrator Effects – 3D → Extrude & Bevel…) to the graph object. If you don't want to transform the whole graph object, apply "Extrude & Bevel…" effects to specific sub-elements you want visualized in 3D.
  • If you want to use "Offset Path…" effect together with "Extrude & Bevel…" on a single graph object or a single sub-element, make sure you place the offset effect below the Extrude & Bevel in the Appearance panel and you'll be fine. Otherwise you'll get the offset plane extruded also.
  • Don't forget to use the "Drop Shadow…" effect (Effect → Illustrator Effects – Stylize → Drop Shadow…) as a replacement to the poor shadow feature that's served by default for some graph objects.

Draw your conclusion

I used Adobe Illustrator to create "The Graps2" and I can say it was an interesting experience. It wasn't as delightful as I would have liked it to be but it sure was challenging.

After reading the above article you may feel discouraged in using Illustrator for graph design. What I would certainly recommend is at least trying Illustrator for creating graphs. It's the only way of getting in touch with the work-flow and making a personal judgment of whether Adobe Illustrator is mature enough for your graph creation needs.

At the end of the day, keep in mind that with Adobe Illustrator you're creating vector art. Vector art can be re-sized infinitely, without any consequences in terms of graphics quality, thus can be fitted in almost any type of medium.

Further reading


© Goce Mitevski for Smashing Magazine, 2010. | Permalink | Post a comment | Add to | Digg this | Stumble on StumbleUpon! | Tweet it! | Submit to Reddit | Forum Smashing Magazine
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Breaking Down Doors: Promoting Yourself To Dream Clients

There's a saying that the School of Visual Arts in New York City once used in its ads: "To be good is not enough when you dream of being great." We all have dream clients that we would like to add to our portfolio, but either we don't know how to reach them or have no idea how to even start. Promotion is not a big subject at art school, and I know way too many creatives who stare at the phone and wonder why it's not ringing.

There are many ways to promote yourself, and as with any product, you have to target your audience as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible. Let's go over some problems and solutions.

[Offtopic: by the way, did you already get your copy of the Smashing Book?]

Seek Out More Work Than You Can Handle

If you want people to know you and consider you a valuable contact, then you must promote yourself. If you look at your career as a business, then as with any business, you must promote it.

What is your brand? Let's not confuse a logo with a brand. Your logo is the visual "name" by which people identify you—your brand is how people remember you as a business. Is your brand personal? Fun? Wicked? Sweet? Choose wisely because you could be married to your brand forever and ever. Use peers and non-creatives as a sounding board. I had a brand that creatives thought was cool but clients just didn't get (which I'll write about in another therapeutic article).

Prepare your brand for all digital and social networks before hitting people with promotions. Essentials these days are a website or blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Apps (if that's your thing), business cards, stationary and envelopes—your business "front" as it were. Don't scrimp, and inkjet print your own cards. If you can't afford what you would spend in an afternoon at the pub for good business cards, then you might want to get a pony and dedicate the rest of your days to riding it.

Rainbow in Breaking Down Doors: Promoting Yourself To Dream Clients
"Welcome to Rainbow Pony World! Nowhere near Earth!"

Identify Top 100 People To Work With

You could crawl from small job to small job and make a fine career out of it… if riding ponies is your thing. But you dream of a certain caliber of work, so why not go after it?

Write a list of 100 people or companies you would like to work with. You might want to put a few people at one of those companies on your distribution list. How do you find those people? Start by researching the company. Go on LinkedIn and gather the titles of those people. If there's not enough there, click on their profiles to see who they're connected to, or use the "Also viewed" feature to stalk—er, hunt down the names you need. Use Google or a website such as Hoovers to get addresses and more information about the company.

Your city might have a book that list local companies, which could offer valuable information, as might the business section of your local paper. You have to hunt down names, network, steal, ask stray kids if their mom or dad works with designers, and take advantage of family connections (while still refusing to design that idea of your uncle's that he's been pushing at family dinners for years).

Don't forget your own network. Your friends and fellow art school alumni are becoming art directors, creative directors and creative managers, and being on good terms and staying in touch with them is important.

At this point, I hope you're at least keeping all of your contact information in a spreadsheet, because it can be uploaded to a variety of contact managers.

Get a good contact manager. Many programs are on the market, and even some native computer software will give you good contact management. Track how many times and when you have contacted someone, what they said, if you got work, if you got a referral, etc. When dealing with a client, you should be able to recall how you met, when you spoke and so on, so that they feel a bond, rather than feel like a target.

Some people prefer ACT as their contact manager. It's good, but the comments following this article will no doubt suggest more management-oriented programs (after berating my negative comments about pony-riding).

Ready, Set… What Next?

What are you selling? What contact information do you have for your top 100? What promotional material can you send them? Are you ready for a follow-up if you do speak to someone? Are you ready for me to stop asking questions and get to it already?

Alien in Breaking Down Doors: Promoting Yourself To Dream Clients
"The Wright Brothers could never have flown if not for the drive and spirit of innovation among aliens." (by Speider Schneider)

Even if you have print promotional material, there must be a digital component—something you can attach to an email or link to. Some people think you must have a website, and some think the WordPress platform is best… like, say, Smashing Magazine. Whatever the platform, you should have one. And please get a proper domain so that you're not advertising; is so much nicer!

