Andi Witmer

About Andi Witmer

Andi Witmer is an interactive designer at Matrix Group. Andi brings great talent and experience, which helps make our clients’ sites look simply stunning. She has a BFA from James Madison University, and brings to Matrix Group seven years of experience, including two years of interior design.

Is Your Website Like Grandma’s House?

Close your eyes and picture your grandma’s house. Most of you are probably picturing a space that is warm, inviting, familiar, but most likely not a modern, cutting edge space. There’s probably a decent amount of tchotchkes, heirlooms and general “stuff” laying around.

Now think about your website. Your home page is much like an entryway to a house. If it’s warm, inviting, familiar, those are all good things. But if it’s starting to look dated like grandma’s house, cluttered with tons of old content, ahem “memories”, chances are it’s time to think about a refresh or redesign. There’s a high probability that technology has also advanced since your last refresh, you know, kind of like grandma’s continued use of a landline or flip-phone.

We’ve been stepping back and taking a look at our own surroundings recently – “eating our own dog food” as CEO Joanna Pineda would say – and we’ve seen glimpses of grandma’s house here and there.  Everything’s fine and familiar, but getting a bit dated.

Time to shake things up a bit!

 

We’ve started this process by recently revamping our office space. Like a website, interiors absolutely need refreshing every so often in order to not look stale. Our old pool table in the lobby, for instance, was so much fun when we got it! But since then it’s been sitting forlorn in the lobby taking up space and was rarely being used. We made the tough choice of donating it so we could open up the space and create a fresh new welcoming area. And we love it! 

We’re also wrapping up a long overdue refresh to our client extranet. If you’re a frequent Matrix Group Flyer you’ve probably already seen some big changes. We’re now responsive (!!finally!!) and MUCH more user friendly. We hope these changes will encourage our clients to interact with us more through that platform!

All of these changes are really making a big difference around here and we’re feeling less and less like grandma’s house. Next up on the books for us is an overhaul of our main site. We’re kicking all the tchotchkes to the curb and going for fresh and simple. It’s going to be great.

Design Trends for 2017

While 2016 was an exciting year for design – there was a shift toward mobile-first design, video and rich imagery were hotter than ever, and animations became the norm – I’m even more excited about what we can expect to see in 2017.

 

A few weeks ago, Creative Director Alex Pineda and I held a webinar with CEO Joanna Pineda to talk about the trends that are emerging in 2017, and how you can give your members the best user experience possible by incorporating them into your web presence.

Curious about what’s in store for 2017? Check out our recap video:

 

Whether your plans for 2017 include a large-scale website redesign, building a brand new website from scratch, launching an app, or simply refreshing a few of your key pages, we’d love to help you incorporate some of these trends!

 

Which design trends are you most excited about for 2017? 

Web Accessibility and Keeping Others in Mind

Refreshable_Braille_displayWebsite accessibility has been on my mind recently. A few years back, one of the biggest trends on the web was subtlety. Medium gray text on light gray backgrounds, super-thin fonts, etc. all looked quite elegant to designers, but in hindsight they were pretty unfair to the average user. At Matrix Group, we try to be as inclusive as possible, and that means paying attention to accessibility and designing our sites to be as usable by the widest range of people as humanly possible.

Our CEO, Joanna, sits in on site reviews, and she sometimes sends us back with edits because the contrast is way too low. She freely admits that her vision’s getting less sharp as the years go by, and if she’s got problems with contrast, other people will, too.

The biggest eye-opening moment for me was when another Matrix employee, Sarah, and I were quibbling over a design element that was misaligned on a site we were building. As a designer, I could see it clear as day, but as a front-end developer with some visual impairments, she simply could not see what I was talking about. She then flapped her hands – her go-to “stop stop stop!” gesture – and told me to put her glasses on to see what the world looked like with her eyes. And WOW did that change my perspective on things! It got me thinking, if Sarah couldn’t see that, what else can’t other people see on the sites I’m designing?

And it’s not just visual barriers we need to keep in mind, though those are the most obvious to a designer. Accessibility also needs to account for a wide range of challenges. These are just some of the main things we think about on the long list of W3C’s Accessibility guidelines:

  • Those who can’t use a mouse with precision due to conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease, stroke, cerebral palsy or even a temporary condition like a broken arm, require sites that have much larger click targets.
  • Transcripts for podcasts or videos will be needed for people with auditory conditions.
  • People who suffer from photosensitivity-triggered epileptic seizures have problems with flashing objects and must be so relieved that blinking, spinning, over-animated text is a thing of the past.
  • Buttons should be specifically named instead of simply “click here” to help provide people using refreshable braille displays with more context.
  • Contrast is one of our biggest culprits. So much so that I’ve been running everything through a trusty contrast checker to make sure everything I design is now legible to all.
  • Attention disorders, dyslexia, learning and cognitive disabilities all benefit from visual clues such as icons paired with text, or different font and spacing decisions.
  • We also need to keep the paragraph line length in check for this audience. As desktop sites get wider and wider, this is easily forgotten because there’s so much room! We don’t need to fill the available space. We need to keep this in check at 80 characters, otherwise it becomes very hard to keep your place while reading.

