#publishing

Working in Public.

As I gain more clarity on what type of work I want to pursue, the need to write and publish more frequently is clear.

The need to write comes from the necessity to process or synthesize the abundant information that I consume on a regular basis. In the numerous stories about successful people and their habits, writing or journaling is a pervasive theme. I’ve come to learn that I think differently than most people do and I have the ability to see connections and correlations that others do not. I generate these ideas all the time, but fail in documenting them. That’s a problem that has to change and thankfully something I can fix easily.

Publishing is important to me because it’s why I got into the Internet in the first place. Thanks to the Sentiers member community I’ve learned about people who maintain integrated thinking environments and “Working in Public.” Defined by Anne-Laure Le Cunff, “Working in public means sharing your process and challenges, rather than just the final product.”

Sharing your work in public is a great way to connect with people who are interested in a similar space. It may result in finding a mentor, or even lead to partnerships. All of the partnerships, sponsorships, and consultancy work I’ve had were all inbound. People read my blog, reach out, and we figure out how we want to work together. I strongly believe this would not be possible if I was conducting my research and building products without sharing my progress on a weekly basis.

I’m enthused about the idea of thinking-out-loud. I did it before in the early days of this publication, but the thoughts were so random. And as I got older, I placed more emphasis on publishing only ideas that were buttoned up—processed for what I deemed ready for public consumption. It’s good to press on the writing skills, but I’ve over-indexed.

Writing without publishing is an opaque outcome. It’s a form of hiding and I don’t think that’s healthy. Anyone who has been in conversation with me knows that I’m an open book, so why am I acting differently with writing? The world could use more honesty through transparency, and I’m ready to do my part.

Having said that, this website is a bit long in the tooth, and it doesn’t work like I’d like to work. Publish like how I’d like to publish. While I like a good blog post with an H1 title, I’m also bored with the format of everything having to follow the same structure. Thinking out loud here, I think I’m going to use a combination of Ghost and mmm, a fantastic web tool that I don’t see nearly enough folks using.

#nojoke

Sleeping for the first time in my life.

The doctor cut me off mid-sentence with an uncharacteristic, soft chuckle that made her face mask billow, “Oh, I assure you, Mr. Storey,” she said, her tone turned more serious, “you have never had a good night’s sleep.” I tried to process this information by thinking back to when people asked, “How did you sleep?” All this time, I thought I knew. Now, I wasn’t sure how to respond to that question. I thought I knew what sleep was. I had a reputation of sleeping on command. If that wasn’t sleep, then what is?

I returned to the conversation as she continued, “Based on the data and looking at your anatomy, you have been dealing with this problem your whole life. It is just that when you were younger, your body worked to compensate for lack of restorative rest.” Furthermore, the doctor shared that my problems with sleep have very likely contributed to weight gain (which I’ve always struggled with) and memory loss (I don’t remember if I’ve had issues with memories), and a loss of brain cells (Probably linked to the memory thing but I think I’m okay as I have a few billion or so left).

I was on my second visit to the somnologist, the formal name for a sleep doctor. During the first consultation, I had to answer a simple survey with questions like, “Do you often feel tired?” or “When you sit at a desk, do you start to drift asleep?” Options for answers were on a scale from “never” to “often.” After I finished, the receptionist tabulated the answers heuristically (as in not to be mistaken for medical advice) to indicate a level of sleep disorder. My survey results came close to 100%, which didn’t feel great, but I was finally glad to be in the care of people who could help.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been some form of tired. In high school, I’d often drift asleep for a minute or two during an afternoon class, especially on a warm day. I didn’t have to sleep for very long, just a bit to close my eyes, and I’d wake up feeling great for the rest of the day. I chalked it up to always being busy with school, work, and extracurricular activities like student government, student newspaper, and yearbook committee. As I got into college, my need for a two-minute power nap started to creep into morning classes, but not all of them, just the boring ones. I was still busy going to work and attending class full-time, but I added the additional data point of my level of interest in the subject divided by how engaging the professor was.

Back in the doctor’s office, she continued to share her thoughts on my condition. Newly educated on this problem, I thought back to other times when I had trouble staying awake. Like when I was in a dark room during a lecture or a movie—out for a few minutes. Every time I got on a plane—right before we pulled away from the gate through take off—boom, lights out until the chime that indicated we had climbed to ten thousand feet.

Years later, much to the chagrin of a good friend, I nodded off during a Wilco concert he took me to. I recall seeing the first five minutes of the opening act of Hamilton. Hell, I even fell asleep right before I got married. Thirty minutes out from go time, I decided to grab a quick nap. My mother woke me up to tell me it was time to get married.

All this time, I thought sleeping-at-will was a superpower. People around me frequently joked about how they envied my “ability” to fall asleep anytime, anywhere. Nodding off here and there seemed perfectly normal until it got worse. Much worse.

As I got older, I found myself conversing with people who shared their problems with sleep apnea. They told me about the CPAP machine, and inevitably, I’d make some form of a dad joke. Laughs ensued, and we’d move on to other topics. It’s about this time when I started to think that I might have a problem. Not only with sleeping but admitting that I might have an issue I can’t control on my own. And I didn’t like the idea of being hooked up to a machine, especially at night.

Most sleep tests are conducted in special centers that require an overnight stay. From what I gathered from others, you typically go in around 7pm, get hooked up to all kinds of wires and probes, and then tuck-in to fall asleep. I remember when a friend told me about this visit. He was only asleep for 30 minutes when the technician came in, woke him up, and told him he could go home because his apnea was so severe they didn’t need more data.

Thankfully I did not have to sleep in a lab. Instead, I was cleared to do a home-based version because COVID had disrupted so many tests that the labs were fully booked four months out.

I still had to go to a sleep center to get training on the “home test,” which resembled a giant, G-SHOCK watch. It took two minutes for the technician to explain how to turn the device on and attach it to my wrist properly. It took eighteen minutes to review the insurance disclaimers, legalization, and details on returning the device. I had to agree to conditions about the test and return the device promptly, or I would have to pay $5000 to the insurance company. I made it a point to return the device promptly the next morning as soon as they opened.

The “home test” aka Fancy Sleep Watch, doesn’t provide any data to the user. That information is pulled from the device by a technician who forwards it to the doctor. That’s all to say, I knew I had a problem but taking the test at home didn’t mean I knew any more than I did the day before. Weeks later, I found myself back in an examination room at the sleep doctor’s office for the results.

The Apnea Hypopnea Index is “the number of apneas or hypopneas recorded during the study per hour of sleep. The number is generally expressed as the “number of events per hour.” The number of times a person has apnea (loss of breath) or hypopnea (partial loss of breath) is divided by the hours of sleep. A normal level is considered fewer than five events on average, whereas a severe result is 30 or more events.

