To Post-PC or not to Post-PC, That is the Question…

Whether the tablet will replace or just supplement PCs is a question that’s continuously being asked. Each have their place and each person needs to decide for his or herself whether a PC is overkill or a tablet is too minimal.

My sister just bought her first house. She contacted me with a list of big purchases she needed for the new house. On her list she had a fridge, washer, dryer, couch and…an iPad. That’s right, my sister sees an iPad as an essential for a new home. She doesn’t own a PC. She uses an iPad for e-mail, Facebook, YouTube and various other apps and games.

This iPad is filling a niche where a PC would be overkill for my sister to use. Knowing my sister, her hobbies and her profession (she’s a nurse), I cannot think of a single advantage that a PC would have over an iPad.

The iPad is also the better pick for her two year old daughter. I’ve seen this kid first-hand: swipe to unlock, swipe to the YouTube icon, to her favorite video and then tap the play icon, repeatedly. At two years old, this task wouldn’t be so easy on a PC. She completely relies on visual cues to find what she wants. This is allowing kids today to utilize technology at an even younger age than was possible with just the PC.

While the tablet has replaced PCs for my sister, for me it’s just a supplement. As a developer and all-around computer junkie, I’d have a hard time living without a PC. However, there are what I call circumstantial niches. When I traveled for a whole month in Europe, only having an iPod Touch fit the bill. I had access to internet, a map and travel apps and could fit it in my purse. On late work nights, I’ll leave my computer at work when I’m done and get by just fine with just an iPad at home. It’s impressive how I can do nearly everything I do on my computer on my iPad. But when I code, I require my computer.

The post-PC era is giving us many options so that each person can find the right device necessary for their lifestyle. Fortunately, buying a PC is not the only option for those that want the internet, want a few apps and want them on something larger than their smart phone.

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Top 10 #Startupproblems

Being a startup comes with its fair share of problems, and some of them are more serious than others. Those of you who follow our Twitter might have noticed we’re big fans of the hashtag #startupproblems. We’ve come up with a list of our top ten #startupproblems for your enjoyment:

10. When they do late night construction on the floors above us because everybody else in the building is gone.

9. When they shut off the AC on evenings and weekends because everybody else in the building is gone.

8. Ditto with the hallway lights being turned off.

7. Not attending fun events for startups because we’re too busy getting our product ready.

6. Accidentally playing footsies under the desk with the person across from you.

5. Drinking from mason jars and eating salad with a spoon because we don’t always have basic supplies.

4. Planning on leaving the office at 9 means actually leaving at 10:30.

3. Feeling happy when it rains on the weekend so we don’t feel guilty about being inside working.

2. Having such a small office that we can’t sneak a birthday card around for everybody to sign without getting caught.

1. Needing so much caffeine that we have a subscription for Sencha shots from Amazon.

What #startupproblems have you encountered? Sound off in the comments!

Web Design Toolkit: The Heavy Lifters

Web Design Toolkit

Web design is a tricky business. To me, the most unexpected discovery about web design is that “design” is a minimal part of it. When you break down the process of seeing a website from start to finish, it’s only about 1/3 actual creative, conceptual work – searching for inspiration, creating mood boards, sketching and concepting, etc.

The other 2/3 is a designer’s gruntwork – applying a design concept to various instances of elements, creating redlined mockups for development, cutting image assets, creating specs for text, colors, etc. And then there’s development testing, going back and adjusting the design, and reimplementing.

To look at it this way, it seems pretty dismal. But it’s the satisfaction of that initial 1/3 – you know, that part where you got to be creative – that keeps us going and pushing toward creating new things. We really don’t learn, do we?

In an effort to keep as much of my time and energy in the creative part of the process as possible, I’ve been slowly building up a collection of tools and shortcuts to speed up the un-fun parts. There are a ton of great resources out there that other designers and developers have created to make life easier for the rest of us, and I try to take advantage of those whenever possible. So in turn, I’m sharing them with you.

