Balancing Form and Function

Written by Tim Edmundson

35878Z_CreativeSeriesInterviewHeaderPtIIFeaturingKeithRaucy_Collateral_FBLinkedIn_062716A Creative team takes a lot to operate efficiently – graphic designers, project managers, developers – and each role plays just as important a part as the next. And while the designers may get the glory when it comes to engaging artistry, it takes a lot of work behind the scenes to get that design up and running.

To better understand what it takes to channel design from the artist to the web and strike the balance between stunning design and efficient function, we spoke with our head of the Creative development team, Keith Raucy. He oversees a wide collection of creative processes – ad units, the corporate site, videos, filming, debugging – so much so that the best way to describe what Keith does here is just to say “he does everything.”

Keith_Portrait_1 (1 of 1)What drew you to web design? Have you always been a digital creative?

I’ve always loved creating things with my hands and figured that was something I wanted to do eventually for a career. However, as most young adults do, I started out by pursuing my passion, which was to become a professional snowboarder. I moved up to Tahoe after high school and started down the track of snowboarding full time, which was amazing – it was life changing to be able to pursue such lofty goals. A few years in and two of my friends broke their backs at a competition – on the same day, just a few minutes apart. It was kind of a wakeup call as none of us really had a backup plan at the time, and I was concerned about what could happen without one at the ready.

I decided to go back to school, where I majored in Web Design and Interactive Media. For me, programming was a natural draw––as a kid I loved to disassemble then reassemble things (computers, toys, etc.). What made programming such a great fit was that I was able to create something and see my progress in real time––unlike an architect who would have to wait and see their creation come to life. I have always been interested in how things come to be – the process of building is something I cherish quite a bit, and I’m glad I can come into work every day and continue to work on things I have an impact on and believe to be part of a cause bigger than myself.

What are some of the questions you ask when starting a new project? How do you map up your plan to execute?

I like to work backwards, to visualize and work from a complete concept; what I mean by that is I take a look at the given situation holistically, gauge the goals and aspirations for whatever it might be that will require me to complete the project, then begin to figure out each step that will allow me to accomplish those goals in a timely manner. Every project is different, so there’s lots of trial and error involved – but our awesome creative and engineering teams are always a huge help and draw for inspiration and knowledge, as well as great to be able to communicate issues to throughout the process. We are able to feed off each other, maximizing the potential of form and function.

Keith_Work_Computer (1 of 1)You recently played a big part in the redesign of our website. What were some of themes you and the creative team wanted the design to convey?

We weren’t completely satisfied with the old framework of our site, so we had to rebuild it from the ground up. What were we looking for? We were pretty focused on speed and performance – we wanted a website that represented the values of our company. But at the same time, we also wanted to incorporate the highest quality resolution of our imagery and add motion without sacrificing function or usability. Julian Park, one of our recent hires, is more so responsible for putting the whole thing together, as well as hugely instrumental in executing our plan for the website. Also our Creative Director Juniper and the rest of the Design team were the brains in helping to find a happy medium between a strong aesthetic and a highly functional, accessible website.

Our work is never finished. Everyday we’re working on something new or updating something we’ve already made to be its absolute best iteration until the next round of revisions. We have a lot on our plate, including an updated demo site and other micro sites. I can’t really say much about what’s in the works, but what I can tell you is that it gets better and better with each passing day.

You’ve touched on this a bit already – would you say you’re driven more by practicality or aesthetic?

To be honest, they both go hand in hand. It boils down to what the end goal is: form and function need to work together to compliment each other. Why would you want to have one over the other? If it looks like crap, but it works well, then you’re going to have people who hate it. On the other hand, if it looks incredible, but doesn’t do what you want it to, it’s worthless. For me, I focus initially on function in order to build a framework that will operate to its utmost potential. We have an amazing Design team that builds our assets to take care of the form aesthetic and as we’re plugging along, we consult with them as we make our way. It’s definitely a process, but it brings the best of our creativity and practicality to the table.

What activities do you recommend to an aspiring web developer? 

First off, I’d recommend asking several questions before learning to become a developer. Why is this something you want to pursue? Do you want to work on front or back end? What kind of web tools do you want to make? What sort of impact are you looking to make?

Next, focus on attaining overall strengths like adaptability and problem solving. And once you’ve done that, find a specific area or niche where you can specialize and master your craft. Don’t try to become a full-stack developer right off the bat because that is much harder to master than a certain avenue.

As for overall advice, make sure to do a lot of research on web development–– what makes different websites run, how browsers work, benefits of timing, most popular frameworks, languages, end results – you have to figure out what gets you stoked. No matter what you decide to do, there are almost unlimited resources. Also, make sure you’re familiar with e-commerce! One of the largest companies in the world, Amazon, blew up because of the prevalence of e-commerce and the necessity for online shopping.

What do you think are the biggest changes coming to web development in the next five years?

One thing I see in today’s web development environment is the divide between platform specific apps vs. web based apps. A lot of people will take the time to focus on iOS apps / Android apps, but completely ignore web apps which can cover both devices. Basically, a web-based app can work universally on all devices, whereas a specific Android or iOS app can only be utilized in full form on one device or the other, signifying a tough problem with seamless migration. I believe that we will begin to see a shift toward web-based applications––it has already started and its benefit will only increase. Also the ability to search for exactly what a person is looking for and find it easily, that’s huge.

truckstars2What do you do outside of work that keeps your creative mind flowing?

This may sound counter to the development world, but I like to get outside and explore nature. I try to get away from my computer, my desk, artificial light, and the logical thinking involved in coding and development. The more you can take yourself completely out of a situation, the more you give yourself the opportunity to step back and at least try to objectively observe your situation, and in turn attain a focal point. Usually I am able to come back to my work fresh and inspired with ideas I wouldn’t have otherwise come to.

In nature, there are so many intricate organic processes. Studying those really can get you to think outside of whatever box it is you’ve stuck your mind into. Also, staying active and taking care of both my mental and physical health allows me to stay creative and focused. If you feel healthy and good, you’re able to do your best work.

Thanks for your time Keith. To wrap up, what are 3 books you would recommend to any developer that have inspired you?

First, On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins; he looks at the current and future states of AI, which is becoming part of everyday conversations more and more. He also examines our modern understanding of the processes of the brain and cognitive functions, as well as where we’re heading as a society and with our current and future technology.

Next would probably have to be JavaScript and jQuery by Jon Duckett. It’s a book that really breaks down JS (Javascript) into easy to understand, concept filled examples with execution that helped me really see more of how to logically think through problems and find solutions. Great for any sort of developer working with JS.

Last would probably be Cabin Porn by Zach Klein. It’s really just something great to look at. I get inspired by all the different cabins and places people call home in their own ways, and how putting in so much hard work and dedication is like any career, relationship, or hobby that you’re passionate about. Especially since people get to enjoy something they created with their own two hands. Sort of like programming!

A big thank you to Keith for answering our questions and giving us insight into what makes him tick as a creative professional. Join us next time as we discuss the ins and outs of design with the SteelHouse Creative team.

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