Creating my new website earlier this year reminded me of the most important lesson I learned when creating my original website: Thinking takes time. And its results are not always immediate.
When I left my longtime, in-house position more than a decade ago, I wasn’t planning to work freelance—I had no plan at all to be honest—but freelancing is what I started doing and still do. A website soon became a necessity.
I knew a little bit about information architecture, so I knew that the first and most important step in creating a website would be to establish the content of the site—to figure out exactly what I wanted and needed to say about myself and my work.
As I sat at my kitchen table making lists and notes and trying to fit them into the kinds of categories I though my site should contain, I became increasingly frustrated. Nothing sounded good or right. I felt like I was going in circles, saying the same things in different, unsatisfying ways. I spent an entire afternoon at that table, and in the end I had nothing to show for it.
Clearly, I needed a fresh perspective. I needed to stop and re-evaluate what I was doing and how I was doing it. Today, I would do that intentionally; at the time, I did it by accident. While getting ready for bed, I fretted/fumed over my lack of progress and kept turning over the same questions. My line of thinking went something like this: I’m looking for clients—people who want to work with me. My site is supposed to attract and inform those people. What/who else does this, and how? One answer finally popped into my head: Want ads, in the newspaper. What if my site was written as an ad?
This is by no means a revolutionary idea. It’s hardly original, and not particularly interesting. But it was energizing. It was a new way to think about what I was doing. I grabbed a piece of paper and pencil, jotted some notes, and went to bed feeling so much better because I had somewhere new and fresh to start the next day.
And it was just that: a start. That idea, when I played with it, led to a far better and more creative idea that made me smile, and perfectly reflected who I was and what I did. Two days later, I had a completed website that drew rave reviews and served me well for many years.
That time at the kitchen table, shuffling and scribbling and staring out the window? It was not wasted. And not because many of the notes and lists and categories I made did end up on the site (albeit it in a completely different framework than the one I had been trying to force them into). Sometimes, you have to think about and try and write things that don’t work before you find what does.
I try to remember that every time I’m working on something that seems to be going nowhere—a substantive edit, a research assignment, a blog post. And when I feel myself getting frustrated or going in circles, I stop and seek a fresh perspective, often by simply putting the work away for an hour or a day.
Thinking takes time. And its results are not always immediate.
Q: Dimitra, if your original site was so great why did you change it?
A: Because it was difficult to update, because it was not mobile friendly, but above all because it no longer reflected who I am and what I do.
Q: Can we see the original site?
A: I’m afraid not. It’s “trapped” in cyberspace, for reasons I can’t explain because I don’t entirely understand them, and only I can access it through the software I used to create it. Here is a screen shot of the home page, courtesy of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine (https://web.archive.org/):
I had “defined” myself and my work using all of the features of a dictionary entry. I can’t remember how I got from “want ad” to “dictionary entry” but it’s not a big jump when you think about it. It’s certainly more relevant to my line of work!