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Cognition

Process

How to succeed (and sometimes fail).

We’ve written 66 blog posts about Process. View all topics »

  1. Avoiding #RWD Limbo

    Almost four years ago, I wrote a Cognition post about my Rule of Threes. In it, I explained that pushing a design effort far enough often resulted in stronger, better-conceived, and more thoroughly vetted solutions. If you didn’t read the article, let me give you a quick recap:

    At the conclusion of the information architecture phase, multiple designers worked in unison to evolve three unique design concepts. Each effort was aimed at different, but agreed upon goals. By varying art direction, user-interface interpretation, and content prioritization, the Rule stressed designing a “range” of static mock-up solutions to present to a client. Whichever concept garnered the most attention became the “base model” that was iterated on and drove the overall look and feel moving forward.

  2. Fear and Fruitful Projects

    Off the top of my head, I can tell you that I’m afraid of flying, public speaking, and savory foods that contain hidden fruit. I’m also afraid of starting a new project. But, I dive into new projects just like I risk biting into mango every time I go for the summer roll, because I know that fear of the unknown isn’t a bad thing.

    Fear is a natural reaction to the unknown, but as a society, we don’t really like to talk about it. Not many people will openly admit they’re afraid, because, well, it’s uncomfortable. Admitting your fears makes you vulnerable. It also makes you human. When it comes to the world of digital projects, admitting fear is sometimes likened to admitting defeat. It’s not. It’s a normal reaction to the various unknowns that exist at the start of a project.

  3. Cognition Roundtable

    We’re back with another Cognition Roundtable—a casual conversation about process and the web industry recorded by Happy Cog folks. This time, CMO Greg Storey leads a discussion with designer Sophie Shepherd, developer Brandon Rosage, and VP of Technology Ryan Irelan about how and why we’ve started experimenting with a more development-focused project process. In under a half hour, they cover topics like:

  4. A Healthy and Balanced Website

    Do you ever overcompensate? Maybe you’ve gone on an “unplugged vacation” to combat device addiction or embarked on a juice cleanse after an indulgent weekend. I’ve been there often.

    I’ll spare you the details of my “10-Day Sugar Detox,” but I can share a little about how I’ve overcompensated in my design work. You see, my early designs were chock-full of inconsistencies—every style I created had a unique embellishment. One day, I became fearful that I had become one of “those clueless designers” that frustrated developers write scathing articles about.

  5. The Scoop on Our Benjerry.com Style Guide

    The web has been all about style guides lately. Everyone from the BBC to Code for America to Yelp released their guides to the public, and style-guide-automating tools like KSS and Hologram are becoming increasingly popular. At Happy Cog, we’ve been making our clients’ style guides more interactive. Our newer style guides go beyond documenting the design systems we’ve established; they take advantage of their living in the browser to dynamically show how a system’s pieces are built, how it responds at different viewport sizes, and how users can interact with those pieces.

    For the recently launched Ben & Jerry’s website redesign, we created one of these “interactive style guides.” It covers everything related to building out and maintaining the new website: design components, page layouts, and even content creation. I chatted with a few of the Cogs responsible for the Ben & Jerry’s style guide about how it came together.

  6. You Might Need jQuery

    2/27/14

    by Cat Farman

    0 Responses

    jQuery: Maybe you’ve heard of it. If not, may I welcome you to the internet and introduce you to some cool websites? jQuery is a hugely popular JavaScript library that gives you an API to manipulate DOM elements easily, handle events, AJAX your content, and create all the other cool features that make the web go ‘round. The scale of jQuery’s popularity is incredible; it’s used on over 80% of the most trafficked websites, and its CDN serves up over 500 million files a day.

  7. Audio: Cognition Roundtable

    Pop on your headphones (or why not be that coworker who “accidentally” plays over your office’s sound system). Welcome to the first installation of Cognition Roundtable, where we have a casual conversation with Happy Cog folks.

    In this 24-minute session, our VPs of Project Management, Design, and Technology sit down to discuss changes we made to our process in 2013 and how we’re going to apply what we learned to make improvements in the new year. During our conversation, we discuss how adding HTML wireframes to our arsenal has helped us illustrate responsive behavior and how more modular design systems, accompanied by the right documentation, are better future-proofing our work. Changes like these have fostered a stronger partnership between our own designers and developers, and they’ve enabled us to collaborate more effectively with our clients.