The doctor explained all of this to me and then revealed the results of my test. When she said that my AHI score was 70, tears began to roll down my face. I knew I had an issue, but I never expected a result so bad. How in the hell was I still alive? My mind raced to how my life could have been different if I had received treatment as a kid. I thought back to the nights of waking up several times attributing it to getting older or the food I ate or the beverages consumed. I had a hunch my quality of life was decreasing but not this bad. No way. If I had placed a Vegas-style bet, I would have lost my home. Thankfully those thoughts passed as we began to discuss treatment.

Ten days later, I had an appointment to pick up a device that provides “continuous positive airway pressure” or more commonly called CPAP. According to the Cleveland Clinic website, the machine “keeps your airways open while you sleep so you can receive the oxygen you need for optimal function. CPAP machines can significantly improve sleep quality and reduce your risk for a number of health issues, including heart disease and stroke,” which is great because I’m a big fan of never having to suffer either.

I expected to sit through a 10-minute presentation on how to plug the CPAP in, which buttons to press, how to make adjustments—routine instructions. Instead, I got the full one-hour workshop that included everything but the history of CPAP development. I walked into an incredibly bland, beige room, the walls sparsely covered with a few posters from device manufacturers. Half of them featured super healthy people smiling from ear to ear because they were now capable of deep, restorative sleep. The other half of the posters depicted the same type of people with a face mask strapped to their head connected by a hose to the CPAP machine placed on a nightstand with a dimly lit lamp shining down on a book with a pair of glasses resting on top.

I thought this was a big miss on the part of the CPAP company’s marketing departments. You walk into this place knowing that your life is about to change forever—hopefully for the better—but from here on out, each night, you’ll have to strap scuba gear to your face before counting sheep. You go in a Skywalker and come out a Sith Lord. This whole situation screams for the need for positive mask positioning. The walls of this place should be adorned with images of the most badass characters to don a mask: Darth Vader, Bain, Captain Dallas, Maverick, Immortan Joe. Where are the motivational posters with words phrases like BREATHE FREELY, DREAM AGAIN, or STAY IN BED BECAUSE YOU WON’T HAVE TO PEE SIX TIMES A NIGHT!

Why not make wearing masks cool, again, right?

Larry—I honestly don’t recall his name, but the middle age, balding, white (I’m not drinking fucking merlot!) male managing a medical devices sales company…yeah, he’s a Larry—ran me through all of the ins and outs of the ResMed Air Sense 11. His presentation finished with a bit of punditry on how much better the model 11 is from the 10. When Larry finished his monologue I replied, “So you’re telling me this is the Cadillac of CPAP machines?” He snorted, “Oh yeah! That’s certainly a creative way of putting it.” Up until that exchange I always presumed the most boring job in the world was selling life insurance. Not anymore.

I was told several times during the presentation that the CPAP collects data that goes to both my sleep doctor and the health insurance company. Larry told me that to avoid paying thousands of dollars for the device, I have to use it 20 days every month for ten months. I didn’t understand why he kept repeating this warning. If I had my way, I would have been on my third month because that’s how long it took to get through all of the steps. Was I unknowingly casting negative non-verbal communication? So, I interrupted and asked why.

Larry replied that many people go through everything, including this one-hour session, then take the device home and never plug it in. And some of these folks never take the device out of the box!

This process required three visits to a doctor’s office, a visit to a sleep study center in the middle of nowhere to pick up a “sleep watch” and drive back and drop it off the next day, and then sit through this session with Larry at Larry’s CPAP Barn. I estimate at this point, I had roughly ten hours invested in getting to this point. Why in the hell would anyone go through all of this just to go home and do nothing? That’s stupidity on another level, on the stupidity spectrum that I can’t see, not even with a NASA telescope.

As he zipped the carry-all bag closed, I thanked Larry for all of his instructions, grabbed my CPAP Cadillac, and headed home hoping my life was about to get a big upgrade.

I was tempted to try it out immediately, but I waited until the evening to get everything set up. I filled the “AirSense 11 Water Chamber” with distilled water, strapped the mask to my head, hooked up the hose between the mask and the device, and hit the “On” button. The machine came to life with a sound similar to a baby Vader drawing a breath. Air shot into the mask, sealing it to my face as the pressure built up. Larry said to expect a big surprise and that it might take me weeks to get used to the whole sensation. Maybe that happens to others, but I found it comforting. I rolled over to a side, my wife lovingly tucked me in, and fell asleep almost instantly.

While I slept like a log, my wife could not. She had grown so used to my not-breathing properly (aka snoring) for decades that the silence was unnerving. The following day she shared that she checked on me at 2 AM, found me sleeping soundly for the first time ever, and cried.

As part of Larry’s instructions, he gave me some anecdotal advice about what to do when nature calls in the middle of the night. “My advice,” he advised, “is that you leave your mask strapped on but pull the hose, leave the device still running, go do your “thing,” and reinsert the hose when you’re back.” I didn’t think much about his advised process because Larry’s the expert. So when nature called, I got up, and pulled the hose from the mask, and left the machine running. As I did this, the peaceful ebb and flow sound of breathing pressurized air was replaced with the sound of a roaring jet engine-powered vacuum. When I got back, I found the hose, plugged it back in, and fell asleep quickly.

So, in addition to what my wife previously shared with me about her version of the evening, she said that when I pulled the hose, our cats, previously sleeping peacefully, went into immediate DEFCON 1 mode. Manicotti, the cat who is constantly on high alert, shot up three feet into the air, landed on my wife’s head, hissed at everything around her, and bolted, full-tilt, for dear life.

Thinking back on this, I’m going to assume that Larry doesn’t have cats at home.

On January 7, 2022, I slept for 9 hours and 31 minutes. My face mask seal was rated “good” at 20.4L per minute. Events per hour—in other words, the number of times my rest was interrupted averaged 3, down from 70 during my sleep test in December. All in all, I received a score of 98 out of 100. In other words, I slept relatively normally for the first time in my life.

Seven months in my life has improved radically. I rarely wake up in the middle of the night, not even for “calls of nature.” On average, I went from sleeping 9-ish hours a night down to six. During the months leading up to the solstice, I had to make an effort to sleep five. It’s not uncommon for me to be up around 4-5 AM, feeling energized and ready to go.

I’m no longer tired during the day. The quick power naps are gone. It takes effort and meditation to get to sleep at night, a very new experience. My doctor said it would take a while for my body to respond fully to the treatment and I’m just now starting to really feel it. A few months later, I made more improvements to my life with changes in diet and exercising daily (this morning, I got a notification that I have closed all of my Apple Fitness rings for 170 consecutive days). Not only do I feel awake and increasingly optimistic, but I’ve also lost fifty pounds. And thankfully, Spaghetti and Manicotti don’t fear the machine anymore.

