Bounds and Vectors

In the past couple of years I’ve spent many hours working in this beloved industry of the web. But before I jump into a maniacal nostalgic rant – I’ve backspaced a lot here – I’ll actually tell you about what I’m finding right now, as I look at my company, myself and the world around me.

I can tell you that it is about hard work, about dedication and about perseverance. And that is true. I can tell you it’s about ideas and even more about execution. But that has been said before, by people my smarter than myself. So I will talk to you about wanting to create something or wanting to write something and not having a clue where to start.

This is the key characteristic of a period I have been able to ‘enjoy’ lately. I re-aligned my website, I re-aligned our company website and I’ve tried many a time to redesign my blog. And the blog is where it got stuck… again. I have written about this before, regarding the fact that I have been unable to give my blog a purpose in my workflow and – in some parts – my life.

The problem is lacking a vector and lacking bounds. (which I guess is a very meta statement, after you read this)

Bounds

We are on the internet. We are the internet. In essence we have no boundaries. If you look at the power of the browser, the power of technology and the power of creativity, nothing is impossible. Within our domain of the web you can do breathtaking things on a gazillion different levels: Genius data visualizations, astonishing CSS3 UI elements and bleeding edge music videos.

The essence of these creative endeavours is that they choose a set of bounds, and work therein. Sure, simurai‘s CSS3 buttons took a very progressive set of bounds, but there was a restricted set of technologies and rules he took to create this.

The exact same pattern is visible when designing for a client or a project. There are guidelines and boundaries in color use, typographic use, the overall feeling and experience etc. Yet within these bounds, we designers eventually find our way. We reflect on these bounds when we are stuck with questions and some times we try to bend and break these bounds, or tiptoe across them to find something amazing.

The case with really personal projects – like a personal website or a personal blog – is different. In my case, I have never put up many bounds, nor have I had an idea on what my focus of writing was. This is also reflected in the different projects I’ve worked on in the past five years on the web.

By not restricting myself to bounds, I have had many different design iterations and subjects to write about. But I never had a clear sense of contentness in the end-result. Because, in essence, there is no context to judge it to.

But bounds are not everything. Part of that is knowing where you stand within the bounds. Trying to not pin yourself down and ignoring this fact is easy. I’d almost call myself an expert at it.

Vectors

a straight line segment whose length is magnitude and whose orientation in space is direction

In essence a vector is a little point, which has a location, a direction and a value of magnitude in which it goes into that direction. I’m not going into mathematic discussions here, so humor me.

Designing from nothing doesn’t exist. Nor does writing. You can say that you start with nothing, but you have to start with some kind of data-set in your head that forces you to find motives and associations to carry on.

Better designs mostly come from longer periods of orientation – of finding the vector(s) and the greatest designers know how to clear out all preconceived notions and start orienting from zero, so they can be more effective at finding what to design (for).

With clients, again, this is different. Mostly there are wishes, preliminary meetings or even style-guides. But with oneself, the designer and the client are one. Do you do a preliminary meeting?

What font-stack do you choose for yourself? What colours? Can you take your current mood up for that? I can be as emotional as a mood-swinging pregnant woman from time to time.

So you should define the vector. If you define where you are at, where you are going, and at what pace or how you want to get there, you have something external to hold on to, and something to look at when you deviate. And if that vector changes, you have to own up to it.

Warning, “Big Words” Alert

This is the way I am going to try to take on the next period in my life. When taking something on, to define the boundaries and define the vectors.

It doesn’t matter what you do or how you do it, as long as you know why you do it and what playing field you are on.