Seven Tips For Keeping Creative While on Deadline

Creativity is for hippies… and well everyone else as well.

In my previous post (“Ode to the Art of Product Development.”), I waxed on the artsiness of product and UX development.  Still these professions are not always treated so.  Often there is a trap that even I fall into, where we expect that anyone can plan/layout a site as long as they understand user experience concepts or the product goals. And that when the site moves to the graphic designers, that’s when the real artsy magic happens.

 

But it takes some serious problem solving, inspiration and creativity to lay out a site in a logical, readable, attractive manner that supports the product goals and suits the target market’s needs.  This especially can get difficult with more “tool” like websites that must be easy to use for a variety of different workflows.  Or for those in product development, discovering that perfect product or “tool” for your market.

Glad I never worked in a place like this...

 

Knock Knock. Mr. Deadline who?

 

But we don’t have time!  Deadlines press on us and the world turns!  And often we try to set a time limit on the product and UX design process.

Sometimes an hour is not enough...

Marty Cagan speaks about this in his book Inpired: How to Create Products Users Love (a must read for web professionals even if you are not a product manager recommended to me by the awesome Mr. Tim Rosenblatt).  I feel that this conundrum of needing to meet deadlines but allowing time for creativity  effects all areas of the web development process including UX design, marketing and software development.

 

Following are some tips that help me when on deadline and needing to work quickly and creatively… Applicable to all though I may tend to write from a product/ux/consultant point of view.

1.  Research Should Not Be Sacrificed

No matter how snap the decisions have to be made: do not let it snap your necks.  As in, take the time to do SOME research, even if you have to timebox it to a short period of time.  This research can be as simple as searching the internet for inspiration.  All your decisions need to be informed, and being more informed will in the end give you more ideas, helping with your creativity. Best yet, giving you informed ideas! 

2.  Keep Open

 

While working under pressure do not let that limit you (easy to say, huh?).  Maybe you won’t have time to wireframe out all your pearls.  But atleast start by listing or sketching out all your ideas before pursuing one.  As with research, to ensure you stay on deadline be sure to timebox your brainstorm session.

What is key is to not judge these ideas right away.  The biggest poison to creativity is closing yourself off by judging prematurely.  SURE the idea may be stupid at first, but if you have a little time to follow the thought process out you may arrive at a golden solution. And if you train your brain to judge your ideas immediately, you shut yourself off from fully utilizing its creativity.  Meaning, less ideas come out when you blockoff pathways.  Also, when you move on to picking the key ideas you will pursue, you still have a list of ideas to fall back on.

3.  Keep Focused Via the POWER OF LISTS

 

 I. Love. Lists. As anyone that knows me… well, knows.  YES keep open but at a certain point you need to hone in (or clear the clutter of your frantic mind).  The best way to keep your priorities straight is to have lists. Make a list at least of your top product goals (or other goals if you are not a product manager).  Also a clear list of feedback is good, when reviewing your solution for a 1st,  2nd or 3rd time.  Try to keep these lists short though… even with feedback, try to boil it down to key points.

Now you have these lists, use them.  When you get lost, refer back to them and center yourself.  Another reason why for product manager’s personas (<– click there to read all about the magic of personas) are key!

 

4.  Digitally Brainstorm, Save Trees, Save Time

 

For the first three tips you could do this on paper.  And for sketching that is often the fastest unless you have a tablet and software skills.  But for the rest, try to do this using google docs, a word processor program or a awesome list software like WorkFlowy.

Why? Because when the time comes to present your ideas, spec your ideas, etc, you already have them typed up.  Clean them up and VOILA.  Saves you time from parsing your scribbles on paper and transcribing them for that power point. Yay, for copy and paste!  In addition, those brainstormed ideas are digitally saved for later.

5.  Feedback early and often

No one likes to waste their time (or your client’s, colleagues, etc).  You will find when you are working close with your client (maybe even in the same room) you will move faster.  Or if this is not a client situation, your teammates, test user, etc. Like in a game of Marco Polo, you need to get feedback often or you may hit into the wall of the pool opposite from your target.

