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The Design Team Review of 2014

We’ve continued to deepen our expertise in responsive e-commerce, putting emphasis on brand stories and performance as we’ve produced sites offering, among other things, custom skateboards, cutting-edge fashion and stylish furniture.

Besides our client work, we’ve helped to redefine web education for local students and developed an indispensable OS testing tool.

What was your most valuable lesson or idea?

Chris Bailey: I used Git for the first time in a commercial environment last year. I’d struggled previously diving into GitHub without knowledge of VCS or much experience using with the command line. Shane then recommended an insightful and very amusing talk presented at Google by Linus Torvalds the creator of Git. Then I ran through tutorials on TreeHouse: Command Line Basics which really helped me get to grips with navigating around my Mac file systems, then Git Basics which covered essential actions. This time the concepts and commands made much more sense.

Joseph Russell: I spent a lot of 2014 coding front-end. Throughout the year, techniques, frameworks and browser support have continued to develop unabated, but the biggest change to my process has been automation. We have an array of tools at our disposal that support efficient coding: compiling, testing and minifying all happens in the blink of an eye. We even have tools that manage our tools: Grunt binds our tools together, creating tasks that replace entire workflows. Long-winded, technical work can be performed time-after-time by reliable automatons, saving significant time — especially when deployed across a whole team.

Oliver Chenery: This may seem minor, but it was important to get my code up to a standard that was clean and consistent not only to help me, but to leave a tidy project for others in the future. I was introduced to the BEM approach which brought some structure to my code, and Sass which helped to organise and speed up the process of writing CSS.

Shane Osbourne: “You can’t be great at everything” – advice I’ve not only given to others throughout the year, but something I also personally adhere to. The insanely fast paced and ever-changing world of web-development, whilst exciting and fun, offers far more new tools, frameworks and processes that any one person can ever master. Instead of feeling like you’re not ‘on top’ of everything out there, I think it’s much more important to focus on one or two skill-sets and become excellent at them.

Who did you enjoy reading or following?

CB: I’m a big fan of Aaron Draplin — he’s a big inspiration to me. He’s super talented and such a funny guy. His branding work is amazing and he has a very distinct style. I’ve really enjoyed following him on Twitter, watching his presentations on YouTube and Vimeo, and looking at his past and current work. His presentation at Creative Mornings still remains a firm favourite today, and his recent logo design video was loved across the team. I’ve been looking out for him on the conference circuit because when his name comes up, I’m going!

JR: Responsible Responsive Design by Scott Jehl was a significant book. The underlying concepts like usability, sustainability and performance are nothing new, but they’ve fallen by the wayside while we’ve enjoyed exploring the possibilities of responsive design. Being more considerate makes better websites — and better designers. For me, the thinking in this book will separate the good from the great in 2015.

I also have to recommend the Stuff You Should Know podcast for filling my long commute with pop-science, history and trivia.

OC: I have been making my way through the A Book Apart series of books. The one that stands out to me is Design is a Job. It was the first one I read and felt it gave a good overview of what to expect and what should be expected of us as designers, whether dealing with clients or working within teams. A great book if you are entering the industry.

SO: For his honest opinions on the troubles with software releases and semantic versioning, his incredibly well documented open source projects and his always inspiring Conference talks, Jeremy Ashkenas (of Backbone.js, underscore.js, CoffeeScript) has provided a large amount of thought provoking insights.

What became your most essential tool?

CB: Over the years I’ve used a number of text editors including Sublime and Coda. Coda by Panic was working well for me — a solid code editor, built in FTP, compact mode and much more. However, after starting at JH, I realised I wouldn’t be needing it’s FTP functionality as we use repos with auto-deploy. We specialise in PHP platforms and much of the company uses PHPStorm by JetBrains. I switched early 2014 and was really impressed from the start. The Git and Grunt integration is invaluable, keeping everything in one place. I’ve been using it for a year now and learning more about the app every day. It’s now my text editor of choice.

JR: There’s two little colour tools I keep reaching for: the spacebar-mashing of this palette generator, and this somewhat poetic colour namer.

OC: I’m still amazed by how useful BrowserSync is. As responsive web design is so important in this day and age, to have a tool like this really helped speed up my workflow and solve debugging problems easily.

SO: I would be doing a disservice to Jetbrains if I didn’t choose the duo of tools from them that I use all day, every day: PHPStorm (when working with JH Clients) & Webstorm (for the open source work we do here at JH, such as BrowserSync). The steeper learning curve imposed by these IDEs (in comparison to regular text-editors) is highly compensated with a much faster workflow and advanced features.

What was your favourite design that launched?

CB: During 2014, I worked on a number of branding projects. A piece of work that really captured my imagination is the Miami MLS branding by Diego Guevara. The branding was created a small time frame, well thought out and beautifully executed. The interesting part for me is seeing the development beyond a logo, a wider exploration of extension and real-world application, something I want to do more of in my own work. I keep coming back to this project to remind myself of the lessons it teaches.

JR: I’ll allow myself the luxury of a few choices:

OC: My favourite site of the year is this portfolio. This site has everything I love about web design: it’s simple, clean, bright, with beautiful colour selection and flat design (my personal favourite), plus cool little animations that are not over the top — just enough to improve the experience. The use of a light grey background really makes the places where they have used white ‘pop’ and draws your attention to the information, while consistent typography ties everything together to make a great website.

SO: Google’s Material Design has been for me, the most impressive design project of 2014. From the initial concept and documentation, to the actual rollout of the ideas into their Android, iOS and web apps, each step has been extremely impressive. Maps and especially the new Inbox app on iOS are stand-outs for me.

What will be a game changer in 2015?

CB: 2013/2014 was all about flat design. Flat design was like a spring clean of all the design elements we just didn’t need. However, some flat design really lacks personality and warmth. I predict there will be an even bigger emphasis on illustration and hand drawn elements this year, bringing more personality back into our nice clean designs. Jessica Hische is one name that springs to mind who captures these qualities in her work.

JR: Animation and performance are two areas that came to the surface in 2014 and will continue to develop as more designers play with them. The iWatch is bound to draw a lot of attention from designers, no doubt fueling Dribbble and Medium for a few months, but I’m unconvinced by the wearables we’ve seen so far, even Apple’s effort. On the other hand, some of the concepts they are introducing — sensor input, glanceable information, tech as fashion — are going to shape the systems and interfaces we design over the next few years; look to Google Now and card interfaces as evidence of this.

OC: As a designer at JH, front-end development is a key part of the job and an area I want to add new skills. I’ve been gaining a particular interest in JavaScript, after being shown its possibilities to enhance a design and experiencing the reward of when it works. A personal game changer then, is to learn a lot more about coding scripts, even if its just some small stuff — it can make a big difference.

SO: I believe that Sketch will continue to convince more and more designers and front-end developers that a viable alternative to Photoshop and Illustrator is now possible. Instead of matching the two Adobe giants feature-for-feature, Sketch seems to be instead concerned with improving just the most common web/app related tasks. The way in which it simplifies exporting web-ready vector graphics (such as SVGs) is a great example of their laser-focus on modern techniques and workflows.