Community Minded | February 23, 2004

Brighton is a good place to be if you’re a web designer. We have a fairly active local community, due in a large part to our local mailing list, the BNM. We also have an organisation called Wired Sussex whose aim is to support and promote the local New Media cluster. Last week Wired Sussex asked me to a meeting to discuss how they could improve their relations with the local freelancer/micro business community.

In the past, they have been seen as being more interested in high profile web companies, than in small web companies and freelancers. This is probably due in part to the fact that their events tend to focus on networking, and their offerings are very business oriented. They are also seen as being part of the establishment and closely tied with local government.

To get round this image, I felt they needed to update their brand. To move away from the business oriented, local government image that they had been saddled with. Part of this suggestion involved updating their website.

Their current website is actually very good. It’s semantically structured, laid out using CSS and highly accessible. However, design-wise I though the site looked like a good government site, rather than a site promoting cutting edge new media. This is not to say that the site isn’t designed well. Just that it reflects how they currently perceive themselves (and how they are currently perceived) rather than how they want too be perceived.

Asked on my local mailing list how the meeting went, the site design was one of the many things I mentioned we’d talked about. I’d previously asked for input, but as I got very little back, most of the stuff I talked with them about were personal impressions. However most people disagreed with my feeling that their current site looked a little institutional and didn’t reflect current trends in design.

I’d just finished a big dev project at work, so over the weekend decided to do something cathartic. Partly to illustrate my thoughts, and partly as a bit of fun, I decided to produce my own version of the Wired Sussex site. A version that I felt reflected where they wanted to be, rather than where they were coming from.

This morning I posted my design to the BNM list to see what people thought. I’d thought there would be a mixture of opinion, but I wasn’t prepared for the tirade of insults and negative comments that followed.

Here is a selection of some of the more colourful comments.

“AB’s arrogance is incredible. If he did that with one of my sites, I’d be slightly less diplomatic and smack him in the gob.”

“You clearly have way too much time on your hands.”

“I’d be delighted to hear any more constructive comments about the site, rather than a fairly immature ‘I could do that better’ response, which is at best unhelpful, and at worst fairly insulting.”

“a) He didn’t do anything worth blowing his own trumpet about.
b) What he did was pretty rubbish anyway.
c) It’s a sad way to celebrate finishing a major project.”

“… he didn’t redesign the whole thing, he just futzed around with the style and came up with something that was markedly inferior and said ‘look at me, aren’t I good’. This is a poor way of doing business.”

“I do think it is a little egotistical to spend the weekend redesigning other peoples sites.”

So I’m interested in what other people think. Is my design “pretty rubbish” and “markedly inferior” to the original? Is it an “egotistical” way to spend a weekend and a “sad way to celebrate finishing a major project”? Do I really deserve a “smack in the gob” for creating my Wired Sussex theme? I’d really like to know, because at the moment I’m feeling pretty dejected and very negative towards the local web design community :-(

Posted at February 23, 2004 11:46 PM

Comments

ray said on February 24, 2004 1:24 AM

While I don’t think that the current site is all that hurting to begin with, I must say that I do like your selected color scheme much better.

It’s a shame, though, that your efforts to help better the local design community have received such harsh and unnecessary backlash. That’s just plain disappointing to tell you the truth.

dusoft said on February 24, 2004 1:24 AM

Andy,

I like the way original Sussex website looks and your design is not that much different - I actually, don’t like the green header. Otherwise it doesn’t look that much differebnt, really.

As for the people, don’t take those remarks too close, they just show how stupid people can be.

PS The original site looks more cuttin’ edge than your to me to be honest.

Adam said on February 24, 2004 1:26 AM

Um, I believe Mr. xxx needs to go ahead and hike his legs up over his head and promptly pull out whatever he’s got stuck up his butt, ASAP. I wouldn’t worry one more second about it Andy, it seems to me that you just hurt this poor little fellas feelings and so everyone else decided to jump on you, too, mainly because they’re underpaid and unhappy freelancers who love any chance to make themselves feel better for a few seconds by bashing someone else’s good work. Who in the world does it “insult”? Honestly, there are people who have it so bad in this world that they would just laugh and laugh at some of the things we have the privilege to get miffed about. Screw them and keep up the good work. ‘Nuff said.