For those who have not played Marco Polo. Basically you close your eyes and flail around in a pool trying to tag your friends. When you call "Marco", they must respond "Polo", helping you find them.

Do not do get feedback via email – if possible.  Even if you have to arrange an impromptu, walk over to your client/boss/colleague’s desk for advice or video skype meeting, be sure not to waste your time writing up some big email just to get quick feedback.  Also that way you can see their reaction first hand and quell any worries on their behalf.

6.  Feedback as Inspiration

 

To continue the last tip’s line of thought, you need to strike a balance between showing people your product too early and shutting them off from you following that train of thought and getting the feedback you need.  This is especially true for consulting… and I could write a whole novel on this. So while I encourage early feedback, do take some time to fully explain your idea and make it clear this is just the beginning of the baby’s life.  Depending on the client, you will have to find the sweet spot, where early is not too soon.

What is important is, do not let feedback/judgement stymy your creativity.  Take it as a challenge/new aspect to design around and not necessarily a reason to move on immediately.  Feedback is not a final deathtoll and is is just a reason to reflect and adapt your idea.  At points you do need to give up the ghost on an idea, but the first negative feedback should not be the death rattle.  And starting over should be avoided especially when on deadline, unless with more feedback you realize its a deadend.  Even then parts and main concepts learned for your idea should be salvaged (thank you Mr. lists).

7.  Take a break

 

When especially frustrated… take a walk!  Bounce a ball against the wall!  Or if you cannot rip yourself from the computer, just peruse the internet for inspiration.  Something as simple as searching for your key goal words in google images, to see what comes up.  Work smarter, not harder.

 

 

 

 

GO TO YOUR HOME!

 

So in summary, the above tips are for creativity when in a pinch.  There are of course more tips necessary just to ensure you MEET your deadline. Such as avoiding the dreaded feature creep beast.  But that is a post for another time..

 

Let’s end with a laugh shall we?  This is what I think about every time I cannot figure out where to place an item while wireframing:

You too good for your home? – S

Ode to the Art of Product Development

Lately I have been working with a company giving UX advice and revising wireframes for their new site.  It has been a fun and rewarding experience!

Friday it struck me once again, with a sappy sort of realization how creative the user experience design process is.  This should be evident but by the word, “design” but often the process is not thought of as so.

Product Development as well demands such creativity (and really any of the web professions, when you need to problem solve and develop).

I wrote a WHOLE post about creativity, tips, etc, but that needs to be honed and posted another day. (Edit: That day has come! Seven Tips for Keeping Creative while on a Deadline)

But for now I present a metaphor…

 

I like to think of the product development & user experience process like sculpting.

You happen upon a big lump of concept in which you can see a glimmer of an fully formed profitable product inside.

You chip at it and make something that you think is pretty darn good looking, using inspiration from experience, other artists out there (past and present), books about sculpting and what you know about your future viewers.

Sculpt
By TochiPhotos

But then you step back or have an art critic look at it… And its a hunk of crap.

Ew

And with the feedback you roll up your sleeves and jump back in with your chisel.

And repeat this… for who knows long until FINALLY you step back, look at it from all angles, have that critic come back over to gander, show your mum and some random passerby… and it is right!  Or right enough to test further. 🙂

Funny things is it often looks MUCH different from what you originally invisioned… but if done right…

By KittiVanilli

It’s better.

– S

I heard you like the internet so I put the internet in the internet… internet

Yo dawg, just a quick rant/thought about the Facebook Auto-share feature for apps that will be appearing in the coming weeks as apps adopt it.

Basically the idea is, for certain apps when you opt in they automatically share every video/article/etc that you look at on a certain site.  Not only could that be potentially embarassing, as pointed out by Mashable but I argue that it hinders the overall user experience.

  • On one side you have users even MORE paranoid about opting into apps, which lowers their acceptance of possible good apps.
  • But then you just have utter crap filling up the increasingly cluttered and unfocused facebook stream.  I cannot think of ANYONE, unless they are a psychic kick-ass web developer (who reads before he clicks awesome articles), that I would want to see every article they happen upon. Yes, some could be good. But the odds of that?  Retweet or resharing has a purpose, the user actively chooses to share an interesting article.

