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Month: June 2016

The (un)Importance of Design

The (un)Importance of Design

The website is dead, long live the site!

I began this blog in 2001 after moving out of the Ohio State University dorms. I looked like that guy in that picture with the homemade Weezer shirt, obviously taken before Weezer broke my heart. I was blogging posts before I could buy beer during the wild west days of internet customization (remember Angelfire?!).

My blog was always part of a larger website to showcase my artwork. I designed the entire site in Photoshop, coded it in Dreamweaver, set up the blog as HTML page updates, configured the hosting, etc., and repeated the process frequently to compete in the messy digital landscape built by messy kids figuring things out from similarly messy dorm rooms and apartments.

After graduating and relocated to Los Angeles, I paid someone to migrate all those old HTML posts into an early WordPress shell that I dropped into a site to still obsessively redesign.

In the mid-aughts I was a working graphic designer, both freelance and salaried with a site serving as both resume and portfolio for future work. Back then smart employers clicked through to your source code before scheduling an interview. Form dominated function early in the 21st century, the age of Myspace. Design meant a unique and highly visible polish on code that still hadn’t learned how to be dynamic unless it was written for a corporation. That meant it was still easy to look as cool as the next guy; no Ruby necessary.

I was promoted to a management position in 2008. By 2009 almost all of my freelance design clients vanished in the market crash. I became creatively adrift and my website followed.

When the market recovered I was so far removed from the design world that I didn’t feel confident trying to acquire new clients. For a brief moment, I thought I’d be the boss instead. My first ad-hoc designer hire, despite research (her glowing reviews, resume, and entire web presence disappeared from the internet after our fiasco), turned out to be an absolute disaster embarrassing myself, my business partner, and my life partner (who had snagged us the job at her employer). My flirtation with running a design agency was DOA.

It was a good thing; the agency world is cutthroat and would have added even more stress to my personal life while taking me farther away from doing creatively fulfilling work.

After a decade of squirreled away ideas and unfinished screenplays, I ultimately decided to pursue self-published science fiction writing.

Even sci-fi writers need a web presence, though. My long-ignored website loomed like a storm cloud. Every book I sold (or didn’t sell) made me wonder if I was handicapping success by not directly addressing my online presence.

After a conversation with an old friend, who happens to be a senior designer himself, we came to the conclusion that personal websites don’t mean anything anymore. Even designers don’t use their own website as a resume anymore. They’ve got Behance, Deviantart, and a host of other sites for that. A truly personal website now is a fling, a temporary creative indulgence never built from scratch like the old days, but tweaks to someone else’s borrowed site architecture. It felt narcissistic to consider it, but it felt even worse to face that damn word again: code.

I faced the choice of learning to code or giving away a certain level of control and creativity. I wasn’t comfortable with either solution until I thought more about what it means to be a writer.

I’m in the business of selling thoughts now, not visual design. That’s the long explanation of why, for the first time in its 15 year existence, my personal site is no longer an artistic showcase. Today it’s all run on a platform designed by someone else (WordPress), on a theme coded by someone else (look at the footer), probably being read on someone else’s website (facebook, feedly, etc.).

I know this business of how my website gets designed doesn’t mean anything to you, but consider the implications for the broader changing creative environment. Bespoke design may be something we miss one day.

Twenty years ago everything on the web was bespoke, now it’s a catch-phrase we use to throw shade on artisanal hand-sharpened pencils. Yes, that’s a thing. Seriously. With creativity automated and uniqueness costing more than ever before, you can guess where the importance of craftsmanship is headed.

We can already call up internet data with our voices, making design invisible and irrelevant. This is how that UX sea change affected and changed my life (and work). How will it affect yours?

PS – click here if you want to follow the trail back to all those old site designs and discover how unpolished and unappealing they actually were (perhaps alleviating some of the worries about the death of site design I harped about).

Bavaria

Bavaria

On Wednesday we took the s bahn to the munich airport and waited over an hour to get our rental car. During the tram ride my nose had started to run, and it would only get worse as the day (and week) went on. By the time we were shooting down the autobahn in an Opel my faucet was on full blast. We had to steal whole handfuls of napkins at lunch just to last until we reached Austria.

We checked into our hotel just outside Salzburg and headed to Hallstatt after a stop at the local pharmacy. It turned out the pharmacy was mostly a homeopathic store, with the only cough drops being a thyme flavored gel. Once in Hallstatt, raining to match my nose, we took the funicular up for a view of the lake.

Hallstatt



We walked up the hill for the salt mine tour but the employees were leaving as we reached the door and said it was closing. We took the last funicular down with them and walked into town to find dinner.

On Thursday we drove under layers of clouds broken by bright sunlight to Werfen to see the Eisriesenwelt.  

Eisriesenwelt

Little did we know that even with a car to drive up and funicular tickets there is still quite a hike to the cave.


And once you get up to the cave (and this is the only place I saw this mentioned) you find out you are not allowed to take photos inside. What?! This cave was a big reason we came down to Austria, and for me, taking pictures of the ice was the reason I wanted to go. Although, I suppose it’s my own fault for not doing more research, the camera policy is listed on the wikipedia page.

Once inside the zero degree ice cave the guided tour took us up another 700 steps to a point only 400 meters below the peak (but inside, obviously). The ice was impressive, and the guides found ways to light it very dramatically, walking through caverns and holes with colored lanterns and torches, but every “oooh” reminded us photography was not allowed. So it was an up and down experience both physically and emotionally.