Brian said on February 24, 2004 1:29 AM

I read through the thread and see you had some positive comments. I really don’t understand how people were calling the design “Blog Like” – it is basically the exact same layout with a new style applied. What is funny is the Blog look gets discussed then they later say, “if you reckon you can do a better job (and especially publicly) then you should really come up with a
design that proves the point, not something that is the same with different colors.”

Based on Patrick Heath’s definition of a blog layout: “horizontal nav and header and column based layout and certain styles such as dashed links. I guess this is a blog -> .” http://www.wiredsussex.com/busserv.asp

How many sites don’t have a header and columns? I guess the “fancy” border-bottom: 1px dashes is the “blog look”

I think the haters are the ones who feel you were trying to one up them. I like your version better, certainly more vibrant. I can see their side of it but I can also see your side of it; just trying come up with fresh ideas.

Quasi said on February 24, 2004 1:44 AM

Honestly, It’s not that different. I do not understand what the commotion is about. It looks to be to be a different flavor of the same design. It’s not “WOW! That’s amazing”, but it’s definitely no worse than the original.

lor said on February 24, 2004 2:30 AM

i actually think it’s a great way to spend a weekend! i only wish i had the creative energy to do the same. i must say, i definitely prefer your version. as people have said the layout is the same, but the style is definitely greatly improved. i think the comments have been quite unwarranted.

like someone else mentioned - i’d say don’t even waste the energy worrying about this. it’s just unfortunate that people feel the need to be so negative. i’m all for criticism myself, but it should be constructive.

vlad said on February 24, 2004 2:46 AM

as far as design is concerned, the original is actually pretty decent. i am certain that i like yours better, though.

Silus Grok said on February 24, 2004 2:49 AM

Hey Andy.

First off, there are plenty of designers that do exactly what you’ve done: taken on a little project to illustrate one’s thoughts on a given site’s design — hell, 37signals is famous for it. So folks really need to dial back the criticism on that front. (Oy vey.)

Second, not changing the layout of the site was a brilliant move, as there are often reasons behind a site’s layout that aren’t readily apparent… and skinning a site is often a safe way to play up small (read: inexpensive) changes that could make a big difference.

Third, the design you turned out was certainly more engaging than the original… and not in a trendy razor-fish way, either.

Finally, though your design could probably use a little polishing, isn’t that what constructive criticism is for?

Anyway, I wouldn’t sweat it.

Peter Zignego said on February 24, 2004 4:01 AM

First of all, their design looks like one of those random search websites that pop up all over the web when you type in a wrong address - you know what I’m talking about. Very cluttered and crammed I thought.

Secondly, I think that all of the negative backlash you’ve got for doing this is just bad. After all, it’s just something you did with your spare time. It’s not as if you hacked their web server and uploaded your design in place of the original.

And lastly, I find your design alot more visually stimulating and better looking over all. Don’t let the negative people bother you.

Chris Vincent said on February 24, 2004 4:34 AM

Let’s see… You wanted to help, so you spent some extra time working on something for the community. What you did was something you do for a living, and you enjoy it, so it wasn’t a big sacrifice on your part, but simply a kind offering and suggestion.

Meanwhile, they look at it and their egos take over. They spend their time coming up with ways to repeat each other, completely missing your point.

Now who said you have too much free time?

Jeff said on February 24, 2004 5:33 AM

I applaud you on doing it. One of my favorite things to do is recode other people’s websites. I haven’t published any of them like you did, but it’s a fantastic learning experience to do this. (Especially if the site was done with tables orginally.)

As for the changes you made, like you said, it is a little rough around the edges. The boxes of content seemed a little mis-aligned or kinda jittered (ok, good description Jeff….) I liked the color scheme, I think the shadow was too big.

On the positive, going for cutting edge and you got it. Between the drop shadow image, the color scheme, and the obvious “css-like” design, it’s right there.

BTW, i bet to some people, any site done with good css, probably looks like a blog to them….I mean, it just loads to fast to be anything else. :-/

luke said on February 24, 2004 5:44 AM

Heh! I thought the difference between the two was night and day, and I’d be stoked if someone ‘remixed’ a site of mine like you did. I’d actually read the content with your design too, Andy.