I think back on my life in the last couple of decades. All the things I have built, created, and led–Achievements that my younger self would never have dreamed were possible. And I did those things despite this handicap. Now I think about what I am capable of now. I’m not 100% yet, but today I get glimpses of positivity and confidence levels that never existed before. Give me a few more months, and I’ll be ready to Hawaiian Punch everything that comes at me.

I share all of this with you to raise awareness and hope that it helps someone who, like me, never realized they had a severe problem. It wasn’t until my body could no longer compensate for the lack of sleep that it quickly became a bigger and bigger problem. Sleep apnea had a real, increasingly negative impact on my quality of life in the last couple of years. This whole process of getting diagnosed and the lifestyle changes may sound like a bit of a fuss (it’s actually been the opposite), but there’s no way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks-hell I’d go back to my life before January 7th.

#everythingisfine

On a mission. Sadly, pas de champagne.

She looked up from her phone and glanced at me from the side, “I’m sending Ted out.”

Taking a sip of my afternoon’s Negroni, I repeated the statement as a question to confirm, “You’re sending Ted out?”

“Yes,” she said while looking at her device and tapping the screen. The late-afternoon sun rays bowed at her feet.

“Shall I get a bottle of champagne,” I inquired enthusiastically. After-all it’s not every day we launch Ted out into the world. And it’s 5:34pm, what better excuse to start imbibing on a Thursday evening (otherwise known to me as California Friday)?

“Shall we sing?” I didn’t wait for an answer and burst into song while she stared intensely at her phone…

“Over there. Over there! Send the word over there. Over there! Ted is coming…” She didn’t wait for me to finish and without changing the trajectory of her attention—not event the slightest of another side glance—she muttered, “You suck.”

And then Ted—our new robot vacuum machine—started its journey on a mission to the back bedroom. Surely mentally preparing in 1s and 0s to wage war with twenty eight thousand, nine hundred and sixty-two cat hairs nestled into the trenches of our carpet.

Godspeed Ted, bon voyage! Domo arigato Mr Roboto! Please mind the pair of Nike’s I left at the foot of the bed and sorry for any inconvenience.

#everythingisfine

The incredible lack of empathy and poor aim from a cold and callous COVID patient.

I held out my hand, making the universal sign for “hey, toss that thing to me, and I’ll catch it.” The gesture is not only a signal but a reference point, a target made by the intended recipient to the provider or the thrower-of-the-thing.

It was an easy six-foot shot (the “social distance” recommended by the CDC for people to avoid COVID contamination) that required minimal effort and expenditure of energy. In other words, a three-year-old could have made the shot with their eyes closed.

The bottle of Ibuprofen made flight for two one-hundredths of a second (approximately as I did not have time to open and start a stopwatch) and hit the ground with a thud followed by the faintest sound of shaken maracas—a solid two feet short of the mark.

I looked at my empty hand, still outstretched, still ready to receive. The bottle finally came to a rest. What just happened? Was she trying a bounce pass? I’m pretty sure bottles weren’t designed to bounce. Perhaps this move was inspired by a few cricket matches we’ve recently observed? How can someone be so incredibly intelligent and not understand physics at the same time?

“What in the hell,” I asked in bewilderment.

She looked at me as if nothing was wrong or out of the ordinary. As if everything is fine. Dog-coffee-flames-fine. Through her mask, the COVID patient casually stated, “What? I wanted to make sure we observed distancing.”

As I recall, the COVID prevention guidelines stipulate the need for distance, but I don’t remember reading anything about the necessity for ground-based exchanges between people. And even if that had been the case, I would have ignored it because fifteen minutes earlier, I bent over the wrong way and mildly threw out my back.

“I asked for the Ibuprofen because of my back, and you just threw the bottle at my feet–and not even at my feet. Are you trying to kill me?”

“Oh yeah,” her laughter built to the point of coughing, “I forgot.” Her eyes started to tear up from the laughter. “And, stop making me laugh,” she said, still laughing, “it hurts to cough."

And so began our weekend with COVID.

#career

Employment history doesn't define your value.

I’m noticing that more and more people on LinkedIn and Twitter are replacing their profile synopsis with a simple list of previous companies where they have worked. Very similar to the Attention Deficit Disorder fashion of current movie trailers that blast a five-second trailer of the two-minute trailer. Instead of a thoughtful introduction, profiles now sport a list of previous employers, like a race car driver’s uniform covered in logos.

The problem with this seemingly clever use of limited character counts is that it reduces the value of people against the brands of the companies where they worked. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to work for a company that has a “household name.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked on phenomenal teams at companies that few people recognize. Secondly, it’s an indication that you tie your identity too close to your career, leading to bigger problems.

Some of you may remember when designers started to turn the skills portion of their resume into a visualization. I wrote about this years ago in “100% Clever, 0% Hired.”

“Photoshop: 85%,” makes 0% sense to me which is to say, none-at-all. And since when in the hell is Photoshop a skill? As I recall, the “percentages” started appearing around the time Nicolas Felton started to publish annual reports with visualized data on all facets of his life in 2004. A year or two later, young persons, fresh out of school, started trying to make their resumes stand out by visualizing their data, even when it meant making things up.

I have similar thoughts to this tactic of listing a string of previous companies in a profile. Am I supposed to be swept away in your brilliance because you collected a paycheck at these places? Or perhaps you are trying to impress us with your ability to get hired (Interviewing 100%)? Why are you further perpetuating the myth that just because you worked at [insert company name here] means you have better skills and can get to better outcomes?

Who are you? What defines you? Here’s a hint: It’s not where you work. And it’s most certainly not your career. Anyone who thinks differently is on not on the right path. If you want to sum up who you are, then focus on your values, principles, skills, and outcomes.

Years ago, I had an opportunity to meet Bob Baxley, a designer, and leader with decades of experience. He shared his story about prepping to re-enter the workplace after years on a self-imposed hiatus. At the time, Bob was asked to put together a portfolio to present as part of the interview process. Given where he was in his career, he focused on sharing his design principles and how that guided previous work and outcomes. That idea has always resonated with me because our principles, values, virtues, skills, and experiences make a better definition of who we are.

In a world where people can’t seem to communicate in words longer than two consonants, can we please stop trivializing our work and our value? Honestly, it doesn’t need any more help at the moment.

#mudak

Back to the USSR.

