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November 01 2012

12:46

An Interview with Designer and Developer Benjamin De Cock

Benjamin de Cock is a freelance designer who works out of his home office in Belgium. His focuses are interface and icon design, and he’s 28 years old. Benjamin spends most of his time designing Stripe and Kickoff. We caught up with Ben to talk to him about his design practices and approach.

What software/hardware do you use daily?

I exclusively use Adobe Fireworks CS6 as my design tool. I look more and more at Sketch 2 which is very promising but still a bit young to make the complete switch in my humble opinion. When I design for iOS, I also use quite a lot of LiveView and — surprisingly — iPhoto to quickly import screenshots to the Mac through Photo Stream.

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I’m not doing a lot of front-end development anymore but when I do, I still use the dying TextMate. I gave Coda 2 a quick try but I felt it wasn’t the right tool for me as I’m usually looking for extremely light text editors. I’ve heard great things about Sublime Text and Chocolat but since I lost some interest in coding, I must admit I haven’t found the motivation to properly try those apps yet.

As for the hardware part, I work on a MacBook Air 11″ (always closed) connected to a Thunderbolt Display 27″. I should probably mention my iPad too as I work quite a lot on it. For example, I do most of the email stuff there and I truly enjoy the experience. Many people find it difficult to type on the iPad but it’s not the case for me. Editing text still feels complicated to me (I hope Apple’s working on improving the loupe or an alternative to it) but typing works just fine with me. I wouldn’t say I’m as fast as I’m on a real keyboard but I’m honestly close to it and I love the feeling of my fingers on the glass. :)

Where do you get your inspiration from?

It may sound cliché but I look at everything Apple makes, from their website (the iPad’s feature page is still amazing) to their device boxes. I honestly still haven’t found another company where the attention to every detail feels so important. I guess I should also mention Dribbble. While I have mixed feelings about it (showing some graphics out of context rarely makes sense), it’s still a great resource if you want to get inspiration on execution.

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What triggered your passion of design and development?

Showing things to people and see those people actually using your creations has always been fascinating to me. Designing something exclusively for me wouldn’t be motivating at all. With the web, I have this amazing opportunity to easily share my work with so many people around the world so it was a no-brainer.

As for the development part of the process, I must clarify I’m not a developer at all. I’m very comfortable with HTML and CSS (which is definitely not what I call “development”) and I also do some JavaScript but that’s everything I know. I always wanted to understand how things technically work but I’m not really interested in implementation details. It also feels important to me to be able to prototype some of my UI ideas to see if they can actually work. I think every software designer should have at least some notion of the technical side of the apps they’re designing.

What’s a typical day look like for you?

I usually start the day around 9am by answering the important emails on my iPad and checking some RSS feeds and tweets before moving to my office. I try to then focus exclusively on designing things, hiding all kinds of notifications that could disturb me. I repeat the same scenario after lunch and I usually leave my office around 6pm to take care of my son.

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What would you recommend to anyone wanting to get started in the world of design?

I’m a huge believer in practice. Trying to replicate existing graphics is a good way to start learning your design software and to see how the original designer made all the details. Learning to make many iterations of the same mockup is very important too. We, as designers, are often too connected with the graphics we create. Trial and error is a frustrating but essential workflow to reach something really good. Experience is king.

Thanks a lot for your time – keep up the great work!

Thanks for having me Daniel!

July 21 2011

04:18

Online Proofing Solutions For Everyone

Effective communication is key to moving design projects forward and is especially important for proofing. In an ideal world, designers and clients would meet face-to-face, but in reality client schedules and locations make it impossible, leaving electronic communication as the only viable option. What designers need is a virtual workspace where they can communicate with their client much like how they would in person. Emails do this to an extent but they are painful to keep organized, make it impossible to mark-up proofs, and require more work from the client and designers than they care to invest.

With so many marketing firms, design agencies, and in-house creative teams, there should be at least one software option out there that works better than email, right? There are actually several tools that can significantly make the proofing process easier and take the stress of project review down a notch. These types of tools offer you a way to automate the proofing process and send feedback to your client and vice versa without jumping through unnecessary hoops. This article lists and briefly describes many potential tools that can streamline your proofing process and make your relationship with clients less of a headache. But first, I need to point out a few factors that can effect which proofing software you choose.