Cam said on February 24, 2004 6:24 AM

After reading Dave’s post over at mezzoblue, I’m not sure that I should be commenting, but after having a quick look at the designs, I’d have to say that the remix you did was the better of the two. Personally I found it to be easier on the eye and therefore much easier to read. The contast introduced in the new colour scheme was a big plus on the very blue current design.

I can’t see why your re-jigging of the current design warranted the level of spleen-venting that ensued — jealousy, perhaps? I could have understood it more had the criticism been less personal and more targetted at specific design decisions (which were really just palette choices).

In this case, I reckon you should just let it slide. Maybe they’re the ones with to much time on their hands if they can afford to spout all that without being constructive.

Cam said on February 24, 2004 6:26 AM

Oops, should have given the URL for Dave’s post - http://www.mezzoblue.com/archives/2004/02/23/understandin/

My bad.

Dave Manelski said on February 24, 2004 7:07 AM

Andy, keep your chin up. Community discussion forums tend to be feeding frenzies, especially when someone has the balls to actually offer a solution. It’s much easier to sit on the sidelines and spout opinions.

However, I won’t disagree with many folks on Wired Sussex who say that you went about it the wrong way. You definitely wounded some egos. It’s disappointing that website design isn’t viewed more like pure art, which would allow for different designers to share and feed off of one another (with some notable exceptions). At the same time, I’d be hypocritical if I told you that negative comments about my own designs didn’t touch a nerve.

Ultimately, I think branding, business considerations, and the fact that this was a hired design job came in direct conflict with your personal exploration and altruistic intentions. Despite all of the technology improving social networking, it’s still quite difficult to really know someone and understand their intentions through electronic communication alone. It’s easy to make assumptions about a person’s character and be a critic, from the comfort of your own home. Designers have to have tough skin, don’t let it get you down. Having read your blog for a few months now I think I understand that, like me, you just like to dive into design projects and explore new ideas because you enjoy designing. I think the folks on Wired Sussex simply don’t understand that.

Mike P. said on February 24, 2004 7:20 AM

I’ll echo Chris Vincents sentiments from above and add ‘don’t sweat it, some people just don’t get it.’

BTW - if you feel like coding something else up try the little ‘challenge’ on my blog!

Mike P. said on February 24, 2004 7:23 AM

Hmm.. If I’m going to invite you over I should at least get my url right…

Michael Koch said on February 24, 2004 8:10 AM

Andy,

well done for going the extra mile instead of going to the pub. In the long run things like this always pay off in my book.

However, you did kick a nest of wasps by restyling and publishing the site. To do this was an unusual thing - a positive unusual thing to me. But people who do unusual things have to prepare themselves for unusual responses. I’ll second what Dave said above about tough skin.

Liked the old design of WS, like your new one, too.

Gladys Pugh said on February 24, 2004 9:03 AM

Small point. I find it far harder to ‘scan’ the lists of links with dotted underlines rather than solid. New hat isn’t always better than old hat!

Other than that the logo is far better and the design has much more depth. However I kinda like the ‘Connect4’ background image. Some people get ‘attached’ to things like that.

Aleksandar Vacić said on February 24, 2004 9:10 AM

“Opinions are like asses - everyone has their own.”

Some people prefer one, some other, and you can’t help with that. It’s the natural and expected. The line where people are divided to normal ones and idiots is the way they comment: idiots usually add few sarcastic remarks and/or insults. Normal people just say “look, it’s ok, but I like the other one better”.

Nothing to feel down about. Just remember never to do anything for free again :).
Going into public with open heart will almost certainly result with “smack in the gob” - you can’t avoid idiots.

Personally, your design feels warmer, and I like to visit such sites.

Alex said on February 24, 2004 9:17 AM

Good grief, what a bunch of morons. If you’re feeling down, here is something to cheer you up, try looking at http://www.ses.soton.ac.uk/ in IE and non-IE browsers, and then marvel at how it ‘validates’ :)

Personally I like the new design better. Wired Sussex is supposed to be a forum for creative people and creative thinking - alas, there are people out there who would rather churn out the same old rubbish over and over again, to make sure it looks ‘corporate’. Hopefully I’ll be able to stop doing that soon!

Neil Bradley said on February 24, 2004 9:24 AM

I think those people that dissed your design are probably that used to the current design that they don’t want it to change - which if those people are designers then that is quite strange.

