Initiative sparks change

Posted by on Sep 29, 2009 in design | No Comments

So Dream Theater is pretty much my favorite band. They have a progressive, dynamic sound that is unrivaled by any other band. Musically, they embody everything I would like to achieve with my music. Well it should come to you as no surprise that Mike Portnoy, DT’s drummer, is my idol. I’ve followed all of his projects and find that many of the techniques he uses blow my mind.

Sometimes when visiting a website I enjoy, I’m compelled to contact them and try and help their design-challenged owners in realizing that their sites look terrible. Part of my Clean the Web project, if you will… (it’s ok if you wont). Sometimes this works and the company will get back to me and hire me to re-design their website, however most of the time I hear nothing back from them. Either way, it’s a great way to not only get your name out there and be pro-active about your design, but It also can land you jobs.

A couple of months ago I was visiting Mike Portnoy’s website as I do from time to time. At that time his website was a ugly cacophony of design ( or lack there of ) and poor content management. It looked like a big blob of purple with text and images thrown about. So I set about re-designing the homepage of the site in Photoshop. After getting to where I thought it would be a good update for his site, I posted it to his blog. This was a way that not only he could see it, but also his community of Fans. The latter turned out to be a crucial piece of the puzzle.

I figured I would upload the mock and one of two things would happen. 1) I wouldn’t hear anything about it, or 2) Mike would love it and use my design for his new site. Well the online community erupted with buzz. Almost everyone loved it and I found out most were ready for a new design. After many comments, good and bad, Mike Portnoy himself posted about the design and the ensuing hubbub.

He decided, and this is the most exciting and interesting part, to open the redesign up to his whole community and let the users of his site help determine the look. So he gave about a month for people to design and upload website ideas. There were a slew of entries ranging from awesome to atrocious, but the point is how many there were. Some of the mocks came from non-designers. I re-submitted my idea after some constructive critism from the community, but was unable to do more versions due to a load of freelance work I was doing at the moment, and since this was free work I could’nt afford to put much time into it.

In the end, after dozens of mock-ups submitted, a design was chosen….and it wasn’t mine,lol. But that’s ok. The point here is that it inspired change in design. My initiative to re-design the site motivated not-only the owner to change the design, but encouraged others to get involved and give their input. This act of letting the users or demographic design the interface with which they interact is probably the best example of “Direct Design” I can think of. After everything, we got a bad design off the web, and we replaced it with a good ( you be the judge) one. Above is the mock that I submitted. I think it’s better than what was chosen, but thats ok…….besides humility is a trait not seen much in the designer of today. Its good practice.

DIRECT DESIGN: Direct Design is the concept that the user is actively involved, if not solely, in the decision making on the look and feel of a product. Things like MySpace, or Twitter can be directly edited and designed by the user. In this way the user is utterly familar with the UI and can change it whenever they want. Most social networking sites and blogs function as mini websites where the look can be crudely ( sometimes robustly) customized by its user. I see this kind of design driving the market in the future, where every user has the most unique, but ubiquitous experience.

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