League of Lessons

I’ve been playing League of legends for a little while now. It’s a super fun online game where you and four other teammates (either real life friends or an automatically selected matchup) are pitted against a team of five other real players in an effort to infiltrate each others base. You select from a large selection of champions with unique abilities, who are more suited to specific roles. There’s a little bit more to it than that, but for the sake of this post it doesn’t matter so much. League of legends very much follows the philosophy of being easy to learn, yet near enough impossible to master.

What makes this gaming experience so unique when being set up with a team of strangers is that it really throws into relief how significantly a team’s ability to get along can affect the chance of winning. Having played for six months or so, I certainly can’t call myself an expert, but I have seen a lot of recurring things which can cost a team an otherwise attainable victory. As is my habit, I seem to have fixated on the things which translate pretty easily into everyday life.

So let’s jump into an imaginary game queue together and see what this match could bring.

But… I don’t play that lane!

The first thing you’ll see once the game has matched you with team-mates is a screen with a bunch of champions to choose from as well as the names of your new team-mates and a chat module. This is the place where you select which role you’ll be playing during the game.

Things tend to operate on an “I called it” basis, but every now and then there will be a friendly and experienced player who will relinquish the role they have called because a different player has said that they have no experience with the only role remaining.

Life is a lot easier for the player who is happy to be a bit flexible. Of course they are going to favor a specific role, but able to adapt to different roles not only benefits the team, it gives the individual a new skill. They have also learned a bit about that role and have empathy for the person performing that role in the future, even if they go back to their favored role next time. In the case of LoL it also means you are able to anticipate your opponent’s actions a little better if you have played that role.

Oh ffs, this guy is new!

I’ve seen people proclaim that they’ve deduced that a player is new to the game and is therefore an excellent target for ridicule. It’s typically difficult to win these matches. What’s funny is that I have also been part of matches where it has become apparent that a player is new, and someone has taken the newbie under their wing and explained a few basics that they’re clearly missing. I’ve seen players  improve inside the space of a thirty minute game when somebody has taken ten seconds here and there to point some seemingly obvious things out.

Stan Lee knew what he was talking about when he wrote Spiderman’s credo. Being an experienced player doesn’t mean you have an unsaid right to poke fun at less adept players, it means it’s your responsibility to help if you expect them to improve.

You are never blameless

An interesting superpower that our negative friend in the previous example often exhibits is the ‘impenetrable field of blamelessness’. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for a game to go south for reasons outside of your control. What I am saying is that pointing fingers and telling people how terribly they just screwed up does not tend to make them spontaneously become a better player. It’s very easy to shame a player for failing in a fight; it’s harder to get there in time to help them win the fight, or to explain why walking into the enemy’s jungle by yourself is a bad idea.

Sometimes you have to go outside of your job description if you want your team to win. If your territory is taken care of for the next few minutes, what can you do to help that poor new guy that’s having a hard time holding the middle lane by himself?

It isn’t over yet

The game does not let you surrender to the other team until twenty minutes have passed. This number is theoretically a good enough amount of time to tell if you are suffering a slow loss or not, but this is not always the case. Our cranky friend is likely to type “surrender at 20″ if their team doesn’t have a safe lead.

Anybody who has played this game (or any of the more traditional ‘grass sports’) could attest, the epic games that you talk about afterwards are the ones where one team was behind only they fought and turned it all around. These situations are by far the most exciting to play, and those who try to urge their team to throw it in early are robbing their team of the opportunity to have a real fight. Well, that is assuming you don’t have a fed Darius to contend with.

GG!

At the end of the match, players from both sides land in a shared chat room, where the match results are visible. Generally one of three things happens:

  1. Most players say GG (good game) and exit

  2. A couple of players bad mouth team members or make fun of the opposition. Everybody exits.

  3. The winning team thanks the losing team for the battle, the losing team congratulate the winners. A player will recount a particularly interesting play during the game, where say two players chased one enemy who lead them to their team who were hiding and the skirmish which ensued was so amazingly close and ‘oh em gee this is why I play this game’.

 

Situation 3 is fun. I’ve been in a room like this one for ten minutes after a thirty minute game, just recounting all of the close calls and the what-ifs. People have offered pointers to team-mates and opposition alike which could help them next game. It’s easy to see that this situation is the most fun, so why doesn’t it happen the most often?

It’s often hard to get past our own bravado and bitterness after a mis-matched game; and it’s just as easy to have the best of intentions yet assume the experience is over as soon as ‘Victory’ or ‘Defeat’ flash across the screen.  Celebrating victory and acknowledging defeat is a pretty easy shortcut to having meaningful conversations and experiences.

Conclusion

It’s pretty easy to see which type of behavior makes life better for everybody, but it’s often easy to overlook this when we feel like we could lose. Whether you’re new to something or an old hand it, there is always time for learning and self-reflection. GLHF!

