web design :

Project Spotlight: Brand New Ways

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I’m currently in the trenches doing front-end development on a new client website for We Are Branch, and we’re just wrapping up and readying to launch a new client website, so I’m taking a minute to reflect on one of our recent projects. Brand New Ways is the first website that Star and Shauna brought me on to help with, and it was a fun challenge to work with such detailed website mockups and rebuild them in WordPress page-by-page. A few months later, and I’m reproducing website mockups in CSS without even blinking. Shauna designed some beautiful branding and she documents it well in this blog post.

The creative part of my job tends to be the responsive design for the site, taking a website designed for wide-screen viewing and minimizing it down to a phone’s screen while maintaining it’s feel. I love getting a site to move fluidly from various window sizes to tiny screens!

Brand New Ways had a clean design and lots of nice white space, we integrated Jen’s podcasts into the blog format, and the footer is one of my favorite elements. To top it off, Jen is doing interviews with amazing people like Wayne White and Mimi Pond. I love handing off a project and the client takes off with exciting content!

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What I’m Reading:

Mad Style on TLo! The best part of Mad Men, besides the show, is reading Tom and Lorenzo’s coverage of it a few days later. This one does not disappoint. Oh, the 70’s!
The User Is Drunk – Watch a UX Designer go through the flow a submitted website and give his honest opinions of the design, while intoxicated. I love everything about this, AND it’s actually informative!
How She Got There – A great interview with Erika Hall, detailing how a career can go through many different forms, and how sometimes employing yourself is the best/only option. I found it inspiring.
Blue Q – Socks! These are great-looking socks, great colorful designs. I’ve been researching apparel websites, and I like this one. No, it’s not a promoted post, but yes, I’ll take samples.

Why illustrators should learn to code

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It’s a really strange time to be an illustrator. Especially in the Bay Area. In the past few years, there was a huge inflation of jobs for production artists in mobile gaming, everyone seemed to be hiring as many young illustrators as they could, and just as quickly, all the major studios let go a huge amounts of artists (I was one of them). The film industry isn’t any different. When you hear things in the news about Dreamworks planning massive layoffs, that is a really bad sign. That one hits especially hard for me, since Dreamworks was a great supporter of the animation department I came out of at SJSU, and some of our brightest graduates went to Dreamworks. We just found out that over 500 jobs are being lost, and I’m watching my friends post about their job loss on Facebook just like I have been over and over again in the past few years as each major company in turn drops their creative teams. In 2013 we had Rhythm and Hues laying off designers and effects artists, painting the dim future for art teams being an expense that can be cut.

We’re dealing with structural problems as commercial artists (production artists, illustrators, etc) like the widespread idea that artists need to be kept in their own little room and treated delicately. Yes, artists often need a quiet place to do their work, but so do most people. The theory that they should be sheltered from the decision making in a business has injured the profession, it’s created a lot of jobs for non-artists to manage art teams, and frankly, that structure has made it easier for creative work to be sent overseas. If artists aren’t thought of as an integral part of a company’s production process, but instead as add-ons, it’s easier to consider them as commodities that can be replaced.

How can you compete with a market that readily disposes of their artist? I’m of the mindset that you should learn to do EVERYTHING, learn new things constantly, and be able to take on as many elements of the job at hand as possible. Be flexible and curious and dive into the wide ocean of new disciplines. This conflicts with the idea that you should focus on what you do best and leave others to do the rest, and that if you’re an illustrator you don’t need to think about stuff you don’t specialize in. “I don’t really do technology, I’m an artist.” But you have a much greater chance of supporting yourself if you know how to do more than one thing. Be a powerhouse: do the drawing, do the technical art, do the writing, do the programming, do the development. Do as much as you can.

(As I write this, Susie Cagle is tweeting about freelancing and says in regards to freelancing in journalism: “But this is why I learned to draw as well. I have two skills/revenue streams. I’m glad to not just be selling words in this market.”)

We’re taught to have clear dreams and goals, but we’re in a time when jobs and industries are so fluid and changing so often that you really have to be open to new opportunities. You may want to draw comics or animate your own cartoon, but leap at any chance you can to learn skills that can enhance your creative life. When an opportunity to learn front-end development came my way, I went for it. As an illustrator, my opportunities for work and collaboration with people I loved were pretty minimal, but by establishing myself with a skill like web design, new doors seem to be opening. People /want/ to work with creative people when they’re commissioning work like putting together a website. They want someone who speaks their language, knows the art scene, and can bring that experience to their design. And if you can also throw in some drawings into the project, you’re golden.

The first trick is to start looking at the world around you like any piece of art, and realize that design is art that’s tailored to the user. For instance, look at the web and think about what you like and what you don’t like, and then justify those opinions. Now you’re thinking like a designer! If I’ve learned anything, it’s that if you have a well-trained eye for detail from traditional illustration, animation inbetweening, and pixel-perfect vectorizing, you can attribute that beauty obsession to designing something functional. As I work from website mockups and develop them into fully-functioning websites, having a sensitivity for detail, matching ratios, fonts and colors if a huge part of the job. The more commercial artists bleed into design and coding, the most beautiful our products and lifestyles can be, because the aesthetic of the project will be considered from the beginning.

It’s a treacherous market out there, but if companies are finding ways to cut out creative departments, illustrators have to get scrappy and be a company within ourselves. If we work small and lean, we can design the aesthetic and make creative decisions through to the finished product. The movement towards small business owners running their own enterprises online, that people are finding more and more ways to express their dreams and fund them organically, and the best new media is forming outside of the usual corporate structures, this creates a whole new fertile ground for an illustrators, designers and developers to restructure the way they create. There’s no clear answer or road to take, but blurring the lines of disciplines, and having illustrators step up to the plate is a good start.

Currently listening to:

Rachel Fannan’s two new tracks are delicious, a heavy beat and beautiful vocals quickly bring these tracks into heavy rotation.

Project Spotlight: Dyemond

The first collaborative project between Star and me, we went from Star’s styleguide that she designed straight into building the website. We combined inktank footage with white overlays to create a revealing effect on this one-page responsive client website. It was a great chance to experiment and try out some new techniques, while also developing something super simple and clean. It has to be seen in motion to be enjoyed fully, so here’s a gif, or just click on through to the site.

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This project also allowed us to collaborateon some original illustrations for the project, I designed some characters based on our client’s own ideal clientele, and Star tatted them up! They didn’t make it into the final website, but the ink video would show through in their linework. I want to do more of these.

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