Tuesday, February 28, 2012

5 Things Web Designers & Developers can learn5 Things Web Designers & Developers can learn

A quick warning, this post contains spoilers of both the Walking Dead graphic novels, and the recent TV series. If you don’t want to hear about what happens in either, I suggest you give this article a miss for now.
Like a lot of people, I’ve recently watched the new TV show the Walking Dead, shown on AMC in the US and on FX here in the UK. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the mini-series and can’t wait for the new season to start later this year. Being an unpatient sole, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to Rick and co, and headed online to order the graphic novel from which the TV series is (loosely at times), based upon.
Here are some great examples of how you can improve your web design, development and communication skills by taking a page from the Walking Dead, because we’re almost in a post-apocalyptic hell already, right?

1. Stick together & don’t wander off by yourself

Going it alone can be dangerous.
If there’s one rule you should always follow in the Walking Dead, it’s to always stay close to someone. Wandering off on your own will only increase the chances of you a) getting lost, b) being eaten or c) shooting your dads best friend in the face.
The same applies to the web. With the introduction of Twitter, the community has never been so active and easy to reach. Twitter is an amazing source of knowledge, coupled with people kind enough to help complete strangers with their web-related problems. It can even get you a job, much like it did Jacob Cass of Just Creative Design.
It’s never been easier to get out there and make contacts with people big and small, novice and expert. So next time you’re having a problem with something, whether it’s who to use for business accounting, or what a particular font is, don’t wander off by yourself, take advantage of the people around you.

2. Choose your weapons wisely

Try bringing a hammer to a gun fight.
If sticking together is the most important thing on post-apocalyptic earth, then being equipped with, and choosing the correct weapon comes a close second. In the Walking Dead, the difference between using a hammer in a fight, as opposed to a shotgun, can mean the difference between life and death. The same rules apply in the pre-apocalyptic world of the web.


Sometimes flash can be a real beast.
Whilst I’m not going to turn this post into a flash debate, the obvious choices that designers and developers have in front of them are often the most interesting and discussed. Flash has perhaps the number one topic in the last 6 to 12 months, especially after Apple made their feelings about flash very public in April last year.
Although flash has been around since the early days of the web, and it’s blamed for a lot of problems (you can read some apple-orientated ones by clicking here) but it’s certainly still useful for a lot of web-related content. Flash is still by far the number one method of animated advertising on the web, allowing the vendor to create interactive animated adverts that sit right on the page. The level of interactivity is only replicated by HTML5, which is still in its infancy in regards to compatibility.

Photoshop & Fireworks

Ask a lot of designers who use Photoshop about Fireworks, and they’ll look at you as if you’re crazy for even mentioning it in their presence. However, having used Fireworks for a number of years alongside Photoshop, I can say with confidence that although certainly inferior in terms of options and scope, Fireworks is a fantastic piece of software that’s ideal for wireframing (which we’ll speak about later) and the creation of animated gifs quickly and easily.
Whilst Photoshop is undoubtedly the way forward for the majority of web designers, I believe Adobe is aiming to carve out its own niche for Fireworks and clearly define the roles that the two pieces of software have.

3. Have a backup plan

Never back yourself into a corner.
When Rick and the group are safe in the prison from volume 3, they still don’t let their guard down. They always have a backup plan, a way out incase of trouble. While I’m not saying every web designer needs a car outside with a box of grenades underneath, there are certainly precautions he can take to make his life easier incase of any unexpected surprises he or she might face.

a) Back up your work

One time, backing up your work meant burning to multiple discs, or manually uploading it to a web server on your painfully slow connection. These days, there are tons of ways to ensure your work is never more than a couple of clicks away.
Time Machine
Time Machine is a fantastic addition to OS X, and was first seen in Leopard in 2007. Apple recognised the lengths some people had to go to to regularly back up their work, and wanted to help users spend more time actually doing work then backing it up.
After an initial set up, Time Machine recognises your external hard drive, and automatically goes about making date-sensitive backups of your entire machine (or specific parts that your specify). The ease of which you can back up your entire work-flow, has almost revolutionised the way in which people go about ensuring their work is safe.
Online storage
Although the majority of designers and developers have been backing up their work online for years now, the process in which they do so is still one that is relatively time-consuming i.e. preparing folders, checking dates, ensuring versions match etc. The last couple of years has seen some great online alternatives to local storage.
The advantages of online storage is that no matter what happens to your home, your data is always kept safe in a remote location (although I’m not sure that covers a zombie invasion, I’ve yet to read the small print). As well as this secure advantage, some services also run similar functionality to Time Machine, constantly backing up your data without you lifting a finger.

Backup Direct


4. Don’t Rush In

uh oh.
We’ve seen it too often not just in the Walking Dead, but every single Zombie film that’s ever been made, people rushing into things far too quickly. See a parked car that looks like an ideal getaway? Jump straight in, try to start the car and you end up being bitten by a zombie on the back seat that you forget to check. Web designers can get some pretty bad injuries, just from not being careful in the early stages of a project, and jumping headfirst into visuals.
There are some fantastic resources around on wireframing, mood boards and also the best questions to ask clients before a project begins, check some of my favourites out below.


Mockingbird is an online tool that makes it easy for you to create, link together, preview, and share mockups of your website or application.

A Tumblelog by Ivana Jurcic dedicated to wireframing.

Project Methodologies

Project Patterns helps people share the way they approach projects, helping safeguard against any errors along the way.

Project Preparation

14 Questions To Ask Your Clients Before and After a Project.

5. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is

A classic part of the early story, volume 2 to be exact, is when the group happen upon Wiltshire Estates. At first glance, this seems a veritable paradise, with a ton of housing, few zombies and decent enough security. However, as all good zombie stories go, people get eaten.
Web designers and developers are skilled people, with talents that people can utilise to create a whole host of services online. Inexperienced or beginners in the field can be fooled into thinking that any approach by a potential client, promising untold riches, are too good to pass up. It’s important to keep your wits about you, and make sure you don’t get taken advantage of.
There are some fantastic resources around for the inexperienced freelancer / creative:

Freelance Switch

FreelanceSwitch contains some great advice on freelancing, most from experienced writers.

Wake Up Later

Wake Up Later is a website that touches on the subjects of website building, freelancing, blogging, and online entrepreneurship.


FreelanceFolder is a community for freelancers, entrepreneurs, work-at-home business owners, and web-workers.
I also like to keep an eye on John O’Nolan’s website, where he blogs about the everyday occurrences of someone trying to find their feet freelancing. You can read an interview with John that we did earlier, by clicking here.


The world of the Walking Dead is not too far away from the world of a web worker. There are hazards at every turn and the choices you make can make or break projects, so it’s vital that you’re as prepared as possible, and draw on the experience of your colleagues and the community.
So keep your wits about you, it’s a tough world out there.

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