So Not Very Cool

Dean Allen, a very large inspiration earlier in my career, died last weekend. I didn’t get to know him personally, but that didn’t reduce the impact his creativity and innovations had on me earlier in the century. It was a time when software made it relatively easy to publish online without having to spend a lot of time on arduous repetitive tasks. The curious and creative nerds at the time flocked to new found capabilities, sandboxes that allowed us to play as producers and publishers. Dean was one of the few at the top.

When I discovered Dean’s website, Textism late one afternoon the rest of my evening was booked as there was much to absorb and process.

It was his writing style that I connected to the most because it was unlike anything I had read before. Textism was smart, informative, witty, and at times it felt like an abandonment of grammatical rules—like a David Carson approach to writing. Dean’s voice and tone opened a large door for me. I studied his work and tried to emulate what I had learned in my own attempts at writing.

In addition to his prose, I learned (we all learned) a thing or two from Dean’s writing on design and attention to typographic details. Dean was a book designer at some point in his life, and he brought that expertise to the web. He made several contributions to my education on typography through articles like “Typography for Writers” and “Hunting Small Caps:”

Now, being the droll, sophisticated urbanite you are, you’re aware that abbreviations and acronyms appearing within bodies of text, such as NAFTA and RCMP are ANNOYING and DISRUPTIVE, robbing your droll, sophisticated ass of a pleasant reading experience. The solution is to set these in small caps, whereupon RCMP and NAFTA become far more AGREEABLE and less IRKSOME. Note that many designers think of small caps as a stylistic nicety, ignoring their practical contribution to the goal of an approachable, even body of text - a goal that predates the arrival of the plucky desktop publisher by several hundred years.

Just clicking around offered new information on type as few sites practiced typographic standards with as much rigor as displayed on Textism.

Dean eventually diverted his energy and attention towards the development of Textpattern, a content management system that was used and loved by a large community of designers, developers, and writers. And then he moved to the south of France where a different lifestyle drew him away from things with screens and keyboards (who can blame him). More and more time passed between posts on Textism and then one day it disappeared for good.

I remained hopeful for a comeback, but it never came. After hearing about Dean’s demise, the best I can hope for are more remembrances by others who knew Dean personally with stories that never made it to HTML until now. If you’ve got one, I’d love to read it.