Managing 3 Web Builds

I realized this afternoon that I am simultaneously managing or building three new web projects: lifeteen.com Version 2.1, camps.lifeteen.com, and ym.lifeteen.com. Beyond that, I have to maintain lifeteen.com, which is too much to do even if I commit every hour of the day to updating the site. It’s a challenge, but I feel like the only way for lifeteen.com to succeed is to build out two more sites within it. It’s unconventional, I know.

The Big Meeting
This morning we had a meeting with netFusion about changes in the 2.1 project. This was the first meeting where I took leadership from the first moment to the last. I sat at the head of the table, which is new for me. Normally I’d do it Christian-style and take an humble position on a table, like somewhere on the side near the end. But today I sat at the head and then I steered the whole meeting. I decided to do this because I realize I’m the only one who knows what we’re meeting for.

I explained our ideas about breaking off content for adults into its own minisite: ym.lifeteen.com. Much of the functionality for ym.lifeteen.com is already built into the 2.1 project, so hopefully it won’t cost us much more money. Everyone on their team seemed excited about the project because it seems like a logical expansion. Plus it will be easier for me as the designer and them as the coders to not contend with the fitting these upgrades into the already cramped structure of lifeteen.com.

A Flash Miracle
Adam Robo is good at Flash, and I’m trying to give him projects on the camp site. Since the camps site grows and evolves every day, I wanted to bring on his Flash expertise once I had the structure finished and most of the content placed. We decided he would design a photo gallery so that people could click through shots of each part of the camp. This solved the problem of having too many photos that made individual pages vertical bulk.

Well a couple days ago he decided to look around online to see what other designers have done to spruce up the click-through photo albums. He found a stunning design for managing a lot of pictures. We bought it, downloaded it, and started working. Within an hour, we knew that this was a perfect solution to our problem. It was hard for us to leave work on Wednesday because it was so rewarding to make this happen.

No Surprises
Another exciting thing to do with the camps site is to make the camps not only look cooler, but at the same time give realistic expectations of what each camp is like. There’s nothing worse than a deceptive glossy brochure.

The first step is to help the camp directors with their descriptions of the facilities. I’m constantly tweaking paragraphs so that they are more accurate and exciting. The next thing I’m doing is I’m drawing the floor plans to each of the facilities in Adobe Illustrator. Once they are done, I’ll export them to PDF then post them to the site. I’ve already done this with one of the cabins, and it looks awesome to have a pretty snapshot of the cabin, a descriptive paragraph, and then a floor plan. And then there is a link to print out the floor plan as a PDF.

Just looking at it, you really get an idea of what you’re getting into. So when people roll up to the camp, I hope to save the camp director from the hassle of explaining that they aren’t renting a resort for the weekend. I want the campers to drop their sleeping bags in their cabins and then go exploring the woods. Because it’s the adventures outside of the walls that makes camp so much fun.

A New Approach to Design
It’s remarkable how a creative project evolves as time passes. Normally I would first look at the content and on paper decide what needs to go where so that everything is logical and easy-to-find. Then I would design the entire look of the website in Photoshop around that structure. Finally I would make that come to life in the code. This pragmatic approach is necessary when you build a big site. It feels great to have the most complex problems solved first, and then everything falls into place.

With the camps site, I can just I can let the content tell me how to design the page, rather than I design the page to tell the content where to go. This may be uninteresting to most other people, but I’m loving the fact that the content I am dealing with has such personality. And my job is to let the personality break out and delight the user.

To let the personality break out requires constant negotiation. Each camp is unique. My job is to make a sections for the camps look similar to one-another in the patterns of navigation and how I place content, but at the same time give room for each camp to shine. This is especially difficult because Covecrest is three times as big as Tepeyac. I have to find a way for Tepeyac to not to look like less of a camp because it doesn’t have as many buttons and brilliant photos of pretty buildings. I mean, the drive through the Arizona deserts to get to Tepeyac is much more exciting and interesting than the drive into Covecrest. But how do you say that in a website?

I just love these kind of problems because I’ve been at this web design thing long enough to know that I eventually solve all problems in creative ways. And the bigger the problem, the bigger my creative solution. These problems really are opportunities in disguise.