I think your design breathed new life into the site, working in the NHS you can imagine that I am pretty tired of blue colour schemes and a website that is supposed to serve creative people doesn’t really do anything to stimulate the mind.

It shows that by just changing the colour scehem on a website you can completely change the style of a website. well done AB.

Tom Coady said on February 24, 2004 11:23 AM

I think you are adding salt to wounds by re-opening the debate in this blog with misrepresentative quotes - the gobsmack one was clearly not a literal threat as the thread context reveals and the remarks from the other designer, understandably miffed at the perceived criticism, were later retracted.

By posting this link in your blog you are turning a little local dispute into a globally shared critique of a corporate look whose style would have been dictated by more considerations than you would have been restricted to as a single designer.

You also omit to mention that the inspiration behind your altruism was to prove your loose remarks about the site design. Proving fast reskinning of CSS design is possible is hardly new to the readers of this blog, although in reality in this case I can see that there are substantial differences between the 18 page long stylesheets used for each look.

Having said all that I don’t think you need to feel dejected as you have inspired a lot of debate about site design which I think can only be a positive thing, even if a few feathers are ruffled along the way.

Isofarro said on February 24, 2004 12:33 PM

Lovely work. Your design is much sharper and fresher than the current design (I love the shadow effects). Apart from the over-abundance of linked text - as pointed out by other people above - the dotted underlines reduce readability. The rest of the design is splendid.

Criticism arising from ego-brusing hardly merits discussion. Focus on the criticism that offers suggestions and improvements. Sometimes it means trying to wipe away the ad hominems to get to the actual criticism, but never let that sort of criticism detract you from the point you are trying to make, or the goals you are trying to achieve.

Reminds me of a quote from Winston Churchill, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something in your life.”

You’ve done something constructive, and made an effort to stimulate discussion. That’s a +2 in my books.

Matt said on February 24, 2004 1:28 PM

Keep in mind that Wired Essex is not the CSS Zen Garden- whoever designed that site was paid to do so (I assume), and it’s bound to sting when someone throws together a replacement in his spare time, just for kicks.
Imagine one of your clients found a redesign of his site that an enthusiastic designer (or just a hobbyist) had put together over a weekend. If he liked the new design, then “what am I paying you for” would likely be his first question.
As Dave Shea’s post (linked above) argues, designers get paid not just because they bought Photoshop and learned CSS, but because they can make the aesthetic and practical decisions that lead to a superior product.
So I’m surprised at the apparent pettiness and vitriol of the response from your professional peers, but not surprised that their reaction was a negative one.
Nice design, though.

pid said on February 24, 2004 2:21 PM

hi fella.

i do the same thing, after i’ve written a lot of code. it is cathartic, so ignore them; if you felt better afterwards - it worked.

you want dejected? i’ll tell you a story one day…

Rob Winters said on February 24, 2004 3:16 PM

Screw em all! You rock ok!

Bernard said on February 24, 2004 3:35 PM

As one of the “morons” on BNM who was giving Andy a hard time yesterday ,and who has apologised today for the kind of language I used, I hope that this cosy community of Andy’s peers has managed to soothe his dented ego.

Andy has been on BNM long enough to know that he couldn’t expect everyone to congratulate him wholeheartedly and he should have been prepared for some criticism.

It was clearly a faux pas in professional terms, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that Andy is decent chap and meant well. He is also very good at what he does. Words on mailing lists are cheap and I hope Andy doesn’t take anything said too much to heart.

Egor Kloos said on February 24, 2004 3:43 PM

After reading your post Andy I got the feeling that in the end this was not about HTML markup, layout-design, look and feel or even branding. The issue turned all political. And this was the backlash. I’ve seen this before and recall that this can be very damaging to your ability to work with this group. Rehashing it here on your website won’t help either.

Branding wise their site seems to miss the mark a bit so I agree with your assessment that it could be better focused to the groups needs. The one big issue with the original design is that it very difficult to read and scan, and thus difficult to use. Your design addresses this, but leaves the branding issue slightly open for attack as your branding ideas don’t seem very evident.

In the end you needn’t have made such a prototype like proposal and could have done with a plea in the form of a open letter. Later when it’s all sunk in a bit you could have posted a few possible branding ideas visually but in a static form. Leaving room for discussion. Moodboards are used in the fashion world for exactly this reason. Okay moodboards are not very useful within webdesign but you get my point. A full scale HTML page with all it bits and pieces was always going to evolve issues that are not relevant to your case in hand. Also it looks very finished, thus leaving no room for compromise. It’s not that only the designer needs to compromise but it is also to let the client offer their point of view in other words their “compromise” and with your presentation this would have always been difficult.

