Designer, Writer and Speaker
If you’re reading this it might be because we’ve been in touch regarding a spot of soul searching I’m currently undertaking. Or perhaps you visited via a link from Mastodon, Twitter or GitHub? Regardless: Hello!
After over a decade and a half as a full-time Senior Lecturer at Belfast School of Art, I’m embarking on an exciting new phase of my career. As of 9 July, 2018 I am officially a half-time lecturer. As Cara, my wife, puts it: “It’s half the pay, but twice the freedom!”
I’m putting that freedom to good use: I’m writing a new book that maps the user experience design process from start to finish; I’m working with some really interesting businesses (more on that soon); and I’m developing the work I’d begun on Tiny Books. In short: I’m keeping busy.
I hope to launch this site properly in October, 2018. Until then, this is a POSH building site so I can focus on content design. Thanks for your patience.
—Christopher · 23 September, 2018
23 September, 2018
I’ve always somewhat lazily developed websites in the open, directly on the server. I’m well aware that this isn’t the done thing, but I’m set in my ways and it’s how I’ve always worked. When everything’s publicly available – even if it’s hidden by obscurity – it keeps you on your toes.
I’m keeping notes on my design process here. These are largely for myself, but others might find them useful so I’m sharing them freely.
When I’m happy that the content’s more or less finished, I’ll link up the rest of the site’s sections publicly. Until then, I hope these notes prove a useful and interesting read. Thank you.
2 September, 2018
Like many others, I’ve become frustrated with Twitter’s approach towards the community that helped it to grow and, in the early days of the platform, define itself.
Without the unflinching support of independent, third-party developers – creating clients like Tweetbot and Twitterific – Twitter wouldn’t be what it is today and now that the heavy lifting’s been done, Twitter has rewarded their loyalty by killing off key features they rely on.
I signed up for Mastodon when it first launched in 2016, but I couldn’t really get my head around it. I’m now making a determined effort to do so.
I’ve been quiet on Twitter for a couple of years, while I addressed a number of mental health issues (and I’ve absolutely no doubt that Twitter is terrible for your mental health), but now I’m working on a new website I’ve started to think about social platforms and how I might use them. I’ve signed up for a new @email@example.com account and I’ll be posting there shortly.
I hope to see you there.
30 August, 2018
My earlier update – outlining the Visual Grammar element of my design process – resulted in some incredibly useful feedback. If you’re one of the people who contacted me with thoughts, I just wanted to say a mighty thank you.
Earlier this week, when I was in the studio, my Little Thunder studiomates offered me a glimpse of their work on the visual design. I was delighted. Tim and Gaby are incredibly talented designers and I was so pleased that they agreed to handle the design and build, they’re 100% on my wavelength.
The initial sketches – (As Gaby stressed: “Obviously this is a very early draft!”) – give a clear sense of the direction of travel the design is taking. I was delighted at how they had captured the essence of the Visual Grammar slidedeck I’d given them and I’m very much looking forward to unveiling everything else in due course.
I’ve taken a subset of the pages from this sketch and created a PDF of the first pass at the visual design, if you’re interested feel free to take a look. This is a fragment of an essay page, which will be typographically-focused, it gives an idea of how the dark mode pages might look.
26 August, 2018
When it comes to creating the visual elements of a brand, I’ve always erred on the side of less is more. (This has the added benefit that I’m less likely to get bored of the end result.) It might also be a measure of my indecision that I also appreciate flexible brands, where elements of the brand evolve and change over time.
I lived with the brand for my record label, Fällt, for over a decade and it was nothing more than lowercase type, set in Frutiger Pro 47 Light Condensed with a modified umlaut.
I always planned a subtle stylesheet switcher for Fällt that modified the colour of the umlaut, however, iTunes brought an end to the label (sidelining physical releases) and I never implemented the idea. Now is a chance to revisit that idea.