Take for instance the top navigation bar on the site. For the first 3/4 of the project, I had it look like clouds. It’s fun, campy, and calming. But the shape is so dominant that you can hardly notice the letters inside of the clouds. Yesterday at 5:30, I decided to scrap the whole bar and do a Flash-driven navigation centered around the logos of the camp. Even though I haven’t touched it, I already know it’s going to be an exhilarating solution to an irritation problem.

Updating this Site

So this is going to be an awkward journal for me to read in the future. As of the time that I write this, supafly.com is down so I can upload the new website. The code is all there, and it’s just a matter of adding journals to the database. As of late last night, I’ve added all journal entries from 1999 when I began to September 11, 2001.

It’s quite an experience to read through the journals as I add them to the site. It’s like taking a road trip back in time. It’s like Back to the Future or something. I re-live situations I thought had already passed. Then there are things that I read that I forgot even happened. Like I totally forgot that a youth minister from Philadelphia drove to my apartment in New York City and interviewed me in the living room of my apartment. Had I not read that, I never would have believed that it even happened.

Another fact I totally forgot: I’ve stood in the same room as Mel Gibson twice–once in the MTV studio in New York, and once at the People’s Choice Awards in Los Angeles. So many people have asked me if I ever met Mel Gibson, and I always told them no. Which is true, but it would have been cool to tell them that I saw him twice. But what bothers me most is that he’s a hardcore Catholic and so am I, and it would’ve been cool to have a conversation with him. But the day he was on TRL, I was talking to Fred Durst and his bodyguard in the green room.

Bike Riding with Candyce

This afternoon Candyce and I rode bikes in South Tempe. There were a few open houses, and we had a lot of fun walking around other people’s castles. We stumbled onto a neighborhood that I never looked at before. I don’t like how it’s basically six unique homes repeated hundreds of times. They are pretty, but they are all the same.

The house was charming from the curb. We walked through a cute courtyard to get the front door. But once we stepped inside, I was blown away by the open floor plan. I felt like I could play full-court basketball in every room. It just felt awesome. So basically that house has changed my mind about which neighborhoods I will be shopping in.

Mike Sweeney was at Mass tonight. They was a camera recording him and the congregation all through Mass. I spoke to a guy after Mass that explained that they were producing a show about the lives of Christian athletes. The guy also runs CatholicExchange.com, which is one of the bigger Catholic websites. It was fun to meet another creative mind behind a Catholic website. There aren’t many of us.

Candyce is having a real difficult time this semester. Over a dinner of BBQ, she explained how frustrated she was with her graphic design assignment, and her degree as a whole. Her professors are outrageously demanding. They never say anything nice about the students or their work. You can never do enough. It’s fostered a competitive and hostile environment where every student is an island. Since Candyce is already doubting that she wants to be a graphic designer, this atmosphere makes it even more difficult to go to class every day.

How I’ll Buy My Next House

I made a decision late last year to move to a new house. My house how is fun because it’s close to friends and church, but I’m ready to upgrade to a cool location in a more well-groomed, family-centered community.

I realize that most of my tasks I give myself involve cleaning up different parts of my life. Like right now, I’m upgrading to a new look for supafly.com that is more user friendly and cleaner. I just finished a five-weekend project of painting my garage, putting in new shelves, and installing cabinets and a workbench. Why? I wanted it clean. The “happy place” in my head that I always visit is basically having a clean house, clean websites, and a clean conscience. I like it clean.

That’s why my next house will be in a neighborhood that is already clean, or at least cleaning up fast. And my neighborhood is getting better. Right now there are six or eight houses close to mine that are getting remodeled, repainted, or new landscaping. That’s nice, but there are many neighbors who aren’t pitching in.

My pursuit of Clean has lead me to the decision to buy the the least-expensive house in an expensive area. Although my next house will be smaller and cost more money than my house now, it is still a logical decision. I learned in a finance class that the house is a great tax shelter. If you live in a house for over two years, you aren’t taxed on any profit you make when you sell the house. But if you buy and sell stocks, you pay hefty taxes on your profits. So a big leap now can help me make more money in the end.

I’ve identified the area that I’ll be buying. This is the area that I explored while riding Candyce’s bike throughout November and December. It’s just a lot of nice neighborhoods where you can tell the owners take pride in their houses. The area starts on the east side of south Tempe near Circle G Ranches. Homes in Circle G range from $900,000 to over $4,000,000. If you go west from there for five miles to the edge of Tempe, homes stick in that price range. There are a handful of smaller homes that I are in my price range, and there are three for sale right now. I would love to move in tomorrow, but it’s not the right time yet.

