Programming and Project Runway

August 17, 2006 at 12:13 am Leave a comment

It is roughly 11 minutes (plus an extra 10 minutes to build up a Tivo queue) until my latest TV obsession, Project Runway, commences.  I haven’t quite figured out the reasoning behind my fancy.  With the exception of some cute Bowman Handbags, I don’t own anything that the general public would deem fashionable (Unless Appalachian Trail hats that are too big for my head count). 

So I’d like to think my fascination comes from watching the lifecycle the pieces go through.  They start out as simple sketches, but after a visit to Mood Fabrics and 1-2 days of frantic sewing they become (hopefully) these beautiful garments.

Well, that may not be it either.  This past week, I realized I do a very similar process with my programming and I haven’t quite found the same level of entertainment there.  Nonetheless, here’s one recent example of my process and how it parallels that of the fashion designers on Project Runway.

The Challenge
My assignment was to take data we already had in the database and make it into a “Rolling 53” report.  Basically they wanted to take test data and evaluate it in batches of 53 to see how many positive test results there were in each grouping.  First they would look at the most recent 53 items.  Then they wanted to drop off the most recent item and look at the next 53 items.  

Sometimes the designers on Project Runway are given a dossier on a particular client which includes samples of past colors and styles used by that individual or organization.  Well, I got this cryptic Excel spreadsheet:

Sketch Time
If you look through my work notebooks, you’ll typically find a lot of little drawings of the screens or functions I’m working on.  Even when I don’t do a full blown specification, I still draw out what I’m doing and/or write down related database fields.  This project was no different.

Now in Project Runway 3: The Road to the Runway Special, Tim Gunn and the judges were evaluating some of the applicants’ sketches and they noted that drawing the sketch and making the garment are entirely two separate things.  I believe Michael Kors summed it up as, “They have no idea how they are going to make these clothes.” 

Well in programming, you have to be careful to keep your design realistic as well.  In my above notes, you can see I was already making notations about my logic.  There is a note about a for loop and I jotted down table names I expected to query.  The large vertical rectangles surrounding my “cells” (not necessary rectangular in the drawing) are particularly telling.  They depict my thoughts on how I was going to use nested HTML tables to achieve my look. 

Materials
With the Rolling 53, my Visual Studio 2003 Development Environment with ASP.NET and HTML syntax was sufficient.  However, in other situations, I may be shopping around for suitable materials (aka third party components).  In that case, I would certainly be keeping in mind that just like the Project Runway designers, the materials I chose would reflect the quality of the final product.  I would be judged on my material and my choices– I would be the technology I use.

Tim Gunn
In Project Runway, Tim Gunn serves as a counselor and initial critic to the designers.  For the Rolling 53, my Tim Gunn is a woman who is just as personable, understanding and frank as the Project Runway personality.  Her name is Debbie and when I showed her my initial work, she had one of those famous Tim Gunn pauses.  It meant she had a much different perspective than I and ultimately advised significant changes. 

Since I was armed with the original spreadsheet and I felt my design was close to what the customer described, I went with it.  In Episode 1 of Season 3, Keith did not heed Tim Gunn’s advice and his choice paid off– he won the first challenge.  Luckily, my risk was as successful as Keith’s.  But– I know very well that like Tim Gunn, Debbie’s advice is very credible and accurate and should always be given serious consideration.

Below is a screenshot of my initial work.  Very similar to Kayne deviating from Tara Conner’s color recommendation in Episode 2, I deviated from the color scheme in the original spreadsheet.

 

The Runway Show and the Judges
It’s a lot less glamorous than models, the L’Oreal Makeup Room, the TREsseme Hair Salon and the Bananna Republic Accessory Wall.  Our presentation came on a late Monday night using GoToMeeting, Internet Explorer and a myriad of cell phones.  The “judges” were a few key individuals spread out over a couple of time zones.  I could not see their facial expressions during the meeting, so like the contestants, I really did not know exactly how my work was received until the discussion at the end.  Turns out, this work had a positive reception.  One customer even claimed, “Perfect!”

But, just as poor Bonnie found out in Episode 4— sometimes even if your finished product stays true to a sketch that was originally approved by the customer, it may not meet their full fancy when it is all said and done.  And like Jay and Chloe who won previous Project Runway seasons, you also have to think about the creation in production mode. 

As a result, we had a few items come out of our meeting.  They decided they wanted to list an identification number in each cell for easier reference and in order to support printing on black and white printers, we bolded the positive results in addition to color coding them.  Our revised version looked like this:

“Make It Work”
During the final episode of Season 2, the designers found out at the very last minute, they had to add one more look to their collection.  Well, that’s not an uncommon occurrence in the programming world!  In the Rolling 53’s case, we got the report done and found out that it needed to be emailed to two email addresses twice a week. 

With time, I could write a service to deploy the information regularly.  I’m sure the designers of Project Runway have plenty of things they could do…if they had the time!  In both cases, we do have a time constraint and have to make do with what we got.  Enter in good ole Debbie (aka my Tim Gunn).  She volunteered to run the report twice a week and mail the results out. 

Thanks to Debbie, we came up with a very simple (and cost effective) way to “Make It Work”!

Entry filed under: ASP.NET, Bowman Handbags, Project Runway, Web Development.

Excuse to Eat Out Painting Frenzy

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