Simon Meek Digital design for humans

  1. What does “professional” mean to you?

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    Another in an occasional series of posting things I wrote for the Elated newsletter.


    I’m beginning to suspect that “being professional” is a movable feast, and means very different things to different people. For some in management, it seems to mean being neat and tidy, toeing the company line, keeping your distance and showing “strong leadership”, whatever that is. Equally, for some designers, it seems to mean practically nothing, beyond owning a MacBook Pro.

    I’ve often felt at odds with both of these extremes, but there is a lot to be learned from basic common courtesy, for example turning up when you say you will, and being nice. This kind of fundamental behaviour should be obvious, and will get you a long way. No-one wants to work with someone unreliable and unpleasant.

    Here’s what I think being professional means in our industry:

    - Be really good at what you do, and focus on doing great work.

    - Listen to what people are saying, and learn to read between the lines.

    - Be prepared to say “no” to bad ideas, but try to do it nicely. Stand up for the users of the thing you’re making.

    - Learn new stuff, and keep up to date.

    - Do stuff when you say you will. If you have a deadline, hit it.

    - Be pragmatic. Nothing ships as perfect.

    - Be flexible.

    - Take time off. If you’re working every weekend, you’re likely to be churning out rubbish after awhile.

    - Don’t have silly creative tantrums, you’re not an artist. If you think something’s wrong, frame it as a business issue.

    - Try not to swear in meetings til the client does it first.

    - Be nice, and show up on time (it’s worth repeating).


    Here’s what it doesn’t mean to me:

    - Being neat and tidy. Anyone who says otherwise is concentrating on the wrong things. No-one’s meeting the queen here.

    - Your hairstyle? No, I don’t care about that either.

    - Owning a MacBook Pro.

    - Always saying “yes” to the client. Or indeed to colleagues.

    - Your sex, race, sexual orientation or class.

    I’d sum this up as “be nice, be really good and be reliable, and forget the rest”, but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we should try to blend into our organisations, always say yes and keep our heads down at all costs. What does being professional mean to you?

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  2. Keep your mind open, and your chops sharp.

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    An occasional series where I post some thoughts I’ve written wrote for the Elated newsletter

    With Android finally making the kinds of marketshare inroads promised for years, I recently bit the bullet and bought a tester Android phone. The thinking was along the lines of “you wouldn’t not test your site in IE, so why is jt okay to not test on Android?”. So, I went to the Google Play store, and bought a recently-discounted Nexus 4.

    To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. How good could it be for £159 + shipping? The answer, rather pleasingly, is “pretty good actually.” Sure, the hardware design is pretty unexceptional, and some of Android’s interface quirks rather feel like a small child being taught to use After Effects, but this thing is pretty solid, and the screen’s great. My most important apps are all there (Twitter, Runkeeper, Spotify, BBC iPlayer Radio), and the browser’s fine, with the much-vaunted Android “laggyness” yet to rear its ugly head. Plus, the Android browser’s version of the UIPicker mentioned in my SOTM elsewhere in this newsletter is far easier to use, in my opinion.

    I’m now of the opinion that unless you have a lot vested in iOS apps, or particularly want a champagne-coloured phone, you should just buy one of these. It’s fine. Really. And did I mention how much it costs?

    So, I’ve learned that Android is not the horror I feared it was. Will I be switching to it full time? No. I really do have too many iOS apps for that, but if my iPhone fell in the water tomorrow? I’m not sure.

    In a somewhat related matter, buying the Nexus has reminded me of the importance of keeping up to date with new technology in our business. If you simply ignore the new stuff coming out once it’s reached a critical point, and don’t test for it in your designs, you’re really shooting yourself in the foot. This applies equally to new hardware, software, skills, techniques and ideas. You snooze, you lose, in other words, and as I get progressively more aged (I started making sites in around 1996), that’s becoming more resonant than ever.




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  3. The Continuum: The Connected Web of Art, Business and Love

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    So, I wrote an article for called “The Continuum: The Connected Web of Art, Business and Love“. A wonderfully flowery title, and I do worry that the whole thing makes me sound like something of a smug fool, but I at least find it interesting, and hope that others do too.

    It’s essentially about how I see things, both work and play related, and tracks my career (such as it isn’t) through the prism of interconnectedness.

    Read The Continuum: The Connected Web of Art, Business and Love on Elated.

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  4. Whither Apple’s professional software?

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    In defiance of Apple’s overall corporate strategy, I still use a Mac to do actual production work. That means I use a lot of pro-level software, often produced by Apple themselves. It’s becoming apparent though that Apple really doesn’t care too much about this market, in their drive to shift more consumer-oriented iOS devices. I do realise that this is where their future profits and growth probably lie, but with a significant investment in Apple’s software, it’s important to me that it gets updated.

    Let’s look at the software I use on a daily basis.

    Aperture – three years since the last major update

    This is Apple’s supposedly pro photography app, the companion to the consumer-focused iPhoto. It’s nice, but very resource hungry, and could really do with having some rough edges smoothed out. It was first released in 2005. In 2010, it hit version 3, where it currently languishes. No major updates since 2010? The only thing preventing me moving to Lightroom is the appalling idea of having to move my library.