Also, avoid for your email address. While many single-person businesses use Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail and (snicker) CompuServe, don't be one of them. For a few dollars, you could have a professional email address with your domain name, like

Have you accumulated a ton of email addresses? Here's a fun fact from years of working in a business that depended on communications marketing statistics: only 15% of emails are opened. If you use a mass opt-out email service such as Constant Contact to reach prospects, your costs will go up as your ROI goes down even before hitting "Send." Still, it can be effective for multiple mailings during a one-month period, which is the membership period of such services.

Sending a link gives the recipient a chore. In addition to everything else they have to do, they must now go through the super-human motion of clicking on your link and waiting for your website to load. As sad as that sounds, this is now the world we know.

Snail mail. Believe it or not, what's old is new again. People use to rely on source books and mailings for promotion. In the digital age, mail has gotten lighter. Another frightening figure from the marketing statistics folks: 98% of all greeting cards are actually opened (the 2% is for envelopes with printed labels and metered postage). This approach will run you between 50¢ and $1.50 USD per card when all is said and done. You also have to do it every month, but no more than twice a month, or else it's legally stalking, and your prospects will see it that way. But people love getting cards! I'm constantly told that my cards are up on bulletin boards at companies across the globe. Well worth the money, I say.

Some online printers deliver a good product, leaving you to stuff, address and stamp the envelopes. I use an on-demand printer that comes with a contact manager and allows me to create campaigns and then do bulk mailings using my handwriting font and signature and auto-name-insertion. A few clicks and my 100 cards go off within 24 hours, leaving me with plenty of pony-riding time. Oops!

Rock in Breaking Down Doors: Promoting Yourself To Dream Clients
"I send postcards from vacation spots. What fun for a prospective client!" (by Speider Schneider)

Print-on-demand websites are intuitive, and you can upload images for full-bleed jobs, if you so desire. The fonts on these websites are limited, and you cannot control kerning or leading. Best to create everything in Photoshop and upload it that way.

Advertising And PR… For Free

Blog. An audience that looks to you for information and entertainment makes for good prospects. Write about your design passion. A past article of mine drew a comment from a young man who was upset about the lack of understanding between a designer and developer. There's a blog right there. With a good writing style or by linking to stories on the subject, this person could develop a great promotional tool and really serve his passion for development and respect for its practitioners.

You could turn trends, type, design, fun, foible or whatever you really love can into a really strong promotional channel.

Volunteer. Personally, I've long been fed up with volunteering, but you should give it a try because it does build character… along with anxiety issues (but that's another story). Try a local art organization or art project. Getting out there helps you meet the people you need to be meeting. I know I'm being hard on volunteering, but I've put in more than my fair share of time. Your turn.

Write for something like that "Smooshing Magazine" everyone's been talking about. Even the local paper needs articles on the design of the new town hall or coverage of the next art event. Get your name out there.

Advertising And PR… But Not So Free

Try Google Ads and the like. Michael Muratore, owner of Store44, which represents illustrators and photographers, is the most plugged-in person I know. His work with global companies and a variety of digital sources and tools force me to defer to his knowledge on the subject:

I've been a Google power user for about five years now. As an agency catering to artists and advertising agencies, we can get hundreds of emails a day. The more I used Google for my business, the more beta invitations I received. I use so many Google services on a day-to-day basis that it's a bit mind-boggling: Gmail, Voice, Docs, Analytics, Webmaster Tools… I could go on. However, in seven years of business, we have never bought Google Ads. One day, another invitation from Google arrived: "$100 in free AdWords advertising if you connect your Analytics account to a new AdWords account." A hundred bucks? Sold!

It's brilliant, actually. One hundred dollars is the perfect amount to get started, figure out how it works and experiment a little. Of course, when it's all dialed in, it's time to add more money.

The real epiphany for me came when I started managing campaigns by region. I started with the five regions that generated the most business for us: New York, LA, San Francisco, Chicago and Phoenix. With region-based campaigns, I could see where our ads were most successful, based both on clicks and inquiries. As the campaign progresses and as our budget changes, so does our AdWords buying. When money is tight, the campaigns that produce the fewest results can be shut off easily, leaving the best performers a greater portion of the budget. Usually, this means New York and LA, because our most popular artists are in fashion and music.

We use this same regional system when advertising our Facebook page.

Of course, it's not just about regions. Different artists in the group have sets of keywords specific to their media and markets. When they want to promote a series of new works, we simply turn a campaign on for them to drive traffic directly to their new portfolio. We can have campaigns using general keywords to bring people to a landing page that features several artists. For those wanting to explore a variety of illustration styles, for example, they would land here:; if they were looking for something specific, like fashion editorial photography, then they would land right on the artist's page.

Costs vary with campaign, clicks and keywords. Because we're paying by the click, we need to ensure that we're not getting bad traffic. We use negative keywords to try to eliminate the irrelevant traffic (words like "schools," "lessons" and "royalty-free"). We keep a base budget of $3.00 a day for a set of general keywords in our best regions. Three dollars is not much, and some keywords are very expensive to get on the front page. "Logo design" often fetches $10 per click. Having a variety of campaigns helps. I can easily adjust a particular campaign's budget if an artist wants to spend the money on traffic.

Adwords in Breaking Down Doors: Promoting Yourself To Dream Clients
A weekly graph comparing overall traffic to AdWords traffic.