This really is a step in the wrong direction, rather than helping users focus into educated suggestions on the internet (collaborative filtering). (Edit: See comments for a link shared by Cliff, its a discussion whether collaborative filtering is even wanted. Good read!) We are basically inserting others’ meanderings around the internet in the internet… just creating noise.  No little doggy ear, top story feature, will protect us from the drivel, as its all a crapshoot.  An intellectual farmville…  

 

The only way I see this potentially augmented so that it is useful, is if there is a review layer.  So as the user leaves the page, the app asks them to leave a review or rating, and choose to share.  Which the prompts could get annoying… but at least cut down on the crap inserted in their friends’/followers’ newsfeed, or at least warn others if its crap.  And perhaps give meaningful feedback to the site author.

At first I was surprised that Facebook is fostering this.  As someone who has launched a Facebook app game, I know they are very guarded about automatic posting on walls (though mostly when regarding your friend’s wall).  Honestly, I see it as them mining more user interactions, part of their now ultra-hyped up “SHARE ALL THINGS” (and save for analysis later) motto.

Needless to say I do not see myself adding any app to my timeline with this feature.

– S

 

 

The Unimaginable Awesomeness of Facebook’s Timeline

And I say that in a HP Lovecraft sense of the word.  Awesome can be good news.  Awesome can also be the powerful destruction of a landslide.  Or in the case of Facebook, its the awesome and semi horrifying realization of what I have been doing all along.  I have been chronicling my life.  One status update and new friend addition at a time, since 2004.

The internet has been watching.  Deep down I knew it… but until Timeline it wasn’t quite as tangible the sheer amount of data I have been supplying to the Sheila Chronicles.  In other words, I have looked into the abyss and it has blown my mind.

Google+ vs. Facebook vs. MySomething or Another: Pre-Timeline

 

Since the release of Google+, there have been murmurs of Facebook going the way of Myspace or My _________ or whatever you call that dinosaur built entirely of blinking gifs.

Honestly, despite being one that has been sucked into the ease and inventiveness of Google+, I had no real fears for Facebook.  At least not for a while.  Myself, I have found I mostly post articles I want to share (like on Twitter) on Google+ but add any real personal data to Facebook.

My Reasons Two:

  1. People (gentiles) are on Facebook.  Google+ gained momementum quickly but only my most avid technophile friends have stuck to Google+.  Let’s be fair Facebook has the CONTENT to keep people for the time being. One big complaint I have heard over and over is, “Google+ is boring”. And it really must be for anyone who does not have rabid googlephiles adding to their stream.  In addition, with the Google+ API only just released, I have no easy way to post to all my Social Media bases, sticking just to Facebook/Twitter where I can get bang for my metaphorical buck.  Takes time to tend your Social Media ant farm!
  2. Like candy to a search engine baby – I consider myself a rational person but I can’t help but feeling I am handing over very personal data to a search engine. And while I trust Google with my personal/business mail, documents, calendar… I just can’t shake the feeling that I should not give them all the milk.  On the other hand when I post blog links and other professional data publicly on Google+, I feel like I am “optimizing my SEOs”.  Its a mix of paranoia and reality.  Facebook is just as bad if not worse but somehow it just didn’t feel as blatant… until now.

Into the Abyss

 

Today I activated Facebook’s Timeline via the developer preview.  I wasn’t a hundred percent certain what to expect since first reading about it in Mashable’s doomsday/coming-to-god like article “Prepare Yourself for the new Facebook“.  And since the beta release the overall consensus has been one of admiration that you don’t see usually attributed to a website.

My first Cover

Initial Reactions

  • OOo let me see here… Cover photo!
  • ASCII penis art and a chainmail status posted by my friends in 2004? Good lord I can go through each month and see what was posted on my wall…
  • This is semi terrifying, wonder what my security settings are?
  • Oh wait, this information is not correct let me add my actual highschool.. birth.. etc… information

The Genius of Facebook

 

Facebook has done which few can… and honestly it is a bold step.  A revealing of cards which few can boast.

