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That Guy’s Tips For Not Looking Stupid On The Internet, #4 October 29, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Technology Trouble, Tips for Not Looking Stupid.
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Don’t type when you’re frustrated.

funny pictures of dogs with captionsAs a writer, I know that writing is one of the best ways to work out frustrations — you can put together a fantasy e-mail, do a quick story where your character kicks your boss’s character in a very uncomfortable place, whatever — as well as your fantasies. Some of which are driven by your frustrations.

But remember this: if you’re at work, you’re likely using a computer owned by the company. You’re probably complaining to a co-worker about how annoying or stupid someone is. You might even be doing it via IM instead of e-mail.

Don’t. Just stop. Step away from the computer.

Example: over the last two weeks, a client asked my department to mount a logo onto one of our pages and send them the mockups. I did so. They sent it back, saying they weren’t pleased with the amount of space around their logo. I increased the space (by decreasing the size of their logo — the area available has hard boundaries around it) and sent it back. They said it still wasn’t enough. Finally I e-mailed back my client representative (the person who is a co-worker of mine who actually talks to the clients so my department doesn’t have to) and said “please ask them to tell us exactly how much space they want, and warn them that, as I increase the space, their logo will get correspondingly smaller”.

Finally, after three more days, they gave me an exact measurement and I was able to provide them with a mockup they liked. But instead of going back to my CR and saying “this has been an exercise in futility”, I mentioned it to her during a meeting we were both in. I didn’t commit it to anything electronic because it’s perfectly within the company’s policies to hold such words against me — and in this economic client, you really want everything that reflects upon you to do so positively.

By the same token, proofread your “to” and “cc” fields; if you’re discussing something a client sent, make sure the client is removed from the chain. Before the reorg, whenever people replied to customer comments, they often did not remove the “all-production-employees” e-mail address, and we were just lucky that very few people realized exactly what they had.

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the wrong ways you talk to your web guys August 27, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences, Seen Elsewhere, Technology Trouble.
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I really need to stop reading Smashing Magazine because every time I do I find more things that my company refuses to get right. Today it’s communicating with developers.

As a designer, you don’t need to have every single page thought out before starting development, but it is helpful to stay ahead of the developers. Plan your features accordingly, and make sure you at least have some type of structure (HTML, etc) ready to go when they need it. It is a lot easier for developers to come through on a polished page and insert data where it is needed instead of creating the page from scratch and having the designer come in after them.

It’s more likely that the marketing department will come to you with a vague drawing born of a brainstorming session, and said drawing will be full of features that you can’t provide because either they don’t exist or because your company is so enamored of its walled garden that you’re not allowed to use that new technology. And they won’t give you a full design, either; they’ll give you some chunks of artwork and hope you can get it to work. Oh, and if you don’t use their fonts, they’ll bitch until you build a ton of tiny JPEGs full of font (that you’ll then have to change 60 or 70 times apiece) because that font is the linchpin — the linchpin — of the project.

It is also important to try not to change the design while the developers is in the middle of developing that specific feature. […] As designers, we should try to avoid any type of refactoring of the UI as we can. It is tedious work for developers to go back and change HTML.

Changing a few things here and there is acceptable. Changing the entire focus of the project? Not so much.

It is also important to not drop off the project here. At the least, be available by e-mail so the developers can contact you about issues with your designs. Respond quickly to ensure your developers are staying on track with the final product. Once again, be decisive in your communication. Most of the time, the real data doesn’t match what you mocked up, and there are many issues you will need to work out in conjunction with your developer.

Let’s repeat that part:

Most of the time, the real data doesn’t match what you mocked up.

Learn this, marketing departments. Learn it and remember it.

Avoid Feature Creep

I’ve got a whole post on this that I’m in the middle of writing.

As designers, we can quickly turn around designs in a few days and be done with it. Unfortunately, this is not the case for development. The ratio of design to development hours is not even close to 1:1. Make sure your deadlines allow enough time for the developer to implement the features, as well as any back and forth time for questions.

What is born of a series of meetings usually ends up being coded over the course of two weeks, with the lion’s share being done furiously at the last minute because someone — or, more likely, several someones across multiple departments — didn’t bother to get their deliverables in on time. Of course, it’s the web guy who always gets in trouble when this happens.