Being politically aware and able is key to being successful in design branches like fashion, advertising and in this case networking communities. Web design will also become much more political than it already is because the decision makers are becoming more and more web savvy. Semantics is not just for webpages.

Kevin Francis said on February 24, 2004 4:29 PM

Well, the trolls are out I see :)

Don’t take it too much to heart. People tend to get offended for the weirdest reasons.

jason said on February 24, 2004 4:39 PM

As mentioned plenty, don’t sweat it. Sounds like jealousy to me too.

If you want to spend your weekends catharticly redesigning the WWW, go for it. Someone is bound to like what you’ve done.

Mart said on February 24, 2004 4:57 PM

Hi Andy,

I think you’ve been a little thin skinned about this and should know the BNM list better than this by now. As to the work you did, I still stand by what I said regarding liking your restyle but still preferring the original for its branding. My comment about having better things to do at the weekend was my usual attempt at a humourous aside and I hoped you’d know me well enough not to take it to heart.

That’s all by the by though so I will end by saying that the initiative and creativity expressed is highly commendable but I would be wary of stepping on toes so publicly. If I were to be redesigning sites [especially in the speculative way that has been mentioned above] I would think very carefully before sending to a public forum without the consent of the sites owner and the owner of the copyright [which could still be the designer].

Guy said on February 25, 2004 1:12 PM

I like the old (official) version better. I don’t know why but on my PC running Firefox all the boxes on your design seem to run into each other. I also prefer blue to green but that’s just a preference. However, it has made for interesting discussion. I’ve had trouble with message boards in the past myself. You just take it on the chin and move on. Their are a lot of anal people out there.

Robin said on February 25, 2004 1:37 PM

FUCK. This is one aspect of Britain (not only Britain, but especially Britain) which is so fucked. People’s egos are so fragile. Life is all fucking emotional.

So you remixed their website. And? I personally understand your comments about their site and, again, personally, think your version is better. HOWEVER, this ISN’T THE POINT.

THE POINT is that people are so quick to take offence at any suggestion, intended or not, that somebody didn’t do their job properly or didn’t do something as well as they could.

HONESTLY, this country needs to fucking grow up and MOVE ON.

Keep on with what you do Andy. Your audience won’t always agree with you, but that’s not the point anyway — it’s your contribution that is important, and appreciated, and the discussion that follows, and if people don’t like it, then they can FUCK off to wherever they want to point their sad-ass browser at.

Simon W said on February 25, 2004 4:22 PM

It is important to remember that for most people who subscribe to the BNM list, web design is not just a nice little hobby on the side but it is their business and their livelyhood.

People who charge money for their work do not like other people coming along and doing their work for free. It undermines their credibility and puts them on the defensive.

No matter how benign and altruistic your motives you should bear this in mind before you publicly makeover someone else’s site for free - when the client has probably paid several thousand pounds for the original either directly or indirectly.

Just remember that there is more than bruised egos at stake and don’t feel dejected. You made a bad call… you got vilified. Same shit, different day.

Joshua B said on February 25, 2004 4:40 PM

Just to let you know, I thought your design was great, your balls for posting - even greater. I am continually impressed with many of the people in the “CSS standards-compliant” community (for lack of a better phrase…) and you are no exception. Regardless of words exchanged, you have again given many of us something to study and learn from. Thanks for what was probably just a simple desire to see if you could help better your community.

Robin said on February 25, 2004 6:08 PM

Sorry, just had to respond to Simon W …

With respect, what has anybody who does web work as their “business and their livelyhood” (sic) got to do with anything?? And why should anybody give a monkeys about people doing things for free. Mr Budd happens to be pretty good at what he does, even by impartial standards. In a perfect world, he could have asked all the stakeholders in the Wired Sussex site for their support in producing what could be a better skin of the site. They could have then sat around and discussed it at length, mulled over the notion that some egos may be bruised and the revelation that somebody who is efficient and good at their job can get a hell of a lot done in a weekend might just show up somebody who thinks the world owes them a fucking living. Conservatism and nepotism start to filter through the minds of the stakeholders and they decide, rather than take the chance of something better than they have, they’ll stick with the current design for fear of pissing somebody off.