You can’t leave me… because I AM you.

 The emotional tie, their coupe de grâce, is revealing what we have been building all along. Our internet legacies or our own graves, depends on how dramatic you want to be.

And at first you react with surprise and try to cover up your nakedness but then you say “Hey!  They assumed my anniversary was my marriage anniversary and not when we started dating!  I better correct that.

And “Oooooo there’s a big button that says add a photo next to my birthdate.  Better add a baby picture!  I already uploaded those a year ago to some album…”

FEED ME SEYMOUR!

SOYLENT FACEBOOK IS PEOPLE!

 

For the first time, and I am not a paranoid person (just ask my husband, it irks him), I have to ask myself what Facebook’s TRUE intention is.  And as an internet professional, I wonder: What is the harm?  Is this what our users want? A way to mine and then reflect on their personal data?

In the end, is Facebook providing us the ultimate service?  A legacy, in which our grandchildren, barring we keep our security settings open, can come to understand?  A reflection base in which to look back on our accomplishments and week moments? Or just TMI?

But is this hubris?

 

It’s pretty ballsy of Facebook to give us a glimpse of what they have been collecting, though its been available for download for years now.  They really have laid down their cards in a connect the dots kind of way.

When released into the wild I can see this going as follows:

  • There is a max exodus of the already paranoid Facebook base (mostly to Google+ or to a bomb shelter).
  • In the end, the majority are winned over by sheer self consumption.  It is pretty flattering and interesting to go through your life story of the past however many years… 
  • The Facebook ball gets bigger. And after a short lag Facebook continues on detailing the human existence in the modern age.  Only now with more granular clarity, as the Facebook antfarm, now more than ever, has swallowed the sugar water and understands the bigger part of the “mission”.

Repercussions for Sheila Suarez de Flores

 

How do I hide the ASCII penis art from my grandma?  I need to probably figure out these circles.. lists… security thingy majig.

 

“The most merciful thing in the world… is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”
― H.P. Lovecraft

 

– S

Magic Ruby is a Gem

So I wanted to make a quick post about an event I went to in February: Magic Ruby. It was a free event near Disney.

I love me some Python but man the Ruby community can be great.  I have only dabbled in Ruby but I couldn’t resist a free conference where Dave Thomas and Chad Fowler were speaking.

Turned out to be awesome and totally applicable to my work.  A lot of the talks were about good practices in general, so could be applied outside of Ruby.  I especially give kudos to Dave Thomas who very openly talked about what the Ruby/Agile community could improve on.  Namely keeping a more open mind while not chasing the golden idol of new technology without weighing the cost to production.

Thunder Struck

So I did my first impromptu lightning talk (hosted by Gregg at Envy Labs!). It was on accessibility and simple things you can do to improve your site’s Section 508 compliance and make it all around more usable. I had five minutes to talk and they requested a video as well. Check it out below…

Addendum:

  1. Using multiple H1s is allowed in HTML5 but keep in mind this is still not supported by most screen readers. The big point here is to keep the hierarchy clear and not to jump levels or use random headings for accent.
  2. I had a 5 minute time limit so I didn’t get to clarify the resource “Just disable styles on your site!”. What I meant here is a good troubleshooting tool is to look at your site and remove all styles via your browser setting. If the content makes sense and nothing vital is lost, you should be on the right path! This is not a foolproof technique though.
  3. I had my references on the stats slide but viddler cuts of the bottom… VIDDLLEERRRR! Trust me I researched them?

Pretty sweet background muzak huh? Recorded with Jing in the hotel side lobby…

It was a good experience. And I had some people come up and talk to me afterward voicing their frustration as well as to the lack of knowledge about accessibility. I also got a high five!

I think I’m going to prepare a longer one for Barcamp Orlando

Yay for Awesome Free Events! – S

February Goals

So I failed a lot in January….

I will not dwell on that and instead I will set  this months goals:

  • Don’t eat after 9. Eat reasonable.
  • Dance once a week.
  • Every day I am able, do yoga.
  • Finish portfolio this month.
  • Clean out my garage.
  • Eat through my pantry so by the end of the month I have to go to the store to eat.  Eat more from meal to meal rather than overbuying.
  • Continue trying to sell my car.

