Selfish Post, Number 4,152

As many of you already know, Self-Portrait Day was discovered by CSS Beauty yesterday. We didn’t even have to submit the site, it just appeared. When Michael wrote me to tell me that SPD was up there, I have to admit, I smiled. I was pretty pleased with this news.

Over the past 3 weeks, every time SPD has been linked from a message board, the main criticism I have received (or played lurker to) has been that the header is HUGE. (HUGE is usually written in all caps). And you know something? It IS huge especially given what users and creators are used to seeing on the Internet.

The site was designed and built in less than one week. That said, we weren’t able to go back and forth on its design and at the same time make sure everything still worked and Toby Joe had time to build it. All I was worried about at that time was making sure it was pushed live. After all, there were 21 people waiting on week one, should I go back on my words, 21 people could be pretty pissed off. Should I miss THEIR deadline, 21 people would turn into 42 people, 42 into 84, soon the ENTIRE internet would hate me and I couldn’t have that. Usually, when I say I’m going to do something, I do it, graphic design project deadlines included.

But now that it’s live and seems to be working (besides the fact that some folks don’t seem to be answering the questions or following ALL the instructions and that sort of saddens me. I guess, sometimes, I am actually a control freak.) we have noticed that there are design elements that may need to change.

Last night, after reading through the comments we have received via email, as well as the comments we have received after being linked to message boards, design forums, and photoblogs, I decided that I do need to do something about the HUGE header. I think Toby Joe summed up why, well. He said, “This site isn’t about SPD and the brand. It’s about the people who are featured every week. That said you really should try and push some of these portraits to fall above the fold.”

So we tried in the little time we had last night. It’s about 56 pixels smaller. That’s not much, but it makes a difference.

Some of the other criticism isn’t something I can fix. In other words, it’s criticism stemmed from one’s personal taste.

I have been a designer for so long. I have heard everything negative from professors to clients, from peers to online self-acclaimed wizards, to bosses, to people on the street, to unknowing guys name Steve or Jeff hiding behind HTML. But for some reason last night, I started to really think about what people were saying, criticism and all. I’m tossing and turning between “It doesn’t matter what they say. I can’t please everyone.” and “I want to make everyone happy because EVERYONE is who the site is for.”

I’m writing today to ask people for more feedback. I want to know if the site has done anything for you (if you’ve been featured). I want to know if you find the design bulky and ugly and WHY you find it to be that way or ways I might change it should my first question come back with a big fat YES. I want to know what your thoughts are on the way people are loaded as currently, since we’re still going by email submissions from the very first day, I am loading them in in the order I receive them. After that, I’m not entirely sure what we will do. I might have to play the roll of Almighty Creator and feature each row in a way that looks good.

I’m looking for constructive criticism. Let me have it!

(If you don’t like leaving comments, please feel free to email me at michele at this domain dot com.)

38 Comments

  1. I think the site kicks ass, even MORE so knowing that it was built in a week. You have plenty of time to play with it…it is so cool that you got picked up by that CSS site.
    And I cracked up when I read the post by “Preston” and then clicked on his site. Did you guys realize he is TWELVE YEARS OLD?
    He’s quite the precocious one!

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  2. Wait, is he REALLY 12? Or are you saying that to make me feel better for his ranting and raving. :]

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  3. Oh boy. So, with the lack of tone used during the writing of this post, it’s probably not very obvious to some that I’m not flamingly insecure. To be honest, I actually REALLY like SPD. I am proud of it. I’m merely looking for constructive criticism and/or suggestions.

    I guess I don’t have much to write about otherwise. (Today). :]

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  4. First of all, Michele I think you are doing a fantastic job with the site. People may forget that you are doing all of this for free and as a personal project. It eats both time and money. For me it is very different receiving feedback for things that I build for clients (people who pay me) and receiving feedback from people about sites that I do for free—especially when they consume time and money. I am way more sensitive to the feedback received on the free sites because of the whole “I’m doing this out of love and not for money” angle. It’s like it hits your heart instead of your brain.

