Something Better

There comes a point where we need to decide that something is "good enough". But settling for good enough is a dead end. Good enough is always one step behind, one step in the shadow of something better.

Every artist learns when to settle, but the best of the best learn to treat each piece of work not as something to finish, but as a stepping stone towards something better -- as a step towards a higher vantage point where a greater perspective enhances creativity.

Instead of settling for good enough, climb towards something better.

Stepping into the Darkness

Himalayan Mountains, Nepal 2010

With each step, the ambient light from the house dissipated. The ground was cold and my eyes strained to see where I was going. I dared not turn around or look up, too afraid that doing so would cause a giant creature to materialize from the darkness and swallow me in one gulp.

I was nine years old and although I had long since overcome my fear of the darkness inside the house, the dark forest surrounding the yard still held me hostage.

It was holding me prisoner, preventing me from exploring those places that my siblings wouldn't dream of going. I wanted to take that next step. I wanted to conquer darkness altogether.

One evening, without telling anyone in the house, I opened the back door and stared into the forest. The darkness was incredible. It shrouded everything in mystery, turning the daytime-yard that I was so familiar with into an unknown world of terrifying possibilities. Continue reading

33 Moments of Introspection

Pine Trees in Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest

"What if I had a clone? What if my clone wasn't complete and he needed some kind of information that would help him better understand who it means to be me?"

It was an odd thought, but I went with it anyway. I was sitting in an office, peering into the darkness that enveloped the city of Boston. The shapes of buildings were outlined with tiny lights and red, green, and white colors flowed on the streets below.

"What would I tell a clone to help him better understand me?" I began jotting down specific points that came to mind and stopped when I reached thirty-three.

"Was this me? Did this list convey the essence of what it's like to live in my head?"

Over the course of the next few days, I went back to that list and spent time pondering each point. I jotted down stories, described examples, and otherwise tried to define what each thing meant to me.

Now I'm sharing that list here with you in the hopes that you will glean something useful from it. Continue reading

Getting out of my Perfectionist State of Mind

I've been spending a lot of time working on the new website for my web hosting business, ActualWebSpace (formerly known as It’s a project that’s been underway for a lot longer than I’d hoped for and my perfectionist mentality is mostly to blame.

Early on, I decided the new site would run on WordPress and while I’ve spent a good amount of time tweaking WordPress themes, I've never designed one from the ground up. I’m by no means a designer and, being somewhat of a perfectionist, it's rather difficult for me to accept my creations the way they are and just be happy. This often results in designs that never leave the drawing board or, even worse, entire sites that never leave my computer.

Realizing it would be a good opportunity to teach myself to ignore the screaming perfectionist in my head and learn a little about site design along the way, I borrowed ideas and CSS from the theme and began envisioning and planning the custom theme. Because this was a business site, I felt the need to design something custom; I didn't want to use someone else's work and I wasn’t ready to spend money to outsource the work. I figured it would take me a month to get the new site up, two at the most.

Its been almost a full year since I started working on the new site and the perfectionist has been winning so far. I've dragged my feet so many times that I lost count and I've spent way too much time with little adjustments that, in the end, probably won't make a difference.

The past few weeks, however, have been much different. I've been making a hard push to finally get it done and I've made great progress. Focusing on one page at a time and working on it until it was finished has really helped. I keep reminding myself that anything I don't like can be changed later, even after the site goes live. Improvements to the site will always be ongoing and that's expected by everybody.

Here are just a few tips that have helped me as a non-designer get out of my perfectionist state of mind and make real progress on my site. These may not work for you, but they worked great for me. I plan to review this list in the future when I’m working on other sites:

  • Decide what pages are an absolute must-have to launch the site. Whatever pages can be added later, add them later. Only work on the must-have pages until they’re done.
  • Get the color scheme, header, and footer (preferably in that order) done before working on the individual pages. It’s easier to work on individual pages when you can step back and see the finished page in its entirety.
  • Focus on one page (or task) at a time and work on nothing else until it’s finished. You’ve probably heard this before, but real progress is made when you stay focused and consistently chip away at something until it’s done.
  • If you get stuck, work on something else. I know this contradicts the previous tip, but if you’re really feeling stuck try working on another part of the site for awhile. Let working on something else be your release for the thing you’re stuck on. Just don’t get carried away and start jumping all over the place.
  • Don’t let ideas distract you. You will invariably think of stuff you think could be made better or have ideas you want to try that are unrelated to what you’re currently working on. Keep a list of stuff you want to change or try and simply add to the list the moment something comes up. Then get back to work. (This tip also applies to header/footer changes, which you will see a lot of while designing individual pages!) No matter how simple, add it to the list and tackle it later.
  • Remember that sometimes less is more. Don’t try to fill spaces simply for the sake of filling them or to mimic the design/layout/content of other sites. Figure out exactly what information you need to get across and leave out the rest.
  • Get inspiration and ideas from other sites. Look at other sites for design, implementation, content, and topography ideas, but don’t get hung up comparing your site to theirs; they are two different sites.
  • Recycle. Find sites with layout or design elements that you really like and grab the CSS. Analyze how other sites have made stuff work and try them on your own site (I cannot stress how useful the FireFox Firebug extension is for doing this!).
  • Learn from the best. Look at big-name sites and analyze how they laid things out. There are often entire teams dedicated to figuring out the best techniques and many sites are where they are now only after years of trial-and-error. Save yourself an enormous amount of time and money by studying these sites.
  • Stop when it’s both “good enough” and “usable”. Would it kill you to let others see the page right now? Could Grandma figure out how to use it? Then stop. It’s good enough and you can improve on it later!

Finally, I want to give Steve Krug's awesome book on web usability, Don't Make Me Think!, a quick plug. I finished reading it this week and I think it’s a must-read by anyone involved with web design. It’s such a small book and so full of gold nuggets that you have absolutely no excuse not to read it. I’ll be reviewing Don’t Make Me Think! soon, so be sure to subscribe to my blog if you’re interested in reading the review.