Bottom line? The AdWords campaigns bring the website's unique views from a usual 500 to 700 a month to over 1,000. When we get a call or email, I always try to find out their source. An active campaign can bring in three to five calls a month for $50 to $100 in ad spending.

The Most Difficult Thing For A Creative: Telemarketing

Cold calling is the hardest thing for anyone to do. If I hadn't worked in telemarketing as one of my various jobs to put myself through art school, I would dread cold calls. Cold calling, for those who aren't familiar with the term, is calling someone you don't know to sell them something. Sounds easy, right? It is. They are just people like you and me. They need freelancers, and you're a freelancer. If they don't need a freelancer, let them tell you so. I've been after a client for three years; they're in my top five of 100 names. I call and leave messages; I email images; I mail greeting cards with images and sales pitches. Why do I keep doing it? Because the prospect hasn't told me to stop and go away. It's sales, not dating.

The trick to telemarketing is to work from easy scripts:

Hello, Mr. Jones. My name is also Jones, and I'm a Web-developing, graphic-designing photographer. I'd like to set up an appointment at your convenience to show you my work. May I set up an appointment with you this week?

Mr. Jones will then either tell you that he is not interested, or ask you to call him the following week or set up an appointment right then and there.

Maybe you'll have to leave a message for Mr. Jones. "Hello, Mr. Jones. This is Mr. Senoj. My number is 123-4567. Please call me at your convenience."

Don't tell him why you are calling or you'll never, ever get to speak with him. Haven't hear back? Call back. After a while, it becomes a guilty pleasure because you'll wonder what they're thinking.

Look at it this way: the client I keep trying to reach probably has a great story about this persistent person who calls, emails and sends cards. I wonder if anyone has ever said, "Why don't you just talk to the guy?"

Another telemarketing ploy is called objection-response, and telemarketers make three responses before they stop asking. Have a script or two for that, too. Here's some classic objection-responses:

Objection: "I don't have time to meet."
Response: "It will only take 15 minutes, and I'll even bring coffee."

Objection: "I really don't have the time."
Response: "May I drop off a packet of my services and keep you on my mailing list?"
(They'll agree just to get rid of you. Take advantage of this by getting more information: "I don't have your current email. Would you update me on that?")

Objection: "I have all the freelancers I need right now."
Response: "I really appreciate your loyalty to your regular freelancers, which makes me want to work with you even more. I understand and wouldn't want to displace anyone, but people move on, and more work than your current pool can handle might come in. I'd like to stay in touch and see what the future holds, if you don't mind?"

Meat in Breaking Down Doors: Promoting Yourself To Dream Clients
Don't forget a thank-you note. A lot is at steak. (by Speider Schneider)

Out of desperation, I once told a person who had uttered those words of rejection to me that the entire pool of freelancers had choked to death. When he stopped laughing, he made an appointment and became a pretty good client. I don't recommend this approach, though.

Think of any objection you might hear, and prepare a response of a sentence or two, printed out in large type in front of you. It really helps.

By the way, the best way to get rid of a telemarketer is to tell them either that you already have the product or that there is no way you could possibly use it. They will apologize, hang up and never call you again.

Not Such Crazy Ideas

Find a mentor. Some established professionals believe they owe it to the next generation to mentor them into replacing them. We teach and write, and then you take our jobs and spit on us as we crawl for safety. You young punks! Still, we do it because it is in the natural order of things to pass on our experience to the next generation, however ungrateful it is.

Socrates had something to say about this:

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

Plato had Socrates, and you should be able to find someone who takes you under their wing and introduces you to people and teaches you wonderful things. Ask a teacher for a referral, or just write someone an old-fashioned letter asking if they would be your mentor. You won't look strange, and your good manners will be appreciated, even if the person is unable to mentor you. A referral could hook you up with a terrific mentor, too.

Do work that really impresses. A friend of mine once said that if you ever take on a $200 job that should pay $2,000, do $2,000 worth of work and it will lead to a real $2,000 job. He also told me that he paid $2,000 for his house, so don't take these amounts at face value. But his point is valid. A great job, whatever the pay, might lead to a spectacular portfolio piece.

A wild imagination can come up with some crazy ideas, but think twice before acting on them. Thankfully, my infamous "time bomb" promotional piece, touting "Dynamite service with explosive results," died long before I mailed the first package, or else I'd have faced bomb scare charges and might have been writing this from prison. Be creative, but be sensible. Think of your aim: to be at the front of someone's mind when they have a job to assign. Could you send a toy that sits on their desk or a calendar they keep handy? There are some great possibilities.

Keep moving forward! Sales is the hardest thing to do. You get a burst of energy, make all your calls and then get depressed when people aren't beating down your door. It's natural. Keep up your task of calling, emailing or whatever you do on a regular basis. Do something fun to break the mood, surprise your prospect, and don't take rejection personally. A rejection today could be a job tomorrow and a repeat client further on. Just keep moving forward with the sucky part of the creative business.


© Speider Schneider for Smashing Magazine, 2010. | Permalink | Post a comment | Add to | Digg this | Stumble on StumbleUpon! | Tweet it! | Submit to Reddit | Forum Smashing Magazine
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Want To Be A Web Designer When I Grow Up

Editor's Note

This article is a rebuttal of "Does The Future Of The Internet Have Room For Web Designers?," published in our "Opinion Column" section a couple of days ago. In that section, we give people in the Web design community a platform to present their opinions on issues of importance to them. Please note that the content in this series is not in any way influenced by the Smashing Magazine team. Please feel free to discuss the author's opinion in the comments section below and with your friends and colleagues. We look forward to your feedback.

