Building Without Designing

I’m deep into a big, stinky bucket of a goobery gunk of a redesign project at work. It’s actually more than a “redesign,” it is a restructure as well, with new content, better organized content, purging of cruft from the directory structure, oh, and it is mostly uncharted territory for me as I’m having to not only learn the ins and outs of the company’s business model, online history, legacy system issues and multiple site goals, but I’m having to also get very intimate with a Content Management System I’m not terribly familiar with. I am, however, having a blast doing this.

I do have some relief from the overwhelming nature of this scenario. Over the past 10 years, I’ve made plenty of mistakes and learned a ton more about myself and the nature of this work. I’ve settled on a work flow that seems to suit most web related projects I find myself involved in. Typically, my work flow for attacking a redesign project looks like this:

  1. Draw up a rough site map of existing data points/pages
  2. Layout the site’s template wire frames in OmniGraffle
  3. Translate the wire frames into pixel-perfect “look-n-feel” prototypes in Fireworks
  4. Build out semi-functional, static PHP enabled XHTML/CSS template files
  5. Test, test, test, curse IE 6, edit, test, test, etc..
  6. Refine template code and style sheets, and chunk up the templates appropriately for use in a CMS

This work flow works for me. It is familiar and breaks up rather intimidating amounts of work into digestible portions which can be measured and gauged and tracked to show progress. Seeing progress is a good thing. A needed thing. Seeing progress happen keeps fatigue and dissatisfaction from setting in; it keeps my focus on the project and prevents the infinite loop of tweaks. This work flow lets me muck through design issues before I ever push one pixel, it lets me hash out template code structure before I ever strike the first left angle bracket, and it lets me get at least one re-factoring opportunity into the final output.

That’s about the opposite of what’s going on right now. I’m currently stuck in a mess where each day now I’m working out fundamental design issues on a fully functional, in-development, almost live site because I abandoned my flow in exchange for another, less comprehensive flow. I’m re-hashing basic site template structures that could have been solved if only I’d have fought at least for more time in prototyping. Forget about wire-framing on this one (which consisted of drawing sloppy boxes on a whiteboard), or even the chance to absorb the content relationships to a point where I could make somewhat educated re-architecturing suggestions. Had I stuck to my work flow, I’d be almost a week ahead of schedule, rather than at least a week behind.

So I chalk this one up to more learning experience. I’ll get through it. The new site will be great, and as Jen likes to so intelligently remind me that the end product will be a hundred times better than what’s there now.

Note to self: have more faith in yourself and stick to what you know you need to do. Approach your work projects as if you were freelancing… at a bare minimum, they deserve that level of professionalism and thoroughness.

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