A great example of the discovery process to design

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When talking with someone who is interested in having me as their designer, some of the first things that I do is ask a million questions about the intent and the business that the design is to be representing.  Quite often, the person (or people) that I’m talking with don’t quite have a vision of everything that they need and/or want and that’s when the questions become fairly deeply digging to determine not only the “what” but everything that has to do with the design.

About 2 years ago, I went through this with the company that I am still working for when they decided to switch the software that their IT Servicedesk reps used on a daily basis to log their service requests.  Though the company had a fairly good handle on what the business needed, they didn’t quite have everything nailed down and that was where I was brought in to assist with the layout of the screens.  They’re not really “pretty” as the software that they chose isn’t really capable of anything remotely close to pretty, but the entire workflow  prioritization was discovered as were many other elements that were previously not possible with the old software that now, 2 years later, are still in place and used hundreds of time on a daily basis for the location of quick information while also providing the functionality for call logging and tracking.

This same process is discussed  in the link below – its a pretty well written article on the process that they went through with their client.  If you’re interested in reading just what goes into the discovery process of design, this would be a great article to read.

It Keeps Me Awake and Drives Me Out of Bed

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In a recently published article on BNet.com, they say that the most important lists are the ones that answer the two questions:

1) Things that Keep Me Up All Night

2) Reasons I Get Up in the Morning

To answer the 1st and the 2nd, I just recently had been thinking on this very subject.  Number one on this list used to be gaming.  I used to be able to play a good engaging problem solving type of video game that was done well that challenged me for quite a long time – sometimes through to the next day, but times change – I’ve changed.

In 2004 I discovered something that drove me like nothing else that I’ve ever experienced and nothing else since.  Design – not just graphics design, but the entire implementation of it.  I know, this seems a little pointed given that this is my blog site about my experience in design, but it was then in 2004 that I spent 3 days non-stop creating web interfaces for a website that at that time was pretty huge with hundreds of millions of visitors a day.  I’d spend days without sleep, forgetting to eat or even to go to the bathroom, designing and implementing “Skins” as I called them back then, to the forums, image galleries, and front page layout of this popular gaming network website, and it wasn’t just the graphics.  The layout, the typography, the implementation of the logo in creative ways while still maintaining a signature style.  It was my kung fu and… years later now – I look back and really don’t consider much of that work to have been all that good compared to what I can do now – but back then I thought it was brilliant.

That feeling hasn’t gone away.  Any time the company that I work for puts me on a new project, I get that “zing” where my brain is churning on a never ending cycle of problem, solution, problem, solution until I find the optimal pattern to go with and then I go after it and make it happen.  The design comps, the excruciating waiting process while I mentally rehearse the various ways to present the comps and explanations for the various implamentation methods, then once the business decides on what they want to go with, the sitting down at the computer, cranking up the perfect music that I will almost not even hear, but is required regardless – and then the implementation to markup and making it come to life and the entire brain-sucking mind-trance enducing work and joy of seeing everything begin to come together.

That is the good stuff.  That’s what keeps me awake, and when I go to bed, I dream about the work and wake up and am immediately in a mental state of problem solving and project planning.  What needs to be implemented next?  What can’t I wait to get to and to see come to life?  What is still fuzzy that I just know will gain clarity as the project gets closer to completion?

Its good.

The design, the project, and the entire process and discussion and implementation.  I just don’t know anything else that can keep me so whole-body focussed.  I love it.

FacingBlend.com in silverlight!

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FacingBlend’s Silverlight page is LIVE!

Click here to view

Since yesterday, I’ve had several emails asking questions regarding this release, so I thought I’d share a bit.

Most websites that I’ve seen around which had displays of Silverlight use weren’t as artistic as I thought a site could be.  Expression Blend is a very powerful tool, and like most tools, if you really play with it, you can find that you can do almost anything if you just play with it long enough and tailor things to fit what you want, but… I’m not seeing that being done!

So I wanted to create a silverlight website that really pushed hard and heavy on the “pretty” side.  I wanted it to use my favorite color, green ( no relation to the current popularity with “going green” ), but still have a little “windows vista /7” glassy watery look/ feel for the background.  The centerfocus on the site isn’t really the content, its on the background which is done entirely in XAML.

That’s right – the pretty thing that appears to be raster based, is 100% xaml.

Now, I wasn’t really going for a “portfolio” either – this is my personal website.  My play-thing over the web, so I stayed away from the typical “portfolio” feel.  I’m having fun here.  I feel like I’m playing when I’m working in Expression Blend, and I really wanted that to show in the design.  I think my absolute favorite part is a little geeky.  Even the icons are done in Xaml and I think there’s just something awesome about that.

The Toybox itself was what pulled back my timeline a bit.  What to put in there?  What to NOT put in there and how the heck do I want to organize it?