Size can be a big factor in finding a proofing software that works for you. Are you a small company or a freelancer? Maybe you want something that is simpler and more straight forward. Do you manage a large corporate creative, publishing, or design team? A proofing software that offers advanced scheduling and workflow management might make your job easier. Your size and the size of your clients also play into the many security factors you should consider.

Large Agencies and Corporate Creative Departments

If you manage the proofing process for a large agency or company, you might find value in a software that not only gets the job done but also does so in an efficient and organized manner. You will want something that has advanced workflow and scheduling capabilities to make managing your team easier. In terms of security, your clients may prefer their projects hosted on a server that you own and manage rather than a third-party server. This requires more configuration and maintenance on your part but will put your clients’ minds at ease when they know their digital assets are in trusted hands.

Approval Manager

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Approval Manager includes an integrated annotation tool along with email notifications. It offers advanced workflow and schedule management features which makes it a good solution for larger teams and design firms. Approval Manager also is hosted locally by the user on a personal server so security issues are managed in-house. There is a free version available along with an upgraded version that offers more features.

ConceptShare

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ConceptShare also offers an annotation tool for marking up and commenting on proofs along with notifications. Users can organize their proofs into collections, workspaces, and folders so they can easily navigate through their proofs. The entire proofing process, including uploaded files, are hosted on ConceptShare’s website. Their website offers a free trial and four separate editions that offer different capabilities based on team size.

ProofHQ

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ProofHQ is a lot like ConceptShare in that the whole process is hosted online. ProofHQ includes a basic annotation tool, folders for organizing your files, file versioning, and email notifications. Prices range from $17 – $299/month which are based on the number of users, storage size, and the number of proofs per month.

Small Creative Teams & Boutique Agencies

Small design firms may be able to get away with a proofing solution that doesn’t offer as many features as the ones discussed above. As a manager of a small team of designers something that is simple and cheap might be best for your needs. Hosting on a third-party server might be another desirable option because it is easy to setup and you don’t have to waste your resources on maintenance. Granted, this option isn’t as secure as hosting locally, but it is a practical option for a small design firm.

Backboard
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Backboard is a simple online proofing tool that allows you to mark-up a proof using a red pen tool. Users can set deadlines and receive notifications on those deadlines along with feedback and new proof versions. Users can also upload their existing contact lists to Backboard to easily mail out their proofs to existing colleagues and clients. All projects are hosted with Backboard and plans range from $6 – 50/month.

Notable
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Notable allows you to take a screenshot of your design, upload it to their website, and receive and share feedback between your team members. It also offers user workspaces for organizing screenshot based on projects and clients. Notable offers a limited free version, a free trial, and basic paid plans ranging from $19 – $49/month.

ProofQuick
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ProofQuick is much like Backboard in that it is a quick and simple online hosted solution for small team proofing. It also offers notifications and an integrated markup tool. ProofQuick was originally built specifically for the yellow page industry but can be used for a variety of purposes. Their website offers a free 15-day trial.

Freelancers

Whether you’re a novice designer or independent expert, a simple and free (or close to free) proofing software solution might be your best bet. If you don’t have as many clients as bigger firms, workflow or scheduling management capabilities may not be essential. You can probably get away with a software that directly emails your clients the proofs and allows the clients to quickly make comments and email them back when they are finished with their review. In this case, the simpler, the better.

Redmark
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With Redmark you can upload an image and send it off to your client for review. The client can then use Redmark’s online annotation tool to comment on the image and email it back to you when they are finished. It also offers a way to archive and view past versions of the image. Redmark is limited in comparison to other online proofing solutions but is a free service.

ididwork
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Ididwork is a free solution that can be used as a simple feedback tool. Users can share what they have been doing with their team members and begin receiving reviews and comments on their work. Users can either sign up as managers or employees so user categories can be defined to a project. This isn’t exactly tailored for a designer/client relationship but may be used to fulfill this need.

DesignSignOff

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DesignSignOff hasn’t officially launched yet, but did recently acquire a popular proofing tool called GetSignOff. Users can present their work to clients who can then give feedback. Clients can stay up-to-date on their project with email notifications and project stats. Once this project launches, it could be a great tool for freelancers and novice designers.