I think this is managable… but then again I thought last month was.  Really my only success was we kept the office and my room clean.  I did TRY to change my name (chickened out) and I TRIED to fix up my car but the part is too expensive so I’m just selling it for less now.

Wasn’t a horrible month just could have done better food wise.  So this month I’m going to try to temper it with some exercise, focus more on that.

Well here we go! – Sheila

New Year New Post – Goals… for at least January

SOOOOO lots has happened and I have not been the best about documenting it.

But rather than making excuses lets jump right into it.

2010

  • We took our moms on a cruise and got to visit Mexico in the process!
  • Learned ukulele and continue striving towards getting beyond just karaoke with it.  It has been a GREAT activity to do with my dad.
  • Got married and the wedding was a grand success! We are soooo lucky.  See wedding.austinandsheila.com for photos, press coverage (WUH?), full ceremony and other fun-ness.
  • Traveled to Europe for our Honeymoon.  France, Spain & Italy!  It was an amazing 16 days where we covered 10 cities! Check it out on Flickr.
  • I’ve started taking photography more serious in general!  It’s been a great creative outlet now that the wedding festivities have died down.  Plus its great to document our first and coming years of marriage.  I purchased my SLR (a canon Rebel) and I’m slowly learning how to use it.
  • Continue forth at work.  It was my first full calendar year as a team lead of the Techrangers at Center for Distributed Learning at University of Central Florida.  A full year of working hands on with my team (11 strong), developing Dredbeard and Zapt and working at improved course development procedures.  I attended my first professional conference, BBWorld 2010 and presented my first poster session.  Very fulfilling!
  • I feel we probably could have done more with SHOUT! Swing but reality is we didn’t have much time!  And really we did what we could with what energy we had. I am still proud that we held a workshop, threw a free dance, taught at least once a month and performed at Celebration.  Overall we continue to grow and learn as teachers.
  • Ooo ran a 5k with only one walking bought!

My biggest personal accomplishments were to get better at setting to-dos and taking care of my personal assets (posting/editing pictures) before  the momentum dies.  Also, being able to be relax and enjoy our wedding weekend was a feat only doable due to good planning and learning to BREATH. I am proud that I was overall unstressed and level headed.

2011

So I don’t do well with goals… or I do but I don’t.  As in I’m a driven person but often I plan TOO much and then feel like a failure even though I got a lot accomplished.  And then use that as an excuse to not move forward…

Here’s my plan.  I’m going to set a yearly manageable goals BUT also hold myself to smaller goals each month that will help me achieve the big goal.  But small…. and not beat myself up if it doesn’t happen.  JUST MOVE FORWARD.

  • BIG RESOLUTION: Do not let stress over rule my life. I honestly believe if I accomplish that it will help with a lot of my issues which includes: using stress as excuse to eat badly or not be active, not enjoying the moment and not feeling fulfilled or obsessing over the little things.
  • HEALTH: I don’t even want to lose weight anymore… which is around 150lbs (10 lbs gained since our October wedding).  I just want to eat reasonable so I have energy and health that I need to do what I need to do.  If weight loss comes with that, even better.  NO MORE EXCUSES.  And no more enslavement to the scale. I plan to not step foot on it except at the doctor’s.
  • RECREATION: Get back to my passions.  Whatever they be I need to take time for myself a little each day.  I need to get back to my creativity!  I need to get back to myself!  And who I am without Austin when need be. As well, I need to as well dance at least once a week, even if its just with Austin in our house.
  • RELATIONSHIPS: Continue to work on appreciating my family and my husband.  I as well want to make more of an effort to keep in touch with long distance friends, even if its just a quick hi on Facebook.
  • PROFESSION: Start learning again!  Take time for professional development  at work and in my free time.  My portfolio also needs a fresh start so I can use it to showcase my MANY passions.  I as well want more of an internet presence (blogging etc) this really is more of a bonus goal… if I get the rest done first.
  • PROJECT: Other than refreshing my portfolio I will get all my dad’s websites redesigned and humming.  So that he may sell his music online.
  • FOR FUN: SEE Orlando.  WHEN we have free time go do some typical “Orlando” things that we haven’t done…..
  • LIFE: GET RID OF CLUTTER. Simplify my life and learn to digitize/organize my stuff and let go of material possessions.  Still have a box in the garage from Boston….  This means as well keeping my backlogged digital assets organized and well backed up…. I want to feel comfortable about my possessions and in control by the end of 2011.