  8. Switch Programming

    1/23/14

    by Mark Huot

    0 Responses

    There are countless sayings about fresh perspective: “A little distance will give you a whole new perspective,” “You need to step away for a while,” etc. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where that’s not always possible—or practical. I have a very hard time getting up and walking away from my computer when I’m in the middle of a problem. My mind wants to sit and work right through it, no matter how long it takes.

    Luckily, I work at a company that encourages collaborative problem solving. Someone always walks by my desk, hears my mutter, and asks me what’s up. Typically, explaining the issue is enough to help solve it (or at least put me on the correct track).

  9. Do it once. Do it right.

    I am knee-deep in my first home renovation. My latest project was to replace all of the trim—around the doors, floors, and windows—which, while labor intensive, sounded to me like a simple enough project. After ripping out the old stuff, I found that my seemingly well-installed floors were anything but. The floor was inches away from the wall, and none of our doorjambs were actually connected to anything. I thought I had one big job ahead of me, but it turned out I had three. Whoever did the work the first time took the easy route, leaving me with extra work.

  10. Coding is Believing

    There’s something that’s hard for some of us web designers to just flat out admit: we stubbornly hate to code. I’m a designer, dammit. I live and breathe Creative Suite. Give me Photoshop or give me death. My former coding knowledge included two things: what a div is, and how to stylize my MySpace page (circa 2004).

    And without even realizing it, my attitude has changed, seemingly overnight.

    Within the past month, I have learned to build responsive, HTML wireframes using Foundation and Compass. The initial setup was enough to make me want to run away and join the circus. With the added confusion at first, it seemed like everything broke if I merely looked at my code the wrong way. But, with patience, coaching, and helpful documentation, it soon clicked—and with only a few tears shed along the way.

  11. Doing It Our Way

    11/21/13

    by Greg Hoy

    0 Responses

    Ever since Jeffrey Zeldman founded Happy Cog in 1999, educating our industry has been a cornerstone of the company. Taking Your Talent to the Web, Designing With Web Standards, and A List Apart started this heritage, and over the years, Jeffrey has continued it with An Event Apart and the A Book Apart series. Happy Cog practitioners have built upon this foundation by teaching, speaking, and writing about web design.

  12. Why We Prototype

    Making a website is more complicated than it used to be. We have to work around unanswerable questions, like at what dimensions the site will be viewed or how many pages it will have. As websites evolve and their list of variables and technical requirements grow, they become harder to define. Static wireframes and site maps can’t always capture this necessary level of detail without mountains of paper or endless annotations. Enter—stage left, waving like Miss America—the HTML prototype.

  13. Crossing the Threshold

    We’ve added a few new faces here at Happy Cog, and though I just recently celebrated my four-month Coggiversary, our rapid growth has me feeling a bit like a veteran rookie. Working without the “this is my first job!” crutch can be terrifying. So, I can’t help but wonder: Where’s the advice for us post-post-grads?

    There’s a slew of great industry articles aimed to help concerned college students or recent grads with how to “land that first big job” or “get your foot in the door,” but what happens once you’re already inside? Luckily, you are more prepared and confident this time around, and can apply the experience you’ve gained over the past few years.

  14. Release the Devs

    “At Happy Cog, process is not sacred.”

    I wrote that in my very first Cognition article way way back in 2011. Everything at Happy Cog is changing as we speak. Next week, our Philly location moves to a shiny new office. We’ve added lots of new hires, but our passion for process remains consistent. We’re constantly revisiting the best way to do things. Our business and the technologies that support it move at a lightning pace. To remain competitive and effective, our process evolves in tandem.

  15. Getting Real About Self-Confidence

    When I was a rookie designer, self-doubt ruled my life.

    On a typical day, harsh criticisms like: “You’re a terrible designer! So and so asks way better questions than you do. You’re using four button styles, and your subnav looks like a pack of hot dogs.” consumed my thoughts.

    Many people don’t like to admit their lack of confidence because it is perceived as weak. I’m four years into my career now, and I’m still working on taming that nagging voice inside my head. Luckily, I’ve learned that confidence is a skill, just like typography and CSS. It requires practice, time, and discipline.

  16. Sweat the Small Stuff

    Time and time again, we’re told “don’t sweat the small stuff” and focus on the things that really matter. Typically, we hear this when we’re obsessing over a pixel here and a pixel there instead of concentrating on the direction and concept first. Most of the time, this makes sense and is sage advice—except for when it isn’t. At some point in every project, you have to focus on the minutia and work through the small stuff. For me, this typically comes in the implementation phase (and that’s okay).