GET REAL - WHO GIVES A MONKEYS ABOUT THOSE PEOPLE.

Christ some people annoy me off sometimes. Sorry for the swearing but mindless mediocratic mullets just annoy BIGTIME.

Robin

[I edited this post slightly to remove the expletives while keeping the gist of Robins post - AB]

Bernard said on February 25, 2004 7:18 PM

Good to see that the level of debate on this blog is so much more level-headed and free of vitriol than that on BNM.

I think those that can’t understand what the fuss is about are completely ignoring the feelings of the original designer, which he made clear, in quite a measured tone I thought (http://brightonnewmedia.org/pipermail/bnmlist/2004-February/054263.html). Far more measured than I would be in his position.

If you’ve never done anything creative yourself, and/or you are stuck in a hacker/piracy mentality, and see anything on the web as fair game to steal and abuse as you see fit, then you are not going to get the point or understand why the designer should be miffed.

Try putting yourself in his position.

Andy asked for opinions and that’s what he got. If he wasn’t prepared to hear any criticism or the usual jokular abuse, then he shouldn’t have posted it on BNM.

I hope taking selected quotes from BNM and using them to rouse the rabble here has made him feel better, but he seems to be taking it way too seriously and would gain far more respect by admitting his mistake and shrugging/laughing it off.

B->

Neil Vodka said on February 25, 2004 8:20 PM

Andy,

You know you always get my vote. Those guys should be greatfull of your input.

Take it easy.

David said on February 25, 2004 9:54 PM

Hey Andy
I know this is picky and that you only worked on it for a weekend, but one thing that instantly jumped out at me was the logo. What’s going on with the “i” in Wired?

I like your design better, but both are good. I certainly don’t think the barrage of negative comments was warranted.

Hopefully not all of your peers are this maladjusted.

Eric TF Bat said on February 25, 2004 11:14 PM

“It was clearly a faux pas in professional terms, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that Andy is decent chap and meant well. He is also very good at what he does. Words on mailing lists are cheap and I hope Andy doesn’t take anything said too much to heart.”

Isn’t it good that the employment situation is so non-discriminatory in Britain that people like this can still get a job? And not a silly one like policeman or teacher or firefighter, but a really important one like… Professional Git.

Andy, come by and redesign any site I’ve worked on, any time.

Jon said on February 25, 2004 11:38 PM

This is such a difficult and touchy topic, and I work for a company where issues like this take the forefront over the actual work that you should be doing. I know exactly where you are coming from: you wanted to show others visually what you were trying to discuss with them earlier. It means you were concerned that people weren’t understanding and that you needed to explain further, in a visual way.

But every time I tried to do this, I got slammed at work. Many of the comments were from coworkers that had either been in the business a long time or were from those that had some direct relation to the website or project for which I was making suggestions. Didn’t they understand I wasn’t trying to tell them their design was incorrect? I just wanted to send out new ideas.

Then I read this book, Pathways to Success by Dale Carnegie, and it changed my outlook on how I communicate with others. I highly recommend that you and others read this book. Trust me, I never thought I would ever read a book like this because I thought it would be silly, but it is seriously helpful.

Anyway, what I realized is that essentially proposing a redesign meant that even though I had good intentions, to the other person, it meant that I nullified all the work they did to complete that project. Much of good relations means understanding the person from their viewpoint, which can be hard when we are clouded by our own opinions. I only the saw the good I was trying to accomplish. They saw me trying to take over their role on the project and to say that what they did was wrong.

I would say instead of posting here for comments, send a notice of apology to the board. You certainly didn’t mean to upset anyone, and so your apology would be heartfelt. Next time, try approaching it with the idea of pleasing the client. First, compliment on the project, the site, the team members on the tremendous effort they put in to the site. Let them know about the great comments you have heard about the site, and that the work they did for semantic markup is a mark in good web design. Let them know what an asset they have been to the community.

Then ask questions: May I ask why such and such was designed in this way? I want to be able to understand the team’s reasoning as to why this color scheme was chosen. Can you help me with this?