What is design?

Web design is many things, there are also many things which it isn’t. I can’t say I’ve heard them all, but I’ve heard many.

It’s an artform, right?

This is one of the most common comparisons, and I can see why. Design requires an understanding of many artistic principles such as white space, colour theory and composition. It is also an expression of the designers feelings (psyke!). If a designer is trying to express themselves whilst making a website for somebody else, they have no right charging their client. Self expression is not part of design. Design works towards the website’s goals, it is not the materialisation of a dream that the designer had the night after the kickoff meeting.

Creative?

Sure it is, most design problems require a creative solution. But programmers also need to think creatively about how best to structure the back end, project managers need to find creative ways to make sure that projects run smoothly and always have the right person on the right project. Design is definitely a creative process, but don’t forget that most disciplines should be if done properly.

…A Craft, then?

Design is a learnable process which has to be constantly worked at. Contrary to popular belief, designers don’t sit and wait for inspiration to strike and then frantically articulate their unique vision before it leaves their flakey fairie brains. It is a process: it is iterative, and it is objective. That’s right, I said objective. If a client raises an idea or a concern the designer needs to be able to address it in a well-reasoned reply or design iteration. It’s of course a two way street: ‘this color doesn’t work for me’ is not objective feedback.

Best left to the experts?

No matter how much experience a designer has, they can not sit in isolation and create something that they are sure the client and their users will like. A good designer knows the right questions to ask and how to act upon the answers. Sure a more experienced designer knows the process better, and has made a few mistakes they know to avoid – but they do not accumulate a shortlist of things which *always* work.

The outer layer?

Getting closer, but it’s not a layer. There is obviously a lot more to a website than the design component, I’m not even going to pretend to dispute that. Developers and BAs are responsible for an incredible amount of a website’s success and are smarter people than I am. The distinction is that design is not merely a veneer which is slapped onto the exposed bits of a site which visitors see. Design’s roots run deeply into the bedrock of any successful site. A good designer was there when decisions were being made, not shipped in when it’s time to colour in a finished solution.

Communication…

Good designers need to know how to communicate. They often have the best chance of knowing how to solve a problem; but a smart designer knows not to discount feedback from people who don’t design.

The solution?

Think of a wheel. It is a feat of design, but also of engineering. It would have taken strength and motor skills to carve that first wheel. Its motion can be calculated by mathematicians and physicists, and it affects the lives of people who have no interest in any of these disciplines. When the first wheel was created, design begun in the minds of people when they realised that there needed to be a more easy way to move things than to drag or carry them; not when it was time to decide what colour this new invention should be.

Curation…

Even fresh faced designers have spent a great many years looking at things. They develop a sense of what works where. Everything (yes, even copperplate gothic) has a place, but a good designer spends time thinking about what belongs where best. The result of the design process is never the one-and-only solution, it is the best solution for the project and all its needs.

Permanently changing.

The people, products and companies which web design represents are not static, so why would their website be? Not only does the information in any particular website need to change sooner or later, the way that this information is delivered changes rapidly. Constantly evolving code and device capabilities mean that site behaviours which are common now were not even possible a couple of years ago. The only thing that remains somewhat constant are the mistakes you’ve made which you should keep in mind in the future. Things which succeed can only be repeated so many times before they get stale.

Invisible.

And I don’t just mean it’s aesthetically simple to look at. If you need to renew your car registration online it shouldn’t feel like a chore, nor should it feel like an achievement. It’s something which you want to do as quickly and painlessly as possible. If you are looking for information, a well designed site will allow you to navigate to it quickly, and showcase it well when you get there. Think for a moment about all of these little things that have had to considered correctly for somebody to say “That’s a good website” after using it. I guarantee it takes more than a few nice typefaces and some nice imagery for somebody to make this comment. They have to have had a good experience, pure and simple.

Somewhere between annoying and downright dangerous if done wrong.

Continuing from our example of car registration, let’s imagine the person who is renewing their rego has previously mainly used the internet to forward funny emails to their children and to research where best to go for their upcoming retirement holiday. Here, poor UX decisions and design cues are no longer a nuisance: they are the difference between online renewal and being forced to physically go to the RTA (or DMV for those so inclined) and stand in a stuffy waiting room with those clocks whose hands just don’t seem to move. While this example affects the lives of others beyond a simple online session, it is still in the realm of inconvenient. What happens when the design process of life support software or flight monitoring are not created with their end user in mind? When only seconds are available to find life-saving information, well thought out design is vital. Good design is not a nice-to-have, it is a responsibility.

Much more important but less wondrous than many people think.

I apologise for bursting the bubble of anyone who thinks designers are inspiration driven little imps, but designers are more than that. They are normal people who try their best to make beautiful things which change people’s lives in ways that they won’t notice.