Well, I kept not having time to work on this and it sat on a back burner not  being worked on for months.  I seriously had this nearly done back in December of 08, but I got stuck working on a few other things and having a blast with my family and helping out with a logo for the company, Seovian (which you can find in my galleries here on my blog).

I then was pushed by 2 different projects that I’m working with to upgrade to Silverlight 3 and with that, I forced everything aside, brought Facing Blend in Silverlight back into the forefront and finished the entire Toybox in 3 days(in my spare time).

I still look at this stuff and have to remind myself that I actually did this, all on my own, that I’m not looking at someone else’s work.  I still can’t believe how much I’ve learned in such a short amount of time.  Maybe it’ll sink in a few years from now, but until then, I keep getting deeply involved in design work and when I come “out of it” and look at the whole picture, I am impressing even myself.  2 years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed that I could do what I just released.  It just blows my mind.

Facing Blend… The site. The Experience. My brain.

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Facing Blend was a fun idea that came to my mind one day when learning how to use blend. It has many meanings in the name, so I’d like to paint a picture for you.

I’ve always loved design. In highschool, I took the first class to ever be part of our highschool which was dedicated to programming – HTML.

I know, I know – HTML is markup, not programming. To me, it was the closest that I was going to get with a highschool education back in the late 90s and I was one of the first to sign up for it. The class started out in such a way that gave all who signed up for the class the ability to get on the same track. We started, not in HTML coding, but in good research techniques using the most popular search engines on the net. We’re talking goto.com, altavista.com, webcrawler.com, yahoo.com, search.aol.com, oh, and yes, the baby – google.com. There were a few others, but those were the most popularly used. My favorite? Goto.com. *sigh*

Anyhow, from that class, I got my feet wet into design. I was interested in the art of it all, the complete picture. How you could take separate elements, put them together, and either make something incredible, or absolutely horrid. Most of the people in the class created sites that were overfilled with animations, difficult to navigate… the typical story for people who aren’t necessarily used to layouts and artistic use in usability. Myself, being an artist and having a logical perspective on most things, coupled those together and that is where I started with design.

Now, my stuff back then was absolutely aweful, but at least you could navigate easily, locate the information you were looking for, and it wasn’t over-inundated with animated gifs just for the sake of having animated gifs.

Somewhere along the lines I picked up a few other skills, CSS, basic XML, a little javascript, lots and lots and lots of photoshop work, and I need to mention photoshop again – as that program can do almost anything, short of cook my dinner (though its caused me to miss several meals. Blame the program, not the person. It’s easier that way for all of us.)

So that along with illustrations and a few other things is my “start” in design. I took a few side roads and worked at a photography studio, worked as a sales person and then a computer technician at the local CompUSA, then moved to being an IT Servicedesk Technician, but on the side, I’ve done projects for various organizations, individuals and companies throughout the years designing flyers, logos, paintings, and webpages.

A friend of mine mentioned while assisting him with illustrating the cover of his book, that I should take a look at Microsoft’s Expression Blend. I’m quite familiar with Photoshop, have dabbled with Corel Draw, and 3dsmax, but had never heard of Expression Blend, and quite frankly, was a little… ok, a lot, intimidated by it.

So after watching several videos, I accidentally downloaded a few of the tutorial videos for Expression Design – which acted a whole lot like Photoshop, but with a few things made easier and more specifically, the program seemed more like a tool that web designers would love. So instead of immediately diving into Expression Blend, I tinkered around with Expression Design for a while. In my opinion, I’d like to give a capitol A, Two thumbs up, and 5 gold stars to the people who created the program. It has quite a lot of functionality, and for myself, who specializes in UI that makes sense and web design, this program was easy to pick up and go with a very small learning curve. It’s one of those things that is quick and easy to learn how to use, but would take the right person to master.

I finally got up the courage to dabble with Expression Blend after a weekend with Design – to find that it wasn’t intimidating at all. Yay me for making a mountain out of a mole hill.

During my initial orientation to the program, I became thoroughly frustrated. Blend has a lot to offer and a lot of functionality. Since my specialty has always been driven towards the web, I felt that I should dedicate my time designing within Blend creating Silverlight apps. There are quite a few people who have been familiar and creating in full application based XAML, but not as many who specialize in the silverlight side with all of its limitations. I think I’ll just sit in the pretty Silverlight box and be happy with my walls and restrictions and see just how much I can fit into that box and how well I can use it.

Blend is in beta. Silverlight is… in beta. *sigh* Let’s just say, a lot of things aren’t as they might seem when trying to do what you wish to do. User controls for one thing, integrated, and custom controls – pain in the rear…


So this is me. I enjoy design, completely geek over well-done interface – the things most people overlook when done right, and am starting this blog and site as a way for others to join me on my journey as I learn more about what I can do within Expression Blend, programing, design in general, and more.

What is Facing blend to me? It is me tackling a mountain, to discover a molehill. It is me sitting with tools and the endless possibilities. It is interfacing gone web… inter – facing… get it? It is Facing Blend.

– Ariel Leroux