Once you have shown your genuine interest in their work (always listening without ever interrupting), begin asking questions that typically require a “yes” response. Do this for several different questions, leading you up to the question about small design changes. You’ll be surprised how people open up to honest and heartfelt criticism.

You’ll always have critics, and you’ll always have people that take comments too far. Many of those comments, though they may have felt were appropriate, didn’t take into account your viewpoint either, instead resorting to rude comments to get their points across. In the end, my verdict is that you were both right, and you were both wrong. It happens, we apologize for any hurtful comments, and we all correct our mistakes and move on. That’s what makes life so interesting.

Best of luck to you Andy. You’re site is fantastic!

Andy Budd said on February 25, 2004 11:51 PM

Thanks everybody for the comments. Much appreciated.

Just to recap that my theme was born out of a number of things. I’d been invited by Wired Sussex in a consultation role to help them better serve the local web community. I suggested that one way they could better connect would be to change their branding, and a web redesign was part of this suggestion. I then discussed this on my local mailing list. However I didn’t explain myself very well and people obviously thought I was criticising the existing design instead of displaying my idea for a less institutional looking site.

Over the weekend I had some spare time and wanted to do some design. Instead of doing a Zen Garden, I thought it would be fun working on something that I was close too and had spent the last couple of days discussing. I did consider contacting Wired Sussex directly, but thought it made sense posting my ideas to the list as part of an ongoing discussion. I felt I could probably explain my thought better visually than I could via email.

I didn’t contact the original designers for permission as I felt my theme was about the Wired Sussex brand and not the current “design” of the site. Unfortunately this wasn’t something I made clear enough.

My idea was basically to tweak the style to make it slightly more accessible and less institutional. I didn’t want to spend long on the theme as, unlike many people suggested, I don’t have that much free time. This is one reason why I decided to use the same basic layout/css and just change the theme. Obviously this wouldn’t have been possible were it not for the solid coding of the designers.

I had expected people to discuss the theme and fully expected many to prefer the original. Initially there were some really good, positive comments. However much of this was drowned out by a vocal minority, who chose to attack me on a personal level, rather than discuss the theme it’s self.

I, like most web designers I know, enjoy what I do for a living and get a kick out of design. As such I was quite surprised by the number of comments I got back from my local mailing list about how sad and boring I must be to spend my weekend designing for fun. I’m sure going to the pub and having a curry would have been a thrilling way to spend the weekend, but I really enjoyed spending the evening working up a design.

I don’t consider myself a natural designer so appreciate every chance I get to improve my skills. I also like to elicit feedback from people so I can learn how to do things better in the future. This was my prime motivation for posting my theme to the list. It wasn’t to say ‘look at me, aren’t I good’, it was genuinely to get peoples feedback and improve as a designer. I’ve done this on a variety of lists as well as on this blog, and always found people willing to give me constructive feedback. So when I got inundated by personal attacks, it really did knock my confidence in the local web community.

To answer Tom Coady’s criticisms, the point of this post wasn’t to discuss either the current design, or my theme. It was about my experiences at the hands of a local mailing list. I can see how the anonymity of the web can bring out the worst in people. However when I post to lists like evolt or css-discuss, I get nothing but helpful feedback. When I post to a local list, I get a barrage of abuse from people who live in the same town, many of whom I’ve met and shared a pint with.

I have to admit that I was pretty annoyed on Monday when I wrote the original post. However I’m much more sanguine about the whole thing now. It’s made me realise that community isn’t about a geographic location, it’s about a group of people sharing similar set’s of beliefs. It’s also made me realise that I don’t have huge amounts of time on my hands and I need to stop spreading myself so thin. As such I’ve signed off my local mailing list and plan to reduce my involvement with skillswap.org in the coming months. Hopefully this will free up more of my time to do the things I love like talking about web design and pushing web standards to the wider new media community.

Watch this space :-)

Bernard said on February 26, 2004 12:26 AM

Jesus H. Christ!! Your arrogance is off the scale. These dozy fuckers might think you are some kind of god, but you’re really starting to get up my nose now.

My public apology to you and the compliments I paid you went unacknowledged which again demonstrates that “etiquette” simply isn’t in your vocabulary.

I hope you have unsubscribed from BNM because you obviously don’t like any criticism which is what you will get as long as I’m on it.

Soft porn or jerking around with the retards that all ‘vote for Andy’ here in some weird virtual “community” is your twisted little world and believe me, I don’t want to be in it.

