I'm 33. That means I'm stuck somewhere in between Generation X and Y. Generation X was stereotyped as lazy postmodernists, too comfy with our liberal arts degrees to get off the couch and do anything. Generation Y was defined by being, um, younger than that.
Frankly, I never saw much connection between myself and those labels. And lately, I've been thinking about what truly defines my generation. Us web geeks, us iPodders and remixers. I think we're Generation M. Here's my loose, entirely unscientific definition in three parts.
The "M" is for Multitask. We like to do two things at a time, minimum. We listen to music while surfing the web and having four IM conversations. We check our email on crackberrys and hiptops under the table during meetings. We don't feel fulfilled unless there's more than one thing going on. The closest thing my parents generation had to this kind of multitasking was reading the paper on the toilet.
Coders and designers, we're from different tribes. Name any issue and we'll neatly divide into sides: form and function, information and experience, oil and water. Of course, no good website happens without both. So it's worth noting when we find a piece of common ground on our own.
Exhibit A: Deane Barker, writing at Gadgetopia. He's firmly planted on the code side of the equation, and recently wrote a post called "Are you procrastinating? Or are you just thinking?" about the importance of procrastination.
Sometimes, the worst thing you can do is start programming right away. Sometimes the best thing you can do is think about the problem - either actively, or just by letting it simmer on the back burner of your mind for a while.
I love what he has to say, and it mirrors my experience with design and writing. The hard part is the thinking that comes first, and that thinking often happens the background.
My friends all know that I loves me some Deadwood. The award-winning HBO western is one of my favorite shows ever, and probably only second to Sci Fi's Battlestar Galactica in my current TV obsessions.
So what a bummer it was to learn that HBO has not yet renewed the cast's contracts for a fourth season. This news has gotten the fans worried, and the inevitable Save Deadwood campaign has cropped up. I decided to let HBO know how I felt about the show, and I urge you to, too. Today I got a response that included this gem:
My first laptop was a black Apple Powerbook G3, aka the WallStreet. I dragged the ten pound sucker across Europe in a backpack. I've had many computers before and since, but this was the one I pecked out stories on while riding trains through the European countryside, the one I fell asleep next to in Amsterdam, the one I jacked into phone lines to dial home to check email. This was the one I loved.
I've longed for a similar computer ever since. Black just seems to be the right color for a computer you're going to be traveling with. And the plastic was just more resilient than the easily dented metal Powerbooks that came after. In short, I've been waiting all this time for the computer that Apple just released.
Meet the new MacBook (formerly iBook). It's half the weight of my old WallStreet, same size screen, and so much faster I can't even imagine. And, yeah, black. So I went to see it in my local Apple store tonight and, frankly, walked away unimpressed.
Today I am 33 years old. 33 years of troublemaking behind me. Hopefully 33 more to go.
Today I find myself smack dab in the middle of the most amazing moment in my career ever (if I can even apply the word "career" to the list of antics and misadventures that make up my resume). I find myself with a lot to say, lots of places to say it, and lots of people willing to listen. I find myself surrounded my supportive friends, eccentric acquaintances, and a wife so beautiful, loving, and sensitive, most days I can hardly believe my luck.
And I find myself here, online, with you, eleven years after I found this brave new world. That's a third of my life I've spent online. And I don't regret a single one.
Thanks for coming on this ride with me.
But as a designer, I'm tired of hearing clients and associates ask, "What would Google do?" as if every move they make is pure gold. When it comes to visual/exerience design, Google does just about everything wrong, starting with their user-hostile homepage.
So I wrote a little something for the new web design magazine, Vitamin. It's intended to be opinionated, so it's okay if you have a different opinion. That's the thing about old friends - you're allowed to squabble every once in a while.
I've used Apple computers since high school. If it wasn't for the Mac, I probably wouldn't have wound up working for newspapers, getting into the web, moving to San Francisco, and living the life I have now. I've sung the Mac's praises to friends and family for almost twenty years.
And now I know what, or more specifically who, Apple thinks I am.
Apple thinks I am a whiny kid who looks like he sleeps under a bridge. A kid who murmurs snidely to himself. A kid who can't grow a beard to save his life. Specifically, this kid.
Don't get me wrong: I think it's nice that Apple is finally touting its computers again. I just wish they could have done it in a way that didn't make me want to defenstrate my laptop and go buy a computer from that funny guy playing the PC.
I recently had the good fortune to work with a client who asked me to, in addition to doing my usual experience design / visual design thing, also write much of the text that appeared on the site. And it made me realize that I've often done this for clients - it just wasn't an official part of the process. It was more like, "well, somebody had to write it, and I knew what it needed to say, so I just kinda did it."
Having a client actually encourage me to use my words in addition to my pixels renewed my appreciation for the role writing has in designing good experiences online. Words are how we think, communicate, and create experiences every day. A designer without words is like a car without an interior: nice to look at, but I'd hate to have to drive it.
So I wrote an article for venerable web magazine A List Apart on this topic. If you, or someone you know, designs experiences for a living, give it a read and let me know what you think.
I've been thinking about something lately. What do you call it when you voluntarily give up control of some piece of your life, because technology makes it easier? For example:
There are more examples every day. In a way, the march of technology is all about the speed at which it takes over the little things we used to do ourselves. Personally, I remember having to take my own messages, have computers and phones tied to land lines, and look up information in card catalogs. I wonder what things I do now that someday some new technology will do for me?
Being a designer is all about embracing the word "no." When we sit down with a blank slate and a job to do, we have to say "no" over and over again. Choosing a primary audience means saying "no" to all the others. Picking a task to enable means saying "no" to all the other possible tasks (or, at the very least, deprioritizing them). Selecting a font, a color, a photo ... almost every decision we make is about selecting the best option and saying "no" to the rest.
As a result, we can be a pretty grumpy bunch. We learn to be hard on ourselves and each other in design classes and reviews. Ask a designer about the design of something and we're emphatic. "I can't believe they chose that font," we'll say. "Anyone who would letterspace blackletter would steal sheep." "That photo ruins the page."
But what nobody ever teaches us is perhaps the most important thing you can learn to be a successful working designer: How to not say "no." If I could give one piece of advice to the designer just getting into client work, or even some who's been doing this for a while, it's this: The next time you want to say "no" to a client, boss, or colleague, say this instead: "Why?"
This section is called Just a Thought. It's a blog where I post little pieces of what I'm thinking about at the moment. This page shows thoughts from May 2006, including:
31 May 2006
The Importance of Creative Procrastination
22 May 2006
WWSD? (What Would Swearengen Do?)
19 May 2006
Back in Black
18 May 2006
16 May 2006
What Would Google Do?
15 May 2006
Thanks a lot, Apple
12 May 2006
Calling All Designers: Learn to Write!
9 May 2006
7 May 2006
The Art of No
2 May 2006
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Working the web since 1995, Derek Powazek is the creator of many award-winning websites, a couple of which still exist. Derek is the cofounder of JPG Magazine and the CCO of 8020 Publishing. Derek lives in San Francisco with his wife, two nutty Chihuahuas, a grumpy cat, and a house full of plants named Fred. More »
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Generation M 31 May 2006
The Importance of Creative Procrastination 22 May 2006
WWSD? (What Would Swearengen Do?) 19 May 2006
Back in Black 18 May 2006
33 16 May 2006