Putin has sought to return Russia to its former Soviet Union era glory and he’s getting his wish in spades. In just three weeks most of the world is allied against the Russian government, their financial system is in the tank, and a staggering number of global corporations have ceased local operations and product imports. Just like the good old U.S.S.R., the country is once again isolated (only Belarus, Syria, North Korea voted against UN condemnation) and it’s only a matter of time before Russian citizens are standing in breadlines and barely able to afford Soviet-style knock off products.

And as Putin commands strikes against civilian targets, he’s turned from statesman to war criminal. At this rate I’d say he’s well beyond his goals and out performing every former Soviet leader except Stalin.

I think we have a new global definition for the word “asshole.”

#idiocracy

The world is lost because we've stopped reading books.

I wish I could say the title is sarcastic but after reading a blog post from Margot Bloomstein earlier today it seems like a logical conclusion.

We talk of empathy and experience design in content strategy and beyond, but what if we’re getting it all wrong? If we replace the deep, focused reading of books with the skip-and-scan experience of screens, what’s the cost? I see the impact in my own reading and writing and attention span, and it’s not pretty—even as I feel complicit, as a content strategist working in the broader UX design industry.

I haven’t been able to shake Johann Hari’s perspective on all this since I read this piece yesterday, an excerpt from his new book, Stolen Focus.

From the book:

People understand and remember less of what they absorb on screens. There’s broad scientific evidence for this now, emerging from 54 studies, and she explained that it’s referred to as “screen inferiority.” This gap in understanding between books and screens is big enough that in elementary-school children, it’s the equivalent of two-thirds of a year’s growth in reading comprehension.

For many of us, reading a book is the deepest form of focus we experience—you dedicate many hours of your life, coolly, calmly, to one topic, and allow it to marinate in your mind. This is the medium through which most of the deepest advances in human thought over the past four hundred years have been figured out and explained. And that experience is now in free fall.

Anne Mangen is a professor of literacy at the University of Stavanger in Norway, and she explained to me that in two decades of researching this subject, she has proved something crucial. Reading books trains us to read in a particular way—in a linear fashion, focused on one thing for a sustained period. Reading from screens, she has discovered, trains us to read in a different way—in a manic skip and jump from one thing to another. “We’re more likely to scan and skim” when we read on screens, her studies have found—we run our eyes rapidly over the information to extract what we need.

As she spoke, I realized that the collapse in reading books is in some ways a symptom of our atrophying attention, and in some ways a cause of it. It’s a spiral—as we began to move from books to screens, we started to lose some of the capacity for the deeper reading that comes from books, and that, in turn, made us less likely to read books.

Margot’s conclusion:

If Marshall McLuhan cautions “the medium is the message,” that the channels in which we consume content change that content, and Douglas Rushkoff warns “program or be programmed,” Johann Hari adds to this canon. As we choose among books and screens, longform writing and terse bits on Twitter, our channels are reprogramming our ability to learn from content—and ultimately, each other.

Back to Hari:

Between 2004 and 2017 the proportion of men reading for pleasure had fallen by 40 percent, while for women, it was down by 29 percent. The opinion-poll company Gallup found that the proportion of Americans who never read a book in any given year tripled between 1978 and 2014. Some 57 percent of Americans now do not read a single book in a typical year. This has escalated to the point that by 2017, the average American spent seventeen minutes a day reading books and 5.4 hours on their phone.

We are so screwed. At this rate I don’s see how we avoid achieving full Idiocracy four hundred years earlier than previously predicted.

#empathyalways

The real cost of managing an application with staggering growth by yourself.

In response to the Wordle acquisition by The New York Times, Jason Kottke, a blogger with an audience of around one million per month, has an insightful comment on the mental health cost of trying to maintain a website with a growing, passionate audience. He shares his empathy for Josh Wardle, the creator and former owner of Wordle.

Wardle made a free thing for his partner, it got out of hand, and it became overwhelming. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but people feel VERY INTENSELY about this game. It doesn’t matter if it only costs Wardle a few bucks a day to host…the psychological weight of it all must be immense. I’ve been running kottke.org for more than 23 years and let me tell you, the financial cost is not what keeps me up at night. (And yes, the site does keep me up at night sometimes.) And I built a site another site, Stellar, that folks loved pretty intensely, and while it never blew up like Wordle did, the strain of keeping it going became too much, I couldn’t see a way out of it, and I had to shut it down. That weight is real, folks, and shutting websites down, even when they are beloved, even when you would desperately love to keep them going, is sometimes the easiest option. All good things, etc. etc.

I have the pleasure of knowing and being friends with several people who have gained a lot of fame in the digital world. Every one of those folks has had to pay some form of an emotional cost from the weight of that attention. Even in cases where some of those individuals parlayed their popularity into revenue, the hit to mental health is almost too much to bear. When it comes to popularity and fame, be careful what you wish for.

This is a good reminder that we all need to be kind to those who create and put their work out there. And don’t forget to say thank you!

#bahhumbug

Goodbye Another Dumb Year.

Given how long it took for 2021 to conclude, the last four weeks have gone by in a blink. So much has happened. So much to deal with that, it makes me tired just thinking about all of it. And these short days don’t help. Dear Heavenly Lord I hate the stupid winter so much, I just want to murder it. Anywho, I won’t drag you through the details, but I want to catch up.

I stepped down from LexBlog at the end of November. Looking back, we got a lot done in a year. A new product launch, complete revision of company processes and operations, introduced design thinking, and, most important of all, vastly improved morale and got almost everyone seeking collaboration instead of diving into silos. And as per usual, I pulled a handful of people up and into new roles I knew they were capable of, and happy to report they all stepped up and did remarkable work. I’m proud of everything I did at LexBlog, and I look forward to how the team will show up for 2022 and beyond.

What’s next for me is a variety of potential projects while I take some time to contemplate what I want to do in the next phase of my career. I spent some time recently cataloging all of the work I’ve done in the last six years. Looking back brought insight into work that was rewarding and the rest, which I am happy to leave in the past. I am leaning towards opportunities to work with people I enjoy, regardless of the work or the brand.

Life is too short to work with assholes.

While I wait to see what projects come to fruition, I signed up for a six-week cohort to study Foresight through the University of Houston. I discovered this practice recently, and it feels like a solid next step, building on the work I’ve done in the last decade.

On another unrelated but positive note, this Fall, I spent more time with doctors and in clinics than I have since I broke my leg in second grade (in ancient times). I’ve learned about some health issues that I have lived with forever that I didn’t know I had—the biggest problem is extreme sleep apnea. It was pretty crazy when a doctor told me that, according to the data, I don’t know what real sleep feels like. It’s only been in the last couple of years that it felt like something was wrong. Apparently, the human body—being the miracle that it is—compensates for the lack of restorative sleep. And that worked pretty well for a few decades until it didn’t. Just as I started to seek help, COVID hit, and many doctors stopped accepting new patients.

