Interviews With Early Web Developers · Heather Champ 2

What this is about:

Heather Champ is a pioneer web designer, an inspired young woman who has been at it as long as the web has been around. From her early days as the Special Projects Coordinator for the School of Architecture at Princeton University, through a remarkable string of successful professional design firms in New York and Montreal, to her present free-lance career with, Heather has been a guiding and innovative force for contemporary design elements. Photography is her signature, and her passion. Heather's work has been on display in galleries and museums, written about in journals, magazines, and newspapers, and is sent all over the world as electronic postcards. Exemplified by her long-term project, Mirror Mirror, it is easy to see why she has been held in such high esteem for integrating imagery with web design.

Jeff ClarkThis is your friendly interviewer, Jeff Clark, as he appeared in 1999. Time changes things.

Digital Photography

Casio QV-10A [Heather Champ] My first digital camera was the Casio QV-10a. I purchased it in August 96 after seeing them on display at MacWorld in Boston. It's a great camera. Very versatile, though not in the mega pixel category. I particularly liked the macro/normal lens setting and the ability to swivel the lens 180 degrees. I replaced it earlier this year with a Panasonic Palm Cam that redefines the notion of small camera. The picture quality is a little less than I would hope for, but the sheer size (or lack thereof) makes it very easy to carry around for documentation purposes. I also have access to a Kodak DC200 with a 48meg flash disk that allows close to 200 mega pixel images. The flash disk fits into a PC card adapter and the whole thing easily slips into a PC card slot for simple transference. It's a very versatile camera with both a traditional viewfinder and LCD display.

When looking through the viewfinder of a 35mm or ASP camera, the eye is restricted to the framed image with the surrounding area matted out. Many digital cameras on today's market only have a LCD display. Framing an image through a LCD display requires a steady hand, some coordination, and can take some getting used to depending upon the image refresh rate. Sometimes the image captured isn't what you expected given the refresh rate, especially if either you or the subject is moving. Buy an 8 pack of batteries and experiment with taking a variety of images under different lighting conditions and types of subject matter. You'll be better able to determine the outcome if you have a good idea how your camera will behave.

Additionally, I find it's very hard to take a bad digital image. If you're disappointed with an image, try cropping. Horizontal images can become vertical and vice versa. You can also create "panoramic" images from any photo by severely cropping it so the ratio of vertical to horizontal is 1:3. I prefer the panoramic format, as it enables a more dynamic relationship between elements within the image frame. Many digital cameras come bundled with decent photo editing software. Save a copy of the original image, then experiment.

[Internet Brothers] Can you tell us about a few of your current projects? We understand you're working on a Java based project with some folks in San Francisco. You do a lot of collaborative work, don't you?

[HC] While allows me the freedom of complete control, there are opportunities working within a team that I find far more enriching. I've been working with the gurus at jGuru on developing a portal. utilizes Epicentric's state of the art portal technology. Epicentric enables members to customize a wide variety of content modules. Needless to say, it's been an interesting balancing act to determine the fulcrum between form and function for a very picky community.

I created a series of templates for The Doctor Will See You Now. It utilizes content from Cyberounds, a site I developed back in 1996 for InterMDnet while I was working at Design/Systems. I've also been working on a series of templates for LifeRanger, a network referral service that will launch early next year in a tri-state area.

Mirror Mirror In October I realized a dream by launching a database version of Mirror Mirror. I have a collection of 250+ images of myself, and in some instances others, taken in mirrors. I've photographed the majority in bathroom mirrors but there are some public locations as well. Mirror Mirror was selected as a Project Cool Sighting on October 6, 1999 and MSN's Daily Diversion on November 25th. It's been interesting to see how people respond to the photographs. A number of folks have wrongly assumed the pictures are narcissistic. It's a documentation of place and time. The photographs record good and bad times, a few of my bizarre relationships, many of my girlfriends, and a surprising number of bad hair days.

Web Usability

[IB] Is there any one usability feature you would like to see improved on the Internet, both to make the experience better for the casual user, and easier for the designers and developers?

[HC] I don't know whether or not you would define "standards" as a usability feature. I might sound like a curmudgeon, but I'd really like to see a movement toward uniform support for W3C standards. So much time and money is wasted while designers and developers struggle with the cross browser incompatibilities that degrade the user experience. While projects with bigger budgets can serve a variety of "flavours" to take advantage of browser specific features, smaller projects must endeavour to create an elastic, one size fits all solution. It always presents an interesting challenge and making concessions comes with the territory.

[IB] How about a little break to talk about the things you enjoy away from your computer. You've been quite a traveler throughout your life. What are some of your favorite places to go, things to see and do, books to read, whatever you feel like talking about?

[HC] A couple of years ago, after 1997 Spring Internet World in Los Angeles, I traveled out to Joshua Tree National Park with a group of friends. I'd never been to a desert climate before and I was completely enchanted with the landscape. Since then, I've spent some time driving around New Mexico and the four corners area. Georgia O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch is northeast of Santa Fe. Driving through the landscape, I can see why she was so inspired. It's such a surreal, unnatural landscape (to my north-eastern eye). I'm hoping to return to Joshua Tree this spring. It will be a welcome break after Montreal's winter.

Reading is also a favourite escape. Fiction and non-fiction picks for 1999 are Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells and Permission Marketing by Seth Godin. The Cluetrain Manifesto is going to be published in February. It's going to be a killer read. Perhaps I'll be able to read it on an eBook — but they'll have to design one that I can drop in the bathtub without the pixels running.

One of my clients, Harry Levy of InterMDnet, published a mystery novel last year. Chain of Custody was a really great read. I found the first few chapters a bit disconcerting as I could hear Harry's voice in my head, but it was a treat. I now expect novels from all my clients!

Proceed to part 3 of Internet Brothers interview with Heather Champ.

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