Luckily, all these things also help simply distracted, impatient people. We all know a few of those, right? Which really is kind of the point of all this: making websites more accessible for users with impairments ultimately enhances the user experience for our audience as a whole and simply benefits everyone.

Except for me. These things make my job as a designer substantially more challenging.

It’s a good thing I like challenges.

What’s the biggest accessibility challenge you face, day-to-day?

Rethinking the Way We Work

officespaceMatrix Group could be going through big changes in the near future. Our lease is almost up, so we’re up against a major decision: to move or not to move? This decision has gotten us thinking a lot more about how we work and interact with each other throughout the day.

We recently switched over to to Slack, a messaging app for teams that is making us rethink the way we communicate with our colleagues. So far, in my opinion, it has made chatting with people throughout the day a lot easier and way more fun. With animated gifs, emojis, personalized commands, and – more importantly – easy file and screenshot sharing, do we even still need email for internal communication?

The impending potential move also has made us reassess whether or not our physical space is still working for us. Physical environment plays a big part in keeping people happy throughout the day. Do we need more space per person? Less space? More natural light? Private work space for concentration? War rooms to cram on major projects? Flexible meeting space? It’s a lot to think about.

Another thing we’re contemplating is whether or not to switch entirely over to laptops. Currently everyone, with the exception of PMs and directors, has workhorse desktop systems with multiple monitors. This is great for productivity but also completely inhibits moving around to collaborate with each other. Being tied to a desk can get you pretty stuck in a rut at times. It would be great to move to a different part of the office at points throughout the day just to get a change of scenery and shake things up a bit.

A big trend in office design at the moment is the concept of “neighborhoods.” Instead of having large work stations filling the entire floor, you would have smaller pod areas for specific teams. These could either be stationary or modular, enabling you to roll your desk closer to whomever you may be working with on a project at any given time. It’s an interesting concept, though we’re not sure how practical it would be for us.

Either way, at the very least, we’ll be making a few upgrades to our current office space.

What do you like or dislike about the way your company works and communicates with each other? We could use some tips!

Sketch v Photoshop

ps_v_sketch_smThese days designers are being bombarded with a ton of tools to help us with productivity. New apps and plug-ins for prototyping, iconography, photography, background patterns, content creation, templates, etc. are being thrown at us every day, so much so, that it’s sometimes hard to choose which one to go with. After weighing your options, sometimes you just have to close your eyes, click “download” and cross your fingers.

When it comes to deciding on a tool for actual design creation, however, we still only have two main options: Photoshop and Sketch. This small pool helps make the decision much easier.

Old School

Photoshop is the grandfather of UI design. It’s so old it wasn’t even created with user interface in mind; it was created with photography in mind (in 1988!). As the digital design industry evolved, designers needed a tool to get the job done, and Photoshop became that tool of choice, for better or worse, because it was the only tool on the market. And without any competition in the market, it has stayed fairly the same all these years, bloated with photography tools and not logically set up for UI. In Photoshop’s defense, it was never meant to be a tool for UI. It’s still great at editing photos.

Up-and-Comers

Sketch is the cool new kid on the block. Within the past few years it has been gaining significant traction within the industry. In 2008, the guys at Bohemian coding looked at the UI-design pain points with Photoshop and decided enough was enough! It was time to thoughtfully develop a tool specific to UI design. So they set out to make a better product, and the industry has responded by overwhelmingly switching over to Sketch. If you build it, they will come…

We started using Sketch at Matrix Group a few months ago, and it has considerably increased our design productivity. If if doesn’t do something we want it to, 9 times out of 10, someone else thought the same thing and developed a plug-in for it. It also integrates with other amazing apps as well, Zeplin being Matrix Group’s favorite. Zeplin is a designer/developer hand-off tool that has completely streamlined this process by importing designs and out-putting styling, CSS snippets, dimensions and assets – all right at the fingertips of the developers without them ever having to open a file, let alone a whole program.

Sketch still has a few downfalls compared to Photoshop, handling of typography being one, but for now we are totally on board with being a Sketch shop. That being said, I’m still 100% keeping Photoshop around for whenever I need to edit photos. And I’ll absolutely be checking out Project Comet when its released. Yay competition!

Have you used Sketch? Do you prefer it over Photoshop? Or are there other design tools that you like more than Photoshop and Sketch? We’d love to hear your thoughts!