I’m sharing this with you because, in hindsight, I wish I had gone in to get tested a long time ago. Apnea contributes to several health issues as you get older, including putting a dent in your brain function. Meaning it’s more than just having a problem with snoring. If this sounds familiar, go take care of it before you turn into a vegetable. I’m happy to report that I should receive my new breathing apparatus soon, and I’ll finally get an idea of what all of this “real sleep” is all about.

Happy Holidays to you all. Enjoy your friends and family. Have fun with all of the “at home” movie premieres in the next seven days. Neuter your kids and get your dogs and cats vaccinated or vice-versa. Have a Merry New Year—drink up—because mid-term elections are coming and you know that’s going to be a real hoot!

#web3

So, what in the hell is Web3?

Lately, a number of my friends and people that I trust have started to talk about web3. That tells me that it’s time to start diving in and paying attention to what’s going.

The Internet is approaching its next Seldon Crisis, and change is upon us. The next set of technologies will require remapping what we know and think about transactions, payments, currency, and how companies and communities are governed. And that’s just a few things that are bound to get turned upside down in the near future.

But before a deep, deep dive. I recommend starting with this article: What is Web3? The Decentralized Internet of the Future Explained.

In web3, developers don’t usually build and deploy applications that run on a single server or that store their data in a single database (usually hosted on and managed by a single cloud provider).

Instead, web3 applications either run on blockchains, decentralized networks of many peer to peer nodes (servers), or a combination of the two that forms a cryptoeconomic protocol. These apps are often referred to as dapps (decentralized apps), and you will see that term used often in the web3 space.

To achieve a stable and secure decentralized network, network participants (developers) are incentivized and compete to provide the highest quality services to anyone using the service.

When you hear about web3, you’ll notice that cryptocurrency is often part of the conversation. This is because cryptocurrency plays a big role in many of these protocols. It provides a financial incentive (tokens) for anyone who wants to participate in creating, governing, contributing to, or improving one of the projects themselves.

These protocols may often offer a variety of different services like compute, storage, bandwidth, identity, hosting, and other web services commonly provided by cloud providers in the past.

In web3, Identity also works much differently than what we are used to today. Most of the time in web3 apps, identities will be tied to the wallet address of the user interacting with the application.

Unlike web2 authentication methods like OAuth or email + password (that almost always require users to hand over sensitive and personal information), wallet addresses are completely anonymous unless the user decides to tie their own identity to it publicly.

If you do any work in the world of digital, then it would behoove you to start digging in web3 now. And where you can, map where your profession and skill set fits in (or probably more importantly, where it doesn’t). There is more to this next version than this summary provides. Web3 is going to be complicated beyond new languages or scripts to learn, it will create new methods of business, transactions, and monetization.

After reading the complete article referenced here you’ll find three more promoted at the end: The New Creator Economy - DAOs, Community Ownership, and Cryptoeconomics, The Value Chain of the Open Metaverse, and The Rise of Micro-Economies. This is a good start.

As the web shifts once again, now is the time to prepare yourself to make the most of the opportunities to come. Stay curious and start poking around.

#publishing

NaBloPoMo.

November, apparently, is “National Blog Posting Month” and it comes with its own acronym: NaBloPoMo. I have been blogging since 2002, and I don’t recall this being a thing but a quick search points to many blog posts on the subject. In 2006 Eden Kennedy took the idea of National Novel Writing Month and applied it to blogging.

The challenge is to inspire blog authors to post each day this month—thirty days, thirty posts. Automattic, the people behind Wordpress posted about the challenge last week:

November’s National Blog Posting Month challenge is an opportunity for creators to find new inspiration, strengthen their content and get into the habit of consistent posting. By searching the web for inspiring content, you are on track to find new and creative ways to post daily. Working with new styles and formats is a great way to expand your offerings and learn more about what you like, and what content resonates with your audience. Creating a blogging community or continuing to build one is a great way to ensure that you stay connected, motivated, and encouraged to post your content all month long.

I don’t know that I’ve ever participated in a challenge like this, but I’m in. It’s meant to inspire others, and I hope it has that effect instead of annoying subscribers. If there was ever a time to have some input on what gets published here, now is it.

A number of blogs from days gone by came back to life this year, and I hope they’ll join me in publishing each day.

#Independentsday

Appwalls and their apps are destructive to the open web.

While browsing a website on a mobile device has come a long, long way, a new trend in business priorities is leading us all down the wrong path. Try viewing a website for a large commercial service or digital brand, and you’re likely to hit an “appwall,” a pop-up that promotes the availability of a native app experience. Some companies—Reddit, for example—require the use of a native app just to view content on their popular channels.

The problem seems to be getting worse, and I’m not the only person to see this. Ethan Marcotte writes:

Sometimes, the website wants me to install the app — no, it needs me to install the app. It’s like a paywall, but for apps. An appwall. Basically, I’m locked out of the website unless I stop what I’m doing, download their native application, and then use it to open the same content I was just trying to read. Why would a company promote a native app over their perfectly usable website?

We’d have to ask them, I suppose but it’s hard not to see this as a matter of priorities: that these companies consider native applications worthy of their limited time, resources, and money. They’re a worthy investment, to hear these banners tell it. And I can understand that. After all, the overwhelming majority of digital advertising revenue goes to just two companies . ( Or three .) Given that, I could see why a digital organization might search for revenue streams that rely less on display advertising.

Maybe those revenue streams rely on collecting other kinds of data.

But whatever the motives, that doesn’t mean these app prompts are a good experience. When responsive design first became a thing , mobile websites were peppered with links to “the full website”…which invariably contained the content or features you actually wanted to access on your mobile device. In practice, this encouraged product teams to adopt device-specific design methods: features weren’t deployed to people, but to specific types of devices.

By and large, these app prompts feel like fancier versions of that old pattern. And when new product features are built on the native experience, I think it’s illuminating when they don’t make it back to the web.

It’s also disheartening.

Too many companies are treating the web as a second-class experience to their closed systems. We fought the good fight to protect the web against this when it was just a handful of technology companies—embracing proprietary code to create proprietary experiences. Now? Our phones and tablets are littered with them. And the payoff is not there. The Reddit experience on iOS is not superior to that of the web. Considering what can be done in a native OS environment, that application should have AR sharks with lasers dancing on the furniture and acting out all of the posts in a variety of languages. Alas, most of these apps are simply a closed system of content offering nothing more than another way for a company to track your data.

Is this what we get for turning our nose to third-party cookies? Do we deserve this because the population at large does not like the idea of their every move on the web being recorded, analyzed, and used to target the sale of our material desires? Did some of us really endure WebTV just so that we ended up here? Why does Wired magazine have to be subjected to a slow and painful death in the hands of Condé Nast?

