A look back on my Journey in Design

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Over the years, I’ve been following a lot of bloggers and reading articles shared by them—mostly written by designers or developers. I’d say everything about the web that I know of was basically learnt from these people. Recently, I started blogging and wrote a few posts. I think it’s probably the time to talk about myself. To have a look back on what I’ve done for the past two decades, what I’m thinking right now and my new point of view regarding design.

Note: Update in Progress. This is a personal post about me, be warned.

The story of creating my first website

I’m not entirely sure where to start writing about myself, I don’t think anyone would be interested either. But for historical purposes, I decided to write. What else should I do on my own blog? So, I’ll try to talk about creating my first website when I was in secondary school.

It all begins when a 56k Modem was installed in our home. That was the time I know about the web. Modem uses a phone line to transfer data and needs to “dial-up” to create a connection. The speed was very slow and it’s nowhere close to 56kbit/s. I remember I tried to downland a wallpaper from an Anime and it took a few hours.

A year or so later, my family upgraded it to broadband with cable connection. I browsed a lot on the internet but mostly personal websites. I discovered a software Microsoft FrontPage, a HTML editor that allows users to create web page by a WYSIWYG interface. I spent a lot of hours clicking through every menu item that available and learning what their function are. For creating images, I use Paintbrush.

I started to create website by using <frameset> and nesting <table>s, even without knowing what is HTML and CSS. Something like adding <marquee> was once a very popular thing to do, and so does image <map>. I admit I was young, didn’t know how to code, and didn’t want to learn either. I shamelessly copied a lot of other people’s code and adding JavaScript to the site. It was very fun to create things.

At the time, Yahoo! dominated the Asia market at ‘00s. Pretty much everyone in Hong Kong was using Yahoo! Mail and their search engine. How could I forgot Hotmail? Google’s Gmail wasn’t a thing yet. Then I learnt about free hosting on Yahoo! GeoCities.

While I was in college, one of our computer lesson teachers was once a former editor of a popular computer magazine called PC Home. He was responsible for the school’s official website. He introduced us to Macromedia Dreamweaver. (Note: Adobe hasn’t acquired Macromedia yet.) I quickly upgraded my tooling to Dreamweaver, Flash and PaintShop Pro. I then started to “design” more webpages, adding Flash banners and guest book then uploading to Geocities.

It probably was the golden era of personal websites.

As I recall, it was around the year 2001. I thought I was a designer for some time. Creating a bunch of useless websites without actual purposes, proper design and content. How naive I was? I also invested a fair amount of time in playing computer games, and that’s pretty much my secondary school life.

From studying print to graphic design

After graduation, I seriously have no idea what to do. I was confused and frustrated because that was the first time I need to make a decision in my entire life. I don’t like to study anything in school, so my grades were pretty low at the bare minimum. In fact, I don’t quite remember I’ve ever studied anything at all. I was lucky to have a pass on all subjects.

I like the internet and software, so I pick what interests me most to apply for studying.

Learning desktop publishing

Eventually, I applied for a course in Printing and Computer Imaging. I learnt about Prepress—the principles of printing and desktop publishing. Learning the basics and theories of printing process: letterpress, offset printing, relief printing and gravure. The practical use of desktop publishing software, color separation, CMYK, paper, bookbinding techniques and finishing. I still remember quite a few terms, such as ream, signatures, registration, gsm, CTP, dpi, etc. We did have our hands on a Heidelberg press after all. The experience was, I’d say very practical. I think I’ve got the basic understanding of what is print, the concept of how it works.

I also learnt about creating interactive CD-ROMs. Softwares like Macromedia’s Director and Flash. I uses them to create animations and interactive interfaces. I still have the files stored in CDs somewhere in my room but they’re .exe files and I don’t think it’s worth reviving.

One of the many things that interested me was bookbinding. There were assignments of hand-make books from calculating paper sizes, signatures, paper folding and cutting, binding (using French sewing) and how to make a hardcover for a book. Those were the knowledge that I can still remember after more than a decade.

After completing the course. I worked as a “sales” and QC (Quality Control) in a printing house. I mainly responsible for checking color proofs that were printed overnight and delivering them to clients on the next morning. I only survived doing that for a few months and got fired because my lack of enthusiasm and bad attitude. I was young and angry, you know.

My interest in design grows more. Then I decided to apply for another course in Visual Communication. I wanted to learn graphic design and become a designer for real.