So if any of you are tough enough to test your ideas, designs or whatever in a slightly more macho environment, ie 500+ Brighton new media professionals who don’t suck up or mince their words, then I’d suggest you join the BNM list.

B->

Bernard said on February 26, 2004 12:57 AM

Sorry.. delete”soft porn”. That was the start of another sentence and doesn’t make any sense. God, I’m pissed off with this pretentious wanker!

B->

Jon said on February 26, 2004 1:15 AM

Bernard, I’ve never met Andy in my life, nor have I corresponded with him in an email before. But from what Andy has been willing to say so far, he seems like a nice guy. Instead of taking the low road and continuing to sport personal shots at Andy for his website and those that read it, why not take the high road and try to see his and the others’ viewpoints? Just because you understand his viewpoint doesn’t mean you agree with it. He may not have been right to post an idea without asking ahead of time, but at the same token, is it right for you to yell at him with personal attacks?

Roosevelt said something to the effect that if he were to be right 75% of the time, he would reach the highest measure of his expectation. If one of the most admired people in the last century said this, can we say we can obtain better? Even if we are right 90% of time, who are we to tell anyone that they are wrong if we have also made mistakes?

I can’t question your motives for an apology, but one should not write compliments so that they can be openly acknowledged in front of everyone. Paying a compliment to Andy would be heartfelt, and nothing should be expected in return (less it not be considered a compliment - something given freely without any expectation for return). When you do receive a return, it makes it all the more worth it that you made someone feel good about themselves.

Best of luck to both of you, and I hope you can work out your differences.

Johan said on February 26, 2004 1:40 AM

For what it’s worth, my initial impression of your redesign was that it looked much more professional. After ten minutes of comparing the two designs though I thought it just looked like yet another drop-shadow site. You want a less corporate look you say, but actually every tinpot corporate site is having drop shadows now. Shadow effects have been boring for 6 months at least.

When you say you knocked up a redesign in a bored weekend aren’t you taking a rather cavalier attitude towards the time and effort the original designers may have put in? It seems to me that you are looking at this situation entirely from your own perspective, hurt not to receive peer approval. What can you see when you sulk? Perhaps you need to understand that when people are abusive towards us it is usually because we are projecting some aspect they hate in themselves. But still, we have to understand that by their reaction to us they are also telling us something about ourselves.

Bernard said on February 26, 2004 2:11 AM

Ah yes but he’s making me less repentant all the time with his off-list and off-blog abuse.

So… how can I put this so that you bloggers understand?… he can fuck off cos he’s an arrogant tosser.

And if that tells professor Johan that it is in fact me who’s an arrogant tosser then I guess I’ll have to try and live with that. It won’t be easy, but somehow I’ll survive.

Reinmar said on February 26, 2004 2:37 AM

I read this blog because I find it informative.
I admire Andy Budd for his work and like his contribution to the design community.
That’s probably the reason what most regular visitors to this site appreciate about it.
I do not, however, think that AB is a god.
Maybe that’s got to do with my own religious/metaphysical views which do not embrace the concept of personalised deities.
Or maybe - and more likely - it’s just because I am not the type of person who over-reacts to things that are not life-threatening. Because I have a life; and it’s not based a 100% on my job as a designer, although I enjoy and love it.
I wonder if people like Bernard have a life, in the way I referred to above. Bernard calls me and others “dozy fuckers”. He doesn’t know a thing about me/them. Very immature. Amen.

Mart said on February 26, 2004 7:39 AM

Andy is a nice bloke and has achieved some startlingly brilliant things in the local [read: Brighton] New Media industry, not least the marvellous Skillswap sessions. However, I think if you are going to be so public about creating the new theme for the site then the criticism is going to be very public also. Bernard has, once again, gone way over the top in his vitriolic dismissal of Andy, but Bernard is renowned for his ever changing moods [to quote the Weller Fella]. I criticised the public way that this was done only due to the fact that it is very easy to get into trouble when doing this sort of thing if you are doing it in a very public way.

Anyway, chin up Andy. And, keep pushing the standards…

Andy Budd said on February 26, 2004 8:47 AM

Just wanted to say thanks again for all the feedback, both positive and negative. However this thread has gone on for far to long, so I think it’s about time too put it to bed.