The Halloween Box
Every October, my family pulls out what we call “The Halloween Box”. We actually have two of these boxes, each of them packed to the brim with costumes and accessories from previous Halloweens. This is where the planning for that year’s costumes begins as we look to see what pieces we can reuse and repurpose.
As an example - in our Halloween Box is a black, hooded cloak that I purchased a number of years ago. That one piece has been a part of costumes for the Phantom of the Opera, a steampunk gentleman, Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Future, a dark Jedi, a D&D-style rogue, and Charon the Ferryman. Yeah, that cloak was a pretty good investment on my part!
Of Costumes and Websites
Being able to remix and reuse parts is something that is as helpful in web design as it is in Halloween costuming. My Halloween Boxes allow me to throw together an outfit pretty quickly and cheaply, since I already own so many pieces. With websites, having already established solutions for common website needs can save significant development time. For instance, if you need to develop navigation for a responsive website, having a menu that you’ve used in the past, and can repurpose for a new project, is hugely helpful.
The problem with reusing costume parts is that, after a while, all the resulting costumes begin to look the same. In terms of websites, this same issue of “design sameness” can also become a problem. Additionally, if you always rely the same set of web design solutions, you run the risk that you will not embrace new techniques or learn new approaches. With an industry that changes as quickly and as dramatically as website design, this complacency and dependence on existing solutions can quickly become a liability.
Over the past few years, I have spent less and less time actually developing websites. Instead, more of my focus has been on managing a team at Envision or teaching new web professionals through my classes at URI and my writings on About.com.
While I love the direction my career has taken, I also have to admit that the time away from actual front-end development has left me feeling like I am falling behind. This was especially true when I attended the An Event Apart web conference earlier this year. Sitting in that conference, I realized that many of the topics that presenters were talking about were things I had not yet found time to work with because I was not in front of any projects where I could do so. After so many years of being very proactive in terms of my continuing web design exploration, this realization was tough for me to admit. I knew that I need to do something to change this situation and give myself time to experiment.
My Web Design Challenge
In late 2015, I decided that Envision needed a new website. I worked on the new design into the start of this year, but other projects kept me from starting to actually build out the new site. This ended up being a blessing in disguise, because by the time I decided to start that development, I had come up with the idea to use the project as a web design challenge for myself.
For this the new Envision website, I wanted to work with as many new web design techniques and technologies as possible. As I prepared to begin this project, I created a list of what I hoped to work with along the way. Some of the items on that list were:
- CSS columns
- CSS Grid Layout
- SVG images
- Improved site performance
- Better responsive image techniques
- A better responsive navigation menu
- ExpressionEngine version 3
- Lazy loading
My goal was not to simply use these techniques for the sake of using then alone, but rather to rethink my normal ways of doing things and to instead see if any of these solutions would be a better fit. Instead of simply going with what had worked for me in the past, at every step of the way during this project, I choose to question my approach and experiment as much as possible.
In the end, this entire experience was definitely time consuming, but it was also fun and incredibly helpful for me. I really enjoyed working with new techniques and other than CSS Grid (which isn’t supported enough in browsers to be able to use in production anyway), I was able to find intelligent uses for everything else on my “to do” list. A number of those techniques became things that I later used in another recent website project (this one a personal project for my wife and I focusing on our travels). I have also shared the techniques I experimented with during this project with others at Envision so they can use these advances in their work. Finally, these new approaches to web design/development have even made their way into my lessons at URI. Basically, by pushing myself to question my tried and true methods and by learning new things, I have opened up all aspects of my career to the benefits of this new knowledge.
Bringing this article back around to Halloween. This year my costume is the Vendor of Skulls from Ray Bradbury’s classic tale, “The Halloween Tree”. It is essentially a Mexican sugar skull, which is not terribly unique, but it is for me because it is the first costume I have worn in years that does not uses anything from my Halloween Box (OK, it did actually use a pair of skeleton-print gloves I had in the box, but that is all!). I went out an purchased all new pieces for this year’s character, which means that I will not only have a fresh look for this year’s Halloween festivities at Envision, but I will also have lots of new additions for that Halloween Box. Those additions will be of great use in Halloween’s to come, just as my new web design knowledge is already paying off big dividends in how I approach all things web design.
You can read more about the latest Envision website right here.