  17. Better Stakeholder Interviews

    Remember the childhood game of “Telephone”? One person whispers a message into the ear of their friend, and that action is repeated until everyone in attendance has heard and relayed the statement. The last person blurts out to the group what they heard, and, usually, laughter ensues.

    Everyone understands why this happens. Translation and less-than-pristine reinterpretation damage the fidelity of the message. There is no copy-and-paste equivalent for verbal storytelling. A photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of an image will always render that image indistinguishable from the original.

  18. Quick, grab a pencil and paper!

    If I had a nickel for every time someone has asked me, “what is your favorite tool for responsive web design,” I would have enough nickels to buy a cup of coffee… in 1941. I’ve realized, collecting nickels is a terrible way to get rich, so I’ll give you the answer for free. My favorite tool for any design project is: pencil and paper.

  19. The Beauty of the Blank Slate

    You dev? If so, ever popped open a fresh PSD and thought to yourself, “Oh man, I can’t WAIT to get this party started”? I have, and I do, with each new project. As a front-end developer, that specific, exciting moment is my fresh start.

  20. Making Front-end Development a Team Sport

    “All code in any code-base should look like a single person typed it, no matter how many people contributed,” is one of the many ideas behind documents such as Rick Waldon’s Idiomatic JS and Nicolas Gallagher’s Idiomatic CSS.

  21. One Size Fits None

    Who doesn’t love to talk about process? Every week, it seems, someone has discovered “the new way to work that everyone should be doing.” While I love a healthy process debate, I find discussions that promote a one-size-fits-all design approach problematic.

  22. Invisible or Inspired?

    While the rest of our coworkers are creating design and code, we PMs focus on the intangibles. Deadlines, documentation, resourcing—it’s not exactly sexy. When a website launches, the first reactions you hear aren’t “Amazing site—must have had a great PM.” PMs are often the last to get the glory and the first ones to get knocked down when something goes wrong. It can be easy to feel like Mr. Cellophane if you don’t have the right perspective.

  23. Defeating Busy

    We’re all busy at work. It’s a “good thing,” right? Well, it is, unless your to-do list is a mile long, you’re always stressed out, and you don’t know where to start. You see, there is an art to being busy, and it’s not easy to master. You have to stick to your obligations, do a good job, and enjoy yourself while working. Oh, and you totally need to protect your time off.

  24. The Design Cocoon

    Website redesign projects are not for the faint of heart. The path is filled with dangerous pitfalls and scary things—but also great wonders. Critical junctures in a project’s timeline can slow or even possibly derail. I’ve worked on small but smart ways to improve these periods from being abrupt stops and starts to being more seamless transitions.

  25. Sketching a Story Arc

    Every project at Happy Cog starts with a kickoff meeting where our project team gets together with our client partners to meet, discuss, and collaborate on ideas for their project. We moderate a variety of exercises, surveys, workshops, and discussions. One of our favorites is the “Design Studio”—where we ask the team to sketch solutions to design problems for its redesigned site.

  26. Re-cognition

    As we near the end of December, it’s pretty natural to begin to reflect on the past year. Cognition is the place where we share new processes and create a dialogue around new ideas. In the spirit of reflection and end-of-year lists, here are the top five trafficked Cognition posts of 2012 and some parting thoughts from an alternate point of view.

  27. Times, They Are A-changin’

    The process of making a website used to be like an assembly line. It was a series of hand-offs with each team member contributing his/her part before giving it up to the next person. Like a game of telephone, the same content was passed from person to person, and, at each step, it took a slightly new form. What started as a glimmer in a client’s eye became a sitemap, then a wireframe, then a Photoshop file, and eventually it became code that went to live in its final resting place, the browser.

  28. All Systems Are Go!(ing to Come Apart)

    Bless her soul, Bessie stunk at jigsaw puzzles. She seemed less interested in recreating the dissected bucolic scene she’d purchased at Rose’s pharmacy decades ago than she was in hurriedly rearranging and redefining the jumbled mess splashed onto the modest kitchen table in front of her. There was no right way, just her way—and the multiple arrangements that lay ahead were every bit as valid to her as the ordered state its designer printed on the box. She just can’t see well, I figured. I never asked.