Adobe Acrobat X Pro

Acrobat X Pro offers simple version control, annotation, and review. You can use the “Adobe SendNow” feature to send, track, and share your files online. Adobe X Pro doesn’t offer all the features of a regular proofing software, like workflow, scheduling, and email notifications, but does offer a simple way to receive quick feedback from your clients. This option may be a bit pricey, but Acrobat x Pro does come packaged with Adobe Creative Suite 5.5. Acrobat X Pro costs $449 for the full version and $199 for an upgrade.

Sponsored by

Made By Tinder

Advertise on Fuel Brand Network.
Fuel Brand Network 2010 cc (creative commons license)



Online Proofing Solutions For Everyone

April 18 2011

06:34

Mojo Themes Redesign – Interview with the designer Brian Hoff

headshotBrian Hoff runs a full time independent studio in Brooklyn, publishes The Design Cubicle, speaks at design conferences and has been featured in several industry publications. It’s fair to say that we at FUEL are big fans. Brian has been busy with Mojo Themes and their recent stellar re-design. I had a chance to pick Brian’s brain about the process:

CE: What was the overall goal of the re-design and how did you aim to make Mojo Themes stand out?

BH: There were three major tasks at hand when redesigning and rethinking the Mojo experience: Improved usability, simplified navigation / browsing experience /marketplace, and creating a better and more enjoyable experience that was lacking.
At first, we found ourselves moving far away from the brand that Mojo-Themes had already established. It took us a few weeks of swimming in the wrong direction in order to see where we needed to head to take the effort a touch further. With a fresh, lively coat of paint, beautified typography using webfonts (Proxima Nova), more engaging headlines and copy, dynamic and unique experiences from page to page, improved marketplace browsing, and rich interactions, including the Mojo Monster.

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CE: Did you start the process with wireframes, moodboards, and loads background research or after the initial talks did you have a pretty clear cut idea in your head on where you wanted to take the design?

BH: Yes. A good portion of any project effort I take on starts off with extremely rough wireframes on paper and progressing into a more detailed mockup of the layout which focuses on tone, hierarchy, typography and flow of the page – so basically no color or texture comes into play in the early stages.

The tones early on consisted of blacks, various shades of grey, and white, which allowed me to map out importance through tone and contrast. The hierarchy and “flow” through emerged through typographic means – size, style (italics, bolds), all-caps. Beyond being a lovely, lovely typeface, Proxima Nova also has a very large family of fonts which helped us further extend the typographic hierarchy a bit more than your average family.

The project started off great, but took a bit of a sideways turn for about 3 weeks until I finally was able to see the direction it needed to head in. I remember calling the Mojo fellas (Brady Nord and JR Farr) explaining to them that I was sorry I wasted 3 extra weeks of their time, but I knew the new vision was something they would equally be excited and proud of. That’s the funny thing about design: it often takes going in the wrong direction for weeks on end to finally find the right path.

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CE: What was the biggest challenge or hardest thing you had to work through in the design?

BH: The biggest challenge by far was not moving too far away from the “Mojo brand.” This was one of the main reasons we got lost for a few weeks. Although everyone was happy with the visual direction of the site, something didn’t feel quite “Mojo” about it.

There were periods of both myself and the guys over at Mojo saying, “well let’s change this to see if that works,” or “how about we change this color to see if that works better.” I typically find, especially if I’m saying things like this to myself, that it needs to go into an entirely new direction. Luckily, the guys behind the scenes at Mojo Themes were more than understanding and valued the process and much as the end result and were happy to extend the initial timeframe we set out for. Overall I find that great or even better ideas tend to transcend and evolve over rigorous thinking and re-thinking the original thoughts. This is why I tend to stay away from unrealistic deadlines.

CE: The details are what separate the men from the boys. The design has outstanding little details as well as beautiful typography. How much emphasis did you make sure you kept on these attributes?

BH: Thank you. Typography is certainly the backbone of great design and as a bit of a type nerd (and by bit, I mean that’s a bit of an understatement), I tend to focus on the typography from the very early stages of the design. When I have a mood in mind I tend to look for a typeface to match it first in addition to also making sure it fits the medium and function well.

The same goes for the tiny details. They tend to make the work unforgettable and experience more wonderful. Although it’s important to note that one shouldn’t go overboard with detail as well. Figuring out where to deploy the fine details and when to leave the unnecessary behind is key. Another important note in detail is on the development side (something I tend to worry about if I hand off files to other developers), but the people over at Mojo did an impeccable job. The PSD and the fully developed site overlay each other beautifully. Pixel perfection and precision.