— Vitaly Friedman, editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine

Last Thursday afternoon, I spent about 30 minutes doing a question-and-answer session over Skype with a Web design class in Colorado. I was given some example questions to think about before our session, which were all pretty standard. "Who are some of your clients?" "What do you like about your job?" "Who is your favorite designer?" I felt prepared. Halfway through the interview, a question surprised me. "So, are there any jobs in Web design?" When a teenager from a town with a population of 300 asks about job security, and the others sit up and pay attention, he's not asking out of concern for my well being. He's asking out of concern for his own future.

My response was, Yes, there absolutely are jobs in Web design. "Web design is a career that will take you far, if you're willing to work hard for it." And that's the truth.

Two days later, I go onto Smashing Magazine and see Cameron Chapman's article, "Does The Future Of The Internet Have Room For Web Designers?" and nearly choke on my cereal. After reading what amounts to an attack piece on my blog, and after corresponding with Smashing Magazine's editors, I suggested that they let me write a counterpoint. They agreed.

We're Not Web Designers

One of the biggest misconceptions about designers (and usually Web designers) is that we're just Web designers — that the scope of our skills begins with Lorem ipsum and ends with HTML emails. This is ridiculous.

Everyone in this industry fills dozens of roles throughout a given day. On a call with a prospective client, we take the role of salesperson. After the contract is sorted, we become researchers, combing through the client's outdated website, looking at analytics and identifying breakdowns and room for improvement. Soon after, we become content curators, wading through the piles of content in PDF format sent by the client, identifying what works and what doesn't.

Then we're architects, laying out content to get the most important messages across, while ensuring that everything in our layouts remains findable. We design the website itself. We manage client expectations and work through revisions. We write code. We introduce a content management system. We carefully insert and style content. We create and update the brand's presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. We help to create an editorial calendar to keep content fresh and accurate. We check in on the analytics and metrics to see how the website is performing.

Notice that "design" is mentioned only once in all of that work.

You have only to look at the topics covered on websites such as Freelance Switch and Smashing Magazine to see the range of roles we fill. We're used to adapting and changing; and as the Web adapts and changes, Web designers follow suit. Just as video didn't kill the radio star, Twitter won't kill the original website.

Scrivs wrote a great article on Drawar highlighting some fallacies in the original article on Smashing Magazine. I think he sums up the "You're just a Web designer" issue well:

You can't get caught up in the term "Web designer," because if you do then you are taking away the idea that a great designer can't learn how to translate his skills to another platform. If we are designing applications that slurp content off the Internet to present to a user, then soon we will all be Internet designers. That removes the Web designer burden and changes things a bit.

Content Has Long Been The Undisputed King

Let's make something very, very clear. Good Web designers know that their job is to present content in the best way possible. Period. Bad content on a beautiful website might hold a user's interest for a few moments, but it won't translate into success for the website… unless you run CSS Zen Garden.

In her article, Cameron gets it half right when she says:

As long as the design doesn't give [the user] a headache or interfere with their ability to find what they want, they don't really care how exactly it looks like or how exactly it is working.

I agree. The user is after content, not your gradient-laden design and CSS3 hover effects. Your job is to get them there as painlessly as possible. At the same time, great design can enhance content and take a website to the next level. Great design not only gives a website credibility, but it can lead to a better experience. Mediocre design and great content lose out every time to great design and great content. It just makes for a better overall experience, where content and design both play a role.

Content in I Want To Be A Web Designer When I Grow Up
Kristina Halvorson, habitual content supporter, giving one of her famous content workshops. (Photo: Warren Parsons)Image credit

You Can Always Go Home

Cameron makes the argument that feeds are taking over the Web and that, eventually, companies will just use them to communicate with customers.

The idea to simply rely on instead of running an independent website where content originates and filters out simply won't take with companies. Companies will always need a "home base" for their content. The change will be in the media through which healthy content filters out (such as Facebook, Twitter and RSS).

Scrivs makes this point in his Drawar article:

In essence, what is happening is that sites have to realize that their content is going to be accessed a number of different ways, and if they don't start to take control of the experience then someone else will. RSS didn't kill website traffic or revenues because there are some things you simply can't experience through an RSS feed Just because how we consume content is starting to change doesn't mean that design itself is being marginalized.

Content isn't just about press releases and text either. Ford would never give up for content in a variety of feeds and aggregators. lets you build a car: where's the feed or application for that? Ford's entire business depends on the functionality of its website. Its Web team has worked hard to create an inviting user experience, unique to the brand's goals and issues. No company wanting to preserve its brand or corporate identity would give up its main channel of communication and branding for random feeds sprinkled across the Web.

In the same vein, no company would suddenly give up its carefully crafted creative and regress to a template. Templates have been around for years, and no company with any kind of budget would use a $49 packaged solution from Monster Template if it can afford to pay someone to address its particular needs and mold a website to its content. A template doesn't take needs or goals into account when content is pasted in. A good designer makes choices that a $49 template won't make for you.