Web Fonts

Typekit – high quality typefaces from established foundries, with a free basic plan
Font Squirrel – free fonts for web use or download
Google Web Fonts – totally free and building up a solid collection

Layout Calculators/Generators

960 Grid System – Photoshop action that automatically creates a 12 or 16-column grid
Grid Calculator – handy tool for calculating custom gutter, margin, and column widths
GuideGuide – extension that sets up guides in Photoshop based on the settings you want

CSS Generators

CSS3 Generator – input values for shadows, rounded corners, etc & generate CSS3 markup
CSS3 Button Generator – input color, shape, and other values & generate CSS3 markup
CSS Portal – a variety of online CSS3 generators
ColorZilla Gradient Generator – Photoshop-like CSS generator for gradients

UI elements

Premium Pixels – I use this mostly for browser chromes, media players, & device renderings
365psd – similar to above, with some good buttons and UI ideas
PSD Freebies – smaller resource, but with good base elements to work from
Subtle Patterns – great place to start if you’re looking for a subtle background texture

Icons

NounProject – the holy grail of standard, pictogram-type icons
iconmonstr
 – newer icon resource with lost of depth in icon variety
Symbolset – service that serves icons in the form of fonts to your website instead of images
Pictos – another icon font service, will also host your custom-built icons
Brands of the World – an encyclopedia of vector versions of established brands’ logos

Mobile Design

Density Converter – halfway through the post, there is a guide to sizing up for HD displays
LiveView – desktop app with companion iPhone app, lets you preview work live on a phone
Android Design Preview – desktop app that previews work on Android phones via USB

Photoshop Shortcuts

Photoshop CS5 Shortcuts – seriously, keyboard shortcuts cut my work in half – use them

I hope these prove helpful. If you know of any other great resources that I didn’t include, please share them in the comments section!

Creating Our Product Walkthrough

As launch approaches, it’s time for us to start preparing to showcase our product. In addition to writing a product description, we need to put together all of the tools we plan on using to present it to the world, such as social media, our website, etc. This past week we focused on creating a walkthrough video that would serve as an introduction to our product.

While a larger company might have a team of specialists or hire an agency to create the video for them, as a startup we had to create it ourselves. Everybody contributed in some way.

To begin, Kristoph, Alyssa and I all sat down to conceptualize the video. We first had to determine what features we wanted to highlight and what were the most important parts of our product to showcase. After narrowing those down, we discussed the images we wanted to use and how the presentation would flow. When everything was mapped out, Mel and Alyssa set to work putting together the visuals.

As our design team tackled the graphics, Kristoph and I collaborated on the audio. Once again we decided what features needed to be discussed in the video to put our product’s best foot forward. When all of the pieces were ready, I sat down and recorded the voiceover along with the visuals. Finally we sent everything over to Nichole for editing.

Ultimately we’re all extremely satisfied with the end result. We think this video is a great way to showcase our product and will serve as an excellent introduction.

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The Pros and Cons of a Startup Internship

A great post from Hanna looking at the pros and cons of an internship at a startup:

Yesterday, a blog post popped up on Forbes titled What Are The Pros And Cons Of Interning At A Startup Versus A Big Established Tech Company? It was an incredibly interesting and insightful post, and based on my own internship at Degas Media, I feel like the analysis is pretty spot on.

First, the article explored the pros and cons about having a recognizable (or unrecognizable) Brand Name. Neel Hajare, said that it was more difficult to impress other employers with an internship at an unknown startup and harder to explain to friends, family, and random people.

I found this extremely accurate. It was difficult to explain to others what Degas Media does. The fact that Degas is currently in stealth mode further complicates the whole description. In fact, I think my father still doesn’t know what I do.

Professionally, a startup is a risk. Employers may not understand or have seen any of the work the startup produced. Fortunately, as a designer I’ll have to provide a portfolio of my work. The work in my portfolio may negate the initial startup risk for the hiring manager.

The article then continued to talk about the Work Experience, stating that a startup is more fluid with greater exposure to different projects and different people. My work at Degas does change quite frequently. Things have been scrapped and new methods of doing things have been given to me in the middle of a project.

It’s also not “typical intern” work. When our projects launch, I’ll be able point to things and go “yeah I did that.” I’ve learned a lot about design and art in a way that almost becomes an extension of school. I even share the same desk space with three of Degas Media’s co-founders. If I need anything I can just say “Hey Mel” or “Quick question, Georgia” or “Idea! Alyssa”. I have everyone’s Skype, Twitter, and Facebook. They give me immediate feedback and immediate help.