In general I want to get my life in control!  Get it organized and manageable and then build from there!  Not feel so overwhelmed.

January Goals

You’ll see I plan on focusing what bothers me the most… my health.  Here are my steps towards working on the food issue first.

  • Don’t eat after 9pm when I’m going to bed early.
  • Eat normal sized portions and learn when I’m no longer hungry.
  • Only drink more than one alcoholic drink a night once per week.  Because when I drink… I want more food… its a cruel cycle.
  • Dance at least once per week.
  • Get my new portfolio design marked up in HTML 5.
  • Get my car fixed up so I can sell it hopefully in February.
  • Submit my paperwork to change my last name.
  • Keep my office and room clean.  So far they are clean… now just have to maintain.

My Luck

I have an immense amount of it… let’s hope I keep systematically working on myself while also learning to relax.  2011 is going to be an AMAZING year.  I already learned to drive stick and cleaned up the office!

Introducing a new fun side project.

Time Cards Continue – Sheila

Juneish-July: What Sheila’s Been Rolling Round In

So a run down of what I’ve been doing:

  • Turned 24! I feel old.  I know I’m not old.  But I feel it.  Definitely reconciled that I’m a 100% responsible for my own actions.  Filled my taxes this year.  Have an IRA. Am responsible for food getting into my mouth.  Been feeling old for a while though, what with working through school (which getting a job right after college validated this).  Just not as footloose and fancy free since my stint at Boston University or as we called it “Camp BU”.  Not because it was easy… but there was a lot of running around drunk, giggling, sometimes outdoors.  Any who, don’t take me as complaining though I relate to this..  Just this year it finally finally sunk in.  It’s like the question “When you look in the mirror how old do you look?”  Well I finally see an adult.  But that’s okay being an adult has a lot of freedom.  Though we have societal trappings seeming to cage us in, in the end we are free adults with the ability to eat badly, quit our jobs, run away, suffer the consequences, possibly die on the street, but really in the end our choice.  I’D LIKE TO HEAR YOU SAY THAT 6 YEAR OLD CHILD!
  • We did a 4th of July show at Celebration Town Center!  Pictures/video EVENTUALLY to come… not great at posting media assets.  It was 50s themed, and hot and 3.5 hours of constant dancing.  No really… Too hot.
  • One of my bridesmaids was in town from Spain, Aline. We went to Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom.  Still not a Disney fan though Animal Kingdom is the best.  Really don’t take advantage of the parks here.  I haven’t been back to Islands of Adventure since I moved here 4ish years ago, and I like that park.
  • Austin turned 27!
  • Annual Birthday camping trip at Blue Springs.  Staff was nicer at Wekiva but the Springs were much nicer for swimming at Blue.  Overall enjoyable though it WAS SO HOT and within an hour of getting there I became a broken woman.  Strained my arms and jumped on a rock (an injury that kept me from dancing for 2 weeks).
  • Sent out my wedding invites! We just solidified/wrote our wedding ceremony.  Now on to fittings, tastings and designing our programs…  Almost complete with all our honeymoon reservations.
  • At work:
    • Helped organizing the parlors for Educauses’s AASCU.
    • Attended BBWorld2010 and presented this poster. Won a droid phone, so now I’m back to smart phones.  I should be happy.  But it complicates things and my fingers tap the wrong keys. Into the the future I hurtle!
    • Attended Front-End Design Conference – This may sound ignorant but I expected it to be less Graphic/UI design and more front-end development.  Either way still enjoyed it and the talks were good refreshers.  Gained most by the talk on iPhone dev/design, good food for thought.  Though I’m not sure when I’ll get to dally in that. People were very nice. Very nice and positive.  Wish that wasn’t so unusual to me.
  • Five Years with Austin as of 7/29. Wow.  Glad we are still lucky and in love. 🙂 Went to St. Augustine to celebrate (our route).  I’ve been meaning to go there for a while but this was our first trip together.  Very nice but very touristy.  ELITIST ALERT! I guess, I’m just spoiled from experiencing the oldness of Europe, in cities that don’t rely seemingly only on tourism.  Hey!  Got to drink good imported beer at the Rendezvous.  Walked around holding hands. Bought tasty soap. Got free drinks due to poor service. Saw an old fort. Worth at least one visit.
  • Been swimming.
  • Been playing ukulele… haven’t posted about this but its awesome.
  • Been reading. Shades of Grey is amazing.
  • Hiring at work.
  • Been busy.

