Lessons from 18 Years of Blogging

Lessons from 18 Years of Blogging

I published my first blog post in 2002 after being prompted to write something by friend and coworker, Topher. Since then, I've blogged under several different domains, changed topics, changed tech stacks and publishing platforms, along with exploring different ways of communicating.

I recently came across my first blog post (see below) and I was surprised at how relevant the concerns are for today: asking why, what problem are we solving, who does this effect, how does this shape the user experience? Sure, Flash is no longer a thing, but you can easily replace Flash with JavaScript.

Apart from the relevant concerns, reading that first post got me reflecting on what writing has taught me over the years. Here are 3 things you can expect to learn along the way:

Sharing what you’ve learned is an act of generosity

When I started writing we lived in a knowledge economy, which is a tricky space to quantify your contribution to solving problems and adding value. Demonstrating knowledge is a great way to do that, which is what got me started. In the early days, writing about user experience, design and business, and innovation was a way to demonstrate I cared about a topic enough to frame an opinion about it, and even further, expose that opinion to the critique of the infinite web.

Nearly 20 years later, I write and record as a way to share with others the hard lessons I’ve learned, in hopes that others can accelerate their own growth.

Articulating your thinking clarifies your thinking

I’ve heard it said that you don’t know a topic until you’re able to teach it. Writing is a form of teaching, and it has forced me to think deeply about leadership, innovation, and design. Reflecting on my experiences, looking for truths, testing them, and sharing them with the world is a way to refine and solidify a point of view.

The older I get, the more life has to teach me, and the more I have to share. I’ve gotten into the habit of reflecting on my thoughts and practices. Thinking about the way I think and work. My friend Shawn calls these moments “learning loops” - a phrase that has stuck with me for years, and accurately describes the cyclical rhythm of letting your thoughts shape the way you think.

Changing your mind in public is hard

I used to be concerned with metrics like unique visitors and time-on-site, insisting we demand ROI from our design efforts (still do FTR), and I used my own site to prove and test my assertions. After reading “You Are Not A Gadget”, by Jaron Lanier I did some serious soul searching and decided that my corner of the internet was going to be different. I wasn’t going to harvest, sell, or trade the bits of information my site visitors unwittingly gave me.

In many ways, I felt like I was abandoning the demands I placed on measuring the value of design and design’s ability to make a difference. I’ll admit, letting go of that data was a lot harder than I expected it to be. I took pride in watching engagement go up as I would try new things. It was fun watching the live visitor count jump after publishing something new. It felt like validation for the ideas I was sharing, and letting go of that felt foolish.

Sharing what I’ve learned, thinking about my thoughts, and being willing to change publicly change my mind have been 3 highlights (of many) that blogging has brought me. I’m looking forward to many more.

For the curious, here is the first post I ever shared:

Published: March 2002

Caught Flashing?

5ive easy steps to avoiding the pitfalls of Flash

Macromedia introduced Flash in 1996 bringing a wonderful new medium to the web. In doing so, a plethora of upstart web designers flocked to the developing platform that offered them an easy and interactive way to display their web savvy. Since its release there have been many enhancements to the software making it a complete multimedia development platform. As with many exciting new technologies, people stampede to be first in line to use it often without asking the most fundamental question; why?

The answer to this basic question determines whether a designer will maximize the technology or abuse it. Assuming the question has been asked, here are few guidelines to keep in mind that will help you avoid inappropriate Flashing.

1. Making a Flash splash

One of the most common abuses of Flash is the “splash page.” Anyone who has ever been on the web has had the unfortunate experience of waiting a ghastly amount of time for an intro page to load. There is a time and place for an intro page, and it does have value. The real question is, why do I need a splash page? If the answer supports your communication objective, go ahead and make your splash.

2. Flash forward

You have determined that a splash page is the most effective way to communicate your idea. That’s great! One of the biggest blunders in creating a splash page is assuming your end user has the time to sit through it. So, be sure to give the user an option to Flash forward to the meat of your site.

3. Shoo browser, don’t bother me

One of the biggest drawbacks to using Flash is the fact that it is a plug-in. Granted, most users have the plug-in, or at least they could go get it. However, Flash is not available on every Internet enabled device. The answer? Give your user the option to view your site with or without Flash. Also be sure to make the plug-in easily accessible by providing a quick link to the Flash download page.

4. Keeping Flash on a diet

Flash is an exciting way to communicate your idea over the web! It adds that “TV” feel to an otherwise static site. For some reason, many designers forget that they have to push their wonderful new Flash project over the Internet to a P133 on a 28.8k connection. The solution is simple. Keep your Flash files on a strict diet. Be sure to follow all of the Kb saving tips in your Flash manual. Doing so will not only save your users download time, you will win their hearts when they know that you considered their 28.8k connection.

5. DeFlashing the experience

Now that you have created a stunning splash page and a lean presentation, consider the alternatives. That’s right. Ask yourself, “why is EVERYTHING developed in Flash?” The beauty of Flash is that it does not have to be the sole media in your presentation. The challenge is defining when and where to use flash. Keep in mind that you can integrate Flash with your existing user experience. If you are able to dice things up, you may be able to decrease some download time which will keep your users with you and score points with your marketing manager!

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

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