I’d suggest that appwalls are perhaps worth the effort to provoke the community to action, but sadly ye old platform Independents Day is long gone. The site is now an amalgamation of old content infused with a bizarre link list of hotels in Eastern Europe. I would stop to ask why, but I’m afraid we’re too far down the hole on this one. Maybe I’ll bring it up again in January after every nerd on the planet has watched Matrix 4 ten times, and we’re all ready to take the fight to the machines.

#career

Finding the next “era of a new field.”

You’ve seen the post here and elsewhere—from time to time—lamenting the future while remembering the past. Specifically the early days of the World Wide Web. Super specifically towards the days when blogs were bountiful and mostly contained posts and comment threads about web design and development.

This is not one of those blog posts.

Matt Webb, creator, and author of the blog Interconnected (which you should all be following and reading), recently posted about some research he did on the early days of the industry of electricity. He shares about reading “every issue of Electrical Review magazine from the 1880s and 1890s.” It was a time when implementing electric infrastructure was in its infantile stage. Matt writes about the parallels of that world to the one we are working in—living in—now regarding the Internet.

At this time with electricity, it wasn’t clear what datapoints were salient. Was it important that the bowl was scorched in the lightning report? Unknown! So report it anyway! The scientific method: gather observations; taxonomise and hypothesise; predict and iterate. This era was step 1 going into step 2.

It’s obvious to us now that electricity does not thin the veil between this world and the afterlife – but in an era where a power used to replace crankshafts in factories was then used to transmit the written word between continents and then, bizarrely, provide artificial light, well, who is to say what would happen next.

So the boundary of electricity was as-yet undefined. Oversharing was a virtue.

I love this era of a new field. Not just the possibility of surprise round every corner, but the collective, heady nature of the endeavour. We’re making these discoveries together!

And we’re making new discoveries by wildly building new things and reporting back what happened. Theory and practice in a tight and lively knot. The best place to spend one’s days.

The best place indeed.

In the first chapter of his book The Art of Rebellion, John Couch writes about the early days of his career in the late 90’s working at the epicenter of the Internet—Wired magazine.

As I lurched forward through my career, I looked for companies that had cultivating environments and cultures that fostered creativity and provided community. I didn’t find any until I worked at Wired.

It was there that I learned how a strong vision (we were the voice of the digital revolution) could unify and galvanize a culture. It was there that I learned to love futurism: Kevin Kelly (Out of Control) was our maven; Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash) and William Gibson (Neuromancer) could be found wandering the halls. I shared an office with Douglas Coupland (Generation X) for a stint. Avant-garde tech artists like Lynn Hershman Leeson would be seen in the lobby, talking to Mark Pauline, creator of Survival Research Laboratories, famous for building massive robots and machines that destroyed each other with flamethrowers and hydraulic saws.

The Internet was new, and most of us used Netscape to navigate through this brave new world. It was the ultimate democratization wherein everyone had a voice, everyone could be a publisher, and the magazine’s techno-libertarian founders, Louis Rossetto aznd Jane Metcalfe, encouraged exploration and an ethos derived from the coding community of demo or die. It wasn’t perfect at Wired. It wasn’t a utopia (turns out no place is), but it was my graduate school, so to speak.”

John’s note about graduate school is interesting because what makes the “era of a new field” magical is the ”making [of] new discoveries by wildly building new things and reporting back what happened.” Learning and teaching are required skills during this time.

Note that in both of these accounts, monetization is not included in what makes this moment. The “Golden Hour” of a nascent technology or innovation is not predicated on revenue or growth hacking. John writes that what made the culture at Wired so great started to fall apart as soon as they tried to offer an IPO.

I write this as I look at what the next 5, 10, 20 years hold. I used to think that I wanted part of my old career back. Even though I knew it was pointless. Now, I am starting to wonder how I can find more “eras of a new field.” And another, and another, and so on. All without hearing another @#$%ing word about crypto and Blockchain. If I have to hear about one more way TechBros have come up with another way to launder money and record it in a “register,” I’m going to have to nut-kick some people.

#wow

Steve Jobs on "The Most Important Thing" in Life.

Today Apple devoted its website homepage to the anniversary of Steve Jobs passing. It is a tasteful memorial with a short film and a statement from his family. The film, Celebrating Steve begins with an inspirational statement by Jobs on life and then continues with different highlights of his journey at Apple paired with additional comments. The Apple moments are very familiar to me as I watched them all live, as they happened. Still, the statement at the beginning of the film was new to me.

When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world; try not to bash into the walls too much. But life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact and that is, everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it. You can Influence it. You can build your own things that other people can use.

Wow! If that doesn’t move you in some way then please consult a physician after checking that you have a pulse.

The quote is an excerpt from a 1994 interview by the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association. In a longer version of the excerpt, Steve continues his thought on the secret of life:

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will pop out the other side. That you can you can change, you can mold it. Thats maybe that most important thing. Shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it versus embrace it. Change it. Improve it. Make your mark upon it. However you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better because, it’s kinda messed up in a lot of ways. Once you learn that you’ll never be the same again.

Damn—if you’re not inspired by now you might be walking dead.

I can understand why Apple didn’t include the second half, but I’m glad I found it. I’ve been an avid Apple fan since 1982. I’ve watched a lot of Jobs’ interviews and all of his product unveilings, but this is a rare time where we get to see Steve being human instead of a showman and genuinely caring for the world-at-large. I wish we had more but this is going to fuel me for some time. I hope it does the same for you.

#evil

Facebook knowingly does harm to people and democracies around the world.

From The Facebook Files, Wall Street Journal special investigation:

Facebook Inc. knows, in acute detail, that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only the company fully understands. That is the central finding of a Wall Street Journal series, based on a review of internal Facebook documents, including research reports, online employee discussions and drafts of presentations to senior management.

Time and again, the documents show, Facebook’s researchers have identified the platform’s ill effects. Time and again, despite congressional hearings, its own pledges and numerous media exposés, the company didn’t fix them. The documents offer perhaps the clearest picture thus far of how broadly Facebook’s problems are known inside the company, up to the chief executive himself.

To date WSJ has published five reports, each with a unique focus that boils down to this, Facebook is an evil company.

I don’t care how you use Facebook. If you do, then I challenge you to read the full report and ask yourself: Why do you use a platform that knowingly propagates lies and misinformation that does harm to others? A platform that does little to curb active support for anarchy, slavery, sex crimes, bigotry, racism, and misogyny. A “global community” that knowingly hosts content and discourse that question the reality of horrific historical events like the German genocide of Jews and the slaughter of children at Sandy Hook. A network that has openly fueled aggression and violence against minorities, women, children, and the people down the street.

