Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Evaluation of two years on the HND Interactive Media course

It’s a somewhat strange situation writing about the last two years on this course. Not because the course has been a strange experience – even though it has at times – but more because it’s been such a long time. At this time two years ago I was just applying to this course. At this time right now, I’m working in the industry. The best place to start for such a world wind journey is probably at the beginning.

Where I started
If I’m honest, two years ago I was thoroughly confused with what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. On the one hand I wanted to be a policeman, but I’d been told to wait a few years. On the other hand I wanted to be a games journalist, but I knew I wasn’t good enough, and I didn’t fancy going to university. Despite the lack of enthusiasm about university, I’d been caught up in the college atmosphere and I’d decided going to study games design at Sheffield was the course for me. Fortunately, I saw a poster for this very course.

Where I was
As soon as I started the course I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Without ever knowing it, it appeared I had a passion for design, and as soon as I discovered the design world I wanted to wrap myself in it as much as humanly possible. I started reading design blogs. Started buying design magazines. Started discussing it with friends. Before I knew it, I had been bitten by the design bug.

After getting away with a lifetime of disorganisation during my education, I came onto a course that required me to be very organised indeed. Suffice to say, I didn’t find it easy, especially the time planning aspect of things. In early assignments time planning was a constant battle with my own will power, and this was the hardest thing for me to change within myself. After all, I’d been without time planning for 14 years and not done too badly, so why start now?

It took me a large portion of the first year to get my time planning exactly where I wanted it, and it was one of the biggest issues I saw in myself. If I was to truly take control over my own time planning, I decided it would be best for me create my own time planning document that suited my needs for the course. After I had produced this document I struggled a lot less with my time planning. My original time planning document still remains largely unchanged to this day, which I believe is testament to the effectiveness of the original document I created.

Another issue that I felt needed improving upon greatly when I started the course was my presentational skills. As a young child and all through high school I was a very shy person, but college allowed me to come out of my shell more and improve on my people skills. One thing that had stayed behind with me from the shy days was my presentation-giving skills, and this was one of the skills that most frustrated me during my early days on the course. To a certain extent it still frustrates me today as I can still find a presentation difficult to give if the mood of the room isn’t relaxed.

However, I don’t feel there is any way I could have improved more on my presenting skills during the course. If we had the option to go back I would request more presentations to do. Even though the thought of them would terrify most people, the only way to improve at something is to continually keep doing it. I feel that if I would have done more presentations throughout the two years on the course I would feel a lot more relaxed about them when we have to do them now.

That isn’t to say that I don’t feel considerably more relaxed about them now than I used to, it’s just to say that I feel there is room for improvement. I have been told before that I am too harsh on myself when it comes to presenting, and that I generally amplify the mistakes that I make. It is true that I often amplify how bad I did in a presentation after evaluating how they went afterwards, but I don’t feel it is a bad thing in this instance as it allows me to continue to improve. That said, I still don’t feel that I am where I want to be with presenting to people, and this is a skill that I am constantly striving to improve.

Some time early in the second year of the course, I started a job working as an in-house designer at a vehicle management company. I didn’t feel I had a chance in getting the job, but I went for the interview and I went for the experience. To my surprise I did get the job, and I spent the first year of my design career working there. I feel that this coupled with the second year on my course allowed me to effectively double the amount I was learning, and the experience was invaluable.

I believe it was the second year of the course where my work ethic and speed of working raised. Because I didn’t have much spare time on my hands anymore, whenever I did get the chance to do some work I took it. Before this I worked a small part time job at Morrisons, and I often found it very difficult to be motivated to do any college work. There’s a strange irony in having lots of time; you just don’t feel like doing anything. Because I was constantly saying to myself “I can do it later”, things rarely got done until they absolutely had to.

But as soon as I started my new job I had to put rock solid timetables in place to allow me to complete the things I had to on time. Due to this, I became very good at time planning and motivating myself to do things, and to a lot of people it seemed like I was working non-stop. It was quite a turnaround to go from always having lots of time to barely having any at all, but I feel that without my job as a designer alongside the course my improvement would have been a lot less advanced than it has been.

Finally – and something I haven’t really touched upon during my final evaluation – my technical skills are something I have constantly strived to improve over the two years. A lot of this has come naturally to me as I have been using the programs and coding languages almost daily for the past year and a half due to working at the same time as being on the course. This has been a large advantage to me, and has seen me make an almost natural progression in the use of programs, and especially website building.

I began the course by using CSS, but it was when I started my job as a designer and the second year that I really started improving the web design side of things. I often set myself challenges to use something new in a website each time I created one so I could continue to advance my skills during the course. If I look back at the websites I have completed on the course now, I’m very proud of the progression I’ve made with each one both technically and visually.

Where I am now
After two years of some of the most intense learning I’ve ever experienced in my entire educational life, I feel completely ready to go into the design industry full-time. I have been in the ideal situation for the last year to be able to dip my toes in so to speak, by only working three days a week as a designer. Now I am leaving the course I feel like I am in a better position than the typical HND or university graduate as I have commercial experience to go with a recently completed design course.

Due to my experience, I feel that the work I produce is now at a professional level, and I am capable of producing work with a fast turnaround and to a high degree of quality. My only issue with my work currently is that the majority of my experience is with web design, and as a result of this I feel that my print design skills are somewhat lagging behind my web design skills. This is an issue I am trying to rectify, and I have already begun to take on more print work than I have done in the past year.

The future
The very ultimate goal for my professional career is to start my own design studio. The route to that ultimate goal is considerably less defined, but I believe now my education is out of the way I must continue to keep learning, even more so now I don’t have an environment specifically dedicated to such an activity. To be out of touch with the industry is career suicide, and I must make sure I don’t find myself doing that.

