Look and Feel: From Great to Unacceptable

Somewhere on the path between “green screen” terminals (I favored amber) and today, I tanked with “screen design.” It now takes a professional graphics designer, an artist, to be involved with this aspect of software. I really cannot deploy any web pages written exclusively by me, if I want them to be great.

Even with this blog, I settled for “acceptable” rather than aiming for “great” with the look of it. I selected a template, then did a quick thing in photoshop, carving myself out of a picture. I chose the picture because it was taken at a baby shower for my granddaughter, before she was born, and the original shows me with my two daughters. I was happy. It was me. That isn’t a highly professional reason for choosing a picture. The picture itself was not taken by a professional photographer. The skills used to extract me from that picture are even less professional. Heigh ho (as Vonnegut would say).

I told someone that I opted for two secondary storage “devices” from different eras in the header for this blog. He replied “you mean three, right?” Yup, three. So, the header here is creative, tells a story, aligns with the blog name, and looks OK. The template for the blog was done by a professional web site designer, I’m guessing, which is what makes it all look passable. My customization is fine, it isn’t great.

Software that is delivered via web pages to a general audience of people who can choose to use the web site or not does not require a graphic designer. craigslist.org taught us that. I don’t like using craigslist, however. The look of the site detracts from my experience.

I am simply not satisfied with what I am able to create as far as web pages go. While I can imagine someone using a site where I did the graphics design, I cannot imagine being really proud of it or considering it a huge success. I want our software to be great, so from my perspective it cannot be software where no graphic designers were involved (harmed?) in the making of the site.

Until this point, I have always been very pleased with the look and feel I have designed into software.  I have done screen design by a variety of names, since 1977, even before using the entire 23 rows x 80 columns. I wrote code that put labels with a colon on the screen, then accepted the value from the user. In response to whatever the user typed in, the software sometimes showed a message, such as “Alice, you know that has to be a number without any alphabetic characters in it” before re-prompting with the same label again. Our users loved it.

In the early to mid-80’s, the screens were more sophisticated, using all of the screen real-estate. I recall in the mid-80’s when the company newsletter published an article about our new 4-color database. We had new color terminals. The colors depended on the attributes of what was written out to the screen. I loved the addition of color, as well as the newsletter writer’s impression of the origin of the color.

It is great to be able to tweak software to the point where the user has not just a good experience, but a great experience. In the past, this has often meant that the screen looked good and the user was unaware of their experience, it did not get in their way. Even with client-server UI’s before the UI was in the browser, I could make screens both attractive and highly usable. That is no longer the case.

It is unfortunate that I have not yet found a sweat-equity graphics designer for this project. I talked to a prospective one on the phone last week, so I’m crossing my fingers. I’m pretty bummed that I cannot complete this aspect of the look and feel of the software we are writing on my own. While artistry is only one of the many skills I lack to go it alone, look and feel used to be one of my strengths.

I used to be great at designing the look and feel of software. I am not an artist, however, so what I am capable of doing now is simply unacceptable. I’m making my way through the stages of grief.

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2 responses to “Look and Feel: From Great to Unacceptable

  1. The best way to find great looking web sites is to browse the internet (duh!). See what’s out there. Also try shopping and see whose site you like the best for data entry, prompts, visuals, aggregating products, suggesting fries. I like Eddie Bower’s web site. Check out http://www.dripstick.com. You might want to contact Josh about graphic design. His site is lovely.

  2. Yes, agreed. I started with a couple of weeks of head-down research of sites I liked, along with reading many books on the subject. I agree that is a beautiful web site. Clearly some artists were involved. I’ll admit that I prefer to have nothing moving on the screen that I didn’t initiate, although that is very common these days, and I might just be a fuddy-duddy about that. Thanks, Louie.

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