Just last week I had dinner with Mel and Alyssa because I wanted to get feedback for my work and hear about their experiences out of college. It was incredibly informative and interesting. It was also really fun and I’m thankful that I have co-workers who are happy to give up another evening in order to just chat with me.

I feel like a huge part of the team and part of the family. My desk space is the same space and set up as everyone else’s and my opinions seem to take as much weight as the other members.

I have met incredibly amazing and talented people. I get to hear what they’re doing at work as well as in their social lives, so I’ve made some very close connections. When I go back to school, we’ll definitely keep in touch. Unlike other places I’ve worked at, I feel like I won’t lose connections when I step out the door.

Sure, I may not have Intern orientation, free movie tickets, or networking parties, but honestly? I don’t feel like an intern. And what’s better than getting an internship experience that equaled a working experience.

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Diving Into A New Creative Path

Before I became a part of Degas, I was living a reasonably relaxed life in California working as a freelance designer, painter and illustrator. That was eight months ago.

Now I’m a Washington resident helping run a startup business as the Art Director, UX designer, office manager and overall Director of Etc. Along with my fellow Degas teammates, I’m working countless hours every week to launch our product on time. This has definitely been a huge shift in my career. I’ve gone from painting in a garage studio to working at my laptop all day.

Not only have these been extreme changes to my lifestyle, they’ve caused shifts in my creativity and how I solve problems. I’ve noticed large and obvious differences between UX design and painting. However, I have noticed similarities between the two as well.

Both painting and UX design call for a certain attention to detail. Although they’re different mediums, they each have their respective problems that require solving. With UX, I need to think of the design in terms to how fluid I can make the user experience. Otherwise, the ease of using the app is compromised and there are a lot of files to back track on and fix. It can become a very prolonged process and there’s even math involved!

With painting, there can be a lot of happy accidents and looseness of strokes. It can be a freer and more therapeutic process, but if something isn’t quite looking the way I envisioned, I need to figure out why and how I can fix it. This leads to a lot of trial and error and can also be a prolonged and difficult process.

Even with the differences between the materials and creative forms, these two are similar in their formation. They both start out as an idea and lead to sketches. These sketches lead to mockups and notes. Then it’s on to the execution, different problem solving, confused staring, long nights and pulling out of hair. There are “AHA!” moments and moments of disappointment and starting over to improve.

Going from painting to UX design has been an exciting, frustrating and educational experience. It’s pretty different from what I was used to before, but it’s a valuable and rewarding craft that I’m happy to have added to my skillset.

Form & Function: Inspiration from Gaudí

Apps, like many things in life, need to be a combination of form and function. The architect Antoni Gaudí was well-known for blending function into his art and I think many developers can look to him for inspiration.

I was fortunate enough to see his masterpieces while visiting Barcelona. I remember looking at the beauty he put into the Casa Batlló, a house he restored for a family. This house is so vibrant and unique that you’d think you were looking at something that was purely done for aesthetics. We often interpret the verb design as pure aesthetics even though by definition design includes function.

Had I not had a self-guided audio tour in my ear, I wouldn’t have known that there was a logical reason why the windows near the top of the building were smaller. Because the windows are part of a tall atrium, with sunlight shining in from the very top, windows closest to the light were smaller than those at the bottom. The tiles surrounding the windows are darker and gradually get lighter as you continue downward. I feel as though our team is mirroring Gaudí’s method in the creation of our app.

Like Gaudí’s windows, everything in our app will have a purpose in addition to looking beautiful. He teaches us that you don’t have to sacrifice one for the sake of the other. As a developer of our app, I will be taking the beauty created by our design team and adding the function. When you tap a button and something happens, it will be because of my code. You’re welcome.

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The Challenges of Being in Stealth Mode

Although being a stealth startup has its advantages, it also presents certain challenges. Some of them might seem obvious- for example, we have to keep what we’re doing a secret. However, a few of them have led to PR challenges that I hadn’t originally anticipated. Here are the top four public relations challenges I’ve encountered while being in stealth mode:

1. Inexperienced with talking about our product - We haven’t been openly discussing our product, so nobody on the team is used to doing it.  We’ve had very few opportunities to practice eloquently describing it to people, whether in a quick “elevator pitch” or in a longer, more detailed conversation. As we prepare for launch it’s going to be important for us to find ways to practice this.

