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(I was learning)

Situation Specific Mistakes (SSM)

I’ve had a personal blog online for coming on four months now, and it’s been anything but smooth. I recognize, however, that these were novice mistakes and that they were my own fault.

Now, I can imagine what you are thinking at this point. It’s something like: “I thought he said he was a Web develo-signer-type guy — and he’s had a hard time setting up a blog? Oookay…” But please read to the end, or at least skip to the end, before casting judgement.

You may find it interesting that code was never the problem. Design (and my OCD) is where I had the issue. More specifically concept is what bit me. Or maybe it didn’t bite me. Whatever. The fact is I learned a lesson and I want to share it.

The situation

Simply put: I’m a Web guy — I need a Web site. Duh.

Life, however, is rarely “simply put” and the situation was a little complicated. I had several job hunting opportunities that couldn’t be passed up, but they were kind of sprung on me and I had little time to prepare. It was the beginning of October and I needed a Web site by the beginning of October.

One afternoon I sat down to create a look and feel for the site. Realizing that I had only a couple of hours to create the design I skipped the concepting step. I figured “Hey, this is a personal site blog. I don’t really need a core concept.”

Big. Mistake.

I chose a color palette, framed up a grid, made some typographical decisions, threw it all together in a single, photoshop sort-of-template, and set to building the thing.

This wasn’t a bad design. I felt good about my decisions regarding color, type and layout and I was happy to sport this design for several weeks. But then the trouble started. I wanted to do a little more on the site and push the design to the next level. Unfortunately, there was no next level. A concept-less design is shallow. It has no depth, no next level. One step and you are done.

I am in no way saying that the design was perfect — all elements of the site could have been improved. But the site as a whole was stagnant and lacking a direction.

Though still pleased with elements of the design, I was instantly embarrassed to have my name in the URL above the site and decided to do something about it.

An overcorrection

I started concepting and gathering ideas for a new design. I needed something to represent me, my attitude and my work. I also wanted something that I could get launched, but continually work on pushing to a higher level. Being a country boy, I had words and ideas like “western,” “country” and “natural” stuck on my mind. Then one day lightning struck my brain as I heard Toby Keith’s Should’ve Been a Cowboy.

I wrote down “I Should’ve Been a Cowboy” and began generating ideas around this concept. I had desert and denim colors and textures, “wanted” posters saying that I was looking for full-time work, and more. I even moved the site from a .com to .us top-level domain to further play on the wild west theme.

Photoshop templating and building ensued, and a short time later I was quite pleased with my work and my new idea. It was fun, it was me, and it could be built upon.

A week or two later I made some free time to improve the site. I had only scratched the surface in implementing the idea and I had big dreams of what lay ahead. But I quickly began to hit a(nother) wall. To push the site in the direction that I wanted I began to see that I needed to have some great illustration work. The wall: I am no illustrator.

For several reasons I decided that collaborating with an illustrator for this site was not an option. I tried my own hand at the task and kept falling short. Finally I conceded that I had lead myself into a corner. I had chosen to follow a concept that I was incapable of fleshing out using the alloted resources.

All’s well that ends well

Back to the drawing board I went. Having time well-wasted on both ends of the concept spectrum I now new what I needed to aim for. As I began ideating (what a fun word) I pondered what I had just learned. I decided I wanted the whole purpose of the site to be learning rather than a place to just show my work. Thus was born aprendía. As you may have seen in the about section aprendía is Spanish, and a past tense form of the verb aprender which means “to learn.” I chose the word aprendía for two reasons.

First, in every aspect of this site I am learning as I am doing, no matter if I am novice, ametuer or expert in that skill. By the time you lay eyes on anything I created or wrote it is in the past.

Second, aprendía — the imperfect tense — can imply that the action (learning in this case) is one: a repeating action, almost a habit; and / or two: this happened at an indefinite time and could still be occurring.

For me learning is a habitual, continual event.

Site Specific Mistakes

You may be aware of all the recenttalk on the interweb concerning SSB’s, or Site Specific Browsers. A brilliant idea, these tiny applications let you run Web apps (i.e. Google Docs) in their own process. This means that if the app crashes you don’t loose the other 49 windows and tabs open in your browser. It isolates the problem.

My mistakes made in the initial phases of this site are what I call Site or Situation Specific Mistakes (SSM). I call them such for several reasons. First, I have never made this mistake before, but because of various circumstances, such as launching a partially complete site, I allowed myself to fall into this trap in this situation. Second, making this mistake here isolated the consequences — there was a lesson learned which will benefit other projects without them incurring the cost.

Make time for personal projects

Personal and low-profile projects are important to me because the let me make and isolate mistakes so those mistakes can then be avoided on high-profile projects. So go ahead and give yourself a project or two and let yourself wander down unfamiliar roads. You may find a find an new and amazing idea or process or just a mistake and a lesson learned. In either case you and your work will benefit.