The biggest reason why I want to move to a new house is I want a chance to use all of my talent. My favorite thing to do when I get home is to work on my house, and I want a house where it’s financial responsible to do creative projects like crown molding, luxury bathrooms, creative outdoor living spaces, and detailed tile and woodwork. I am capable of doing artistic things to a house that most people would pay a lot of money to hire someone else to do. I know that if I go wild with upgrades on my house now, I could potentially price myself out of the neighborhood. I love doing home improvement projects because it’s a fun and safe way for me to spend money. I’m ready to have freedom to have more fun.

Car Shows, Cookout

This morning I went to a car show with James from accounting. I first got into office humor when I was a senior in college with the movie “Office Space.” We watched that at our house almost every day for a semester. I remember in the movie some characters would refer to each other by the first name and their department. So I make myself laugh so hard when I don’t call my friend “James,” but “James from Accounting.”

On the retreat earlier in the week I talked with James for a while about cars and fist fights. Although he’s a well-groomed athletic guy in his 40s, you would never have guessed he averaged one fist-fight per month from fifth grade all the way until he graduated. He has scares like you wouldn’t believe. I didn’t have scare stories nearly as cool as his. His enemy stabbed him with a screw driver; I fell on cut my eyebrow on a rock when I was seven. I guess that what happens when you are raised in a rough part of town.

So anyway James and I decided to meet up at a car show this morning in downtown Chandler. It’s always the high-dollar hot rods that make a show the most memorable for me. I talked to one guy who had a Foose-designed ’32 Ford. I asked the owner how he could afford to higher Chip Foose, and he told me he knew his dad–legendary Sam Foose–and Chip designed his car while he was still in college. How cool is that?

There were also two Boyd Coddington cars that I saw at Barrett-Jackson two years ago: Chezoom and Whatthehey. Together, they were purchased at the auction for about $750,000. I was surprised they didn’t have the cars roped off. I mean, these two cars are worth more than the rest of the cars at the show put together.

I bought a magazine as a kid and Chezoom was on the cover. I held onto that magazine until the the pages wore thin and broke from the staples. The silhouette of that highly custom ’57 Chevy is etched in my memory. Just to see it in real life is like meeting a sports idol.

I spoke to the guy standing by the cars, and he explained that the owner is putting together a local car museum from his collection. After talking to this guy, I come to find out that many of the cars I’ve lusted after at Barrett-Jackson were purchased by this local guy and are going in his museum. For a car guy, there is nothing cooler than having a museum like that close to within a few miles of your own garage.

James and I had lunch at a legendary Mexican place and talked about working for Life Teen. He and I both enjoy working, knowing that what we do is helping people. But at the same time, we agree that many things need to change in order for Life Teen to continue to be a strong organization. It was a difficult conversation to have, but I know we both needed it.

:::

I heard there was another car show in Tempe, so after lunch I drove over to see what they had going on. It wasn’t as good of a show, so I stepped into a modern furniture store close by. I used to spend every free Saturday looking for modern furniture when I first moved to Phoenix back in 2001. I guess I was excited to have an apartment bigger than my shoe box in New York City, and I could finally have a pimped-out place. This store had well-made furniture at reasonable prices. I mean, it’s easy to make cheap contemporary furniture charge a lot so people will believe it’s quality stuff. I’ve seen it a thousand times. I don’t need any furniture now, but when the time comes, I’ll definitely go back to that store.;

Of course no Saturday is complete without me driving through a new neighborhood. I’m obsessive. This afternoon was fun because I revisited a neighborhood in Tempe I first discovered a few years ago. Most of the valley is flat, but these neighborhood is hilly and centered around lakes. It’s all man-made geography, but that doesn’t bother me. Because you drive around this place and you feel like you are at the beach. Three-story houses are built on the “cliffs” that surround the water. It was a lot of fun.

I finished my leisurely Saturday by taking Candyce to Ennie’s cookout. Ennie’s parents are in town from Texas, and we had a Texas-style cookout. There was a good group of people there, and we had a great time eating, laughing, and visiting. We played a DVD game about movies that turned out to be a lot of fun.

Today was just a good day. The older I get, I become more comfortable with just ENJOYING my days, rather than trying to accomplish things. I tell myself all the time now: it’s okay to have fun.