Visual Communication

In the old days, people uses the term graphic design. Visual Communication is a term for describing various creative media: the web, motion graphics, multimedia, information graphic, photography, 3D, illustration and traditional graphic design. The lecturers’ teaches us creative thinking: brainstorming, how to convey your ideas, develop and visualize them using different kind of mediums that also communicates your message.

I started to switch from using desktop publishing tools, such as Freehand and PageMaker to illustrator, PhotoShop and InDesign. Because of my background in print, I picked up very quickly. Those skills has been useful to me.

For doing school projects, I uses InDesign extensively. It’s a much better tool than PowerPoint for presentation slides, especially for creating multiple pages PDF. I learnt about grid systems: margins, gutter, columns, baseline grids; typography: kerning, alignment, classifying typefaces. I was more comfortable in how to critique and widen my use of design vocabulary.

During my study, I developed a habit of criticism. Criticizing my classmates’ works becomes very usual to me. I became a person who thinks and acts independently. I’m now a guy with very strong—or you may say stubborn—opinions towards anything design related. Well, maybe not only limited to design.

Having proper training in design, I see things differently. My aesthetic taste and criticism of design become a thing that sticks with me forever. Especially my taste in typography and branding. It has the most influence on me till today.

However, I think I somehow is destined to be related to the web.

In the summer at year 2007, I was assigned to internship in a retail watch company as a in-house junior web designer. The company has multiple product lines for their watches. I was responsible for creating the official website for one of their brands. It was the moment I designed the first and ever website as a designer. It was built using Dreamweaver, the WYSIWYG editor without touching the code. Using <table>s, <div>s with many ids. The CSS was inlined on every page. It has a Flash banner as well! I was very proud and bragging about it at school. The website is still alive as of 2022.

At the same year, iPhone just came out. People begins to have interest in smartphone. Interestingly, blogging was once pretty popular amongst younger generation. Using Xanga, Myspace, and Yahoo! Blog. Also, everyone’s using ICQ or MSN for communication.

Those were the good days. I’ve enjoyed my time. As a design student, I worried nothing but doing school projects, dating and arguing.

The three years of design study, I’d say it has been the highlight of my boring life. It always has been.

Working professionally as a designer

As a fresh graduate of design, I aimed for a designer position. I stumbled upon a job description, it stated that online portfolio is a must for getting an interview with them. I quickly built my portfolio using Flash. That was the summer time in year 2008. All the files are still on my old hard disk.

That’s it. I built my first online portfolio using the skills I’ve gained over the years. All you need is to know some ActionScript. With some typographic treatment and fade-in-out animation effect. Then embedded it in a html file using FTP to upload, and it’s done. I have had my online portfolio since 2008. For which I successfully landed the role as a designer.

I worked in an advertising agency as a junior designer. I was responsible for creating artwork for print. The creative director is English and he taught me a lot on typography. He always making fun of me, but in a good way. I made mistakes very often and I think that’s discouraged me. Hurts my pride and my fragile ego. I left the company after half a year later in 2009.

I unemployed for 3 months. I thought I’m good at doing school projects. I was arrogant and impetuous. I didn’t know how the world works. That’s the moment truly knowing my strengths and weaknesses.

I’ve learnt my lessons and I wouldn’t dares to call myself a designer for three years after I left the agency.

Then I decided to “go back” to web design.

Learning how to code on the job

From year 2009 to 2012, I worked in a tiny-sized design company. Learning the basics of constructing a webpage. Designing layouts, updating website and creating a lot of Flash e-Card. I’ve been patience and took my time to learn everything about the web. When I started working there, I can’t even tell what’s the difference between an id or class.

I realized no one is going to teach you anything. You have to learn it by yourself. I work hard and devoured a lot of things related to web design. Reading articles / tutorials became a habit of mine. I considered myself self-taught in terms of web design.

My skills in PhotoShop/illustrator became more and more proficient. My knowledge of HTML and CSS has improved a lot as well. I managed to build websites using floating <div>s for fixed width websites and to write better HTML and CSS.

I didn’t know I was given how big an opportunity to learn on the job.

“Jack of All Trades”

After the three years, I gained more confidence and switched to another design firm. I was responsible for all sorts of things. From research, design concepts, wireframing and creating website layouts: visual design using PhotoShop/illustrator. And then sending files to clients for approval, revising/updating based on feedbacks. After that, turn the visual design into code: HTML/CSS. I was more than happy that I can finally manage a project all by myself. I felt like I’m “valuable” to the company I working for. I was hired to work for them—for their clients, I took on different tasks and I delivered. I don’t see any wrong in that.

