Tell Me When It’s Over

I have been building websites since the late 1990’s.  In fact, it’s a horribly embarrassing fact that archive.org has a snapshot of my site from 1998.  Consider it one of the more “colorful” pieces of my portfolio.

Over the years I minimally improved it, though I maintained my devotion to the almighty animated gif.

In more recent years, I have been teaching web design in Dreamweaver and WordPress.  I built the latest incarnation of my site in Dreamweaver.  After working on a variety of projects over the years building and editing websites at my former place of employment, I feel qualified to add that to my repertoire of skills.  And thus, over the last month or so I’ve found myself delving deeply into designing and building a website in WordPress for my friend Bryce (this is not the website; it’s still a work in progress).

I find the work filled with small rewards, like when I successfully modify a piece of php code to do what I want it to do.  These are surrounded by great periods of anguish as I struggle to customize a sidebar, resize a dropdown menu, and remove an errant bullet.  You know, those things that should be easy but are in fact surprisingly baffling.

I am slowly overcoming obstacles to pull the site into place, but there’s one overwhelming conceptual obstacle that can drag down even my most productive day.  As the child calls forth from the rear bench seats of the automobile, so too do I find myself wondering “Are we there yet?”

At what point can I decide that a project is complete?  On a simple level, a clear statement of the objectives can make it much clearer to determine when those objectives have been met.  This is the reason it’s always important with any contracted project to draft a list of milestones to accomplish.  You always want to make sure that you and your stakeholders (the people who care that the project gets accomplished) are on the same page as to what you’re trying to do.

Space Jam Website

The pinnacle of modern web design.

However, that’s rarely enough.  For instance, let’s say one of the goals is “A professional-looking site with the most recent information about the client’s projects.”  I can see 3 big potentials for ambiguity in there:  What determines whether a page is “professional-looking” or not?  What is the relevant unit of measurement for whether something should be included in the recent information?  Which projects should be included, and how should they be prioritized?  These are all open to debate, and can open up an endless back-and-forth between myself and the client as to whether any of the criteria have been met.

Unfortunately, the client is not the only person with whom I can debate whether the site is complete.  Forgoing well-meaning spouses, professional colleagues, and amateur professionals (“There’s this great font called Comic Sans that you should use”), my biggest issues come from myself.  Perhaps the page is well-aligned, the header image is sharp, and the color scheme is pleasing.  But isn’t there more that I could do to improve it further?  Isn’t there ALWAYS something more I could work on?

This comes up in realms outside of web design as well.  For instance, when I record a song, I often experiment by adding different instruments and using different arrangements.  At some point, though I would like to release the song.  So at what point is the recording completed?

So as not to get trapped in a Zeno-esque paradox in which nothing is moving and nothing is ever accomplished, we have to at some point declare our projects finished.  I already mentioned being as clear as possible in the statement of the objectives.  After that, clear communication with the stakeholders of the project is essential.  Ultimately, I believe it comes down to the integrity of all parties.  I as the web designer have to put forth a good-faith effort to accomplish the goals of the project with as much skill as possible.  At the same time, I have to recognize that there’s always more I could do, and forgive myself for not devoting all the time I could ever have to infinite improvement.  The clients for whom I am working need to be critical in ensuring they are receiving the product they want, while also understanding that the project could go on infinitely.  But the infinite project benefits no one, so it is in everyone’s best interest to allow it to complete at some point.

This is something I have to remind myself as I delve deeper in to the world of building sites for other people.  I must acknowledge that it’s ok for me to finish the site and have it not be the best site ever built by anyone ever.  As long as I hold myself to a high standard and check in with the client along the way to make sure they’re getting what they’re wanting.  I think this is the only way I can actually get anything done without going insane and threatening to turn this thing around and cancel the family vacation.

With that, I am calling this post officially over.

Check please!

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