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Structuring Scalable Web Projects

Life has a funny way of teaching us about the need for structure. My move from California to Texas was one such lesson, a physical transition that echoed the changes I am navigating in my professional life as a web designer. Just like carefully packing up and transporting belongings across states, I found that creating web projects also needed a systematic approach for success.

When Creativity Meets Chaos

Early in my career, I reveled in the freedom of creativity. No structure, no rigid plans, just an open canvas for me to splash with ideas. While this worked for a while, I began to realize the cost - a quick burnout and a recovery phase that never seemed enough. My work began to suffer, and so did I. It was clear that a change was needed.

Embracing Structure

When I talk about embracing structure, I don’t just mean in terms of project workflow. Embracing structure is more of a mindset shift, an acceptance of the fact that creativity and chaos don't have to be synonymous. It means understanding that even in an endeavor as inherently creative as web design, there's a place for order, for systematic steps, and for a reliable, repeatable approach.

Interestingly, one of the earliest and most enduring lessons I learned about embracing structure didn't come from a design book or a class, but from my dad. He taught me the art of making space, both literally and figuratively.

When I was young, I had a messy desk that was perpetually cluttered with books, papers, and assorted paraphernalia. Often, I'd find myself hunched over, working in the last 5 inches of available space in the corner of the table. One day, my dad noticed this and immediately stopped me. He didn’t scold me for my untidiness or tell me off for the clutter. Instead, he simply asked me to clean up my workspace before I proceeded with my homework.

In retrospect, that was one of the most valuable lessons I had learned growing up. It wasn't just about tidying up a physical space. It was about creating room for the task at hand, clearing away distractions, and focusing on what was important.

Just as importantly, I've learned to make space for things that matter, both in my work and in my life. That means carving out time for client work, but also making time for self-care and rest. It means ensuring that my creative energy isn’t spread too thin and that I have enough space to give each project the attention it deserves.

In a broader sense, embracing structure is about creating space - not just physical, but mental and creative space as well. It’s about clearing out clutter and distraction, focusing on what's important, and making sure there's room for growth, exploration, and new ideas. With this in mind, let's delve into how this philosophy reflects in the actual process of web design and development.

The Process

It took a lot of trial and error, a good dose of self-reflection, and a systematic review of past projects. But in the end, I managed to break down my project workflow into four key stages.

  1. Branding - Branding is the soul of any project and working with Jessica Hannan on this has been an absolute pleasure. Her deep understanding of branding's core principles and unwavering care for her clients has truly made a difference in the process. In the initial phase, branding involves integrating photography, colors, and typography (fonts) into the CMS. This step is crucial as it readies the environment, setting the stage for the project. Picture it as preparing for a grand feast. You gather all your ingredients, ensure everything is clean, and create an organized space that is primed for cooking.

  2. Framework Setup - Once the branding elements are in place, it's time to construct the skeleton of the site. This is where the copy document comes into play. I begin by integrating the copy into the platform, whether that's Wix, Webflow, WordPress; anything really. Laying out the copy in sections, I get a sense of hierarchy from the verbiage early on. All basic elements are put in place at this stage - buttons, menus, headers, footers, links, etc. It's akin to setting up the foundations and walls of a building.

  3. Design - Design is the most creative part of the process, but it's also where structure really comes into its own. Once all the copy is in place, I go back through the site to apply any design ideas I had from the beginning. This is where I take all the elements I've put into the playground and start building sandcastles. I finesse things like padding and margins on sections, columns, photos, line weights and any other structure where uniformity functions as an aesthetic element. Animations also begin to take shape at this stage. If the platform allows for responsiveness, I tinker with it here too.

  4. Review and Present - This is the final stage before presentation to the client. A meticulous review helps ensure that everything is as it should be, and any final tweaks are made. Then comes the moment of truth – presenting it to the creative lead or client.

This structured approach keeps the process organized and ensures every detail is addressed. Most importantly, it allows for both creativity and efficiency to coexist.

Adapting and Growing

I'm still learning and tweaking, but already, the changes are palpable. I'm better prepared to handle multiple projects and clients without compromising on the quality of work. The chaos has given way to an organized calm, and it's a welcome change.


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