Does this same content reside on the Internet? Unfortunately, yes, but unlike Facebook, the Internet is not controlled by a single entity. No single company or government has control or authority over the Internet at large. In contrast, everything Facebook does is controlled by the leadership within. If that leadership made the right decisions—placing the health of humanity before profit and marketshare—then everything that is bad about Facebook and Instagram would be gone quickly.

Facebook is evil. No amount of sharing photos of your kids, promoting church services, or all of those #365grateful posts about your Soy Pumpkin Spice Latte counters how bad Facebook is to the future of the human race. Stop using Facebook.

#winning

Science proves that if you want to succeed in your work or art, you need to always be evolving.

For anyone looking for success, a new scientific study may have unlocked the secret or, at the very least, validated what some folks already know. Researchers have found a pattern in how people achieve their full potential. Using AI, they studied painters, film directors, and scientists to analyze their body of work against a time in their career that they define as a “hot streak.”

Nicola Davis writes in The Guardian:

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, [Prof Dashun Wang of Northwestern University] and colleagues report how they sought to investigate whether there was a common pattern behind hot streaks. To do so they looked at metrics of success such as the auction price of art works, IMDb ratings of films and citations of research papers to identify hot streaks for 2,128 artists, including Pollock and Frida Kahlo, 4,337 directors – including Mészáros and Jackson – and 20,040 scientists, including the Nobel laureates John B Fenn and Frances Arnold.

They then analysed how diverse the individuals’ work was at different points in their careers. This was assessed using an artificial intelligence system that was trained, in the case of art, to “recognise” different styles by features such as the brush strokes, shapes and objects in a piece, while in the case of film, it was trained to classify a director’s work based on plot and cast information. For science, the system identified different research topics based on the papers cited within a researcher’s publications.

The diversity before and during the hot streaks was then compared with the diversity at random points in the careers. The team found that for all three career types, work tended to be more diverse just before a true hot streak than expected from the randomly selected points.

If you click through to the study there is an interesting diagram that visualizes how the work in each industry was analyzed. Further down, you’ll see the patterns in the results, which indicate that “hot streaks” happen after a period of diversity in their work. For an example, Nicola came up with Peter Jackson’s career:

The director Peter Jackson’s career is, perhaps, a prime example: his hugely successful Lord of the Rings trilogy came after an eclectic range of movies such as the sci-fi comedy horror Bad Taste, the puppet film Meet the Feebles and the drama Heavenly Creatures.

Another pattern found that when people hit a streak, they tend to stay focused on the type of work they were doing at the time. Continuing with Nicola’s example, Jackson moved on to produce the Hobbit trilogy after the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He has since returned to a diverse roster of films that include two documentaries; one about World War I and the other on The Beatles.

To simplify the research findings, people who succeed try new methods in different subject matter to get to new outcomes and success. And once they find a combination that works, they continue their work on that path until it’s no longer equitable. Then they start over looking for the next combination that achieves another round of success.

This is why it is so important for everyone to stay curious, always on the hunt to try something new to get to new and different outcomes. Be purposeful in your evolution, not merely reactive to your situations. Doing the same thing year-after-year may produce short-term success but lead to the long-term result of not achieving your full potential. And I don’t need artificial intelligence to know that doing the same thing over and over again is super boring (see Garfield books 3-72).

#no

PX must not become a new design practice.

Earlier today I came across a “new” type of design called Product Experience (PX), and it made me want to throw up in my mouth a little. Please, dear Lord in Heaven, surely we’re not “evolving” or “maturing” design teams to go full circle to go back to focus solely on just the product. Not after teams going through a digital transformation like ripping duct tape off of hairy arms—please tell me nobody is thinking, “let’s just throw that all away and narrow our focus on just one aspect of the user journey.” But after a Google search, there it is, a definition of PX:

Product experience is a part of the entire user experience. It focuses on the journey within the key product itself. Think of it as user experience within the walls of the product.

PX is “a part.”

This isn’t a step forward, it’s taking a step eight years in the past! It’s a title change. It’s narcissistic people creating distinction for their role or service by giving it a new name. Only this one comes loaded with the potential for harmful consequences. I don’t care how many PX Ops people you hire (you know that’s going to be a thing, right?). This will end up with designers jumping into deeper silos than they already reside.

It’s also going to further create confusion in the recruitment and hiring of talent—which is already really, really screwed up. It’s bad enough that we have to distinguish between UI and UX, now we’re going to add PX? And what about CX?

Do you see where this is going? Digital design doesn’t need more complications. Not now, not ever.

Nothing good will come of this.

#asshats

Fail whale. Fail Captain Ahab. Fail Ishmael. Fail the Pequod and her whole damn crew! Oh, just @&$% a %!&@$, fail all of Twitter!

So my Twitter account has been hacked and stolen. Seven days ago, I filed a report suggesting that my account had been hacked because I could no longer login, nor could I change my password. Three days later, Twitter replied with a scripted email that read,

Hello,

We had a look at your account, and it appears that everything is now resolved!

If that’s not the case, please reply to this message and we’ll continue to help.

Thanks, Twitter

Neat! Immediately I tried to login again with the same unsuccessful result. I replied to the email—as instructed—and to date have not received a reply. A day later I submitted another new ticket and have yet to receive a reply. Today, I couldn’t submit a ticket because the account @brilliantcrank “does not exist.”

My profile has been destroyed. My handle has been replaced. All of the accounts I followed are gone; thousands of accounts that I culled together have been replaced. Fifteen years of my Twitter history have been deleted. The only thing left is the date I started the account back in November 2006. Twitter is the last social network that I participate in, and now it’s gone. I’m gone.

And for what, an account that shows some arbitrary start date? What does that mean to anyone else? It’s not good for SEO. It doesn’t validate anything posted to the account. Why bother?

I’m way more irritated at Twitter than I am with the persons who took the account. What does it say about Twitter that their support folks don’t take hacking seriously? And more importantly, why are their systems unable to detect questionable activity like so many of my other accounts?

I just spent a few hours going through just about every core account I have and changed the passwords. And turned on two-factor authentication if it was not already. Now, not even my account my comic book buying account will work without secret passwords set to my phone. And Even after all of that, it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Thankfully this is just about a social account. I can’t imagine having to deal with a frightful outcome of this happening to a financial or medical account.

Still, I’d like my account back.

#byebye

Saying goodbye forever to oil, beer, food additives, and ammonium nitrate.

Ammonium nitrate is some seriously horrible stuff. Especially when handled or stored improperly, it explodes and destroys like a small atomic weapon. And it is just one of many hazardous chemicals and materials that my wife has worked to prevent from harming or killing people for the last ten years. When my wife leaves for work, whether it’s in China, Iowa, or just down the street, I said goodbye knowing there was a chance she might not come back.