Cameron talks about how businesses will gravitate to standard templates and away from hiring designers:

Companies won't see the point in hiring someone to create an entirely bespoke website when they can just use a template and then feed all their content to Google and Facebook and Twitter.

Web designers don't just add borders to buttons and colors to headlines. Web design is as much about problem-solving as anything else. And part of the puzzle is figuring out how best to deliver and promote content. Not everyone has the same issues.

JulesLt lays out this argument in the comments:

[…] But I don't think any business that would previously have actually employed a designer to create their web presence, brand, will shift over to a standard template. For most businesses, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter may be alternative channels to reach their customers, but they don't want their brand subsumed into someone else's. […] The right way to do this is to build a re-usable core, but understand the differences between platforms — and make sure your clients understand any trade-offs.

Nick adds to this argument about templates:

Templates have no business in a world where personalization trumps everything else. Prospective clients are going to a website not just for content, but for the experience that the brand is willing to offer. Not to mention that if you're in the business of selling yourself, a high profile custom website speaks volumes about your dedication to your chosen niche market.

Andrei Gonzales eloquently sums up the difference between Web design and decoration:

Design isn't about eye-candy. It's about problem-solving. If your Web "design" isn't solving quantifiable issues, then it isn't design: it's "decoration."

And moreover, we're already in Cameron's bleak future scenario where web designers should be a thing of the past. Companies today can buy a template and feed their content to whoever they so please. And yet, they aren't. When the designer created that template eight months ago, he didn't know that their business was having trouble marketing to middle-aged women. That designer didn't know they're a family-owned business in a market where that kind of thing leads to improved revenue and sales. How could he? He's Andrei's decorator, solving the issues between lorem upsum and dolor sit.

In Conclusion

Web design has changed drastically during its brief existence. The changes in the medium year after year are actually quite amazing. The industry looks vastly different than it did in 2005, and we've changed with it. Change is inevitable, and it is the reason you visit websites like this one: to stay current. That hunger is the key to ensuring the survival of our industry.

The bottom line? Web design is a secure and growing job market. Two sources that are something of authorities on jobs and Web design agree on this point. The United States Department of Labor predicts that positions for graphic designers will increase 13% from 2008 to 2018, with over 36,000 new jobs being added. It also states that "individuals with Web site design […] will have the best opportunities."

And in the 2008 A List Apart Survey For People Who Make Websites, 93.5% of respondents said they were at least fairly confident about their job security.

I'll sleep well tonight knowing that the industry I love isn't going the way of the dodo… and that I didn't lie to a class full of eager young designers in Colorado.


© Michael Aleo for Smashing Magazine, 2010. | Permalink | Post a comment | Add to | Digg this | Stumble on StumbleUpon! | Tweet it! | Submit to Reddit | Forum Smashing Magazine
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Bounding box handles in Illustrator

As most of you probably know, you can easily resize an object in Illustrator using the bounding box handles. It's a fast and effective way, but when you are resizing an object that has a stroke applied to it, the handles appear in the middle of the stroke. For precision work this can be annoying. A better way would be if they appear at the outside border of the stroke instead.

Seek and you will find…

Bounding box handles in the middle of the stroke

The above image shows the default bounding box handles.

Use Preview Bounds

To change this to the outside border of the stroke, go to the Illustrator menu and choose Preferences > General. There you check Use Preview Bounds and click OK.

Bounding box handles at the outside border of the stroke

Now you have the bounding box handles at the outside of the stroke, which makes it easier for precise resizing. Changing this also affects the width and height info in the option bar and the X and Y coordinates.

Reset Bounding box

Another short tip is, that you can reset the bounding box via Object > Transform > Reset Bounding Box. This can be handy in situations where you end up with a bounding box that is really hard or impossible to work with.

Here is an example…

You've created a triangle shape by first drawing square, rotate it 45° using shift, and then you remove the bottom anchor point with the Pen tool, as shown in the different steps in the 2 images below. In this situation, resetting the bounding box is really welcome.

Reset Bounding box handles Reset Bounding box handles

These are small tips, and maybe you've known them already, but in case you didn't I hope you find them useful.

Ferrum College Lead Designer/Web Manager

Ferrum College has an immediate opening for a Lead Designer/Web Manager in the Public Relations Department. This individual will be responsible for college-wide design services to present a professional and consistent look and feel to all design/PR materials and publications including, but not limited to, Ferrum Magazine, brochures, posters, postcards, and advertisements. In addition, this person will devote an equal or greater amount of time overseeing the relationship between the college and the website hosting service. This person will have responsibility for working in support of the campus community with respect to the website’s content management system. Knowledge of web design, SEO and social media required. This person will also be responsible for some campus photography and videography and will help facilitate/manage the campus’ mass-notification system in the event of campus emergencies.

We offer a competitive compensation package including medical, dental, life, STD/LTD insurances, paid holidays, personal and sick leave, vacation, and a 403(b) retirement plan. Interested candidates should submit a resume, cover letter, and references to Human Resources, Ferrum College, P.O. Box 1000, Ferrum, VA 24088 or e-mail to
Background check required. Application deadline is by October 4th.

Ferrum College is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Incredibly Realistic Illustration Portraits

This is something that makes my jaw drop easily. Every week I search for kick butt illustrations, and I think I'm pretty successful finding awesome stuff, but it's been a really long time I don't see illustrations this real.


