At the close of last week’s post I mentioned that working on a new site for myself has reinvigorated a little of the old passion for design and development. While I was very hesitant to start working on the site again, I’ve had a lot more fun than I expected since I’ve been writing code.
I wasn’t looking forward to it all. I came up with a design a few years ago that I mostly liked. It wasn’t quite what I wanted and probably still isn’t, but I liked it well enough. I had an idea for the navigation that didn’t work as well as I’d hoped and it wouldn’t have worked so well with the WordPress admin bar so I thought I drop the idea (for now) and go with your standard navigation bar across the top.
For a few days I kept the old page template I developed open in a browser window and looked at it and avoided doing much else. When I reached the point where I couldn’t procrastinate any longer I created a blank .html file and a blank .scss file and opened familiar apps Coda and CodeKit and started to reproduce what I saw in the browser with new code and a few tweaks to the design along the way. When I had the one page template set, I began working on the next one until I had a template for all the different types of pages that would appear on the site.
To be honest, I’m still in that phase as I’m writing this and once I have all the templates ready I’ll still need to take my code and develop a WordPress theme based on it. Given the changes happening with WordPress I probably need a few days to brush up on theme development too. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to that part of the process any more than I was the basic front-end development of the page templates, but the latter has turned out well so I’m hopeful the former will turn out well too.
My surprise at how much more I’ve enjoyed working on the site than expected has led me to think about why and so unlike the last couple of posts, I want to turn to the positive side.
I thought I’d fill you in a little more about what led me to build the site now, since I’d been avoiding building it for so long and then I’ll share why I think I’m having more fun than I thought I would. Finally I’ll share where I think my renewed interested might lead since I’m not planning on reopening my freelance business any time soon.
I had a design mostly complete and I had a basic page template developed quite some time ago and I’ve avoided finishing for several years. So how did I get to the point where I’m actively working on it again.
Last year I signed up for an online writing course over the summer, specifically the Level-Up Story Grid course and everyone who signed up was invited to attend a get together along with a one day review and meet up kind of thing in which we learned the editor certification course was being offered again. I placed my name on a waiting list so I knew when to sign up.
The course will give me an opportunity to become a certified editor, able to offer a specific service to a specific market interested in the Story Grid tools and methodology. It’ll give me an opportunity to make some money to replace some of what I used to earn through this site.
If I plan on offering editing services and if one helpful bit of advertising will be a link from the main Story Grid site to mine, I should probably have a site that lists the services and provides a place for me to write and prove I’m worth hiring.
At the start of the year I gave a quick review to the work I’d done previously and some thoughts I’d written down a few years ago. I rethought a few things about what I wanted to do. The editing services weren’t a thought a few years ago so I needed to incorporate it into the design. I reviewed content I’d rewritten and rewrote most of it.
Then I loaded up the old design in a browser and stalled for a few days until I couldn’t stall any more and had to start working. I decided to code the layout using CSS Grid and Flexbox as opposed to building another float driven layout.
Changes in Technology
I hadn’t realized how long it had been since I last worked on the site until I started working on it again and realized all the technology I could use now that I couldn’t use the last time around.
The last time I worked on any site was the last time I worked on the soon to be writing/creativity site. I’ve done minor work for my one remaining client and I’ve made changes here and there to this site, but it’s been longer than I realized since I developed one from scratch.
I knew I could use Flexbox, having finished a book on the subject not too long ago. A check of the Can I Use site and I felt comfortable using CSS Grid as well. Neither works in 100% of browsers, but both are close enough and this is my site so I can make decisions I wouldn’t necessarily make for a client’s site. I’m not too worried about the site not working exactly as I intend in every browser. I’ll build it from the least capable on up so it should work everywhere, even if it works better in some places as opposed to others.
As far as production work, CSS Grid and Flexbox are new to me and a big part of why I’m having fun. They’re new. They’re shiny. For a decade I used pretty much the same code from project to project to layout a site and I was bored.
Now I have to figure some things out again. It’s fun. I know both Flexbox and CSS Grid well enough to work with them, but I have to remind myself of many of the details and it leads me to search and find examples from others. Some help me understand and some inspire me and make me wonder what I could do with similar code that could enhance the site.
I’m using the same tools I last used a few years ago even though the industry looks like it’s moving away from some of what I’ll continue to do. It’s probably not the way a modern front-end web developer should work, but whatever. Which brings me to…
No Clients, Woo Hoo!
I think the other major reason I’m having fun and feeling a renewed passion is that I’m doing this for myself and not for a client. Working for myself, I get to make all the decisions and set all the constraints, which is much more attuned to my preferred way of working.
That’s not to imply I didn’t like my clients or that my clients were bad people or anything ridiculous like that. The heading above is written in fun. Sure, I had the occasional client from hell over the years, but the vast majority were, and still are, good people who I like and I’ve done my best to help with their site and business.
The thing is, I don’t like working for other people and while having clients is much better than having a single boss, your clients all still mini-bosses. In the end it’s their right to make the final decision. I’ve always felt I do my best work when I get to make the decisions, when I set the constraints and decide how to solve the problem I’ve created.
I think I still do good work under the constraints of others, but my best work comes in part from being able formulate and refine the question, the problem I then have to solve. I’m more interested in the questions I get to ask than the ones others do and so I’m more interested in digging deeper for a solution and it usually adds up to better work.
I like being able to create the problem and make all the decisions in how to solve it. I can’t do that for a client (with an occasional exception), but I can do it for myself.
And working on my own site has advantages. I can make use of technologies that might not work for some people. It’s not something you do with a client site, but with my own, I can do what I want. I’ll give up 5% of browsers in use to be able to do what I want using whatever technology I want.
Welcome to the Playground
Since I don’t feel the need to concern myself with the site working perfectly everywhere it made me think I could do what I want and not worry about pleasing everyone.
I can experiment more. I can push the envelope a little here and there and have some fun seeing what I might create. I still remember the first and second versions of the CSS House. I also remember the original CSS Zen Garden. I thought it was amazing what you could do with CSS alone and I’ve watched the language grow more and more capable since that time. I always wonder at the kind of things we can build with code alone and without the use of a single image.
I’ve held the idea to have fun with code and see what I might create for a long time. It’s something I considered adding here at one point when I redesigned the site, but never found the time to incorporate. The new writing site seems like a good platform for a playground sort of section as it’s whole raison d’être is to explore creativity, specifically my creativity, mainly about writing, but also other interests in the future, like photography and design, and who knows what else.
The new site will focus on writing and will ideally help me sell some editing services, but I want it to be something more as well. I want it to be a place where I can share all sorts of things and I think some HTML and CSS experiments in a browser might be included in the sharing.
It’s still more of an idea than anything specific, but an idea that continues to interest me and one I’ve thought about on and off for a long time.
The last time I redesigned this site, I collected my notes and whatever thoughts I’d written and I wrote a series filling you in on how I went from point A, the idea, to point B, the finished site.
I’ll likely do the same with the new writing site. It won’t be right away since I still need to finish the site and launch it and I’ll need some time after to collect my thoughts from scattered files I’ve created throughout the process. Hopefully time will also grant me some perspective about the overall process.
Since I’m still working on the site, I haven’t begun working on a series about it so I don’t know how the series will evolve, but I’ll likely begin with the idea and show the evolution of the idea, first through thinking and writing about it, and later designing and developing it into a finished site. Hopefully for the better, but you never know.
I enjoy the peak inside another designer’s thought process and I’m happy to share my thought process as well. I’m not sure when, likely sometime later in the year once I’ve had time to gather my thoughts and figure out what I want to say. And, of course, I still need to finish and launch the site.
Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.