A Book Apart: HTML 5 for Web Designers

Benjamin W.

May 4, 2010

I just pre-ordered mine. And I would have bought it eventually but with the list of web heroes attached to this book, I couldn’t wait. And Jason’s design powers didn’t make the purchase any harder.

Read about Jason Santa Maria’s design process.

And go get a copy!

Film Festival Laurels – EPS

Benjamin W.

February 5, 2010

I went on a search for the award laurels you see on DVD covers that have made the rounds in the independent film festival circuit. I didn’t find anything good accept a POS cdr file. Not a fan of the Corel as a result. Impossible to convert on my Mac without jumping through a bunch of holes.

Anyhoo, I found the laurels in a DVD cover I was doing and decided to post them here. Enjoy.

Download the Film Festival Laurels EPS.

The 5 step program for making creativity happen.

Benjamin W.

January 23, 2010

I’ve been building this design studio for a bit now. It’s still just me. I’m still at home. But I’ve got more clients than ever.

A problem I wasn’t expecting was inspiration or lack of it. I need more inspiration than ever to produce more ideas than ever to whittle them down to good ideas. And that is exactly what I’ve been obsessing about. In the course of my obsession and subsequent scouring of the internet in search of answers to a problem I hadn’t even named, I discovered once and for all, the three step list to making creativity happen. Are you ready?

  1. Start. Just start. Uh huh, I know all about the “Yeah but I don’t have a great idea to start with” and the “I’m not sure is this is the exact right CMS I should use for this project and thus can’t start brainstorming on big picture stuff until I do except that deciding on which CMS to use can only be decided with data I don’t have yet” and my favorite “Maybe if I check Signal vs. Noise, Jason or David will give me just the insight I need to inspire me to create something awesome for this client”. The real insights you need will come from you sitting with a pen and paper (or your tool of choice) and starting. Whether it’s lyrics, logo design, icons, web apps, whatever you’re trying to do, give yourself an hour and just get going. And pretty soon, the inspiration you’re looking for will come from doing what you wanted to do in the first place and not from obsessing about how, why or if you should do it.
  2. If number one fails, and I’ll be really surprised if it does, take a break. Give yourself the opportunity to withdraw from whatever is giving you hell. Read a book, go for a walk, watch something on hulu or write a blog post. Most people (me included) skip number one and go straight to number two out of the wishful belief that number two is what is missing. It rarely is. You have to be doing something to take a break from it and obsessing over whether or not today is a good day for making kick ass stuff happen isn’t really doing something.
  3. Back to 1.

That’s it. So much for 5. I guess it’s just 3 steps. It’s always simpler than I think it’s going to be.

Designing for engagement: Please make me think!

Benjamin W.

January 4, 2010

Hope your New Year is starting off with a bang.

I just bought Universal Principles of Design: 125 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions and Teach through Design. I started reading it today and I can already tell I’m in for a few “Get out a town!” moments. But the second principle in the book, Accessibility, got me thinking about a different approach to design.

I’ve been studying web and graphic design for some time now. As soon as I began I came across the terms accessibility, usability and simplicity used everywhere. And these are ideas I definitely agree with. But there’s another side to it that I’d like to see talked about more.

Accessibility and Usability are means to an outcome. A way to help accomplish something. But they’re aren’t the thing you’re trying to accomplish.

In the example of an elevator, accessibility helps those who can’t see by adding braille to the numbers. Or those who can’t walk by putting the buttons low enough so that people in wheelchairs can reach. In this example the benefits of accessibility are clear.

In the world of web sites and software, the benefits of making something simple, understandable and easy to use are equally accepted by anyone taking this stuff seriously. But it’s not as cut and dry as in the case of the elevator. I’m not talking about making your site screen reader friendly or increasing the text size so it’s more readable. I’m talking about users, audience, customers and how to help them achieve an outcome that we want them to achieve. This goes beyond just getting out of the way and letting someone do what they want and into teaching them, inspiring them and pushing them to do what they really want.

As a creative person, the most difficult thing is not learning Photoshop or Final Cut Pro. It’s not picking up a camera and figuring out what that button does. It’s not my lack of a great “point and shoot” that is preventing me from becoming a photographer. And it’s not my lack of recording equipment or the complexity of Protools that keeps me from making that record I’ve been wanting to make. It is the lack of inspiration and motivation necessary to get my ass out of bed and believe in something strongly enough to learn, experiment, read, practice, try, persist, care and be passionate.

Most people are not lacking great tools to write. Writing something worth reading was never hard because of the pencil. We don’t need a new, simpler, more intuitive text application. We need a personal and relevant reason to write in the first place.

I think that products, software, sites, tools and everything can be better designed to inspire us to put effort into things because the outcome is worth the effort. I have no problem with making something easy to use as long as you don’t sacrifice the outcome in the process. People need challenges and obstacles. Overcoming them is the reason the goal is valuable at all. I like learning curves but I want get passed them without a reason.

So the next time you’re designing an interface, a piece of software or a poster, see if you can give them really good reasons along the way to use it and use it well.

Holiday Bus Drive: A great cause, site and animation.

Benjamin W.

December 23, 2009

Holiday Bus Drive is a great example of how a simple idea can impact many kids lives.

Not to mention the site and animated film look amazing and really help tell the story.

(via designworklife)

A definition of design.

Benjamin W.

December 11, 2009

“Design is the first signal of human intention. So, what are our intentions?” -William McDonough

Usability or Usefulness: the forgotten side of user experience.

Benjamin W.

December 4, 2009

Usable: capable of being used.

Useful: being of use or service; serving some purpose; advantageous, helpful, or of good effect.

Kathy Sierra is awesome. I didn’t know much about here until she was interviewed on the web 2.0 show. It’s amazing that you can design websites for a while and still not be fully aware of the people that matter on the web. Anyhoo…

Since that interview I’ve been completely stuck with the idea of making people kick-ass. Or at least asking myself how I can help people kick-ass. I’m a designer not a programmer, although I build the sites I design. But I have users too. People use my design to communicate. And if I’ve done my job, it helps them kick-ass at communicating to their audience.

This brings me to my point: Useful is way more important than usable. Usable seems so obvious to me that I don’t know why it gets so much attention. But usable implies that someone wants to use it. That they’re trying to use it. But why would they even try in the first place? They’ll try it if they think it will be useful.

The tools that exist now are unbelievable. We have it so easy with Photoshop, Coda and Final Cut that by myself, I can do what it used to take 25 people and 20 machines to do. And I can do it faster. Yet there is a relatively small amount of people who have taken the time to learn any one of them, much less all three.

Making a product simple or usable reduces the friction of getting people to use it. But it doesn’t motivate people to do so.

The value is not in usability but in usefulness. To the degree that usability makes something more useful is the degree that your user and you win. But everything, even Basecamp, has a learning curve. And people need to know why they should bother. Or better yet, how it will help them kick-ass at whatever they want to kick-ass at. I’m excited to see applications, sites, posters, video games, movies, blogs and books that really take into consideration how to help people kick-ass and remind them how much they want to.

Letter Case

Graphic Design & Web Design

Letter Case was my one-man design shop based in Los Angeles, CA.
I ran it for 2 years until I joined Typekit in January 2011.

In my spare time I've been learning to program by building my first web application.
A simple tool called Talkative to help people publish their talks on the web.

My current project is The Briefcase. A blog and podcast.
It's a place for me to create and publish stuff.

If you have any comments, thoughts or questions,
feel free to contact me at: benthomaswelch [at] gmail.com.

Thanks for checking out my blog. Cheers!

Simplicity is harder than it looks.