    Logic – four years since the last major update

    The pro counterpart to Garageband, Logic is used by pro musicians the world over. When, you ask, did this last see an update? 2009. I kid you not. Four years with no significant update. The whole digital audio workstation (DAW) market has moved on significantly in this time. Ableton’s Live, especially, has been updated regularly and is now something of a standard, while really, Logic is feeling very old hat.

    iWork – four years since the last major update

    This is the king of elephants in the room. iWork is Apple’s alternative to MS Office, comprising Page, Numbers and Keynote. This version used to be called iWork 09, because of course it was last properly updated then. Apple have since dropped the “09″ part of the moniker, presumably because it’s utterly ashamed at being so tardy with an update. iWork is actually really good software, and I still use it to produce layouts for just about all proposals and other business documentation in preference to the uber-clunky MS Office, but its showing its age.


    For me iWork is where Apple could make the biggest impact. If they allowed you to measure in pixels with better typographic control, they’d have a suite that could be used as a great digital design tool, and with a touch more work on the drawing tools, it could be a rival to Illustrator at the low end of the market.

    Final Cut Pro X (FCP X) – two years since the last major update

    I don’t use FCP X (I use Premiere because it’s part of the Adobe Creative Suite that I subscribe to), but I’m throwing it in because it’s the only piece of pro-level software Apple makes that has seen any love at all in the last three years. That said, it’s coming up to its second birthday in June, with only tiny (albeit important) incremental updates to show for it.

    Maybe Apple feel that for pro software, three or four years is a reasonable gap between updates, but the rest of the pro industry is moving to a more regular cycle, with Adobe on 18-month update cycles, and even Microsoft shifting their business models with Office 365 and yearly updates for Windows. When even they are changing with the times, you know Apple is massively behind the curve.

    So what are they playing at? It’s difficult to feel anything other than that Apple is giving up on the pro market, starving the pro software departments of developers to focus entirely on the iOS side of their business. I can’t help feeling though that one of their strengths is the vertical integration between its pro users (MacBook Pros running Logic and FCP X) and the hordes with iPhones who consume that output. Maybe they feel that this integration doesn’t matter anymore. The fact that they can stop selling Mac Pros in Europe without replacing that model suggests that the pro market is not high on the agenda.

    Unless Apple properly gets behind its own software, and issues a rash of updates this year, I pronounce the pro market dead for them. If that’s the case, they should come clean, end-of-life it all and let us all grieve and move on to pastures new.

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  5. Managing a website? Here’s what you need to know.

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    Managing a website? Here's what you need to know.

    In a new article for Elated, I make several points about what skills you should have if you’re in charge of managing a website. This has been born out of frustration with years of talking people through how to use computers, how to resize an image and how to string a sentence together.

    I suspect it may not make me terribly popular, but take a look anyway, and tell me if you agree!

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  6. Web Design State of the Nation

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    Web Design State of the Nation header

    I wrote a piece over on Elated called “Web Design State of the Nation: One Designer’s Journey“, all about how my workflow and focus has changed over the last 18 months-2 years.

    It covers responsive design, progressive enhancement, mobile and the tools of the job. All these things have changed a great deal for me over the least couple of years. If you’re a bang up to date design whizzkid a lot of this stuff will maybe be old hat to you, but this is an article really aimed at those of us who don’t operate right at the cutting edge, which, I suspect, is quite a lot of people.

    We’ll see, by the volume of cackling youngsters.

    Take a look, anyway.

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  7. 12 months of ideas

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    12 months of ideas

    I have a lot of ideas. Some are, if I’m honest, somewhat far-fetched or desperately impractical. But some I think have legs. I’m never very sure which they are, and mostly, even if they did have promise, I lack the skills to execute them.

    With that in mind, I propose to open up any and all ideas I have for the next twelve months. If anyone out there likes one and can help to do something with it, great. If not, maybe the exercise will help me better formulate these thoughts into something useful.

    The ideas might be small or large, and involve a simple software interface idea, or instead a full business concept. Whatever the scale of the idea, it’ll show up here for public scrutiny and ridicule.


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  8. A Vicinitee Christmas

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    With Christmas just around the corner, my wife and I produced a cute video Christmas message for Estates Today‘s client Vicinitee. Based on my wife’s concept, and Vicinitee’s core strength of software for commercial property, we created a festive gingerbread cityscape.

    The video plays to the idea that Vicinitee create amazing software from raw ingredients.

    Lots of baking, decorating and one cat-related disaster we should draw a veil over later, the finished product is really very sweet:

    There were loads of different skills involved in this:

    • Concept work
    • Sketching
    • Baking
    • Setup & lighting
    • Filming (a Nikon D90 DSLR)
    • Video editing (iMovie)
    • Bespoke music (Logic Express)

    Update: The message is now live

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  9. Re-imagining Nokia’s current homepage

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    Update 26.10.11. They’re getting there!


    Nokia is on the ropes. With their Symbian OS basically discontinued and no announced Windows Phone 7 phones, why would you buy a Nokia Smartphone? If I was a shareholder (and I’m not), I would not be happy to see Nokia’s homepage. It’s dated, and most importantly, there’s no mention of the new products they need to take back their place as the world’s leading phone-maker.

    Indeed, it looks like Samsung, and soon Apple may overtake them.

    So with that in mind, and with the proviso that this is completely made up, I’ve redone the Nokia homepage to show what I, as a theoretical shareholder would like to be seeing.

    This amounts to little more than:

    - A shipping date for a Windows Phone 7 phone (the mythical “Waltz”). This should be soon (July 1 in my example – it’s mid-June as I write this).

    - A simplified product line; a single Win Pho 7 phone and more basic devices

    - Some acknowledgement that Nokia needs a new website

    - A courting of developers

    And so, without further ado, the design (click for a big version):


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