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Quick Island Hopping Link To StoryBoard


  Profile: Andrew Thrash and Gerry Diwa--Collaborating Through E-mail


By Russell Shaw

Late last year, Andrew Thrash decided he wanted Flash animation on the Web site of his five-year-old alternative medicine e-commerce site, CompuPharma.com.

After placing a description of his need for a Web page designer in the Look for People area of eWork Exchange, Escondido, Cal.-based Thrash received numerous responses. None intrigued him more than the offer from Gerry Diwa. Based in Manila, Philippines at the time, Diwa was running his own design firm, Island Code, in the wee hours of the morning. The rest of his workday was occupied with his day job as an Internet Service Provider technician and occasional evenings working as a guitarist for a local rock band.

The Chosen One

There was instant bonding, Thrash says. Having an offshore Web designer who happened to be the same nationality as his wife intrigued him. With that in play, "his gallery quotes for my site all but pinned the tail on the donkey," Thrash says.

"I'd decided I'd spend some time bumming around some sites. Being a Web designer, my (Web) hangouts are obviously related to design and development, e-business and technology news. It was in one of those sites where I saw this mention about www.ework.com," Diwa recalls.

"Hmm," Diwa said to himself. "Why not give it a look?"

Diwa was in the Look for Work area of eWork Exchange when he found what he now recalls as "this oddly titled project" – 'Animate The Dot.' "My curiosity piqued. It seemed to be a creative challenge," he recalls. "I decided to press the 'Content Match' button. I thought, 'there are hundreds, even thousands, of equally capable Web designers out there.' But guess what, I was chosen!"

Designing by E-mail

About two weeks transpired from the time Diwa initially exchanged e-mails with Thrash to the start of actual production. All of this was done via e-mail between the Philippines and California, without any design-basics phone calls.

After a few e-mail exchanges with Thrash, Diwa says he started to pay serious attention to the details. The aspect of Thrash's post that caught Diwa's attention read in part: "the dot expands to (a) large pie-chart, where each slice will become a (clickable) image map, each leading to an HTML links page."

"Hmm," Diwa thought again.

Diwa went to the drawing board, sketching, compositing, and investigating how best to implement the project to fit the description Thrash had provided. "The project could be implemented in several ways," Diwa recalls thinking. "It could be done through GIF animation, through DHTML animation, or through JavaScript-driven HTML presentations." Intent on avoiding the cross-browser debugging and testing issues inherent in these solutions, Diwa decided that Macromedia Flash 4 would be the best tool to use.

In e-mail exchanges with Thrash, Diwa got the green light to try Flash. With that key decision made, Diwa put together a storyboard describing and depicting each sequence of the animation and then e-mailed it to Thrash. A couple of days later, Thrash replied with additional details and refinements to the storyboard. Diwa added Thrash's suggestions, finished the storyboard, and began production.

After production began, Diwa e-mailed every sequence he developed to Thrash for approval. Several such exchanges took place, most of them dealing with clarifying and refining certain aspects of the design display sequences. You can view the final product at http://www.islandcode.com/gallery_compuPharma.htm.

Diwa gets around. With the project completed, and a recent relocation to the Caribbean island of Curacao, Diwa has some thoughts on how best to manage long-distance relationships between designer and client – where consensus on visual presentation is critical, but face-to-face or phone contact isn't practical.

Sink or Swim

Diwa's main observation is that e-mail is not a magic bullet that will automatically get both sides on the same page. It's merely a facilitator, the success of which can sink or swim based on the client's willingness to work with the designer.

"If anybody thinks that designing Web sites for someone who lives miles apart, where the only communication is by e-mail (is easy), better think again," he points out. "If it is already difficult dealing with and understanding a client with whom a designer (is in the same room with), imagine how it is with someone who is time zones apart."

Diwa says that if there is a lesson to be learned from this experience, it is that "nothing beats having a good client, one who knows what they want and are able to express what they want in words. A good client is also diligent and energetic about their project, quick to provide resources and information, answer questions and provide feedback – thereby helping the designer realize their vision."

Then, and only then, with that chemistry in place, can e-mail start to fulfill its collaborative potential.

"Working together through e-mail brings the best out of both the client and the designer. With every e-mail and sent reply kept for reference, each detail is always at hand," Diwa says. "E-mail also affords each party enough time and space to concentrate on every item on the (designing) agenda."

Now that the redesigned site is live, both parties are pleased they made the contact. "eWork might be (Diwa's) ticket to an IPO," Thrash says with pride in his selection – a selection he wouldn't have made had he not discovered eWork Exchange.

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