Jacob Gube is the popular figure behind web design blog Six Revisions and has a wealth of design and developments skills. I caught up with Jacob to discover a little more about his background and to gather his thoughts and opinions on a range of topics, including accessibility vs aesthetics & the future of web design.
Hi Jacob, let’s start with an introduction. What is your background and what do you do?
I’m Jacob Gube, a web developer “slash” web designer and founder of a website called Six Revisions. This is the part of the interview where I am obligated to say that my last name is pronounced “goobeh”. I also work a 9-to-5 as an in-house developer specializing in distance-learning education and website/RIA accessibility. I’ve been a web professional for about 8 years.
Believe it or not, professionally, I started off as a freelancing graphic designer creating brand identities for small and medium-sized businesses – that’s where my Illustrator/Photoshop experience comes from.
You have established a good web presence with Six Revisions, how did the decisions to establish this site come about?
I conceptualized and produced Six Revisions in one day, but the idea of a blog started from a now-defunct weblog that I started with my brother on tech gadgets. Although we both loved our tech gadgets, we really weren’t passionate about them enough to maintain a regular posting schedule. We quickly scrapped that project, and about a month or two from that experience, I had an urge to try again, but this time, with something I knew inside out, something I love, and something I did on a daily basis.
On a Sunday morning in February, I decided to create Six Revisions. I started off by listing names for the site, with “Six Revisions” inspired by my experience as a graphic designer where you’d perform several revision rounds based on the client’s feedback. I registered the domain name, bought a web hosting account on Media Temple (or maybe it was Site5 – I jumped around web hosts so much that year), set up WordPress using a free theme by Derek Punsalan, wrote two posts, and published one — all in under a day’s work and even before the “sixrevisions.com” DNS records had fully-propagated!
Now, site updates, features, and upgrades sort of happen on a “needs” basis. I believe in letting your site grow organically and letting users tell you what the site needs instead of you guessing what you think they need.
For example, for a long time, the site didn’t have a search feature: Six Revisions didn’t need one, there were only a few articles and all the articles are listed in the “All Articles” section. But with the growth and increased posting schedule, users of the site (as well as friends of mine) demanded that a site search be put in place, so I put one up.
The same goes with content diversity: Six Revisions now publishes work from multiple authors and has expanded to include useful tutorials geared towards designers and developers. The feedback on this expansion has been amazing; commenting and user participation has increased and people are asking for more!
I follow a lot of the “Getting Real” philosophies, especially minimalism and “underdoing” competition. This allows me to focus on what’s really important and why people come to the site in the first place: the content.
Six Revisions is known for constantly pumping out great web design content. Where do you and your fellow authors find your post ideas?
My post ideas usually come from something I’ve done while I’m at work. While I do my research, gather information, and develop a solution to a need, I typically end up with a ton of ideas for new articles. For example, I was building a content slider that needed to be web accessible, and so I ended up modifying that and writing a tutorial on it using jQuery.
I believe the other authors of Six Revisions articles and tutorials get their ideas in much the same way: that’s why most authors that you see on Six Revisions are like me: developer or designer first, writer second.
Many of them are freelancers, and Chris, I know that as a freelancer, you get unique requirements that need to be met from your clients. These demands force you to learn, and in the process of learning, you probably end up sharing that learned information on Line25 or Blog.SpoonGraphics.
I notice you have a solid interest in web standards, usability and accessibility, do you think aspiring designers should take the time to learn more about these areas rather than the aesthetics?
Wow, this is a touchy subject and I hesitate to say something so absolute like: “Yes, you should focus on web standards, usability and accessibility over aesthetics.”
But this is about me and my opinions, right? So I will say, “Yes, you should focus on web standards, usability and accessibility over aesthetics.”
Being a developer and a designer, I know that a usable and web accessible design is better than a beautiful design with no substance or purpose.
You can have a slick page design, but if your site is hard to navigate because of poor forethought and planning on how users will actually interface with the design – then it doesn’t matter, the user will be more likely to hit “back” button on their browser rather than spend time figuring out how to use your site.
Think about sites that may not be making their rounds around web design galleries, yet get millions of visits per month and beat their more beautifully-designed competition: Google, Delicious, Facebook, eBay, and Craigslist. You can quickly see from these examples that it’s all about ease-of-use, quality of service and content, and providing something that users find valuable.
