One week after WordCamp OC 2015 and still feeling the rush of new info swarming through me causing a huge amount of inspiration and motivation. It's interesting that I spend all day creating great digital experiences, but nothing compares to a well-planned and thought out event... especially one with such great people, knowledge and a sense that we're all contributing to the greater good.
One of the biggest eye openers for me was the realization that sometimes you don't know what has happened until you've already gone through it. Conferences help you to learn new things, but can also validate what you may not have realized you already knew. Recognizing that I've been a part of some of the key changes in this digital space is what did it for me.
I've been in this industry for 12+ years and long enough to see the digital space change greatly in such short amount of time. I started off as an animator using Flash as my medium. I used Flash to combine photos, visual effects, and interactions to make otherwise static HTML websites feel tangible like you were actually touching them. Web 2.0 came. iDevices, social media, a ton of SaaS products for website generation and marketing. The web is always changing including technology and approach.
I went to the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1999 to become an Illustrator at the same time of the dot-com boom. An Illustrator? What? Hand drawing when there is all this technology- the sweetness of Photoshop, the versatility of Illustrator? I was there for 5 years and during that time, I saw a tremendous amount of change in such a short time. The school did their best to stay up-to-date. They integrated a new department run by Jurgen Faust, appointed as Dean of Integrated Media Environment and responsible for T.I.M.E (Technology and Integrated Media–where he was also the Chair from 2000–2006). I dipped into some of these courses granting me a minor in the program and giving the foundation I needed to continue learning on my own. I began to question [significantly] what I was doing in an old school program such as Illustration when all this new technology was out. I was hooked to this fast-paced field of technology and I wanted to be a part of it. Times were a' changin' and I wanted to keep up.
Skip to graduation 2004, I already had an offer at American Greeting's Interactive Division (AG Interactive). I was hired on a contract to help them develop some of the first customizable paid avatars for the MSN Messenger platform. And, when our animations were being coded into the next release, we worked on Emoticon packs also available for purchase. (Hit me up if you want to see some of these silly animations!).
Fast forward a couple years later, my contract was up and it was time to move on. I moved to another company in the Cleveland, Oh area called Bonne Bell (they used to sell the Lipsmakers that all of us girls remember when we were little). While I was hired as a Graphic & Package designer, my skills proved worthy of utilization for their current and planned web project. This is where I learned to work great with a developer. I went through a couple developers to create a brand new micro-site called "World of Smackers". It was a Flash-based membership site where tween girls could be part of a community and earn points towards free stuff. I learned a lot about UI/ UXD, a ton about ActionScripting, project managing, getting approval from an executive team and a lit' about PHP.
My career continued as a Creative Director & Technical Marketer at an insurance company. And then, as a Freelance print, web & email designer + Flash animator (I used to just say Multimedia for time sake) in the San Diego area. On a side note, being a freelancer in the midst of a down economy was completely to my advantage. No-one wanted to hire someone full-time, but they still needed the work done. I learned soooooooo much as a freelancer in this space and even more so on the business side of things.
But then it happened... Dun dun dun!!! Steve introduced the iPhone. And... Flash died. End of story. I had to change.
This is when I truly realized there was a pattern here. I joined a technical field because change excited me! I love it professionally and personally. It's all about of the journey called life. But this was ridiculous!!!! I had so much time invested in Flash as a service offering and the code would no longer render on the most popular devices out there. What was I going to do now? I needed to change.
Welcome WordPress and Thank You!
Moving forward, I continued to build out static HTML websites for clients. After being frustrated with only building websites and performing small content changes thereafter, I decided I needed to introduce a change for myself and my clients. We both needed more value in what I brought to the table. I wanted to be able to offer more strategic services instead of simple website updates.
I did try out Expression Engine and it was great for a certain type of client, but the efficiency that WordPress offered in my process and the ease of use for my clients was priceless. Now my clients could manage their content and some other aspects of their websites all on their own. It was a win, win. Businesses were on board to save some money on tech not having to hire a web designer to make small updates all the time and instead have their very own application essentially.
Inexpensive Website Builders
WordPress along with many other options that came onto the market (Weebly, Wix, etc.) become so popular that many businesses started to completely skip hiring a professional to build their websites at all. Of course, this created a ton of stress and anxiety for me. However, now that these website generators have been around for a few years, I've come to see soooo many BAD websites out there that may have been built by someone's nephew or a neighbor. These sites are coded terribly, underperform, or look like everyone else's. Potential customers arrive just to feel lost and guess what? The competition is only a click away.
The Value of an Experienced Designer
A BIG SHOUT OUT to all of us designers that stuck in there, 'cause another change is at play here. The world needs you! Businesses need you! And more importantly... consumers need you! They are in control and much smarter than you think. They don't want to be sold to. They want the businesses that they work with to be transparent, clear and truly help them solve their problems. A poorly designed and developed website with invaluable content is not the way to establish trust with them. They want you to put them first and sometimes your website is the first point of contact.
Designers don't just draw pretty pictures or make things look great. They design like an engineer putting just the right pieces together to make something work and hopefully for longevity. Sure, we can help you stand out in the crowd with a beautifully designed website, but designers that have been in the business long enough, offer something much more. With a little strategic and creative thinking, our work can spark emotion, guide interactions, emphasize call-to-action, reinforce your positioning and separate you from the pack all to leave a unique and lasting impression that establishes trust and brings you new business. Sounds good to me!
The Next Change Wave?
I had the pleasure of listening to several speakers talk about brand positioning and user-experience design being the core to a successful business. Having a partner (yes! a partner) that will collaborate with you and offer strategic ideas that will impact the greater good of your business right now and later is invaluable.
Not only did I hear speakers, attendees and sponsors at WordCamp OC bring up this topic, but I'm seeing and hearing the hype all around. Look around, I'm sure you'll start seeing the CCO (Chief Creative Officer) title show up for a lot of successful businesses.
What are your thoughts? Have you seen a lot of successful businesses surpass their competition and continue to grow at a rapid pace with templated designs? How's that nephew working out on your website? How many months has your website been under development without you even seeing one peek at it? Or lastly, did you undergo a whole redesign to find out that it performed worse than your last website?