So many more adventures to come as we are 2 months away from the wedding.  Just trying to lose weight, learn ukulele and keep my sanity.  August means heat, fall semester startup at UCF (busiest time of the year at work) and Southern Belle Swing Bash!

Just hoping to keep unstressed and appreciate what I have.

True – S

One Ring to Rule Them All

As I mentioned in my post about our wedding, Austin and I a few months ago debarked upon the path of creating customized bands.  My engagement ring (pictured below) is an unusual shape so we needed to create an interlocking band.  As for Austin’s… well he deserved some bling!  Here are some thoughts and results…

The Planning

So this is my engagement ring… sorry for the quality.  Shinies are hard to photograph with a cell phone camera.

Enagement Ring

Austin bought it at Diamond Exchange.  He wanted to get a tension setting… but those are SUPER expensive so he found this unique setting which mimics the look.  The experience was positive so we went back to the store for our bands.

I had read in some wedding book of a Victorian tradition where you spell out words with gemstones.  Me not being a big diamond fan and the fact that using gems are a money saver we decided to run with it.  While those crazy Victorians spelled out words like “L-O-V-E” and “H-O-P-E”, Austin and I decided upon initials.  Austin would have two sapphires for Sheila Suarez.  Where I would have A-D-F for Austin David Flores (as you will see later this was harder then I hoped).

The Jeweler is a fantastic designer so with my input he came up with this for my band:

Sketch of my band.

Austin meanwhile picked out a white gold/”frosted” band.  He then designed his own gem setting, very reminiscent of this TrueBlood ring:

Only instead of two bands… its one… and Sapphires that make the infinity symbol… much like the tear drop stones on mine.  So really not like the above at all.

Results!

So creating customized interlocking rings is not for the weary…  It took a lot of visits to the store to ensure the bands fit the original engagement ring perfectly.  And even then its not perfect as to be expected from a man made metallic object.  But it looks darn good!  Austin’s was of course much easier.  Behold my precious…

The Set

Infinity is Sexy

2 peices

My band separated.  We have dubbed it Bling-A-Tron.

LOCK!

The bottom of it

One Ring to Rule Them All

So the final stones actually don’t spell out A-D-F but S-D-F for Suarez De Flores (my future last name).  I really wanted to match Austin’s name but after an extensive search the only F stone was the Mexican Fire Opal (left stone).  And orange does not match any A stone…  So for Suarez we used Spacerite Garnet (right stone) which is a light orange.  Luckily Diamond Exchange did their research and was able to figure this out for me!

Final Thoughts

Creating customized bands are expensive but I would do it again in a heart beat!  This is creating a legacy for your family and a hand me down.

If I had to do it again though I might have done a little bit more checking around as far as jewelers.  Though I will say Diamond Exchange really pulled through.  I heard though that putting in an alchemy request on Etsy.com can be great and more affordable.

Also using gem stones while cheaper can be tricky as they are not even close to as hard as Diamonds so may break easily.  My fire opal broke during construction and they had to replace it.  Luckily my jeweler constructed it so that when put together the Diamond sticks out slightly and protects the site stones, but still it is a risk that I will have to maintain.  Here is a scale to give you an idea!  The problem is this scale is not a set ratio so the difference between level 9 and 10 is .. well .. ten fold.