  29. Anatomy of an Illustration

    Time flies by. Cognition recently crossed its one-hundred-article threshold. While there is nothing particularly newsworthy about this milestone, the interesting fact is that numerous hands cooperate each week to birth a new post. One unique part of this behind-the-scenes magic is the weekly pairing of our author with an in-house illustrator. Editorial illustration, when done well, helps to bring the essence of the article to life via a single, compelling image.

  30. DIY Process

    “Agile” is one of our industry’s favorite buzzwords. Everyone’s doing it! If you’re working Waterfall, you are so 2009. I understand why people love this buzzword— the name alone sounds like something we should be using in the web industry, because it seems to mean we’re working faster. You may be working faster with an altered Waterfall process, but if you’re a web development agency working with clients, chances are you’ve altered Agile to work for you. I am no Agilista, but if you’re not using true Agile, please stop calling it that.

  31. Total Design

    In the 1960s and 70s Ajax, a Dutch soccer team, captivated people with long stringy hair, scruffy sideburns, and a legendary tactical system known as ‘Total Football.’ Don’t worry, non-sports-loving nerds, I’ll get to my point soon. What was remarkable about Total Football was the ability of everyone on the team to change position and tactics with fluidity and speed. Anyone, it was thought, could play anywhere on the pitch. Attackers converted to defenders. Defenders converted to attackers. Back and forth in the blink of an eye.

  32. The Four Stages of Giving Up Photoshop

    On one of my first projects at Happy Cog, my coworker, Kevin, suggested that we experiment with how we create responsive layouts of a site redesign. Seemed reasonable enough, until I heard him say, “and we’re going to use Keynote.” Say whaaat?!

  33. The Best Email in the World

    The Best Email in the World is the one that needs your attention. On any given day, the rules or definition of what that email is will change. Today, it’s an email from my car salesman with all of the numbers related to the lease buyout I’m about to do. Tomorrow, it might be an email from my wife with some photos she took of our daughter playing in her sandbox while I am away visiting a Happy Cog client.

  34. It’s Tech

    7/12/12

    by Mark Huot

    2 Responses

    If you’ve worked in the theater, you’re probably familiar with the term “tech week.” It’s that magical time when an entire production comes together in a matter of days. It’s a whirlwind week that culminates in a big opening night performance.

  35. A Mind Forever Designing

    The conference room. It’s a silly name, really, because these rooms never host a conference. It is a room for meetings, a place to duck into for a private conversation or an ad hoc boxing bout between the CFO and the top sales guy.

  36. Always

    For this week’s installment of Cognition, I thought I’d share some random thoughts as the president of a small company. Some I heed, some I need to heed.

  37. Rut-Roh! I’m in a Design Rut

    Last week, while plugging away in Photoshop—tunes blazing through my headphones, pixels flying from my fingertips—it hit me. I was in a design rut. I’d grown complacent with my pagination arrows. Countless times, for vastly different sites, I’d relied on the DIN Bold arrow character. It’s a sturdy, hard-angled, utilitarian arrow, perfectly suitable if I quit web design to design highway signs in Germany, but not the quick-fix solution for all my arrow needs.

  38. Clippers

    I recently went on the hunt for a new barber closer to home. You see, I’ve been fortunate enough to have my hair cut for the last six years from the same barber every time, a friendly man named Joe. Over that time Joe and I have gotten to know each other quite well. We both have dacshunds, we both enjoy the theater, and we both know exactly how I like my hair cut.

  39. Dear Branding Agencies,

    You’ve crafted the “big picture” view. The client loves the new branding direction; they can practically smell the future you’ve unveiled for them. Now it’s time to get to work. That means you likely have a bazillion different projects in play to bring this new brand to life: identity packages, brochures of all shapes and sizes, tickets, annual reports, bus wraps, on-site signage, and, yes, the website.

  40. Please Put Down the Device & Let’s Just Talk

    Warning, if you are reading this in a meeting STOP! Put down your mobile device or laptop and slowly lift your head and eyes upward until you see (and hear) the person speaking!

  41. More or LESS?

    I love writing CSS. I really do. I love spinning straw into gold, rescuing HTML elements from browser default styles, curving corners, softening colors, and cushioning containers. I love abstracting complex design systems into powerful classes and efficient declarations while minding the cascade and the rules of inheritance and specificity. I see a site’s visual design as one giant puzzle, patiently waiting to be analyzed, broken down into component parts, and built back up again. I easily spend 70% of my time at Happy Cog developing the presentation layer, so I’ve had my eye on the hot newness that is the Sass / LESS / CSS preprocessor movement for a little while now.