2. Less early buzz - Since we haven’t been able to let people know what we’re doing, we haven’t been able to build as much excitement about our future product, meaning people aren’t eagerly anticipating its release. On the bright side, when we actually do launch we should be able generate a lot of buzz while our product is actually available.

3. Restricted online presence -  I have to be hyper aware of the things we say online, specifically on social media. When I tweet, post to Facebook, or write blog posts, I need to be sure that the things Degas shares don’t give too much away about what we’re working on.

4. Lack of promotion - It’s extremely difficult to write great copy for our website when I can’t openly discuss our product. It has been tricky trying to balance keeping our product a secret while still sharing enough about who we are and what our goals are to pique the visitor’s interest.

Despite the challenges that our stealthy status has presented, it’s been fun to maintain an air of mystery. At the end of the day I know that stealth mode or not, our startup’s product is going to have a great launch.

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Getting Organized

As we may have mentioned once or twice, it’s crunch time for us at Degas, and we have a lot to get done. With such a vast range of things that need to get accomplished, keeping track of it all is a challenge in and of itself.

We recently started using a cool project management system called Unfuddle, and it looks like it’s going to be a big help. It allows us to create individual “tickets” for tasks or projects which we can then assign to the person responsible for completing them. Once that person has finished, they just “close” the ticket to show that their assignment has been completed.

Needless to say, this system has helped us to become significantly more organized. We’ve been able to lay out everything that needs to get done between now and launch (well, most of it – things will inevitably come up) and break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks. This way we can tackle projects step by step as well as determine which need to be our highest priorities. It makes it easier to see what has been finished, what is currently being addressed, and what still needs to get done.

A huge benefit has been creating a standard of communication, especially between our designers and developers. Now Mel, Alyssa, or Hanna can create tickets for various aspects of their designs and send them to a developer to be coded. After the developer is done and the designer has reviewed it, they can close the ticket and move on to the next one, leaving behind a clear record of everything that has been accomplished.

We’re all still getting used to Unfuddle’s system, but we can already tell it’s going to be an important part of our project. As of right now our team has over 2,000 tickets. It’s a lot to do, but hey – at least it’s organized!

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My Type A Personality, and Other Findings

 

It’s been fun and surprising to see how my expectations of working at Degas have measured up to reality. The most surprising to me is how varied my job is. I’m sure if you’re a manager, or if you’ve been part of a startup, you’re probably laughing at me right now. I imagined going into this position would mean design work day in and day out – like I’ve been used to in previous jobs – but as it stands now, I probably spend only 2/3 of my time doing anything creative.

I looked up the definition of Director, and found this:

di·rec·tor/diˈrektər/

Noun:

  1. A person who is in charge of an activity, department, or organization.
  2. A member of the board of people that manages a business.

The surprising aspect of my responsibilities as Director of Graphic Design is that it means not just creating and deciding what the design work we do looks like – I’m responsible for creating the entire process of how we design it, from start to finish. This means creating schedules, overseeing other designers, working closely with developers, and lots and lots of Google Docs. My work is not only to create a face for our product, but to design an entire infrastructure behind it that will allow it to grow and evolve in the future. So for now, it’s hard and a bit frustrating to spend so much time without doing creative work; but at the same time, it’s exciting to see an actual structure slowly coming into place that we’ll be building off of for years to come.

On the other hand, I’ve been able to utilize skills that aren’t typically in the job description of a graphic designer. I’ve done copywriting for our product marketing and (obviously) our blog, which I’ve really come to enjoy. I regularly satisfy my Type A personality in the form of many, many spreadsheets. I get to be a part of big decisions about product features and marketing.

All this is to say that being in a startup is much more than a job description could possibly entail. Being an integral player in a startup means that your day-to-day job is anything but ordinary. Maybe some day, a few years from now, my daily schedule will be somewhat “predictable,” but for now the key to survival is adaptability.

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