Another goal for the future is to continue to advance my web development skills, specifically Ruby on Rails. Now I feel comfortable with PHP and the workings of it, I am planning on learning Ruby on Rails over the next 6 – 12 months and investigating the possibilities of how I could utilise this in future web projects.

Most importantly though – and a point previously mentioned – is that I continue to keep learning. This is the only way I can keep improving.

Word count: 1644

Monday, April 07, 2008

A14 Section of Website

My A14 section (and the assignment up to date) can be found at:

Please feel free to comment over there.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Final Portfolio Screen Designs

I have completed the final version of my portfolio screen designs, which can be viewed by following the links below.

Home page for portfolio

Interior page for portfolio

I have bumped up the font size slightly on the interior pages, and changed a few of the link names on my navigation. Nothing much else has been changed, apart from the image viewer.

I have decided to drop the idea of using an AJAX image viewer, and I am just going to use a slide-type feature - note the numbers underneath the image. The image would also be a link, allowing the user to open up a high resolution version of the image to take a more detailed look at.

I'm very keen to hear people's opinions on this part of the design especially, and of course anything else.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Portfolio Screen Designs Version 2

I've just completed version 2 of my screen designs, and I would appreciate some feedback.

Home page screen design

Interior page screen design

I've added an image viewer to my interior page to attempt to make the viewing of images a little bit better. I would like to make it in Javascript, but I'm not sure if it might be a bit too complicated. The thumbnails display could be done easily enough, but I think I would struggle with the zoom in, zoom out and drag features.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Screen Designs for Portfolio Site

I have just completed my first screen designs for my portfolio website, and I'd appreciate some feedback on them. I've kept a separate identity for this to the one I have been using a lot recently. The slides of the images you can see on the interior page would open up when hovered over (like on my current Notfree site, just because I believe it is an easy way to view work)

I've gone for a very clean and simple design style, primarily to let the design work talk for itself. Up until very recently I was going to go the complete opposite way, but after spending a large amount of time over the last couple of weeks looking at design portfolios I am now of the complete opposite opinion. Anyway, here they are:

Homepage design

Interior page (sorry there isn't much example text on there)

Please note: I have left off all the colour notation and sizes purely because I think it easier for people to just see the design. If anybody wishes to see this version please do not hesitate to ask.

Friday, February 08, 2008

iTunes Redesign Screen Designs

I've just completed some early screen designs for my iTunes store redesign and I'd welcome some constructive feedback.

The screenshots can be found on my A13 blog.

Thanks in advance.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Competitve Analysis for Portfolio Site

Professional Portfolio

The website is all flash, which unfortunately reduces the functionality and limits the users to people with only Flash installed on their computer. There is no alternative HTML-based version of their website which would have been helpful, but might have detracted from the overall effect. Because of the large files the occasional page stuttered while the page loaded, but overall the Flash loaded surprisingly quickly. Other than the problem of it being all-flash, Thinkology’s website works very well and how you would expect.

The website is clearly pushing a very minimalist approach to its design and this portfolio clearly falls into the “let the work do the talking” category. However, the design is still very impressive with its restrictive colour palette. White space has been used to very good effect as it allows the user to only focus on one area of the website at all times with nothing else in the background distracting them. The occasional use of bright green adds a nice bit of contrast to the almost completely white design, and highlights important places to click.

Their method of presenting work is a nice idea, and slightly different from the norm with work coming in at random angles. This gives a nice care-free feel to the display of work and allows the work to standout a bit more. The angles is in contrast with the website’s minimalist approach of letting the work speak for itself, but it still works quite well.

I think this is where Thinkology’s website really excels – making it easy for the user to find work and to navigate around the website. It is clear that there was a very considered approach when thinking how to section the website, and that effort has paid off with a website that is almost effortless to use. If anything could be different, I would say that the website needs a back and next button when viewing work instead of having buttons on the far right hand side of the screen, as I imagine when somebody is using a very large monitor these would be very far to the right hand side; out of the way of the work.

If I decide to go for a minimalist approach to the design of my portfolio I would say that Thinkology’s website would be a perfect example of how to do a good job at creating a very simple website. The user doesn’t have to think at all to view this website. I must make sure I take such a considered approach when thinking about the user’s experience of the website.

Student Portfolio

The website has no problems whatsoever when it comes to working exactly how you would expect, and there is no features of the website that had problems. My only worry would be that after more products were added it may take a while for each item to load if they were all stored on one page. If I use a similar chronological-based design I must make sure that I consider this potential issue and take preventative measures to make sure it doesn’t become a problem.

Once again, there is quite a minimalist approach to this design, but displays a different way of organising the information. Giving the majority of space to the images is a very good idea, and works well in this design. The slides feature also allows the user to see a project in several different lights – often from conception to completion – and is a nice touch. Overall the design of all the elements has been handled extremely delicately and it allows all the fantastic work to really shine.

My main usability issue with this site is fact that you have to scroll quite a lot, and it becomes arduous after a while – especially if you are wishing to select a specific piece. The site really needs some form of navigation to display the content from various disciplines so people can search the content faster. Currently this doesn’t pose much of an issue as there isn’t a lot of content on the website, but this could pose a large problem if more work was posted.

Overall, We Shall See is a site with a very solid layout that is let down by its lack of a search bar or any ability to organise content. This is something that I will add to my portfolio no matter what the design may look like as I feel it is important to be able to see at a glance specific work from specific categories e.g. print work and web work. I believe this would also be something that employers would be very interested in seeing easily too, so this is a feature I intend to implement.