    So, from me and I’m sure everyone else who uses the site: Thank You!

    In terms of the design here is some general advice which might not help at all because I’m not a huge fan of giving specific feedback mostly because design is personal and it evolves over time (and if you work for a client they end up changing it anyway):
    1. Who is your site user? I tell my designers to “design for one and the rest will come”. Before they even hit Photoshop I have them figure out whom the ideal ‘one user’ is and make design decisions based on them with some basic parameters (must be CSS, must work on at least 800×600 etc). With SPD I am noticing there are a lot of designers attracted to it. This is probably why you are getting so much feedback on the look: designers are programmed to give feedback; that’s what they do. So, is your one user a gal named Brandi who has a Mac and likes to listen to Jazz music or is it a guy named Bill who owns a pickup truck and has a 7 year old PC at home? Does the design fit the user?

    2. I’m probably going to get myself into trouble on this one but I will say it anyway. I’m a huge usability aficionado so the design could be anything but as long as the site is usable then it’s great. Design changes frequently (thank you CSS) but if you have crappy usability from the start and poor planning then this always comes back to bite you in the bum. From what I can see the site is well laid out and it is easy to find what you want.

    3. Expandability. One problem you will run into in the future with the current design is space issues. With the way it is set up there is not a lot of space to add new categories or items. You might be able to solve this issue (and decrease the size of the top banner) by spreading out the navigation from left to right. However, I like the way it is now because it is different from the typical left to right / up and down navigation. It’s not stuck in a box.

    4. I like that there are lots of round corners and soft edges. Too many sites these days are so angular—which I think is in part due to the CSS revolution. It’s nice to see something a bit different.

    5. Finally, Toby Joe is right. Why are people coming to the site? It’s to see the portraits so they need to be in your face from the get go.

    I hope this helps and hope it doesn’t take up too much space. I’m sure that whatever you come up with will be fantastic. Again, thanks for all the time and effort you have put into this project. You’re a rock star!

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  5. This week I decided I hate my job and most of the people here.
    /non-sequitor

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  6. I just want to add my $.02 I like the site and think the small changes you have made so far have made it better. It loads every time at work on a PC behind a firewall and at home on a Mac on Firefox and Safari. Have not yet experienced any loading issues. If you wanted to handle additional portraits, I would suggest going to a Monday/Thursday format. That gets more folks on, but cuts back on their exposure. That may be a comment issue worth exploring – quantity or duration? and I’m more than 12 years old.

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  7. by “here” i meant where I work. Not mihow.com :)

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  8. Here’s a comment for the SPD site, suggested with nothing but love and respect for what you guys are doing: every time I mouseover one of the nav images I make a separate http request for the image defined in the style. If you want to achieve the dynamic look by swapping images, is CSS the best technology to do it? It kinda lags and is slow. I can see using CSS if you were changing text format dynamically in response to user actions on the page (mouseovers, clicks, etc), but I don’t think it’s as effective as loading a javacript array (i know, tj—that’s so 1990’s) or putting a flash file on the page.

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  9. I like the smaller header. Also, I was initially thinking that making each photo small and a clickable link to a pop-up window containing the larger photo & responses might be better so that you can see everybody on one page without scrolling. Then I realized that in doing so, you would make it less likely that people will read all of the responses, much less click over to people’s sites. They way you have it now, even if people don’t click over to each person’s site, you at least have the responses to the questions right there. This is better for the users, who are there to be seen.

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  10. Mihow…YES, he’s really 12, according to his ‘about this site’ page (or whatever it’s called). He writes there “I’m twelve and in seventh grade”.
    I was not just trying to make you feel better, but if it worked, then I’m glad! Been thinking of you and how hard things must be.

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  11. ::cries::
    I got SERVED BY A 12 YEAR OLD!

    That’s the funniest thing I have realized all week.

