Attention to Detail – Becoming More Efficient

A couple of years ago, when I was working at Critical Mass in Calgary, AB and noticed a couple things with the team that I was with that could make everything go faster. When I took a step back to evaluate what was happening I noticed that all of the issues that I was experiencing were rooted in having every person that was touching a project pay a little bit more attention to detail.

When I started my web career, I was at a smaller company that didn’t have the ability to get a huge account and throw 70 people at it to get it done; there were just a few of us on every account. So many projects were just pushed through that we didn’t have all the time in the world to make sure that layers were named and all code was documented.

As I got into the world of larger agencies I started to notice how detrimental this was to the efficiency of future projects, as well as the maintenance of past projects (already kind of knew that one). So what I did was I set up a meeting with most of the team and we talked about what people’s roles were, where they fit into the greater scheme of things, and all of the little things that individuals could be doing to make everything easier for all involved.

Some of it was obvious, just follow best practices and standards and things will run smoothly but it really seemed like people needed a reminder of a lot of things. I am not innocent on this either, I have been rushed through countless projects that just kept getting messier as the days went by. I thought that I would write this to remind people of the basics and hopefully get them to pay a little bit more attention to even the smallest things.

Names:

When creating anything, whether it be a Photoshop file or a Flash file make sure that you name everything clearly. Build everything as though someone else is going to have to look at it and understand it at some point down the line. Name all layers and assets with descriptive names, try and group similar assets and layers so that every bit of the file is quickly and easily accessible.

Layer Comps:

If you are working in Photoshop and passing files to designers, layer comps are a great resource for working with your content. If you haven’t heard of layer comps I strongly recommend looking into how to work with them. You can keep things organized, cut down file size, and make sure that it is clear what your thoughts were when designing.

Documentation:

I tend to write a little too much documentation in my code these days, just to be certain that anyone that touches my files know what was going on in my mind. One key thing to keep in mind with documentation is that it is not just for you, so keep it a little bit descriptive for others to understand. When documenting your code try to picture that your code is going online, not just what is produced by it, use this as a motivation to keep it clean and documented. That always helps motivate me because I have always been a little self-conscious about my code so I write a lot of documentation to help out.

Clean Code:

Don’t go through your files and name things randomly x and y. Come up with some short, succinct names and always follow a naming convention. This comes in handy a lot because you don’t have to go looking through all the definitions in the script to find that gameTimer is a game timer as opposed to having a variable named gt.

Know Your Team:

I have worked (and still work) at companies with multiple offices where I haven’t had the chance to meet many of my team members. This doesn’t have to be a problem thanks to other forms of communication, but communication is something that should really be pushed. When starting on a project, I always find it best to layout the some sort of plan for putting everything together. If you are a programmer just blindly getting files from a designer then you may not get what you want. If you are a designer preparing files for a developer, you may be doing more than you have to.

A good example of this is when there are a couple of different stages in design/development that are sharing assets. Let’s say a designer creates a PSD and passes that off to a motion designer who spends days animating things over and over again. This might prove to be a waste of time because the developer can re-use just the first animation and do the rest. These are things that should be discussed beforehand. With experience, you will eventually start picking up on aspects that can be coded and those that should be manually done. Until then, just talk.

Know Your Own Role:

This one has always been a big one for me. Being a developer, I am generally one of the last touch-points on a project before it gets out the door. This means that towards the end of the project if anyone has an issue with the way something looks or works, they generally come to me first. This is where I have to make the decision if that is something that I should do. I can make little revisions to positioning and layout but I know that anything even slightly beyond that should be done by or with a designer to ensure that it is done right and won’t have to be done again.

Knowing your role basically comes down to knowing your strengths in a given project and knowing when to go to others to use their strengths. If you are at an agency, there is generally someone that you can turn to that can do something quicker and better than you if the task is not in your specific area.

Overall, Just Pay Attention

In the end, it all comes down to just paying attention and spending the extra couple minutes on the fine details. Once you get into the habit of doing things that I listed above, they become easier and quicker and you may even find that your work is not just getting easier to work with but it is getting better and you are getting things done faster.

– Thanks, Marc

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