Made by various artists these are some of the top illustrations you'll find in DeviantART. We're talking about ultra-realistic illustration here. Of course I love a more loose approach, but this is something in a whole new level (like the girl pointing by Josiel Souza)... and I sure dig it. I know you do too, right? So, for more of these amazing artists' work, you may check out their portfolio by clicking each image. They'll appreciate your visit. Hope you enjoy these. Cheers! ;)

Jordi Joruji

Incredibly Realistic Illustration Portraits

Suzanne van Pelt

Incredibly Realistic Illustration Portraits

June Hardee

Incredibly Realistic Illustration Portraits

June Hardee

Incredibly Realistic Illustration Portraits

Innes McDougall

Incredibly Realistic Illustration Portraits

Dave G.

Incredibly Realistic Illustration Portraits

Hoang Minh Le

Incredibly Realistic Illustration Portraits

Suzanne van Pelt

Incredibly Realistic Illustration Portraits

Jordi Joruji

Incredibly Realistic Illustration Portraits

Josiel Souza

Incredibly Realistic Illustration Portraits

Josiel Souza

Incredibly Realistic Illustration Portraits

Anastasja Erlenda Irma Y

Incredibly Realistic Illustration Portraits

Josiel Souza

Incredibly Realistic Illustration Portraits

Jordi Joruji

Incredibly Realistic Illustration Portraits

About the author

Hello, everyone! I'm Paulo Gabriel, a 26 year old designer from Porto Alegre, Brazil. I have worked as a webdesigner since 2006, but websites and blogs have been a hobbie for me since 1999. Here in Abduzeedo, I try to bring only the hot stuff for you... and hope that all of you enjoy my posts! For more cool stuff, you may also follow me on Twitter.

Sponsored Links:

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Great photo manipulation tutorials

How to Apply Textures to Uneven Surfaces by James Davies

Create frozen liquid effects by Sergio Vichique

Create a Magical Flaming Heart Illustration in Photoshop by zee7

More tutorials here!

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Monday, September 06, 2010

Typographic Sins

typo sins1

It took three years to Jim Godfrey to realize his dream. A poster printing press (we're talking about real printing press, not digital) to explain to students of graphic design, but also a designer and art director more or less professional, what are the sins of a graph. For the record the thirty typographical sins, venial not all, who has a minimum of familiarity with English and the printing of very fun to read.
Unfortunately the original poster, well printed and produced by Rowley Press is no longer available, but you can download the PDF here.
Grafic designer! Repent!

All sins and photos can be found here…รน


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Fight The System: Battling Bureaucracy

If you work as part of an in-house Web team, you have my sympathy. If that in-house team is within a large organization, then doubly so. Being part of an in-house Web team sucks. Trust me, I know. I worked at IBM for three years and now spend most of my days working alongside battle-weary internal teams.

SM1-20100805-170827 in Fight The System: Battling Bureaucracy
Web designer trying to hang himself.

It's hardly surprising that most in-house teams are worn down and depressed. They face almost insurmountable challenges:

  • Departmental feuds
    Too often, a website becomes a battleground for pre-existing departmental conflicts. Political power plays can manifest themselves in fights over home page real estate or conflicts over website ownership. After all, is the website an IT function or a marketing tool?
  • Uninformed decision-makers
    Rarely does an internal Web team have the authority to make final decisions on a website. Instead decision-making happens higher up in the organization. Unfortunately, although these individuals have more authority, they do not have greater knowledge of the Web. Decision-making is often based more on personal opinion than the needs of users or business objectives.
  • Committees
    Committees are the curse of larger organizations. The bigger the organization, the more the number of people who want their say, and that leads to committees. Unfortunately, committees inevitably lead to compromise and design-on-the-fly. Both are the kiss of death to any Web project.
  • An inward perspective
    Becoming institutionalized is very easy in a large organization. Eventually you speak an internal language and think in terms of organizational structure. This proves problematic when communicating to end users. Not only do most large organizations have their own internal perspective of the world, some individuals even think departmentally, further aggravating departmental conflict.
  • Endless scope creep
    When an in-house Web team is constantly available, calling on their help is easy. This is both a benefit and a curse. The truth is that many Web teams are taken for granted, and websites that should never exist are built and launched because there are no constraints. Worse still, good projects can be drowned as "internal clients" keep demanding additional functionality that the Web team cannot block.
  • Problem people
    The bigger the organization, the higher the chance they will hire a jerk. If you work for a large organization, I can pretty much guarantee you have someone in mind as you read this. These people can really hinder the work of the Web team and prevent a website from reaching its full potential.
  • Glacially slow progress
    With endless red tape and painful committees, getting stuff done in a large institution can be nearly impossible. It is not unusual for projects to grind to a halt entirely because they become dependant on other systems or projects yet to be implemented. I have even seen something as simple as the roll-out of a content management system take years to implement.

With the odds stacked so high against them, I am surprised in-house Web teams get anything done at all. Their success depends as much on their ability to navigate politics and bureaucracy as it does on their skills as designers and developers.

But do not despair. I can tell you from the over-subscription to workshops I have run on the subject that you are not alone. This is a universal problem and one that can be overcome, as I will outline in this post.

Our Web design agency specializes in complex projects. During my time there, I have developed certain techniques that will hopefully help others keep their Web projects moving.