The branding for the site will be minimal, set in Colfax. A coloured full stop after ‘mr’ will add a touch of colour, and a subtle stylesheet switcher will allow users to choose their preferred colour scheme, changing the accent colours for links, footnotes and other elements. Indecision (mine) wins.
Finally, there will be a ‘dark mode’ for easier on the eyes evening reading. This was Little Thunder’s idea and I love it. In short, everything is shaping up nicely.
Establishing a Visual Grammar
24 August, 2018
Adding a link to this very much in progress website on my Twitter biography pulled a number of people into my orbit, so: Hello, again!
Since my last update six days ago I’ve been hard at work on the content, which I’ll be linking to soon. My studiomates – Tim Potter and Gaby Muldoon at Little Thunder – are focusing on the visual design and Sarah Richards (formerly of GOV.UK) has very kindly offered to advise me on my content. I am so lucky to have such talented friends assisting me.
When I’m working on a design project, after I’ve undertaken benchmarking and established an overall strategy, I build what I call a ‘Visual Grammar’ slidedeck, to establish the overall aesthetic direction. I use this to give clients a sense of the direction I’m suggesting for a project.
Usually that slidedeck is confidential, but in this case I’m the client so I can share the file. If you’re interested feel free to take a look, the deck gives a sense of the visual direction we’re taking and the various points of reference.
18 August, 2018
I started exploring the journal pages today so I could test some ideas I had for the hero images. I’ve been using edits – tiny fragments of others’ imagery – for years (starting in the mid-nineties, when I developed the visual aesthetic for my record label Fällt), and I’m exploring an idea of going all in on that visual approach.
These images are intentionally abstract. I’ve always created them as aesthetic exercises, they’re fragments of the web – windows into others’ websites – and I thought they might make abstract illustrations for essays. I’ve created a short loop showing some of these illustrations.
I’m well aware that this approach is abstract and a little confusing, and it definitely breaks the rules as far as designing easily understandable content goes, but… this is my site and I’m considering allowing myself this luxury.
Information Architecture (Macro)
14 August, 2018
I’ve now more or less finalised the site structure, so I’m moving onto content design. I’ve started contacting the various clients that are featured so I can secure permission to feature their work. I’ve also started working my way through the site sections systematically fixing content, page by page.
9 August, 2018
Whilst working on my content design – specifically my reading pages – I discovered a link I’d saved (seven years ago, in 2011) to Simon Collison’s recommended reading list. Visiting his site, I noticed he was also redesigning.
I shamelessly stole the little red bar that’s at the top of my site from Simon’s live rebuild site. I thought it was a lovely idea and I hope he doesn’t mind me borrowing it. I think – from memory – I’ve credited him in my rudimentary CSS, too. I’m all for credit where credit’s due, so: Thank you, Simon!
As I’ve noted in the introduction to this page, “When everything’s publicly available – even if it’s hidden by obscurity – it keeps you on your toes.” That focus of being kept on my toes is just what I need to avoid procrastination, which I’m often guilty of.
Lastly, I very much enjoy reading other’s process posts, so I hope that these short entries will prove useful, providing an insight into my design process. On that note, it’s back to work!
Benchmarking and Research
8 August, 2018
I’m currently focused on benchmarking and research, with a particular focus on the site’s overall information architecture. I’ve started gathering the content – 25 years worth – and I’m currently organising that into logical sections. It’s no small task.
In parallel with getting the overall structure in place, I find it’s also helpful to start developing examples of typical content. I’ve been working on the reading pages as a first step (which, helpfully, is refocusing my reading). Win, win.
A designer, writer and speaker based in Belfast, Christopher works with purpose-driven businesses, helping them to grow and thrive. He encourages small businesses to think big and, just as importantly, he enables big businesses to think small.
The author of numerous books, he is currently hard at work on his eighth – ‘Designing Delightful Experiences’ – which focuses on the user experience design process from start to finish.
As a design strategist he has worked with companies, large and small, to help drive innovation, drawing on over 25 years of experience working with clients including: The BBC, Booking.com and Adobe.