I have been in the fortunate position over the last 10 days or so to be in the company of some of the best Track and Field athletes, coaches and therapists in the world with what can only be described as a s**t ton of medals between them.
It was a lot of fun.
At 5or6 we have been working with the World Athletics Center for the past 2 years and have seen the centre balloon from a handful of athletes to over 75 with 19 members of staff, fully booked coaching courses and athlete camps held all over America.
With everything I have seen at the WAC and picked up from the coaches in this time, I felt there were more than a few things that I could take from the world of track and field to the screen.
Keep things simple
Training is like medicine, overdosing on it can have severe repercussions mentally and physically. Athletes can’t earn a living if they are injured, and yet so many athletes and coaches over do on training to gain an edge when they should really be asking themselves “What is the minimum effective dose?”.
On the web this method also applies. Reducing clutter, providing focus and a clear structure whilst reducing the requests to the server is the most effective way to deliver content to users and a return of investment for the clients.
Does your site need that extra CSS3 animation? Can the image be cache or does that extra navigation tab distract from the pages focus? Why add noise when you can add clarity.
Understand the stats
At WAC every athlete is expected to document their training progress on the track and in the gym. The information is then used to determine where each athlete is during training blocks and how they have progressed month on month and year on year.
Documenting their progress allows the athlete and their coach to measure what is working and more importantly, what isn’t.
On the web if you don’t have a grip on the numbers how can you add context to your project? If you don’t know what you have done in the past, how can you plan to go forward? Understanding the stats gives you a great base to understand what is happening on the website, and gives you the chance to track what’s working on the site.
Understanding analytics can provide clearer paths for progression, highlight elements/pages/structures that are working and provide focus for decisions.
Clear communication of goals
Every athlete has a clear set of goals in front of them, something they want to achieve short and long term. Some of the goals might be realistic and some might not be, yet having them can help define the training blocks, rest periods and competition schedule for the year.
If you are building a site to achieve something (you most likely are), then the project goals should pave the way for your research and in turn your UX and page/site structure. Goals force us (designers) to do what we do best, construct the best possible solution with in set parameters.
Like most of the topics I have highlighted, having goals allows you to sift through the crap and highlight what is important to the project.
Become a student and a teacher
Being with Dan Pfaff and Stu McMillan for 10 days opened my eyes to how insular certain fields can be. I write and try to share my (limited) knowledge within the web and design industry but they live to share and teach. They view sharing knowledge on their craft as a cornerstone to furthering their own learning on the subject. They understand that they don’t have all the answers, and that no one does, however they have surrounded themselves with brilliant individuals from all over the world who can open their eyes to new ideas and theories that can enhance every athlete, coach and therapist around them.
In a recent article on A List Apart by Jeffery Zeldman he translates his thoughts on why he began his blog, and what it has brought him in his 15 years online and it really struck a chord with me. Documenting and articulating your ideas and processes helps your communication methods and provides an outlet and base for your knowledge to grow.
Fortunately web (in my eyes anyway) is certainly one of the more open industries. The likes of Trent Walton, Jeremy Keith and Scott Jehl are constantly making me feel more than stupid on an almost daily basis, but in doing so renewing my faith in the importance of sharing knowledge. I would truly be nowhere without learning from people better than me.