Christian Ross

Overcoming the block

I’ve been struggling with this whole communication device (my blog) for a while and I wasn’t exactly sure why. Thanks to a text-to-audio-to-video-to-audio chat from @foundationsix this afternoon, I think I’ve narrowed it down.

I’ve been populating this .net with content since 2006. While three years isn’t that long relatively speaking, in terms of blogging I would estimate it falls in the top percentage of longevity of personal blogging. Most weblogs get started and published for only short amounts of time, those that produce content on a consistent basis more than a few months are becoming rare.

For the last six months or so, I’ve had trouble defining what this is all for. I had no original intentions when I started collecting my thoughts online, it was probably an experiment that had a 50/50 chance of ever making it two months. (Note: Though she doesn’t write often enough, she is still inspiring and I did help her to get a real domain: http://daventate.com)

Some time in the last 6 months I did a redesign. It was an experimentation and as of today, I’m pretty sure it failed. Most designers dislike their stuff just a few days after it hits the shelf but this is a little more than that. Right away there were things that bugged me about the look I decided upon for the current version. I originally wanted a wider content area but by framing it, I made it harder to get things to look the way I wanted when I published them. Videos and images were the worst. I drew the original frames up at 600px but somewhere in transition from slicing to programming I ended up with an area that looked best when objects were exactly 597px wide. That, my friend, is a pain.

I also had visions of minimizing everything around the content itself – navigation, titles, sidebar – thinking that the content itself would stand out and be the ultimate focus. Don’t get me wrong, it should be, but I went about it the wrong way. In the process of building it up, I alienated anything older than the five most recent posts. Shame on me.

Other issues that spring to mind include the issues with difficulty subscribing to my blog and the inability to find related or content that I am proud of. Just to name a few.

With all of the flaws built in to this design, I think I ultimately tied my own hands. It may sound silly but I forced myself into this (these) boxes and ended up restricting my thoughts and ability to publish them. From there, I just forced it. I forced myself to produce and/or find content to supplement. I ended up turning this whole thing into what I could best describe today as a tumblog.

To explain, Tumblr is a hosted blogging platform built to eliminate almost any possible technical barriers into blogging. You can set up a blog in seconds, pick a template and get to blogging within 3 minutes. I know, I’ve set one up recently. Its ease of use and quality UI make it a popular and useful tool. But what I have seen it become more often than not for most people is the ability to rapidly reproduce (read: republish and/or plagiarize) content by other tumblr’s. In one click you can “reblog” any content across the tumblr platform to your own blog without having to really lift a finger.

Tumblr is great, for what it is. I am sad to say though that my attempts to just produce something, have left me producing something mediocre. What I have turned my personal soundboard into is just a tumblog. Publishing anything I found slightly amusing through my main feed became a habit. I became your email forward buddy. For all of this, I apologize.

With all of that out now, my hope is to go back to the drawing board to find a balance in both form and function. Good content is what I want this to be about. Right now there is some good content there, but it is hidden.

All of this said, I enjoy sharing the goodness of the Internet: stupid videos, funny websites, random quotes and hot topics of the day. My goal is to provide a way that I can still do that but not in a way that allows me to hide behind it all. I know of some who run separate blogs or tumblr accounts for things just like I’m mentioning but my hope is to tie it all in together in a one-stop shop. We’ll see.

It’s time for another experiment. Here’s to hoping I get a little better result.

What Would You Do?

Preface: I’m not in an active job market search. I’m always open to ideas or options people might throw out there. It’s similar to my thought process of “everything I own is for sale.” Certain things I own may not be for sale at a reasonable price, but there is a price point on it all that could outweigh replacement time/cost. And no, my wife and son don’t count as things I own. They aren’t for sale.

Onto my personal dilemma. I stumbled across a link this morning to a job description that may fit what I do better than I could explain it myself. Only this would be on a much larger and more public scale as for what is produced. The job itself is a great position, including the things I love: design direction, copy writing, strategy, communications, PR and development all rolled into one. It would put me in a position that I would thrive in, the ability to have a team around me that probably do any of the above better than I could but would allow me to bring them all together to produce some great products.

But here’s the rub, the job itself is for an organization that I don’t really believe in. Not that I don’t think they know what they’re doing, or that they’re a bad organization or are involved in inappropriate or criminal activities; but in a sense that ideally I view things differently.

Is there any chance I would be happy in a position like this? Producing great work, leading a good team and enjoying all the areas I would be getting my hands dirty in all the while not agreeing the message being sent out to the masses?

I think I know what my answer is, but I’d like to hear yours as well. Persuade me.

WWYD? What Would You Do?

Jim Coudal, the benchmark

If we’ve ever talked business, you’ve probably heard me talk about not wanting to work for clients. I have a pretty love/hate relationship with clients. I love working with people. But usually only when we’re working together with common goals. I dislike working “for” people. I have the ability to take direction and be led, but I don’t enjoy the situation of just putting your vision down on paper/computer. I’m hard-headed, I know that.

I think Jim Coudal of Coudal Partners is probably the same type of guy. Although we can push pixels, it isn’t our ultimate passion. In an interview with Design Glut (some nsfw language) he reinforces my desire to find a way to make myself the client.

If it’s a good idea and it gets you excited, try it, and if it bursts into flames, that’s going to be exciting too. People always ask, “What is your greatest failure?” I always have the same answer, “We’re working on it right now, it’s gonna be awesome!”

Now is as good of time as any to push forward with ideas. Giving it another 18-months just publicizes the fact I am afraid to give it a shot.

The design-client conundrum

Interesting thoughts from Jason Zimdars over at 37 Signals today.

Of course it is totally understandable to take the ideas of those that pay our bills as gospel. But we should also be reminded that those same people hired us for our expertise. If they just wanted someone to follow orders, they’d probably have hired someone else.

Rarely do I take the ideas of clients as gospel. And admittedly, there are times when I should be a little more open to an idea or two from a client if it is decent. But there’s got to be a market position where you are no longer just a pixel-pusher for a client and you become a partner in innovation with them. All too often, clients will choose ego over best practice and I can’t help but wonder how much it ultimately affects their bottom line.

My job is to make you look better. Please let me do my job.

A small request to my fellow developers

Developers, I appreciate what you do. Many of you work tirelessly planning, learning and coding for the betterment of all things web related. I assume that many of you do it out of passion and possibly just as a hobby to fill hours while not punching the clock. I am impressed your knowledge of JavaScript, PHP, MySQL and even the many frameworks that surround each. I love the fact that almost all of the widgets, gadgets, navigation menus, drop-down lists, data-sets and more are usually open source. If Budweiser was into marketing nerds, you would be a Real Man of Genius.

I have but one request. Its small, but it is big to me. I’ve noticed for a long and apparently I’m not the only one. (more…)