Let's look at four areas in particular:

  • Improving how your team is perceived within your organization,
  • Overcoming politics and problem people,
  • Ensuring that a project gets approval from the powers that be,
  • Delivering work within scope and on time.

Let's begin by addressing how Web teams are perceived.

[By the way, did you know we have a free Email Newsletter? Subscribe now and get fresh short tips and tricks in your inbox!]

Improving How Your Team Is Perceived

In too many organizations, the Web team is considered the lowest of the low. It looks like something straight out of The IT Crowd.

This is all the more bizarre considering that websites themselves are perceived as being important. Somehow there is a disconnect between those who produce websites and the websites themselves.

This poor attitude toward Web teams boils down to two beliefs:

  • The Web team is a road block that needs to be detoured.
    Many large organizations find themselves frustrated by their internal Web teams, seeing them as people who constantly block their more "imaginative" ideas and set restrictions on what they can and cannot do online.
  • Web team members are implementers, not experts.
    Management perceives Web team members as "techies," there to implement the ideas of others. They are in no way perceived as experts who are capable of advising on strategy.

Fortunately, much can be done to overcome these beliefs. For a start, improve your communication skills.

SM2-20100805-170945 in Fight The System: Battling Bureaucracy
A disturbingly cheerful Web designer.

Communicate Better

Most internal Web teams are terrible at selling themselves. If they were a Web agency, they would be out of business in a few weeks. Perhaps that is their reason for working in-house. But despite what you may think, most internal Web teams could desperately do with communicating and selling better.

To overcome the negative impressions people have of your team, you need to actively promote yourself and the work you do.

Here are just a few ideas to try:

  • Hold launch events.
    When was the last time you celebrated the launch of a new feature or the redesign of your website? Holding a launch party is a great way to shout about your successes, and it's fun, too. Email colleagues, telling them how excited you are about the completion of your latest project, and invite them to celebrate with you. Everyone loves free food, and it's a great chance to show off your work.
  • Publish a monthly newsletter.
    How will anybody know about the great work you do if you don't tell them? One way to do this is through a monthly newsletter that features work you have been doing and cool stuff happening online. This is a great way to both increase your profile and educate people on the power of the Web.
  • Report successes to management.
    Management needs to be regularly informed on traffic levels, dwell time and conversion rates. If you don't have any calls to action to track conversion, get some. If you have no way to measure success, then the team is simply a drain on resources. Demonstrate that you generate income, rather than just spend it.
  • Offer training courses and workshops.
    Part of your role as in-house Web team should be to educate those in the organization about the Web. I'm talking not just about technical training on using the CMS, but rather more general training about the Web and how it can benefit your business. Sessions like this not only educate internal stakeholders, but also increase your credibility and establish you as the expert.
  • Hold regular meetings with website stakeholders.
    Set up regular meetings with those who most often use the website. Talk to people such as the head of marketing, sales and IT. Meet with front-line staff who answer customer support queries or those who work with suppliers. These meetings build relationships across the organization and demonstrate that the Web team is always looking for ways to help the business.

By improving communication within your organization, you significantly improve the perceived value of your team.

Create Value

There can be little doubt that internal Web teams are undervalued. As an external consultant, if I say exactly the same thing to management as the Web team, management will listen to me and ignore its own people. This is largely because as an external consultant, the cost of my advice is more evident. They listen to me because they are paying me in a very visible way.

Of course, they are paying as much (if not more) for their internal Web team. But that cost is not as evident and so is not valued as highly. The way to increase the value of your team is to make that cost more visible.

People are less likely to ignore your advice or waste your time if they are obviously paying for your advice or time. The way to establish this kind of value is to cross-charge for your work between departments. Have an internal charge-out rate based on salary, infrastructure, training, etc., and then price any new work coming into the department based on that rate.

This not only makes your value obvious, it also makes "internal clients" think twice before asking you to build some ill-conceived project just because you're "free." Nothing will change perception more than making them pay for your time.

SM3-20100805-171146 in Fight The System: Battling Bureaucracy
Man holding a briefcase of money saying nothing is free, not even your internal Web team.

Of course, you might not be in a position to cross-charge. But that doesn't mean you can't go through the process of setting rates and costing projects. When you receive a request for work, respond with a breakdown of tasks, how long it will take and how much it will cost the company based on your charge-out rate.

While not as compelling as charging for work, it still drives home the point that your time is valuable. It might also make them think twice before suggesting a project, especially if they know that pricing will be included in your report to management.

Finally, keep track of the time you actually spend on projects. This will help with scope creep (see below) and show management how efficient you are.

Of course, cross-charging can be perceived as another blocking tactic, reinforcing people's negative opinion of your team. Therefore, balance this with a positive and helpful approach…

Be Positive

No offence, but most of the in-house Web professionals I meet are a miserable lot. Okay, that was probably offensive. Still, it shouldn't come as a surprise. With so much negativity aimed at Web teams, some of it is bound to rub off on them. It is up to you to keep the website on course, and that involves telling people "No" or putting constraints on what they can do. The problem is that this damages relationships and eventually forces people to bypass you, often by outsourcing to agencies such as mine!

However, you don't need to say no to people or even constrain them with rules. Take my situation, for example. When clients pay me, I don't have the luxury of saying no. I have to be Mr. Positive, or they'll just find someone else.

The next time someone asks you to implement a stupid idea on the website, try to be positive. Praise positive aspects of the idea (if there are any), and encourage the "client" to explain their thinking behind the rest. Often you will find something workable in the idea.

