Dizajn.hr workshop at UMAS
This year (2014) the Croatian Designers Association (local: Hrvatsko dizajnersko društvo) decided to redesign their outdated (Flash-based) magazine at dizajn.hr (dizajn = design in Croatian). After a failed Web design contest a few months prior (no wonder, web designers hate spec. work), the association decided to commission the redesign as an exercise for students on design courses at the universities of Split and Zagreb. The workshop took place at the Split Academy of Arts (UMAS) over a period of four days.
I was invited to participate in the workshop to work alongside professors Ivica Mitrović (UMAS) and Tin Kadoić (School of Design) with my main focus being to help the students deliver this de facto commercial project. We only had four days to come up with a solution and as you can imagine that is quite an ambitious target for any project. Therefore, given the short amount of time at our disposal our primary goal was to set some form of design direction and to design a handful of core templates with the remaining work to be done in the ensuing months.
For the majority of students participating, Web design is not a core subject taught on their degree courses. Therefore, we weren’t expecting to have experienced nor seasoned coders but nevertheless we were pleasantly surprised, they were an ace bunch of students! So if you are looking for fresh talent, then look no further, we highly recommend you check out:
- Dominik Markušić
- Franka Tretinjak
- Ivan Kunjasić
- Marko Hrastovec
- Mate Žaja
- Slobodan Dragošević
Apart from structuring content and defining the visual language, which was really more up to Ivica and Tin to steer, my main contribution was to facilitate the pace of production and help the students to get things done. For some students this was their first commercial collaborative Web project, and for almost all the first time working to a tight deadline on such a project.
Basic Web design skills such as touch typing, setting up local development servers, general project management, collaboration over multiple HTML and CSS files etc., did prove to be a challenge for most of the students. However, to my pleasure I discovered the coders had a good understanding of the general HTML syntax and rules and so any reservations I had with regards to their perceived knowledge of exotic HTML elements and attributes wasn’t an issue. For instance, whenever I suggested a different HTML or CSS structure, everyone immediately understood the concept and updated the code without the need for any further explanation. Kudos to them!
Once we had set the main visual direction and finalised the information tree, homepage structure and search engine interface, we then had to merge the various files scattered across all of the participants computers to create a prototype to showcase to the client, in this case — the dizajn.hr editorial staff.
Not one individual in the group felt comfortable with running a local web server, though luckily for us Dropbox was set-up on everyone’s laptops. So in the end it was a relatively simple exercise to create client-side includes with jQuery (see the code below), dividing up the prototype into manageable files and components, thus helping everyone from stepping on each other’s toes.
Despite best efforts, there were a couple of “accidents” with students unintentionally overwriting each others code. However, I see such incidents as an important part of the learning process especially for the students as until we experience such incidents first hand, only then can we appreciate the frustration involved in having to re-do an hour’s work. This ultimately helped to emphasise to the students the need for clear and permanent communication between peers, as well as reinforcing the need and importance of maintaining version control, no matter how basic.
And after all, there’s no better feeling than at the point you feel that burst of collaborative energy whilst walking down to your colleague and asking them to update a tiny piece of code, so that everything can finally fall into its place at your end.
Being only one small part of a bigger system requires a whole set of supplementary skills and thought processes and I was pleased and proud to see that this was one of the main focal points throughout the workshop.