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#AEASea: “Faster Decisions With Style Tiles” by Samantha Warren

Samantha Warren. What a cutie-pie. Anybody who starts a talk with a story about bananas and monkeys is a gold star in my books.

Design tiles are her way of building a pattern library for clients.

In her talk, “Faster Design Decisions with Style Tiles,” Samantha brought up a really big shift in how we handle websites today. I don’t know exactly when this thing exploded, but D-I-Y has stretched itself from handymen and Martha Stewart floral arrangements to how we all manage ourselves online. Whether it’s a personal blog, portfolio, or a giant conglomerate’s website, we all want control over our content.

It’s not enough to have a static HTML page that you set and forget like a Ronco Rotisserie anymore. And with good reason. We’re all realizing what we’re capable of, and long gone are the little lines of text that say, “Questions? Contact the webmaster.”

We’re all fucking webmasters now! (I mean “fucking” in the descriptive sense, not as a verb.)

In her talk, Samantha points out that we aren’t just putting together mock-ups for people, but systems for them to work with.

Websites aren’t just store-fronts to display our wares. They’ve now become actual platforms for communication, and that’s what’s so exciting about it. I love this idea because it’s a focus on exchanging information and growing together, rather than just throwing your hat in the ring and hoping for the best.

There is push and pull content, not just push alone.

It’s easy to fall back on blaming the client for their lack of creativity or imagination. And I know there are tough discussions about that. But the more I think about it, the more I think it a poor excuse for doing a bad job.

In most cases, projects can go to hell because everyone is looking out for their own best interests. And of course if something is always someone else’s fault, then everyone ends up sucking monkey balls on a hot day.

Her suggestions about abstracting a website’s look and feel goes much further than avoiding “franken-comps” and fights with the client. Style tiles and other such methods give value to the designer-client relationship, in my opinion. It becomes less about giving someone a product, and more about engaging them in an actual conversation.

We then allow ourselves to reflect and consider different options, rethink certain decisions, and maybe get to better solutions than what we first pitched.

I like the notion of working with your clients as people who have their own thoughts and ideas, and giving them the platform to share this—not just giving them a product in a box. It makes the job sound less stupid and a little more meaningful.

Just as we are realizing that the web is fluid and alive and organic, I think we should be transferring that idea into how we treat the people we work with, too.

The client shouldn’t be some kind of cartoon in a suit talking to a car-phone. The same way designers shouldn’t be thought of as pixel-pushers and drones in black turtlenecks.

How much confidence and good will can you foster with this approach? I think a lot. The same way you have charities and organizations empowering women, kids, minorities that change social perspectives; giving anyone a great set of tools and the opportunity can set so many things in motion.

While design can ultimately seen as a service, I think it also helps to see it as a relationship. There is trust needed and guidance involved from both parties. It isn’t one person pushing their expertise on another, but equals with each something to offer.

And if we start with that common ground, instead of “I am here to fix things for you,” then we all get to have a nice time at the party. Nobody wants to talk to that asshole who thinks they know everything. And nobody wants to be said asshole, either.

Restlessness & Youth & Independence

So I have to admit I went a little bananas. I never thought I would, but over a year and something of working alone in my home office, but okay—I totally went apeshit.

I don’t know if that is a bad thing or a good thing, but I do know that there was one night where I was talking to my manfriend and just totally burst into tears. I didn’t even feel it come up. One second I was talking normally, and when my manfriend turned to get something from the fridge, I was already bawling.

And suddenly I was looking at flights to Korea to see my sister, looking at fitness classes at the community centre, and attempting to make peanut butter cookies at ten to midnight. Oh, and I think I moved some furniture, too.

It felt like I was stuck in this one pace and place, where I just let things happen over and over. I didn’t notice the gnawing feeling until it felt similar to how you let go of taking care of an ulcer.

I would wake up, go to my corner, feed the cat, work until dinnertime, and then Netflix and then go to bed. Washing, rinsing, repeating, and suddenly I’m in the tub, having scrubbed myself raw and I’m bald.

While solitude is still something I very much enjoy, there are also times where I really miss my family. I feel so grown up admitting that, and would never had expected it from myself five, ten years ago.

All that mattered then was my independence, and this illogical need to make that point. That’s why teenagers are so shitty, for the most part. And I like to think that I earned my independence at a much earlier age than people like me. That is, sheltered, Chinese-Filipino, middle-class and trained in a Catholic School with Jesus biscuits as treats.

And then, I suppose I got lazy.

It's like we don't talk anymore, Hugo.
It’s like we don’t talk anymore, Hugo.