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  12. i actually had a revelation similar to got jesus’, only it was that my team lead can be a catty little bitch when he can’t figure something out that i’ve explained to him 50 times.

    as for the site, i’ve spent most of my time this past week clicking my own photo. can you maybe blow it up so that it takes up the entire browser window?

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  13. oh, and link the preston post, please.

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  14. Ian, you’re goddamn hilarious. For real.
    Sharbean, I plan on emailing you directly. What a thoughtful comment. Thank you.

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  15. My personal philosophy on design is that it’s not a great design unless it’s both loved and hated.

    For a site that was put together in such a short period of time, it’s beautiful and makes a nice home for all of those self-portraits. I can’t wait to see how it evolves over time.

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  16. Ian – Click on the CSS link above then clink on the Permalink icon under Self Portrait Day.

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  17. Charlie – I have been meaning to make some changes to the FIR method for the rollovers. It’s mostly a problem with IE6 and folks with a 0byte cache buffer. It’s a simple enough fix, but it’s my last week at my current job and I’m just so slammed… I might even jump on the sIFR bandwagon. Who knows…

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  18. thanks toby … that sIFR stuff is cool. I had never seen it before (my comments were based on my rudimentary and intuitive understanding of how the web works). On another topic … kinda related to SPD and the non-sequitors on this thread: there is a space I believe for participant discourse on the web. I’m thinking about the comments storm that went on over at Dooce yesterday (about the knucklehead who sent a nastygram to heather), as well as my own desire to vent about my workplace (which if I had a blog I couldn’t do). Maybe something is out there (like the confessions site), but I don’t want to vent to strangers, but to a group of friends or like-minded people. anyway … i have to get back to work …

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  19. Wow, that Preston kid! Any 12-year-old who can work viscera into a sentence is impressive.

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  20. i agree with robyn, getting a rise from anybody is ALWAYS a good thing. and like anyone else will say, bad publicity is also good publicity.

    i love what the site is doing and its design is especially lovely! nevermind all of the negative comments, people’s opinions will always differ anyway and realistically in the design world how would we ever get anything done if we listened to EVERYBODY’s idea of ‘tweak’!?

    you have a lot to be proud of and i can’t wait to see tomorrow’s new faces. ;)

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  21. That you and your husband designed the SPD site and got it online in a week is astonishing.

    I liked its first day, when it was on your blog, for two reasons. First, I thought the white background made the pictures easier to see, and the answers to the questions easier to read, rather than that dark background. Second, I liked it in the context of “Hi, my name is Michelle, this is my blog, and these are my friends.” In other words, if you had built it into a corner of your existing blog, that would have been just fine.

    (All that is just my personal opinion, which, of course, you can take or leave.)

    As for your 12-year-old critic Preston, who thinks SPD is “unimaginative”, you should see what that kid can do with A. Bunch. Of. Pastel. Colored. Rectangles. :-)

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  22. Re: the fold
    i dont think there’s anything wrong with a big header. In fact, i think its good. Your site isn’t about the portraits, your site is about your site, which features portraits—thats the point of having a brand identity.
    i think ‘self portrait day’ should have a big header – and i think it should take up the bulk of stuff above the fold. if you’re gonna start putting portraits above the fold, then i ask this – is someone more important because they’re above the fold vs below? if not, consider showing pictures dynamically. i see the fold, i see some pix above and some below, and i think—the people on top are better people. the ones below are the sinners.

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  23. Jon, that was my argument, too. I felt, that if you see THREE people right away, that says they are most important. Which was initially why I said No to making it smaller. But then again, I am often backbonless and cave under any sort of direction. It’s true. I’m your puppet.

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  24. my puppet?

    great! then i puppet-command you to say a big “fuck you” to all the people who complain and do what mihow thinks best (which coincidentally, is what i think best)

    thats not just an order—thats a puppet-command, so you can’t say no!

