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Cognition

Process

How to succeed (and sometimes fail).

We’ve written 94 blog posts about Process. View all topics »

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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?!

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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?

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. Illustration by Yesenia Perez-Cruz

    What’s the ROI on Cool?

    Industry creative folks I’m friends with personally and respect professionally have uttered the following to me on multiple occasions:

    “I want to make cool shit.”

    I’ll be honest, I just don’t get it. To be fair, it’s safe to say I don’t get “cool” in general. I routinely dress like I’m headed to a corporate team-building ropes course, and I’m still waiting for Firefly to be picked up for season 2. So maybe it’s no surprise that the quest for cool escapes me. I don’t get the allure of making something cool for the sake of it being cool. Further, I don’t understand how you sell that to clients, or more importantly, why they would pay for it.

  30. My Paperless Trail

    In a previous Cognition post, I shared my experiences of working remotely over the last 5 years. In the last section of that post, I made a quick reference to DEVONthink Pro Office, which I described as a “powerful database tool” that “allows you to easily store, tag, classify, and search for documents.” That is still true and, just as I mentioned in the post, I use DEVONthink Pro Office to store all of my documents, notes, URLs, and other files. As a follow-up, I want to share some more details on how I use DEVONthink Pro Office to organize some of my Happy Cog project documents.

  31. (Someday You’ll Find It) The Client Connection

    Every successful project needs an Awesome Blossom moment: when your relationship with a client enables the project to transcend deadlines and goals to more acutely capture the spirit of creating something great.

    It all starts with finding the humanity in the project and sharing a sense of excitement with your client team members. As they have chosen your company to help build their web experience, the client has placed a great amount of trust in you. Your job, over the length of the engagement, is to solidify: a sound strategy based on the goals of the project; a transparent, trusted, and respectful working relationship with your client contacts; an agile, yet progressive, project process; and an open line of communication that can extend beyond the project.

  32. Bicycle Illustration by Chris Cashdollar

    Not everyone’s a technophile

    6/16/11

    by Mark Huot

    6 Responses

    When you engage Happy Cog in a full scale web redesign, you typically come out of the project with a fully integrated content management system (or CMS). The implementation of a CMS implies that you and your team will have access to a tool that will facilitate updating content across the entire website. The system creates an abstract of the website using simple forms to enable content entry. Completing those forms will generate all the necessary callouts, sidebars, related links, archives, etc. from which your site is built.

  33. The Secret Ingredient

    Variety is a blessing. Here at Happy Cog, each and every design project is radically different. Show me the day when any two client design challenges are exactly the same and I’ll turn in my font library, ergonomic chair, and scribble-filled Field Notes. Retirement at 34? Sounds good. Now, where’s my fishing pole…

  34. The Devil is in The Invoice

    5/12/11

    by Greg Hoy

    51 Responses

    If you run a creative services business and haven’t seen Mike Monteiro’s F*ck You. Pay Me. talk, take 40 minutes and watch it. In his ever-so-subtle style, Mike provides a real world overview of the red flags that result in you not getting paid for your work. A lot of the talk focuses on the importance of having a sound contract and a lawyer’s ear, both of which are crucial. While Mike’s talk hit on the big points, there are also some smaller details that can a make big difference. For example, how you invoice.

  35. The Art of Details

    “Whether the type is set in hard metal by hand, or in softer metal by machine, or in digital form on paper or film, every comma, every parenthesis, every e and in context even every empty space, has style as well as bald symbolic value. Letters are microscopic works of art as well as useful symbols. They mean what they are as well as what they say.”
    — Robert Bringhurst The Elements of Typographic Style

  36. Working Remotely

    The Challenges of Working Remotely

    Last Monday, Happy Cog’s Greg Hoy led a SXSW session about company culture. I wasn’t able to attend SXSW this year, but Leslie Camacho wrote up a detailed summary of the session. Of particular interest to me was the discussion about working remotely.

  37. A Method(ology) to our Madness

    In some circles, the words “waterfall” or “agile” can ignite a spirited discussion about which methodology is better. But is a methodology truly what makes a project successful? I say no. When it comes right down to it, you need to do what works for you, your client, and your project. Learning to adapt the way you work to meet the goals of a project might be tough, but sorting out the details from the start is a formula for success that you and your client can feel good about.

  38. Watch Your Language

    He invoked a sense of dread every Monday and Wednesday from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. At the age of 18, “color theory” wasn’t something I necessarily “got.” Yet the facts were unavoidable. The class was mandatory. All design majors had to take it and endure it. And almost all of us were clueless in the art of discussing design. We were at the mercy of the scariest design professor this side of the Bauhaus, Keith Newhouse.

  39. An Open Letter to 37signals

    Good day to you, Signals!

    Basecamp has greatly enriched our work life. It deftly reduces the incredibly complex noise of a large, busy project with many moving parts into exactly what each of us needs to get our jobs done. It has allowed us to isolate and document critical conversations, and therefore collaborate with our clients and each other more effectively. Smooth integration with e-mail makes it possible to respond at the speed of thought. And the recent integration of accounts makes hopping between the many different Basecamps in the Happy Cog universe a breeze.

  40. Accounting for Taste

    Perhaps you’ve stood in line at Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream and said,

    “What flavor of ice cream do I want today?”

    You’ve probably all wished, as I have, that you could have a dozen flavors at once. Thankfully, someone, possibly Messrs. Ben & Jerry, invented that tiny ice cream spoon. Sample just a taste to see if that flavor suits your mood.

  41. Wish Upon a ★

    The year 2010 was a wild one for the web. It saw the release of the iPad and all of the subsequent great ideas and discussion about flexible design approaches. HTML was cool again (the cinco!). Twitter got a major overhaul and Facebook got between 35 and 268 small facelifts. It was as if millions of bookmarks cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced when rumor had it delicio.us was disappeari.ng. In fact, someone apparently took the web’s pulse and pronounced it DOA!

  42. Happy-Libs: We’re All In It Together

    12/16/10

    by Jenn Lukas

    23 Responses

    No matter what field we specialize in, each of us faces common day-to-day responsibilities, tasks, and expectations of awesomeness at our jobs. Sometimes we might assume that people in different roles don’t face the same challenges; however, when we break it down to the basics, it might surprise us how much we all have in common. See for yourself!

  43. Will you be mine?

    The Beginning of a Relationship

    At Happy Cog, I am responsible for the bulk of our sales efforts along with ensuring that our ongoing client relationships are positive. The early days of the professional relationship are not unlike the very early stages of courtship and dating. If there’s a connection to be made, its foundation is built on listening and sharing, which are sincere efforts for us to understand and help each other.

  44. The Mind of DeRuchie

    The Magic Number

    At the age of three I decided that three was the best number. This was based on sound science: my toddler-brain resolved that being 3 was the best age. This infatuation has stuck around for years, and now taken root in my design methodology. Ever since my first creative director demanded three different concepts, I’ve always subscribed to the Rule of Three (3): it’s my de facto way to structure process and unveil work to clients. Want Happy Cog to design your website? You’ll probably get three different solutions to choose from.

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