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  • April 21, 2011

Sustainable, Not Pixel Perfect

Last week, Happy Cog was nominated for two Webby awards for our work with Sustainable design I know some people don’t like awards, but as someone who didn’t grow up in an era when “everyone gets a trophy,” I still think they’re pretty rad. Seriously though, I think of a nomination like this as a recognition of doing great collaborative work with our clients. When I heard about the nominations, I was chatting with one of my coworkers who wondered, “can we really take the credit for this work?” As I typed the words, “shut your stupid face hole,” and considered whether to press enter, I thought about his question for a moment and the life of our work after we hand it over to our clients.

We were approached by Zappos (read our case study) to reskin their “Zeta” site (basically a living wireframe). Our brief was to redesign the pages without bringing new thinking to the structure of the page, functionality, or interaction. Our job was to interpret what they had already built and to align the design with the Zappos brand; it is something they had struggled to do for several years.

Here’s the rub: after we designed our pages and did the hand off with the client, we had to let go of that work. Any pages or modules that we designed were going to roll-out over the course of about a year. So, for this project to be a success, we needed a process that allowed us to give the work and our design thinking over to the client and let them take it and bring it to life. The work we delivered would evolve from our “pixel perfect” Photoshop files to their living, breathing site.

The team at Zappos did an incredible job implementing the work we did together. The attention that they paid to the details of what we designed is something that makes me very thankful that we have clients who care as much as we do. If you’ve read Ryan Irelan’s recent article here about what he called “sustainable development,” then you’ll appreciate why I like to refer to much of the design work we do as “Sustainable Design.” In order to allow the team at Zappos to take our work and sustain its evolution, we created a style manual to which they could refer. The document not only mapped out how we styled typography and photographs, but also included our thinking of how they could approach changes to everything from their shopping cart to how products are shared in the future.

In our process, we plan and design for change and evolution and, luckily for us, we work for really smart clients who want to absorb this sustainable approach into their process. So, should we get an award for this? I know what my Mom and Dad would say. The real question is, as my coworker asked, “can we take credit for this work?”

After choosing my words with a bit more careful thought, I replied, “absolutely, we can take credit.” We can take credit for listening to our clients, marrying their goals with our best practices, and developing an approach that not only helps in the short term, but sustains them over the long term. What makes me most proud in my work often doesn’t show up in Photoshop or in our portfolio. What makes me proud is the conversations, thinking, and execution with our clients that brings out the best in both of us.

What sort of sustainable approaches do you bring to your design projects?

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