Many people would agree with me when I say that Yahoo!’s front page looks better than Google’s, and that Yahoo! was established before Google was – yet somehow Google has become more ubiquitous than Yahoo!
What’s the key ingredient? Definitely not aesthetics. The key ingredients are usability, page performance, and – quite simply – a better product.
It’s not about having 20 more features than your competition and impressing users with slick animation effects – it’s about having 20 fewer features, but excelling in your core service.
The user’s decision to frequent a website or web application is made exactly like as if they were buying a power tool. Let’s say this power tool is a motorized drill. You can make your drill’s packaging attractive, maybe make it so that it’s sleek-looking, has a unconventional color (like glossy red) with chrome trimmings so that it stands out from the other products on the store’s shelves. But if that product has subpar features and is very uncomfortable to use (maybe it’s heavier than it needs to be or maybe it sacrificed the handle’s comfort for aesthetics), most people would go for the more usable, more comfortable, and more durable motorized drill that they can find and afford, even if it’s a boring plain-black drill with no chrome trimmings.
People in general, whether they know this consciously or not, find that functionality is more important than aesthetics. Just like a motorized drill, websites and web applications are tools – they serve a purpose and people tend to like tools that get the job done regardless of how ugly or pretty it looks.
A web design is less about art and a lot more about function, pragmatism, and purpose – you can’t go all Picasso on a website’s design and just do whatever the hell you want, as a professional designer, we don’t have that sort of creative license.
Web design is about finding a good balance between form and function and choosing the latter over the former if it has to come down to that.
You’re a web designer and developer with a wealth of front and back end skills. Are you currently expanding your knowledge with anything new?
What I am working on at the moment is my graphic design skills: I’ve gotten very rusty with Illustrator and I’m brushing up on my Photoshop knowledge with a few books I recently purchased (the last Photoshop book I read and owned was for Photoshop 6).
With talk of all these exciting changes in the industry with the likes of CSS3 and HTML5, is there anything you’re personally looking forward to seeing in the future?
Yes, I’m very excited with the changes in the industry and I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of the proposed updates, but primarily, IE fully supporting W3C spec recommendations for CSS3 and HTML5 in a timely fashion is what I’m looking forward to seeing most in the future! :)
Seriously though, I wrote a piece for ReadWriteWeb last year on HTML5 before all the recent buzz about it this last couple of months, it’s called “5 Exciting Things to Look Forward to in HTML 5” which covers, what I think to be, the most exciting features of HTML5 specs based on the W3C Working Draft 10 June 2008
I look forward to HTML5′s promises on improved markup semantics. Even though many people feel that the new elements seem too specific (like <header> and <article>), and even though I have my own opinions on what these names should be (I think <article> should be <content>, for example), I still think it’s better than calling all web page sections a <div>
I’m also excited for the increased interoperability potential of web pages due to these newly introduced elements (which I discuss in that article I wrote for ReadWriteWeb). Of course, I’m obligated to mention native multimedia support with the video and audio so that we don’t have to rely on third-party technology and making multimedia content an indexible and universal content type.
On CSS3, the developer in me loves the fact that there’s a lot more programming logic available in CSS, although I’m quite worried that some W3C recommendations seem like they’re stepping into the domain of what I would typically prefer client-side scripting to handle.
I like the fact that with the advanced selectors, I don’t need to write a script for something which I think should be handled by the browser’s layout engine, such as zebra-striping the rows of static HTML tables throughout a site without having to manually add a class for each odd or even row. I interviewed Eric Meyer on the topic of CSS3 last year and you can kind of see what things I look forward to in the questions I posed to him.
Do you have any plans for any new websites or blogs, or any exciting ideas you’re looking to implement into your existing site?
I’m not big into planning, I like to build things out of necessity and I like letting things grow organically – this type of mindset prevents me from sweating the small stuff and also fosters creativity and flexibility. There is nothing better than building something because there’s a need for it. Definitely a redesign of the Six Revisions layout is on the top of my list, as well as posting even more tutorials on Six Revisions for designers and developers.
Finally, please list out any social networks where we can connect.
You can connect with me very easily through Twitter, my username is @sixrevisions. I have accounts in most social media sites but I rarely check my messages there. You can also find me on Flickr as SixRevisions. If you’re interested on seeing the type of stuff I bookmark, you can check out my Delicious bookmarks, also under the username SixRevisions