Don’t rely on your developers to write perfect code, as it will never happen. You can’t always rely on developers to test their code to make sure it functions properly, fulfills requirements and ultimately works in the manner you described. But remember, developers don’t write buggy code on purpose.

As fewer people are doing more with less, it’s become virtually impossible to get anyone to proofread your stuff. You can show it to people and they’ll say “oh, that’s great, that’s perfect”, but they won’t proofread. They won’t take an hour or two to read all the text, check your spelling, and click every button. (That’s what interns are for, if you’re lucky enough to have them.) In the old days, my boss used to want me to send him everything so he could proofread and check it. Of course, he never did, and then it became my fault when something was wrong. If companies can’t be bothered to have someone make time for quality control, then why are we developers trying so hard in the first place? We’re just going to get in trouble for every single mistake we made trying to get the project done on an impossible deadline.

In an ideal world, none of this would happen. But we’ll never have an ideal world, so let’s just try to educate our bosses on the right way to talk to us. If we’re lucky, we won’t get fired for it.

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losing the weekend August 7, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Observations.
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groundedWhen you were a kid, odds are good you got one of four types of punishment when you misbehaved:

  • corporal (ie: spanking)
  • grounding (ie: limited to your room/house for a period of time)
  • removal (ie: privileges or toys taken away)
  • nothing (ie: no punishment whatsoever)

As we matured, however, we realized that discipline grew more and more lax as we were exhorted to grow up and take responsibility for our actions. At school, we got detentions or suspensions (that is, when teachers were allowed to discipline us, but that’s another rant for another time), but once we got to college, we were our own masters. And we were expected to be: as adults, we were expected to have the self-discipline to do our assignments, study for our tests, show up for our classes, and learn. The only reinforcement was our grades, and if we failed… well, our parents would still take us in and let us live at home until we got jobs, right?

Then we entered the world of work. In the beginning, we were worried sick about getting fired, so we tried to do everything right. Unfortunately, we learned from our co-workers that there was no accountability; we could slack off a little — just the right amount — and not get in trouble. We could delegate our assigned responsibilities to other people. We could do crappy work and someone else would fix it for us.

Those learned behaviors never went away. And now we have people like Rickie, who can’t retain what she needs to know, or our layout/mockup team, most of whom don’t give a damn until they’re directly affected, or Wally, who has driven many people crazy on countless occasions. And we have people like me, who take it upon ourselves to make it right because if we don’t, we’ll get in trouble for not fixing other people’s mistakes.

The problem is that there was so much laxity in the past that now these people don’t comprehend true accountability. Exhorting them to do their jobs right because they should care about the product isn’t enough, and that’s the only thing anyone does. No one gets written up or fired, and no one ever has gotten fired around here for doing their job half-assedly. We need a little discipline, and since this isn’t Singapore, we need to take away the only thing people truly value: their time off. That is: we need to make people work weekends as a punishment.

Think about it: you miss out on time with your family, you miss out on doing things you can only do on weekends, and you kind of get a little bonus because you’re off on a Tuesday or Wednesday and can go to the doctor or run errands without taking time off. When I worked Tuesday-to-Saturday, I relished Mondays by myself because I got so much done. But then, I’d worked weekends for most of my life, so I was used to it. People working in the same position for a decade, people not used to coming in on weekends except on rare occasions, I think will be very chastised by having to come in on said weekend — and it can be even more of a punishment by giving them Tuesday and Wednesday off in return, so they’ll have to work basically eight days in a row (Monday-to-Monday).

Oh, and if they balk, just say “I can write you up instead. Three of those and you could get fired. Which would you prefer?”

I’m fairly certain this will work, especially if someone is made an example of. Scare everyone by making an example of someone, and work will get better. People will start remembering how to do simple things correctly… like proofreading their work, one of my personal pet peeves. Just like when we were kids: if someone grounds us, we’ll avoid doing whatever we did so we don’t get grounded again.

Although around here I’m firmly convinced that nothing short of caning or termination will truly have the effect I’m looking for. And caning is a much more visceral threat.

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