Even when the idea has no redeeming feature, there is still no need for you to say no. Instead, explain the probable consequences of the idea to the client, and guide them to the point that they reject it themselves. The problem with "No" is that it is a dead end. It leads only to confrontation. By focusing on the positive and educating the client on the consequences of their suggestion, you create an open and honest conversation.

The process of educating the client on the potential pitfalls of their suggestion also demonstrates your expertise…

Become the Expert

The ultimate aim of improving your reputation is to establish yourself as an expert. If people see you in that way, then they will listen to your opinions and follow your advice. But if your reputation is already damaged, coming to be seen as the expert is hard.

One way to be perceived as an expert is by association. This comes in two forms: referring to another expert or having an expert refer to you.

Referring to an expert is easy. If you have no credibility in the eyes of internal stakeholders, borrow the credibility of others. For example, the next time a client asks you to put all content above the fold, don't just tut and say that it's a stupid idea. Instead, refer to a study on the subject, such as one of the several by Jacob Nielsen. This lends weight to your argument and demonstrates that you are well read on the subject.

The second approach is to get an expert to back you up. Essentially, this is the very reason why I am hired by many Web teams. I am brought in to reinforce the arguments they have been making all along. Because I am perceived as an expert and support what the Web team says, I add creditability to the team and increase their expertise in the eyes of management. It's ridiculous, but it works.

SM5-20100805-171317 in Fight The System: Battling Bureaucracy
Web designer suggesting a better way of working.

Finally, don't try too hard. A true expert demonstrates their knowledge but is not afraid to admit their limitations. They are confident enough to challenge wrong thinking, but not arrogant or aggressive. I speak with too many in-house Web developers who come across as sneering and condescending because they believe they are above everyone else.

While improving your reputation will go a long way to pushing your projects forward, it is not the only hurdle to overcome. No matter how respected you are, there will always be those with agendas that interfere with the smooth running of your website…

Overcoming Politics And Problem People

Politics are unavoidable in large organizations, and yet most of us consider ourselves above them. We claim not to play politics, and we moan about those who we perceive do. But in reality, we all do it. We all have an agenda and want our point of view to be taken seriously. To believe otherwise is naive.

Ultimately, having a holier-than-thou attitude to internal politics is damaging. If you refuse to deal with those who play politics and avoid pushing your own agenda, you will only damage the website.

To get things done in a large organization, don't shy away from playing the political game. As the saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

While we're citing aphorisms, another one is, keep your friends close…

… But Your Enemies Closer

One of the biggest mistakes people make with problem people is avoiding them. A far better strategy is to keep them close. The problem with avoiding your "enemies" is that you are entrenching their position. If they know you are hostile towards them (and trust me, they'll know), then they'll become even more hostile towards you. Eventually, the arms race of hostility will get out of control.

A better approach is to keep talking. Meet with them regularly. Ask them what they want from the website? Look for ways to build bridges. Listen to what they say.

Some individuals only want their voice to be heard. As long as you listen and make them feel important, they'll go away happy. Also, let them win whenever possible. It may dent your pride, but that is a small price to pay for winning the war.

SM6-20100805-171603 in Fight The System: Battling Bureaucracy
A client refuses to sign off a design.

On the topic of war…

Avoid Confrontation

When I suggest that you meet with problem people regularly, I'm not setting the scene for a monthly showdown. In fact, avoid confrontation whenever possible, especially when other people are around. No one wants to lose face in front of their peers, which is why people become entrenched in their views in group settings.

Instead, use the tactics I spoke of in relation to being positive. Use the question "Why" as a way to encourage people to think through their position. Encourage positive contributions with praise, and explain their consequences in the gentlest language possible.

Finally, when you are criticized in a group setting (such as a committee meeting or group email), take a long deep breath before deciding whether to respond.

In my experience, there is little point in becoming defensive or, worse, retaliating. Most of the time I don't say anything at all. It's amazing how often someone else will leap to your defence if given the chance. Better that they say how great you are than saying so yourself!

Of course, it should never come to that, especially if you learn to empathize with problem people…

Learn to Empathize

As Web professionals, we pride ourselves on our ability to empathize. We go to great lengths to get into the heads of our users and understand what they want to achieve and how to motivate them. We have become experts at nudging users towards the goals we want them to complete.

Interesting, then, that we totally fail to demonstrate this ability with our colleagues. Instead, we often dismiss them as stupid or "not getting it." This kind of narrow-minded attitude causes many of the problems we encounter. Take the time to really understand your colleagues. What makes them tick? What problems do they face in their jobs that the Web could solve? What pet subjects could we use to nudge them in the right direction?

If we tried to empathize with our colleagues and understand their psychology, we would find internal politics much less painful.

SM7-20100805-171700 in Fight The System: Battling Bureaucracy
A Web designer talking to a client about his problems.

Stay tuned for the second part

The second part of this article will be published soon here, at Smashing Magazine. Please stay tuned for our updates: subscribe to our RSS-feed and follow us on Twitter.

You can also check Paul's workshop that he ran on the topic of this article.

© Paul Boag for Smashing Magazine, 2010. | Permalink | Post a comment | Add to | Digg this | Stumble on StumbleUpon! | Tweet it! | Submit to Reddit | Forum Smashing Magazine
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