After hiking back down to the car we headed to the Eagles Nest and caught the last bus to the top. Unfortunately, the entire nest was covered in clouds.

Eagle's Nest

Salzburg

We drove to Salzburg to walk to a few famous (mostly for their association with Mozart) destinations. While we walked through the Mirabell Gardens it began to rain so we started to walk toward the river to find a place for dinner on the other side.

By the time we got to the Makartsteg Bridge the sun came back out and we saw a double rainbow start in Kapuzinerberg and land at the Hohensalzburg fortress above the city.

After dinner (ironically Italian food better than half the Italian we ate in Italy) we walked around the city. Sam wanted to visit the Mozart statue, but the entire square was cordoned off for a Herbert Gronemeyer concert. Who? Yeah, I don’t know either.


We took the Mozartsteg to the other side of the river and ambled along the riverbank path back to the parking garage.

 Berchtesgaden

Friday we headed to Berchtesgaden to spend the day at Königssee lake. After about 20 minutes on the slow wooden electric boat, the engine stopped. I should mention that the operator was speaking only in German, so we were clueless about everything he was saying. When our boat stopped in Thailand it had a busted engine, at Königssee it was so a man could grab a trumpet and display how the alpine walls of the lake reflect the sound.

At Salet (the other end of the lake) we made the short walk through a fairytale forest with big craggy green moss covered rocks to the little boathouse on Lake Obersee. Sam often remarked that the place looked like something out of a Disney movie, the mossy rocks especially looking like the rock trolls from Frozen. We expected them to turn alive and start talking to us at any moment.

Except the rocks in Germany actually have more moss on them and sit nestled in moss and grass-covered ground with moss-covered trees bending their way through and up into the sky.

It began to rain as we followed the rocky trail around the right side of Obersee. By the time we reached the other side and the little restaurant the rain had tapered into mist and we decided to skip the restaurant, hiking the direct route up the mountain valley path that turns back down into a bumpy cow pasture  encircled by high mountains, each with their own waterfall leading to streams and ponds for the cows to drink from. At the back stood Germany’s tallest waterfall: Röthbachfall.



We stood in awe for a few moments before lazily making our way back to Obersee as the sun came out.

We ate more wiener schnitzel in Berchtesgaden and drove back to Salzburg as the park closed. As night fell we walked the streets and discovered a local festival.



That, strangely, included an Ohio State favorite:

Because of this festival, the funicular to Hohensalzburg was open late. We rode up and waited for night to fall on the city.



However, in Europe in June the night doesn’t truly come till much later, so we took twilight shots and made our way back down around 9:30.

Our last full day in Europe was planned as an open day. We considered driving further south into Austria, driving up to the west to see Baden, where many of my ancestors were from, and a few other things. When we saw the clouds parting early we headed back to Berchtesgaden (only 15 minutes from our hotel) and took the funicular to Jennerbahn, intending to spend only a few minutes and get back to the car before the 24-hour parking pass we’d bought at 11:30 yesterday expired.



It took 10 minutes to reach the funicular, 30 to the top station, and another 15 to the famous Jenner cross and overlook. We had about 5 minutes to enjoy the view and then run back down to catch the 11am funicular.

When we got there an employee said something in German that we didn’t understand and refused to take our tickets. I went to the souvenir stand lady, pointed at the funicular and asked “kaput?” She reacted like I’d cursed at her and didn’t say anything. A friendly German tourist that spoke English stepped in and informed us that the upper half of the funicular was broken…and the only way down was to make the 90 minute hike down to the next station. Our parking pass was going to expire in half an hour.

Without a choice (and without any water!) we walked in the sun down a very steep but beautiful hiking path to the next station. The only restaurant on the path took pity on us and gave us free water. Even though we were walking downhill it really did take 90 minutes.

Back in the car finally  (an hour after our parking expired, but nobody seemed to care) we set out for Chiemsee lake located just off the autobahn route to Munich.

After getting there we saw that the boat only took cash. Since it was the last day of our trip we had bled our euros down to about 10… not enough. Besides, after the beauty of Lake Konigsee, Chiemsee paled (although I realize it’s much larger) in comparison.

We hopped back on the autobahn and headed to the bmw welt, something we’d heard from many a local German was “cool” and one of the sights to see in Munich. The place was little more than an overblown BMW showroom and we left after fifteen minutes. We realized that we had better access to expensive cars in Los Angeles than many do in Bavaria. People gawked at cars in Mercedes and BMW showrooms that we see every day in traffic back home. The big draw for the Welt, driving a car on the Nürburgring, turned out to be an all-day adventure that cost over 600 Euros. We didn’t have the time or the money and got back on the autobahn instead to find our airport hotel.

The next day we took a Lufthansa flight to LAX and discovered the airline is essentially the Korean Air of Europe. The best thing about Lufthansa is that they have more bathrooms and they’re downstairs, giving weary international travelers a place to stretch. The bathrooms themselves are even bigger than on other planes. Oh, and bottles of free champagne don’t hurt either.

Back in LAX we were pushed into a line to get our picture taken, then put in another line to have customs agents look at that picture. Then we had to get in an even longer line after grabbing our luggage just to leave the building. From deplaning to curb took two hours. I feel for anyone visiting America for the first time and experiencing that nonsense.