I considered myself fortunate to have worked on quite some projects. I enjoy working independently, which makes me feel like I exist.

In 2014, I was promoted to a senior position. I mainly designing full-set responsive layout: desktop, tablet and mobile. Finally, I can do visual design only without doing all the “dirty work”.

I’ve designed, constructed and help launched at least 40+ websites throughout 2012 to 2018. A few of the projects were bigger, but most of them I bet no one will ever heard of. They were very small scale websites that I’ve managed to design and build. The CMS were all custom made in PHP by my co-workers. Despite that, I was very proud of being a designer. Because I’ve the ability to create—from design to code a website from scratch.

I truly thinks I’m a designer, “Jack of All Trades”. I’m versatile, from doing print design: business cards, leaflets, flyers, brochure; to website layouts and HTML/CSS. I’ve gained some “good looking pieces” that I can put them into my precious little portfolio.

As a designer, who don’t want their portfolio looks good? <rant>“Am I not allowed to brag about it in my own website, my masterpiece? Fuck you.”</rant>

I did not know how very wrong I was.

My view on design after all these years

My attitude and thoughts on things become different. But I’m not transformed into a different person, so to speak, I’m still the same guy I was.

It all changed because something happened to me. Everything changed. I’ve a PVD, Posterior Vitreous Detachment in 2019. I think I’ll spare you the details because no one is going to care anyway. I’ve more time to think. So, I’m trying to share it here. Well, more like I’m talking to my past self.

I was wrong because I realized I’ve never cared about web accessibility or implemented anything about it. I should have learned semantics properly when I first landed the job as web designer. Shame on me.

Also, I’ve never won any awards or been nominated in contests or competitions. Sounds like I’ve ever participated in any. I’m a guy who likes to design things, but locking myself in my tiny little room and thinking I can create beautiful layouts isn’t going to get me anywhere.

Your so-called masterpiece—the website you created will be going to get an overhaul, revamp, redesign then disappear. So soon that maybe in the next month. All your hard work will be gone. Nothing last forever.

I’ll be very honest to tell you. I captured every website on screen that I design into jpgs/pngs. Then pick the good looking ones and put them in my portfolio. I wanted to “preserve” all the hard work, sweat and tears. However, none of them has proper thoughts about accessibility. Visually beautiful and getting approval from the clients is my only concern.

Because pushing pixels is all I do.

Design isn’t just about the pretty images that you put on Dribbble or Behance. Not only making things that fulfil your own satisfaction. Don’t get me wrong. A designer still needs to have their portfolio.

But your skills, knowledge, experience, points of view, perspectives can be exist in another format. Turn your thoughts into written words. It’s so much more than just an image. It has endless possibilities.

Through writing on your blog.

You might be thinking, my entire career means nothing compared to yours. Of course. I am fucking aware that I’m in no position to lecture anyone about anything. I’m a nobody.

But I’m telling you one thing–the only one thing:

It can’t be for nothing.

<whisper>No matter how insignificant you think I’m.</whisper>

Closing thoughts

I’m not trying to be a writer myself nor do I need to convince anyone to be one. I thought I was going to win a nobel prize for that. I’m talking to myself. As you can tell, English isn’t my first language. Guess what, I bet you can only speaks English. You’re not able to understand a single Kanji character and you think you’re smarter, huh? Jokes aside, I’m kind of regretting not to start blogging earlier like 15 years ago when I started my “career”.

It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.

— Tyler Durden, Fight Club (1999)

You can tell what the person is capable of by reading one’s blog. I couldn’t care less of your fancy titles or which big names company you’re working for. They’re irrelevant.

I’ve read plenty of articles shared by people all over the world. They have one thing in common. They share their mistakes as well. You couldn’t change the past but its part of your life. To distill your knowledge and experience of you through blogging. It works like a mirror of yourself.

Only when weak may I carry my true strength.

— Levi, The Last Of Us Part II

My new journey begins here.

I was inspired to blog by a few people as I’ve said in my previous posts. Not only to write, but to build a personal website from scratch like in the good ol’ days. I figured I should talk about it in another post. I came across a little website created by Amy Wibowo: home sweet homepage. That’s the motivation of writing this post.

If there’s anyone reading through, I hope my story won’t bores you. I bet you have a much better story to tell. Why don’t you tell me about it?