Whenever I speak with a potential client, I make sure to mention my web bona fides by letting them know that I have been designing websites since the mid-1990s. For those of you keeping score, this is when the commercial internet took off, and companies had the technology, and incentive, to create their own websites. For print designers, this was a pivotal moment. We either learned HTML and all that came with web design or we watched our business slowly erode. A decade later, the graphic design landscape would be a different place.
To design an early website, you needed to be able to hand-code the whole thing in HTML, which at the time was mind-blowing for my fellow analog artists and me. It was 1995 when Adobe Pagemill and Microsoft FrontPage were released, giving designers a fighting chance in the web design space. 1995 was a big year; Amazon.com and eBay both started in 1995. It’s also the time I got my start designing websites.
I was lucky to be a freelance designer at Alabama Power during those days. I had access to the tools and projects throughout the company to learn the new technology as the company built out internal websites for different divisions. I had one internal client who was not happy with the website I built for him during this time. “It’s too dark, I can’t read it,” he emailed me. I dropped everything and went to his cubicle, and sure enough, it was dark and hard to read. I leaned over, rotated the brightness knob on his monitor, and the website came alive. It was a teachable moment for both of us. I always had control of my print projects. I watched them come off the press and could make changes if needed. With websites, I was at the mercy of the client’s monitor.
Being at Alabama Power also allowed me to work with The Birmingham Soccer Organizing Committee for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. I had plenty of paying Olympic projects to work on, but I also donated my time and design work for other Olympic projects because of my love for the game of soccer, and I wanted to be part of something so big in my hometown. I was also able to spend a week at Legion Field as a volunteer during the games, which capped off a great experience.
I was looking through my big box of portfolio pieces when I came across a Birmingham News article from July 1, 1996, 25 years ago next month. The My.Tech section proclaimed this “The Internet Olympics.” IBM had built the Atlanta games a website with an expected 1.2 million hits a day by the time the games started less than three weeks away. The only other venue to have a site was Birmingham.
A photo of the Birmingham Olympic website was splashed across the page of the Birmingham News. A News photographer had taken a picture of the site displayed in a Netscape browser. The main image was created by yours truly. “Birmingham: Site of 1996 Olympic Soccer” was across the top with a picture of the former United States Men’s Soccer Team captain Thomas Dooley battling an unknown Mexican team player for the ball. I illustrated a commemorative poster similar to this layout, but I can’t recall which came first.
I don’t believe I created the website. I think I just provided the image, and local company Tech-Comm hosted the site. Either way, it was fun to see the site in print and take a trip down memory lane. Now it’s time to get back to the websites I am designing today.
Video conferencing can be exhausting, but so can in-person meetings. Overall, the use of video conferencing has been pretty successful in my experience. I was on a monthly Zoom call yesterday when it was pointed out that attendance was up from our in-person meetings. While nothing can replace meeting face-to-face, I believe we are starting to learn that more and more of our meetings can be held virtually. Another way to put it is, we don’t need to meet as much as we used to.
How you present yourself online is just as important as in-person. And this goes beyond your choice of attire; you also have to consider your backgrounds. The selection of books on your shelf can say a lot about you as much as having no books on the shelf. You may still be trying to find your happy place, the persona that you want to present to your co-workers. While you work on perfecting yours, here are the ones that are already at your meeting.
The Middle Manager
He already found the virtual background of the beach, and it visualizes what retirement looks like to him. It is the image that has been in his head all these years while he is stuck between the boss and the people who do the work.
This person has found his perfect background. It’s usually the deck of a space ship. The Millennial Falcon and USS Enterprise come to mind, but every once in awhile, you get the Death Star. Watch out for that guy. Bonus points for the guy who has multiple monitors. It may look like he is watching ship vitals when, in reality, he is surfing Reddit.
The longest-serving employees at your company. They have done an admirable job of learning how to do their job using computers and the many technological upgrades over the past 30 years. Now they have to do their job on a camera that is located somewhere on their laptop. They are not sure where it is and don’t know where to look. You are sure to get a closeup view of your boomer employee that would typically get you a call from HR.
No matter the time of day, this employee has settled into the house’s darkest room with only two light sources. The bright light directly behind them and the light from the computer screen. This combo turns the employee into a shadowy figure with an odd green tint to them if they are close enough to their screen. Usually, the ghost will lean back in the shadow and become still and silent. So much so that you think they are asleep, or worse, dead. Not so dead that you would call 911. That’s someone else’s job.
Our tiny employee is an average size adult. They have successfully logged into their laptop and signed on to the conference. They have yet to figure out that there is a hinge on the laptop that lets you adjust where the camera points. You can only see the top of Tiny’s head and eyeballs. At least you can see if they are awake.
He found that you can use your mobile phone for videoconferences and he is taking advantage of it. Unlike the middle manager, he does not use the virtual background and is actually in the outdoors, maybe on a hike, perhaps in a hammock in the backyard. In every case, he is continually trying to adjust how he looks, where he should look, and trying not to run into a tree all at the same time. No matter where he is, you can be assured of a bouncing video feed and scratchy and panting audio. You will need some Dramamine before signing on with the Outdoorsman. Take good notes; the Outdoorsman will need you to send yours to him as he forgot to bring a notepad.
The Nostril is similar to the Outdoorsman but without the movement. The Nostril is also using their mobile phone and taking notes. They don’t prop up the phone for the perfect view/be viewed position, so they hold it in their hand or place it flat on the tabletop. This angle gives you a great view of their Nostril. And since the phone has a wide-angle lens, you get to see an up-close and personal view of their nostril.
The Astigmatist has a hard time viewing the information on their screen. Instead of investing in a pair of drug-store reading glasses, they lean in for an up-close view of what’s on their screen, giving you, the viewer, an up-close view of their skin pores. While the wide-angle lens on their camera makes their head comically distorted, it is much preferred to the Nostril.
This professional can use a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. They settle into their favorite recliner and place the preferred device on their belly. If they happen to have a beard, it’s almost like videoconferencing with a bear. A sleepy, hibernating bear.
This person never makes it to the video call, but you find they tried, they really, really, tried to get on the call. But they didn’t have the link, power, right computer, whatever the excuse is. Their response is usually sent to an email that they know will not get read until after the call is over.
The Family Man doesn’t need an office or quiet or anything. He conferences directly from the kitchen table with dishes being cleaned, dogs running around, kids asking questions. A cacophony of noises being shared to everyone on the call. But let’s give credit where credit is due. Most of us would start screaming at our family to keep quiet, but none of this bothers Family Man. And if it doesn’t bother him, then he isn’t thinking about what it sounds like on your end. Mute? He has no idea what mute even means.
There you have it. The most popular video conference personas that I have had the privilege of meeting on a video conference. But keep an eye out for new ones, they are being created every day, and I, for one, can’t wait to get on a conference call with them.
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Shawn Wright is a graphic designer in Birmingham, Alabama. He loves print design and branding but he also helps clients with web, audio and video projects.