The Urge to Design Things

12/07/2009 03:22 p.m. | Personal

I am an engineer. I like to figure out how things work. I take things apart and put them together again (or sometimes not). I also like to make things.

The internet is a great place to make things. It's also a great place to consume things. I'd say at my current standpoint I do much more consuming than making. I'd like to do a bit more making.

My current problem with that is that making text is very easy. There is a low barrier to entry. I want to make something more than that.

I recently re-designed this site (I'm off the word blog). I moved back from Drupal to Wordpress. This is mostly due to the huge current difference in the admin interface, and the fact that my needs are mostly text-based, so things like ImageCache and Media embedding and adding users are overkill.

This is probably the 6th design I have used. I started with a handmade Black with light blue. Then I moved to blue and green. Then on to Hemingway. Then came Simpla. The last couple have been similar to the current design. Very clean, simple, and content-focused.

I greatly enjoy designing, and my current job at Schipul gives me inspiration and surrounds me with talented designers. But, I am not very artist and hate working with images. They are so static. For some reason I have the desire to want everything to be dynamic andchangeableon a whim.

So, while I would like to make more cool design, I am not really talented on the arts and crafts side to do so. But, as far as UX or interaction or experience or whatever you want to call it, I think I have the ability to be good. The same goes for finding interesting data and laying it out in a simple way.

What I really want to be able to is to make something that people think is useful. I'm becoming more and more convinced that this site isn't that thing. And I'm totally cool with that. I like it. I like looking at it and reading my old thoughts and watching the videos probably more than anyone else. I really like it.

And coming to that realization is a great thing. It means I don't need a style or a focus or anything corporate like that. I read a great piece by (guess who?) Mr. Mann where he talks about the end of Favrd. I never messed with Favrd much, but one sentence is still running through my thoughts.

You could see people A/B testing their formula, settling on a style, then posting, posting, posting, and following, following, following, and starring, starring, starring in what? a diverse and often successful effort at internet comedy marketing.
I think that way. It's how Engineers think. I want to find the best/fastest/easiest path to success and exploit the hell out of it. I do it in Risk (acquire Australia and boost income!) and in other games. I do it at work with keyboard shortcuts and automated email reports. I've launched andabandonedseveral branded "funny tweets". None were really funny.

I've tried to think too much about gaining an audience and not at all about the making of stuff. I know that copying success isn't very successful. I've spent far too much time trying to do that.

And I've spend very very very little time working on cool things that I want to make that are useful.

Two years ago I made this little webapp. I am still very proud of it. It does what it needs and as far as I know it is one of the only things of it's kind. It's for Safe Ride Programs (I also made that site, which I'm not as proud of).

The web app is an example of what I seek to make. It's a small project, and at the time I made it, it was of HUGE use to myself. It benefits a small audience, but that audience is actually much bigger than what I thought of when I made it. The design is simple, but the focus on useful information and cool reports and tools is all there.

For the people who use it, they love it too. It solves a tiny problem and it does so with grace. I desperately want to make more things like this.

But to do so, I need to find things that I want to use. No A/B testing. No crap like that. And less of the thinking of trying to do something to impress someone else. I don't need to do that. I need to make things that I am impressed with. That seems to be the secret.

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