CE: This design/implementation of this site comes at a time where there is a huge drive for being standards compliant & using responsible web-design practices. How conscious were you of making sure that this would be able to be carried out throughout the project?

BH: Knowing your medium and understanding the audience a bit plays a huge role in the responsibility of any web designer. All of my work focuses around simple, beautiful things that “work” for their intended use, while also pushing boundaries where possible. Just because something is “standard” or “responsible” doesn’t mean they can’t be approached from a different angle while still remaining “responsible.” The Mojo Themes website was designed around these same principles and processes.

CE: What are the highlights of the new design?

Here’s (pretty much) the full list of what we changed, added and improved upon:

  • Landing page: More emphasis on the themes and seller interaction
  • Dynamic page layouts: Each page has a unique layout to match the content
  • More compelling headlines and copyrighting improvements
  • More Monster: We gave the Mojo Monster (hover over him on the home page) more personality as a friendly guide and companion.
  • Strong Typography: More focus on readability, hierarchy and personality
  • A footer with charm and action. Useful links and a new way to sign up for newsletters.
  • Simplified, restructured and much deserved Forum spring cleansing.
  • More engaging and customizable blog to highlight the various authors that write for the blog
  • More comprehensive Check Out process
  • Fully redesigned Marketplace experience through re-thought category browsing and filtering
  • Powerful and engaging interactive elements
  • More streamlined sign in and sign up experience
  • Achieved an overall mood that kept the to Mojo’s playfulness, yet raised a new standard and polish for all Marketplace companies online to rise to the (nav)bar – this is where the home page’s headline came from. Overall we found that you can be both playful and sophisticated at the same time.

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MOJO Themes aims to create an open marketplace for top rated designers/developers to shine in a world where design is going down hill quicker then we know and where someone can find, rate and buy quality themes & templates all in one trusted place.

Sponsored by

Made By Tinder

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Mojo Themes Redesign – Interview with the designer Brian Hoff

December 27 2010

06:55

To Resolve Project – Phenomenal New Years Resolution Inspiration

RESOLVE: verb, to come to a definite or earnest decision about; determine (to do something)

ResolveProjectLogo

Resolutions come and go and some rarely make it past the first week of February. Chris Streger decided to change that by asking several of his designer friends to make their own ‘resolution’ in the form of an iPhone Background. He started the To Resolve project that stemmed from a conversation with his girlfriend. He sent out as many ‘call to arms’ as he could think of to designers he knew or those he didn’t. There’s been some pretty great work come in so far and it’s almost double in the last few days. If you need some inspiration, a new iPhone background or you want to design your own, check out the To Resolve Project.

Mads Burcharth | His Submission

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Tyler Galpin | His Submission

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Dan Cassaro | His Submission

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Bobby McKenna | His Submission

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Matt Payson | His Submission

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Stefanie Pepping | Her Submission

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Cassie Stegman | Her Submission

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Sean Ball | His Submission

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Michael Spitz | His Submission

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Travis Fleck | His Submission

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Rich Arnold | His Submission

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Paul Wilkes | His Submission

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Scott Hill | His Submission

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Joseph Hughes | His Submission

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Matt Stevens | His Submission

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Jason Hines | His Submission

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Curtis Jenkins | His Submission

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Jenn Lew | Her Submission

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Chris Streger | His Submission

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Sponsored by

Made By Tinder

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To Resolve Project – Phenomenal New Years Resolution Inspiration

December 03 2010

05:44

Get more awesome with The Kick Awesome Show

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Part geekery, part circus, Kick Awesome.tv is wicked weekly web show (say that three times fast) that is dedicated to design, the web and general nerdery. The men behind the show are Nate Croft & Jon Longnecker who are also behind the wondrous works of 47Media. Currently, they’re 12 episodes strong – ranging in topics from photography lightboxes, first person shooters, music, iPod Nano watches, photoshop trickery, dribbble, their personal lives and anything in-between. If you’re tired of all the other boring ways to learn and hear about the industry you should definitely check them out. If you love their content as much as we do they also have some awesome sponsorship options. If that’s not enough awesome for you KickAwesome.tv is on twitter as well as facebook so, you should definitely fan their page and give them a follow.

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Get More KickAwesome.tv

Twitter
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Get more awesome with The Kick Awesome Show

March 28 2010

15:30
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