Client: / Contract: In-house is (or was) a technology news site that was launched in 1999 to aggregate and repackage contents from other, better-known IDG sites such as MacWorld, PC World, the late Industry Standard and Computerworld.

The site had undergone some minor alterations to the look and feel between 1999 and 2002. Aside from those, the site had never had a redesign.

To the right (click to enlarge) is basically what the front page looked like in July 2002, around the time I started lobbying for a redesign. At the time, I was the Senior Designer/Web Design & Usability Manager (i.e. a one-woman web design department for a $45K salary) at The targeted ares of improvement were as follows:

  • More efficient use of real estate
  • Better directing of traffic from front page into main topic pages
  • Built-in advertising spaces (no more jerry-rigging and retrofits)
  • A see-through topic directory for direct access, more favorable first impression
  • Better publishing structure to cut down on editorial grunt work

I started with several layout rather than design proposals, in order to separate the look from feel. Once the management, marketing, editorial and tech had fought it out amongst themselves and picked the layout, I came up with two design proposals (see sidebar).

Sucrose passed the approval process with only the most minor changes—shortening of topic names, addition of "upcoming events" block and color variation in the top 'special buttons'. The Photoshop mockup I made was basically what I was translating into HTML within a week. Should have known it was going too smoothly.

The end took a lot longer than one would think. In Fall 2002, A third of the staff (including, happily, me) got the axe when was split in two, between Mac Publishing and IDG Communciations. The former decided to get the most out of my 2-month-long indentureship to them by making my severance payout contingent on my completing the redesign in just under two month.

I considered not doing it and saying to hell with the measly severance. But the work would then fall on the remaining crew, and none of them were designers. So I worked myself into RSI, toiled an average of 15 hours a day 7 days a week and got it done. It's a strange experience to completely redesign a fairly large content site completely by yourself. Design, production, testing, ad tweaking, testing, the whole works. By the time deadline came, I was very ready to leave. All they had to do was throw the switch, and the site would be live.

Launch date came and went without the site they'd needed in such a hurry going live. A month later, I saw that my carefully designed and coded site was up, but had been randomly recoloured, awkwardly rewritten, jerry-rigged into oblivion. The platform-browser compatibility was completely compromised. Liquid columns were sure as hell not liquid. Even after the launch, the templates continued to be messed with. 404s started to pop up everywhere, and the 404 page I'd written had disappeared. Within a few months, and all its sites were unceremoniously nixed and yet more people got laid off. If it's called restructuring, why does it all seem so disorganized and wasteful?

The moral of the story, I suppose, is that it's never worth it to really do your job at company that can give you neither a great salary, great opportunities nor a great resumé. I may have been a loudmouthed bitch, but I brought with me the written-in-stone freelancer work ethic: I always got the job done. I kid myself that I fulfilled the layoff requirement so the survivors wouldn't be stuck with it. The truth is, I couldn't have walked away because I never leave work unfinished. That attitude pretty much disqualifies me for salaried positions. It's a lesson I intend to remember.

*This bonus desktop was expunged after my departure. Uptight much?

Original design proposals
  1. Signal, red
  1. var 1
  2. var 2
  3. Final
  1. Index
  2. Topic
  3. Subtopic
  4. General
  5. Framed content
  6. Original content
  7. HTML newsletter
  8. 404 error page
Bonus desktops
"Such a drag..." *
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