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  25. I liked the HUGE header. I liked that it was all I saw when I first entered the site and I had to scroll down to see the pictures. It was like a big WELCOME to SPD. Now when I go to the site I see the tops of peoples heads from the first row, that kinda bothers me. I’m not going to pretend I know anything about design or computers because I don’t (at all), but when I was in photography school we had a thing call the 1” rule, if something was only a tiny bit in a photo either let it in or push it out, that’s what the tops of the head remind me of.

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  26. yeesh. Now, I’m a rag doll. WIll THE BIG HUGE HEADER HATERS please step forward. Show yourself. Why, why you no likey?

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  27. I was featured in week one!!! I feel like an original castmate from MTV’s Real World or something….haha. I have NO complaints about the website. I think it’s so creative and entertaining, and I look forward to Thursday every week. You had a great idea, and you’ve allowed a lot of us bloggers to receive more traffic, so thank you!! Keep up the good work.

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  28. I mean cast member not castmate – WTF?

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  29. I kinda like the sound of “castmate”. It’s very british.

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  30. I love the whole thing, big masthead and all. Only one critique is that some people really go over on the photoshop techniqes and so we lose what the person looks like. A filter here and there no problem, but less is more. And also, not a big fan of the illustrated pictures. I think the rule should be photographs only.

    Saying that…Too many rules=not very much fun.

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  31. another likeable british sounding phrase: “to ponce around”. as in: “i ponced around the mall tonight looking for a shirt to wear to this wedding. then i ponced around the parking lot of target while julie shopped for dishcloths and laundry rope.”

    see what i mean? it’s great.

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  32. As a Designer (OK, Art Director) and having had my fair share of criticism and being able to fully take it, I SAY THIS: (and I was featured in the first SPD)

    You are doing a great job! You did this on your own accord and your own time and generosity. I don’t think the masthead is ugly or big. I think it is cool. Do what you want. You and Toby Joe are doing a great job. I like that you are listening to others, but GAH!!! You’re doing great. It’s YOUR site. It’s beautiful. I wouldn’t change a thing!!

    And as far as going overboard on the photoshop, some ppl are not comfortable with their full mugs out there. That’s all. Well, that’s why I did mine that way.

    This whole thing is personal. And personal it should be. That is what makes it interesting.

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  33. Whoa. People can be so strange. I think constructive critism is great, but certainly people don’t feel you can meet EVERYONE’s expectations or demands, whichever the case may be.

    I love the site. I think it’s lovely and very well done. Scott’s a web site desiner too, and he was very impressed with it as well. I say take suggestions, but don’t let people drive you nuts. ;)

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  34. I agree with Amanda B., thank you again for including me!

    By the way I wanted to let you know how sorry I am about your friend…all I can say is I know situations like that are awful but years later you will find yourself cracking up over the times you have shared with that person. I lost a good friend in school and to this day I crack up over situations we were in together. All I am trying to say is the hurt/sadness stick around for a bit but the memories of those amazing times will stick with you forever (your stories really made me smile…that is the type of stuff that lasts).

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  35. Thanks, BSmith. It’s funny how the living become the ones you worry about after someone passes on. I feel so horrible for Soung and Melissa and all those who saw her almost everyday. I hope that they find some laughter, too. Actually, I witnessed the memories this past weekend. And that made me happy. That brought a smile to my teary face.

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  36. Michele, I think SPD is just brilliantly done. I don’t think I’d like photos above the header—the header is such a strong theme (or ‘mark,’ in the branding sense), and it’s so well executed, that I say leave it as it is for now. Maybe in a year or three, when things are getting a little stale, you might shake it up, but it just feels right as it is. And I think your work is grand.

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  37. mihow, first of all thanks for posting on my pblog. I did not even know that I was up there. Second, the site seems fantastic. It is there for a purpose other than good design, for people to know faceless names. The design is very secondary and in any case I loveit. Gives you the old fashioned feel. Great job.

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