  42. Streamlining Internal Communications

    Three and a half years ago, I left the world of traditional print marketing and entered the world of the Interwebs. My old company said “No!” to video chatting or instant messaging in the office and worried more about proper email subject line etiquette than finding the best ways to communicate with each other. Change was in store as I entered the land of Instant Messaging (IM) and Skype, Basecamp and Campfire, but was it a change for the better or do more lines of communication further complicate things? I found myself being asked a similar question by a couple folks at a Dribbble holiday meet up this past December. I was asked how I manage projects, how we communicate as a team, and more specifically, how I manage communications in a virtual environment.

  43. Stepping Out of Line

    Years ago, I was presenting comps on a scheduled call to a key stakeholder of my then-agency’s flagship account. It was my first call with him in months. He was unfortunately on vacation and without his laptop. That should have been the end of it.

    Instead, he asked me to paint him a picture.

  44. Q&A: Design Through the Lens of a Project Manager

    Hello. Thanks for coming back to part two of the conversation between Brett Harned and me. Please help yourself to some tea, a pastry, and a comfortable chair. Brett and I have worked together for nearly 5 years, so we thought it would be interesting to discuss the collaboration between our two disciplines that occurs somewhat invisibly. Working with a project manager allows designers to focus on being creative and doing good work. I’m loathe to think of going back to working without one.

    I hope you enjoy the second part of the conversation. We’d both love to hear how your process has changed working in collaboration with other disciplines in your organization.

  45. Q&A: Project Management Through the Lens of a Designer

    As a project manager, I’m constantly wondering how I can better support my team. I’ve always been a believer in the fact that project managers must have the ability to build relationships to understand how their team members work. It’s never as easy as “hand over the wireframe to the designer and make it pretty.” If you’re a project manager and you think that way, you’ve got a lot to learn. I urge you to sit down with your coworkers and chat about what works for them. That’s exactly what I’ve done for my article this week: a chat with Kevin Sharon, a Happy Cog Creative Director, to view project management through the eyes of a designer.

  46. Writing to remember

    Writing to Remember

    10/27/11

    by Ryan Irelan

    7 Responses

    For the last 5 ½ years, I’ve worked from home. So except for the occasional on-site meeting, almost all of my meetings have been done on the phone. If you were a fly on the wall in my office during a phone meeting, you’d see me with my head down scribbling notes while listening, scribbling notes while talking, and even asking for a moment so I can take more notes.

    During in-person meetings, I also try to take as many notes as possible. I often scribble notes while others are talking, and if I’m the one doing the talking—or if the discussion is a fast paced back-and-forth—I try to jot down as much as I can during breaks in the conversation. Sometimes I’m able to pen a few keywords in the middle of conversations that I can go back to later (during a break, perhaps) and elaborate on so as to not forget the most salient information.

  47. Follow That Requirement

    If you’ve taken part in any sort of web project, you have hopefully defined, referenced, and/or tested a requirement. You’ve also felt the impact of requirements gathering on your work. A good requirement can make your job easier by taking the mystery out of what is needed. A bad requirement can lead to more work, or even wasted effort. I explored how to mine for detailed requirements in Questioning (the) Authority. In the year since I wrote that article, I’ve wrestled with how to manage the natural evolution of business requirements to functional requirements as you progress through a project. How do you create traceable requirements?

  48. Flattery is overrated

    My business partner Jeffrey Zeldman once said, “Don’t worry about people stealing your design work. Worry about the day they stop.” I smell what he’s cooking, but on a practical level, people who build websites should start taking the protection of their work seriously and stop complaining on Twitter when they find out someone ripped them off. Myself included.

  49. Make Sweet Systems Sweeter

    At Happy Cog, process is not sacred. We respect process, but we are constantly looking to improve the way our projects run; especially with regard to transitioning between project phases. Last week, Yesenia Perez-Cruz described how she crafts sweet systems and digital cupcakes. This week, I’m going to show you how we turn those cupcakes into a well-built tower of yummy cupcakery.

  50. Sweet Systems

    To most, it’s just the sugary centerpiece to a child’s birthday party—but to me, the Cupcake Cake is systematic genius. A balance of consistency and variety, each cupcake is decorated with the same delicate piping technique, from a carefully selected color palette, with no drop of icing wasted. The result is surprising, delightful, and the highlight of the party.

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