In the end, you will probably end up sautering together your ring.  While nice to be like a puzzle, after the wedding day you will most likely never wear them separated (mostly because wearing the band alone could risk breakage as its created to be together).  And if sautered together the ring is more protected from warping and breakage. Kinda shame… probably will do it myself… :/  And of course this costs more money.

So have fun and don’t pull out your hair!

Shinies – S

Biking On the Road is all the Rage

I didn’t have the best friday and I needed a diversion that wasn’t food or drink to bring me back to earth.  I really have been striving to find balance in my life as far as my health, stress level & recreational time.

After talking to some friends I heard about the Cross Seminole Trail head being just down the road from us.  I did some research online but found scant resources in my precursery search.  The most informational being: this and this. I actually used a different map then the latter which I can no longer find.

Either way we hydrated, put on sun block and hit the trail.

First 4.5 miles were great.  The trail was awesome and I was mad at myself for not doing this more.  In Pittsburgh, as a child, I used to ride ALL the time.

Uhohs

Then we hit the end of the trail. Uhoh.  This was supposed to go for 20 miles, of which we planned only to do 10.  All the informative end of trail sign said was “Use side walk”.   Which does not sound like good advice anyway since there was a bike lane on the road…  I guess for families that is good.

So as a conscious effort to follow the rules of the law we rode in the bike lane. And rode. And rode.  No trail reentry.

Finally we decided to cut our loses and ride back home by making a loop past UCF.  Which meant riding on University Blvd.  A road with no bike lane.  And as we found out a lot of ignorant drivers despite being near to a major University which should have lots of student bicycle traffic.  No wonder students are afraid to ride there.

We work off of University Blvd. and have been anxious to get some practice riding in the road on it, as we are by law supposed to. Plus, riding in the the road forces the cars to notice you rather then the side walk where distracted drivers have been known to turn and hit bikers. This being a Saturday with no traffic we felt it would be optimum practice.

First of all I know riding in the road is the best. But it did not feel safe. Despite no traffic angry drivers constantly cut it close, honked, yelled & pointed at the sidewalk.  Yes. We get it.  We are not blind.  We see the sidewalk. One car got really close to Austin.  We rode taking up the right lane as to ensure that drivers would not try to cut it close.  But they did.  In the 4 mile stretch we had at least 2 close encounters and 7 angry honks. One from a mail man!  Slowest vehicle on the road…

Why does the right thing feel wrong?  Other people.

I have mixed feelings about this experience.

I already know biking to work is hard for me as much as I want to do it as I only live 5 miles away.  1.  I’m not good at getting up early, as biking doesn’t take long but getting there with time to shower is hard. 2. University Blvd is just not bike friendly and its just a damn shame.  On all the roads there were bike lanes it was awesome and I felt fine but University Blvd was hell.

I feel like a chicken but though I plan on biking more I may just always ensure I take a trail or a road with bike lanes.  With some research I figured out that google maps has a bike trail view (bike button at the top of the directions) and I saw that we were supposed to veer onto a certain road to catch the trail again… Thanks for the signs, County.

I feel riding in the road was correct. By law and as I vehicle I had every right.  But with the angriness and the close calls it was just not a relaxing experience.

Austin and I will be taking a road biking course hopefully soon so perhaps that will change my mind.  I just wish I had the time to lobby for… or for the government to… put more money into bike commuting, bike lanes and educating the public about sharing lanes with bikers.  I feel UCF also is missing out but not pushing for a more bike friendly campus/locale.

I’m proud of myself though!  I almost gave up as one point but I kept on going and ended up biking 18.6 miles!  Pretty darn good I do think so… 🙂

Our Path: http://tinyurl.com/2dyjgzf

I guess my message is take bike lanes/trails as much as possible.  But do your research as far as your options.  And go out of your way to find safe roads if you do not live in a bike friendly area.

But if you are stuck on a road with no lane.  Own that lane with no apologies.  No matter how much they honk.  It’s safe and you have every right.

Honk – S