The idea was pretty simple. Take designers from different design firms and have them create a website for charity in the span of 8 hours, at a trade show, while people watched. It worked pretty well, but…
There are many things that I am not nor have ever been. One of those is a web designer who works for clients. I never had a career as a web designer. I have difficulties dealing with others in a working relationship of that type, due to my autism. My reactions to the social cues of others, well, they don’t mesh.
Another thing I’ve never been good at is leading. I’m not a leader, I’m an idea guy. Back in the nineties I was a one man think tank with a focus on web design. Whenever I have to lead, I find myself frustrated in the lack of understanding of the people under me and often disappointed in the lack of logic in their approach to solving problems or working on a specific task. How was that for a long sentence?
I see solutions to problems in ways other people don’t. But if I explain my solution, often the person I’m explaining it to will take the basic idea, but do it wrong. So, I try to avoid these situations too.
February 25, 1997 was the date the Web Developer and Design Exhibition at Moscone Center in San Francisco. Kirsten Alexander, then of Songline Studios, was a writer for Web Review and asked me to come participate in what she called Cool Site in a Day. Two teams compete to build the best website for two different non-profits in only 8 hours.
Two teams, one team from the east, one team from the west.
I still don’t understand why I, the best known judge of website design in the world at the time, was on a team and not on the judges panel. I was actually a bit hurt by that, but I had fun anyway.
So there were nine amazing designers experienced in doing client work, and me. I was my only client and the websites I built were all for me and for the rest of the world to grab my code from and make it their own.
Their names might not mean anything to anyone here today, but in those days, these were well known designers/developers.
East Coast Team:
- Kyle Shannon (Captain)
- August de los Reyes
- Mark Opala
- Nate Brochin
- Scott Barklow
West Coast Team:
- Me (Captain)
- Ann Fullerton
- Ethan Allen
- Kevin Ready
- Josh Feldman
- Bob Schmitt
- Farhan Memon
- Lynda Weinman
- Terry Swack
- Clement Mok
- Jeet Singh
I’d list the firms everyone was from, but the few I tried no longer exist so I stopped investigating. Needless to say, these were all amazing designers capable of great things and worth every penny their clients paid them.
We didn’t know what charity we’d be designing for until we got there. The East Cost got Spare Change, a New England focused publication for the homeless. The West got Artists for a Hate-Free America.
I brought my Sony prebuilt PC and 13 inch monitor with me. Yes, 13 inch CRT monitors were the standard in those days. The Sony had a very good picture. In terms of colors, CRTs are superior to most flat panel displays. More colors, no banded gradients. Lower resolution, however. Oh the days of youth and a 1024×768 display resolution.
Once we were given our sites, we also got some materials from the sites’ owners. The recording of hate filled phone calls was quite stunning.
The show was empty when we got to work. A brief meeting, delegation of tasks, etc. There was no sound so when Kirsten asked if I had any CD’s with me, I did. We played Loreena McKennitt’s The Mask and the Mirror CD first. I like her music when I’m thinking, but when I’m actually working, sound bothers me so I don’t play music.
It was a good day. We even had a television crew come shoot the competition which was then aired on The Computer Chronicles, a long running PBS program that covered the computing industry over the years. I watched the show in the 80’s and never thought I’d ever appear on it. This was one of two appearances I’d make. In the other one, I actually sat in the studio for an interview with Stewart Cheifet, the host I’d been watching for 15 or so years.
If you just watched the embedded video, you got to hear my primary mantra of web design. A great website is one that works well for it’s intended audience and does so with elegance and style.
It’s amazing to me how many web developers don’t understand this simple concept. I encounter far too many websites in which the users haven’t been taken into consideration. Everyone’s so focused on things like search engine optimization, and in your face marketing that the people who actually use the websites are getting bad experiences and are not finding the information they want.
This is particularly true of the sites that are most important to the things we do. Just this week I had an issue with my insurance company’s website when I needed a prescription refill. I’d bet that the majority of people coming to their website are existing customers. The site’s front page is instead all about marketing. So, they have two, count them, two, different logins depending on what you want to do. It’s a usability nightmare and when I called, the rep I spoke with couldn’t find the prescription refill page either.
Modern web developers need to stop listening to all the marketing speak and start building for their audiences.
So, did we succeed in building for our audiences? The east coast team did an amazing job for theirs. Our west coast team, had a great site too, but poor leadership. If I had been a judge, I would called the contest the same way. The people working on it though? Amazing.
As I said, I am not a leader of people. I am not a manager. I don’t work well with others, and I didn’t build websites for clients.
It’s possible that no one remembers the one sticking point that still bothers me today. My mind is funny that way. I remember events that made me feel stupid. Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. I had one of those moments during the judging. I’m not going to detail it, I take full responsibility for it. It boiled down to my not providing enough information to one of my team members, and something being not quite right. Ours just didn’t work as well for its intended audience.
But enough of that.
While I didn’t fit the role, everyone there had a good time. Strangely, I don’t remember the awards ceremony or much else of the day other than trying to leave the show with my computer.
Our little group was exiting the show and were stopped by security about carrying a computer out of the exhibition. I didn’t handle being stopped very well, as it was my computer, but I could certainly see the concern.
Kirsten, who doesn’t remember this, smoothed things over and we were able to leave with my computer and other equipment.
Overall it was a great event. Show attendees got to watch well known developers working on a site for charity with an 8 hour time limit. Two charities got good websites out of it, created by a team of talented designers who probably cost an arm and a leg to hire as a team.
If I’m ever asked again, though, I’m going to insist on being a judge.