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New Job: Visual Designer at Cars.com

After eight months of contracting/freelancing, I have accepted a position with Cars.com as a Visual Designer. I’ll be working with the Visual Design and Interactive Design teams to create working prototypes of new functionality and website layouts. These may be used in user testing and other facets.

So far the company is very large and intricate but everyone has been very welcoming. It will be a struggle for a while to catch up with the inner workings and the approximately 1500 people across two floors of the downtown-Chicago office, but it keeps things fresh.

I’ll also have a new area to explore in the Loop, having never really spent much time down there apart from being a tourist.

Thanks to everyone who has been supportive over the past eight months while I struggled to pay my share of the bills, answer questions about my job and live up to expectations. Thanks especially to my wife Natalie, who has had nothing but patience with me (with a few “we’re going to be ok, right?” moments here and there) as I was picky over finding a new job and at times deciding that I should continue to make very little money by working for myself.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes us!

I am a CSS Designer

I’ve done a few job interviews over the summer as I’ve transitioned between roles. Each interview has similar questions, one of them being:

“What is your ideal role?”

I often begin explaining that I would like a role that offers a bit of web design and web development mixed into one. I am proficient in graphic design and I am slightly more advanced in writing HTML/CSS code. I’ve worked with designers and developers directly for my entire career, and have often bridged the gap between the two (and it is often a large gap.)

However, the word design seems to capture everyone’s attention very quickly. When it comes to the web, I’ve found that “design” or “designer” can mean something very different from the world of print, 3D space or other mediums. This is because unlike print or sculpture or other mediums, the web is a very fluid, malleable, living thing.

There are millions of devices that display the web very, very differently, from a laptop browser to an iPhone to a Playstation on a TV to a watch, there is no guarantee that the person viewing a website will be doing so under specific circumstances or environments. And in those very different devices are more variables like window sizes, screen orientations, interactive capabilities (pointer device or touch?) and more. And to add even more complexity is the thought process into how a person is using web content, on what device, and where they may be or what they may be doing (sitting at home on a laptop vs. in the subway on a mobile device. Different environments, different challenges like screen space, network bandwidth, ease of use, etc.)

Along with being fluid, web content can also be required to be very malleable. What I mean by this is that an image can not be displayed at 1024×768 pixels on every device. Text size of 12 points might look great on a desktop monitor, but may be way too small on a large projection screen. That neon green background color makes a paragraph look outstanding, however if the page is printed, the background color most likely will not be and the effect could be lost. Web content needs to be molded and shaped into what the user needs, whenever and wherever they are accessing it.

Finally, the web is a living breathing thing. Sure there are sites that have gone untouched since 1997, however the most commonly visited websites are those that are frequently updated with fresh content, keeping their visitors coming back for more. With changing content comes new challenges. Maybe that one line headline that we made room for now has two lines. Maybe that photo for the news story is in landscape instead of portrait orientation. Or maybe a huge sale will need to push all of the other content out of the way, for this weekend only! Web content is always changing, moving and being manipulated.

For these reasons, there needs to be CSS designers. CSS designers should work hand-in-hand with graphic designers and User Interface designers when planning and designing a website. A plan for a website can include a header with a navigation menu running across the top, but what happens when the user shrinks their browser width, or moves to a mobile phone? As designers create visual compositions for these scenarios, a CSS designer will need to plan and develop for the in-between moments. At what point will the menu shrink behind a menu button on mobile devices? Will the menu just pop behind the button or will there be a transition effect?

Along with solving implementation of design, a CSS designer must also solve other problems, such as saving on bandwidth, and progressively enhancing the web experience for all users and devices.

Many of us enjoy fast internet connections in our homes and workplaces, but can be saddled with data plan caps and/or slow network speeds on our mobile devices. That large, 3MB photo may download just fine on your laptop at work, but when you check it on the train at night delivers a not-as pleasant waiting period. CSS designers must implement ways to account for these situations by delivering appropriately sized images, or preventing download until the image is displayed (for example.)

Along with bandwidth, another unknown is technology. Many offices and homes are up-to-date on the latest browsers, computers and capabilities. However, most are way below the cutting edge. CSS designers are tasked with maintaining accessibility and usability of web content while adding on features and complimenting effects for those with technology that supports them. This is called progressive enhancement, and it ensures that even if someone is using a very outdated form of technology, the web content is still readable and usable.

Many of these decisions can be made by UI designers, web architects, graphic designers and more. However, a CSS designer/developer is the one who will implement and ship these solutions. I enjoy being a part of thinking through and solving the many road bumps of the web. I enjoy optimizing and progressively enhancing content for all users. And I enjoy writing CSS. It is a form of design that is unconventional but, I believe, is very essential.

Work Update

After a great year working with Medtelligent and Panopta, I’ve moved away to begin working on projects on my own. This summer I’ve worked mainly with Agency EA, and experiential and event marketing agency. With them I’ve worked on digital brochures for both GE/Synchrony and Hilton, as well as a new website for Agency EA themselves.

In between projects I have been exploring full-time and contract opportunities. I am looking for a great fit with a growing company and a good team. I’ve also updated my resume page, which can be printed directly from a browser.

Work Portfolio Updated

I’ve recently updated my Work page with some more recent work, as well as a few visual tweaks and edits.

The layout now uses CSS Flexbox and the individual pages utilize Envira Gallery for a responsive image gallery. Nerdy!

Please take a look and let me know what you think!

To-Do: Find the Right To-do App

Having recently gotten married, I’ve gone through a few months of hectic planning and the attempt to organize tasks, assignments (from the wife-to-be) and various to-dos that come along with joining in holy matrimony. I tried out pretty much every to-do app available for iOS/iPhone/iPad, as well as a few web-based systems.

Some of the better systems that I tried included Wunderlist, TeuxDeux and Clear. I was looking for the ability to obviously create tasks with reminders, but also to be able to assign them to others and categorize them. While many of these apps were designed well and did one or two of those functions very well, none of them completely met my needs.

The solution I ended up with involves use of 2 apps: Apple’s Reminders and Mailbox.

So, after spending lots of time researching and using other to-do apps, it turns out that Apple’s default Reminders app does pretty much everything I need. You can create tasks, turn on reminders per time or per location, and share lists with someone. Lists and items also sync over iCloud, so anything I do on my phone automatically appears on my desktop computer and vice-versa.

For more complex to-do items, or tasks that come from email (as they often do,) I am trusting Mailbox. It is an email app that makes keep track of messages and mail much less stressful. They designed it with email as a to-do list in mind, since that was what many people were using email for. It allows you to check off (or archive) email that you don’t need to do anything, hide and be reminded later of mail that you can put off for a while, and helps you get to the satisfying and relaxing empty inbox. It takes a little while to get used to, but once I had used it for a few days I ended up loving it and probably won’t be able to go back.

Both of these apps are free (Reminders comes with iOS devices and Macs, Mailbox is a free app but requires a Gmail account, for now.) Try them out and see if you agree.