Design View | Articles and opinion on design professionalism, technique and culture by Andy Rutledge

Tough Client: My Son

December 21, 2007

My 10-year old son walked up to me last month while I was watching the news and said, “Dad, I want a website.” I turned down the TV and asked why on earth he wanted a website. “To talk about the books I read,” he answered. I said I wasn’t sure that his friends would be all that interested in what he had to say about books. “Well, there might be lots of kids out there who are wondering what are some good books to read. I can help with that.” Wow.

My son Evan loves to read; a trait he comes by honestly, inherited from me and from his lovely mother. So at 10 years of age, with no prompting from me whatsoever, my son wants to become a blogger. Better yet, he wants to become a blogger with a specific aim and to speak to a specific audience; apparently for altruistic purposes. I’m impressed. I’m …slightly giddy.

So, of course, my first inclination was to turn the project into a father and son HTML/CSS workshop. But, thankfully, it didn’t take long before it occurred to me how horribly dull and very close to “work” that would likely seem to a kid who just wanted a website—ask dad what time it is and he’ll tell you how to build a clock, and all that. So I did what was likely the smart thing and told him I’d be happy to build him a website. Evan was thrilled at the prospect that this would actually happen.

He was considerably less thrilled when I told him I needed some content before I could even begin designing the site. Yes, as I’m a professional, I adopted a professional process for even my own kid’s blog. So sue me. I half expected he would at this point quickly lose interest in the whole matter, so I considered this thoroughly relevant content request to be a little test of his conviction. Two days later without reminders he handed me 5 pages of handwritten content for the site, along with what amounted to his idea for a sitemap. Wow again.

Requirements

He described what he wanted: he would write synopses and evaluations (he calls them book talks) of the books he reads and then post them on his site. He wanted visitors to be able to post comments about the books or about his book talks, and he wanted a page to describe what the site was all about. He wanted it to appear to be an authoritative site, but not too serious; just “serious for a 10-year old.”

I have never had to craft a design that was appropriate for a 10-year old audience, yet with a look and feel that was somewhat authoritative. Seriously, try it. It ain’t easy. Well, it wasn’t easy for me, anyway. I also couldn’t spend gobs of time on it, as I’m busier than I’ve ever been at work and Christmas was coming up. I thought the site might make a nice Christmas present for my son.

The really hard part was the fact that he wanted to allow comments. This meant a CMS would be involved and I’m just a designy front-end guy. I’d never dealt with any CMS and didn’t know the first thing about CMS development. And this wasn’t the kind of project that I wanted to hire a contractor for. I had already thought about learning my way around Textpattern so I jumped in with renewed vigor. The things we do for our children.

Luckily, one of my friends is Nathan Smith; a supercool guy, enthusiastic Textpattern wonk, and co-author of Textpattern Solutions. Nathan suggested that I give this CMS a try, and as I already had a copy of his book, I gave it a shot. I quickly got in over my head and Nathan was there time and time again to offer suggestions and corrections. He’s local, and he even gave up one of his Saturdays to spend it with me in the office going over some (many) things I was having trouble with. This is the first site I’ve ever done in a CMS, so major kudos to this formidable man for his patience and assistance.

Props also need to go to my business partner, and all-around awesome chick, Angela. She was there with relevant critiques during the process and is responsible for suggesting that an interactive star rating system on the review pages might be a nice addition. Perfect, especially considering the audience. This was a nice touch that Evan would really dig. Thanks Angela!

The Result

Last night I finished and launched Evan’s Book Site. As an early Christmas present, I showed it to Evan this morning before he went off to school so that he could tell his friends and teachers about it. He was thrilled to see his own words right there on a real website. He gave me a big hug and skipped his way out the door to school.

This site was one of his Christmas presents, but I’m not sure which one of us is happiest and proudest. He is definitely my favorite client of all time and the coolest kid I know.

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