I guess it takes a toll on you, being alone. I still don’t mind it, and I really don’t think it was totally because of the home office situation. My family is across the Pacific Ocean. My good friends were all moving to different cities/getting married. It just hit me how quiet things were all of a sudden. And without that noise, I succumbed to keeping to myself like the natural mountain man that I am.

It’s also more the matter of missing this place, rather than being there. Perhaps it’s a common thing for Third-Culture Kids, but there’s a weird mix of dissatisfaction with where I am and longing for it at the same time. I like to move around so that I get the opportunity to miss it. You stay in a place long enough and you start taking it for granted.

I went home to Manila recently, and it was a bit of a surprise to see how different I had become from when I first left at seventeen/eighteen years old. Anything we leave behind gets stuck in a time-warp, I think, and all that usually holds up are your memories of it. Some are bad, good, totally inaccurate, but somewhere in there lies the truth of how you feel about the place.

I sound like a fickle housewife, forced to choose between a loving husband and the pizza delivery guy.

Routine is a struggle for me sometimes, as I’m not happy with seeing the same thing over and over. Perhaps this is also just residual feelings from youth, and something that I’m still growing out of. I’m not that old yet, and really, if there’s anything I’ve learned, there doesn’t seem to be a threshold for youth anyway.

And so I’ve taken it upon myself to build on new routines, ones that don’t feel too contrived, and am more aware of creating options throughout my day. The feeling breaks once in a while, but independence really is something we need to maintain, not just achieve. Because when we get lazy, we kind of stop deserving it.

Relaxy Parts of Work

I feel pretty nerdy saying this, but there are some parts of my job that kind of relaxes me.

It’s a difficult feeling to describe, because I still end up feeling super tired at the end of the night, but at the same time, my brain feels like it’s on fire. In the good way.

Physically, I guess I don’t look that much different from when I am working on front-end markup and figuring out how to do the right query from a database. To me, the latter is totally nerve-wracking and draining in a way that I have to take angry sandwich breaks from time to time.

Don’t get me wrong. I still like it because I like the challenge and problem-solving aspect of it, but I like it in a different way. Front-end stuff… I don’t know. I never realize what time it is unless I actually set an alarm or launch f.lux to tell me it’s dinnertime. Without these signals, I’d probably work well into the night and not even know it’s been two days since.

I’d still be on the same desk, wearing the same power suit (e.g., striped pyjamas with pockets) and drinking the same cup of coffee from my little yellow Bodum mug with a cat on it.

But one makes me nervous and kind of excited, while the other totally pulls me into a comfort zone of goose-down duvet proportions.

There is something really awesome about doing front-end work for me. I love doing markup and working on HTML/CSS. From figuring out how to create a grid structure that works, to slowly nudging numbers on my Chrome Developer panel to make things line up.

It’s like if you hooked up my brains to a visualization machine, it would kind of look like Robin Williams running through that crazy field in What Dreams May Come. Actually I’ve never seen that movie. So I’m hoping it’s a good and happy scene, and nothing like The Cell with Jennifer Lopez.

What Dreams May Come
This is good, right?

I’ve likened it to hairdressing in the past. And I think I get the same feeling as when I move furniture around my apartment to get a new layout. The idea that this whole canvas is so malleable and completely up to my own manipulation is pretty cool. I feel like one of those kids in those Douglas College ads or Vancouver Film School ads, where they do a weird stroke movement and some type of animated shit barfs out of their pens or their fingers.

SUPER LAME TO DESCRIBE IT THIS WAY but sometimes it really does feel like that. And what do I live for but to embarrass my fellow design professionals?

I remember my colleagues at Kaldor blanching whenever I’d mention how much I love Reba. I also based one of our major projects from a scene I remembered from Gilmore Girls. The project worked out well, but nobody really asked me to explain the screen grab of Rory Gilmore looking at her Harvard Wall and holding a Yale shirt. Whatever. I get results.

So anyway, yes. Front end work. I love it. My brain just goes into jelly-mode and I can honestly sit here for five hours working on one page. I feel so comfortable and happy just plugging away when I’m in the thick of things.

Of course there are different facets to anyone’s work which one is bound to love, kind of like, and really hate. And I think a lot of us talk about the bad parts and how we stress out and how busy we are, but I’m trying this thing out where I look into the shit I love instead. And I mean LOVE. Not just shit I kind of enjoy or shit I think I’m pretty good at.

I mean shit I really don’t mind doing even if someone asks me to do it in the middle of the night or shit I will always make time for.

This shit list includes things like re-arranging my furniture to maximize space, capacity and sunlight; spooning with my cat; making roast beef sandwiches; watching Face/Off on Netflix; watching Demolition Man… ANYTIME ANYWHERE; eating sashimi salad and as already established, building and adjusting HTML/CSS files.