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  • December 18, 2013

Re-cognition 2013

It’s been a memorable year for us at Happy Cog. 2012 was big, but 2013 was even bigger, so we’re taking some time to reflect—both Decorative Illustration in our offices and here on Cognition.

We welcomed 14 new people this year, making Happy Cog the largest group of talented, fun-loving folks it’s ever been. Some highlights from this year: launching websites for AMC Theatres, Black Hills Corporation (and its trio of utility sites), Yale School of Management, Harvard Business School, and Longwood Gardens; working with Iron Chef Jose Garces’ team to create a design system for its restaurant websites—and breaking into an industry we’ve been a fan of for quite some time; working with our friends at MTV on our third O Music Awards site and celebration; and collaborating with talented folks at Crush & Lovely to create a video about our work with Ben & Jerry’s.

On the company front, we moved into a beautiful, new office in the heart of Philadelphia; bonded in Las Vegas at our annual company summit; got to know two hardworking interns; released our course series The Happy Cog Way in partnership with Mijngo; hosted three successful events—Digital PM Summit and two Owner Camps. Additionally, many at Happy Cog were fortunate to speak at, attend, and even organize events like Web Design Day, Artifact Conference, and Converge—with more to put on the calendar for 2014. We also can’t forget the hilarity that ensued by throwing our first Hallowmeme bash. And yes, we also attended a sporting event or three.

On Cognition, our most popular articles share a sense that we can still improve what we do—how we approach our roles, our workload, our medium, our process, and our attitudes. It’s also little surprise that the top articles covered happenings we’ve seen take shape this year, like a budding digital project management community. Here’s a countdown of our top five articles, paired with some new reflections on the lessons we learned this year.

5. “Invisible or Inspired” by Katie High

Brett Harned:
2013: The Year of the Digital Project Manager. It’s about damn time. We’ve seen an influx of quality blogs, podcasts, and even conferences. I like to think that Happy Cog is at the center of this movement. Our Digital PM Summit sold out in 31 days and was an overwhelming success. If there’s anything we learned at that event, it’s that digital PMs are craving more knowledge sharing—just like Katie’s article.

Last year, I wished for project managers to “take a leap and get out there.” I can say with confidence that my wish was granted, and Katie was the first to take the leap with an article that is not only inspiring, but is also full of really helpful nuggets for the digital project manager who is trying to find his or her way. The only thing I would add is that there’s nothing wrong with being an invisible project manager, as long as you’re not completely removed from your work. A good PM shouldn’t ever get in the way of good work, but they should facilitate good process and collaboration.

I’m so happy Katie’s article was a success. I’m even more happy to have her on the team and on the front line of the digital project management community. I’m certain that 2013 was the Year of the DPM, but what is 2014 going to bring? We’re planning a series of DPM Workshops and a second Digital PM Summit, but I can’t wait to see what the rest of the community contributes.

4. “Defeating Busy” by Brett Harned

Dave DeRuchie:
In today’s day and age of information overload, prioritizing tasks is the secret sauce for successful time and task management. The day after Brett’s article was posted, I initiated an informal experiment to figure out the cause of my own busy schedule. I carried a small handheld notepad with me for a couple of business days. I listened attentively in every meeting, phone call, and water-cooler interaction that I had, and I wrote down every action item I was assigned or volunteered to complete.

Three days later, my countless interactions netted 63 tasks—all on top of my laundry list of existing ones. Okay, I’m a victim of my own doing, but I still needed to keep my word and take on all I committed to. To help manage my stress, I tried Brett’s suggestions for “defeating the busy” and found that prioritizing my list of tasks was the secret for managing—and balancing—my workload with life outside of work. Brett’s suggestions helped me find a better way to take control of whatever I have to do. Thanks, Brett!

3. “Maps Should Be Crafted Not Plugged In” by Brandon Rosage

Sam Hernandez:
I remember the old days well, listening to the modem dialing up and thinking, “Shoot, that’s only 21K at best,” hanging up, and betting on a faster connection. The Information Superhighway exploded on the back of the Word Wide Web through Hypertext documents. HTML gave us tools to publish all that information in aggregate lists with links to detail pages, a time-tested format that still drives design today.

Different types of information, however, do better in different contexts, and, let’s face it, most information is cheap and dismissible these days. For location-based data, map-immersive experiences answer a tipping point question that tables and lists cannot: “How does this fit into my life?”

Brandon challenges us to consider the contexts we design for location-based information by demonstrating what’s possible with a case study, a few open source tools, and code samples. The hidden message: A better web won’t build itself; it’s up to us.

2. “One Size Fits None” by Yesenia Perez-Cruz

Michael (MJ) Johnson:
The way some people write you’d think designing for the web was fraught with personal peril. No no no, they say, don’t go that way (Photoshop’s lying in a ditch face-down halfway up the road—saw the body and everything), or that way (nope—waterfall’s all dried up, been like that for years), and my heavens, never ever go back the way you just came (paper wireframes!—mercy child, you’re lucky you made it here at all). No no no. You have to go this way. It’s the only way.

Yesenia calls for more nuance, less dogma. She suggests an adaptable, modular approach, mixing different artifacts and communication methods based on the individual project (and project personnel) needs. “Just because a specific technique may work for one expert,” she notes, “doesn’t mean that it will work for you and your clients.” And whether the soapbox gallery is right or wrong (and they’re probably some combination of both), they tend to miss the broader point Yesenia’s article brings home: Responsive Web Design is more than the flexible presentation layer built on fluid grids and media queries—it’s fundamentally a process philosophy, too.

1. “Good Work Isn’t Enough” by Greg Hoy

Greg Storey:
It’s not surprising that “Good work isn’t enough” exploded; its timeless advice that transcends vocations, industries, and career paths. I believe we’ve all had similar experiences in seeking advice from successful persons and their reply is some variation on “just do good work.” I’ve heard it, you’ve heard it, and, likely, we all have had the same response: That can’t be all there is to success.

There is more, but it’s often falsely assumed that anyone who seeks to “do good work” will also naturally have the right qualities that truly sets them apart—helps to further their career. As it turns out, doing good work is merely satisfactory—the baseline—not the exception. Your work means nothing, hot or not, unless you have the right attitude.

From his vast experience as a manager, and the last eight years as an employer, Greg created a simple, no-bullshit list of what it takes to really succeed. The things you do in addition to “good work.” Want to get ahead in life and at work? Easy peasy. Do good work, follow Hoy’s list, and apply it to your life.

Did we miss any of your favorite posts from this year? We’re looking forward to writing more next year, and you should too. Don’t forget to tweet us with what you’re working on!

Happy Holidays, and we’ll see you in 2014!

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