As a chemical engineer (she’s still a Rocket Scientist to me), my wife has led process safety initiatives around the world to prevent hazardous manufacturing facilities from blowing up or releasing dangerous chemicals into the environment. Her job has been to find faults and failure points in manufacturing processes that use deadly chemicals and materials. From oil to ammonium nitrate, food additives to dynamite, she has a full portfolio of prevented catastrophe.

Her work is primarily done in data, following a process from start to finish looking for anything that would create a weakness in the infrastructure or process that would result in death. Then, when she’s able to “kill people” in the numbers, she collaborates with a group of people to determine how to prevent that from ever happening. And they work upstream until the fix is found. This process is repeated inch by inch from hops to beer, fossils to gasoline, or deadly chemicals to food additives. And since the Rocket Scientist does not take shit from anyone—especially old white guys—nobody goes home until the cell in the spreadsheet gets to green.

As much of her job is in the virtual realm, she still has to inspect facilities in the field in areas that are marked to indicate immediate death if a valve is mistakenly open and gas is released. You might be thinking that those things rarely happen, but it’s incredible to me how many times a chemical like ammonia is accidentally released, and the public-at-large doesn’t know a thing. Most of the time, she works in a trailer about 200 yards from danger close, but when these places blow up, it’s never far enough away.

These situations have gone through my head each and every time she said goodbye and wished me a good day while walking out the door. I don’t think I have to tell you how much it sucks knowing that your significant other might not make it back from something as mundane as going to work. After many years of urging for a career change, the time has finally come, and I could not be more thankful and happier for her.

As of today, where the sun sits in the sky, On the Day of our Lord, June 1, 2021, Stardate 99015.22, the Rocket Scientist no longer works in the oil business. She will no longer help create cereal that remains crunchy after an hour in milk. No more beer brewing, dynamite making, or trips to that absolute shit hole known as Gary, Indiana. And she sure as hell will never again travel 26 hours to Kenai, Alaska and back just to have a four-hour meeting in person because the old white guys don’t know how to work Zoom (true story). Those days are now behind us—Forever. Piss-off!

More data will be provided in the future about her next chapter, but for now, I’m so glad that she didn’t have to walk through that door this morning and head for danger.

On a side note: Last week, she cleaned out her office, and now we have a pair of full-mask respirators, fire-proof coveralls, and a pair of steel-toed Doc Martens in the house. Add a three-legged dog, a sawed-off shotgun, and a dusty half-bottle of bourbon, and we’re ready for the next post-war apocalypse.

#remember

Have a Meaningful Memorial Day.

Today those of us in the United States celebrate Memorial Day. A day set aside to remember those who lost their lives serving their country in the military. But, for many, it is also a time to remember everyone who has served their country through military duty.

Around this time of the year, it is common to wish someone a Happy Memorial Day. This morning as I thought about my relatives who served, I thought about that phrase and wonder why we use it. Memorial Day is many things, but “happy” is not one of them. So I spent some of this morning reading about the origins of Memorial Day and the intent behind making it a national holiday.

The first Memorial Day (or Decoration Day as it was initially called) took place on May 1, 1865, in Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston is also where the American Civil War began on the morning of April 12, 1861. The Confederate Army attacked Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Forty-eight hours later, the Union Army surrendered and was taken as the first prisoners of the war.

In the late stages of the Civil War, the Confederate army transformed [a] formerly posh country club into a makeshift prison for Union captives. More than 260 Union soldiers died from disease and exposure while being held in the race track’s open-air infield. Their bodies were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstands.

When Charleston fell and Confederate troops evacuated the badly damaged city, those freed from enslavement remained. One of the first things those emancipated men and women did was to give the fallen Union prisoners a proper burial. They exhumed the mass grave and reinterred the bodies in a new cemetery with a tall whitewashed fence inscribed with the words: “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

And then on May 1, 1865, something even more extraordinary happened. According to two reports that Blight found in The New York Tribune and The Charleston Courier, a crowd of 10,000 people, mostly freed slaves with some white missionaries, staged a parade around the race track. Three thousand Black schoolchildren carried bouquets of flowers and sang “John Brown’s Body.” Members of the famed 54th Massachusetts and other Black Union regiments were in attendance and performed double-time marches. Black ministers recited verses from the Bible.

Six hundred thousand and twenty lives were lost in the Civil War. It didn’t take long for more cities and communities to hold their own observations of those fallen in battle. This continued across more of the country to honor men and women who served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In 1967 Congress created a national holiday called “Memorial Day” and standardized the day of observance annually on the last Monday of May.

Changing the day created a three-day weekend which has had the adverse effect of directing the focus of Memorial Day away remembrance to that of an unofficial start of summer. And that, I suppose, is how the word “happy” crept into an otherwise, intentionally solemn day. For whatever reason, we label all of our holidays as “happy” except for Christmas thanks to Bing Crosby.

Right now, on the spot, I’m not exactly sure what word I’d use instead, but “meaningful” comes to mind. So have a Meaningful Memorial Day. It doesn’t have a ring to it, but the whole damn point is to turn off your jet ski for a minute and remember the generations who were called to serve and did so with honor and valor. The men and women who fought so that decades later we did not have to do the same.

Today, we are taking time to reflect on Calvin Hubbard, Sherriell Storey Sr., James Voigts, and James Fernandez for their service, sacrifice, and commitment to their country. And as I have learned, when one is deployed, all are deployed. So we also take time to think about their families and the pain they surely endured, not knowing if their husbands and fathers would return home.

Take a minute today and remember those who served, hug your family, and be well.

#jell

Without alignment, teams will always make bad decisions that sometimes kill people.

When I mentor or coach people, I try to impress upon everyone the importance of communication alignment. If two people, two teams, two nations. etc., aren’t using the same language problems will occur. It’s not a matter of if, but when and how severe. Without alignment, people will naturally try to interpret what they hear into their language and understanding. By communicating using methods that inhibit the ability to observe body language makes matters worse.

Such was the case between two groups trying to determine how to stop the spread of COVID-19. As written by Megan Molteni for Wired magazine:

[Lidia] Morawska had spent more than two decades advising a different branch of the WHO on the impacts of air pollution. When it came to flecks of soot and ash belched out by smokestacks and tailpipes, the organization readily accepted the physics she was describing—that particles of many sizes can hang aloft, travel far, and be inhaled. Now, though, the WHO’s advisers seemed to be saying those same laws didn’t apply to virus-laced respiratory particles. To them, the word airborne only applied to particles smaller than 5 microns. Trapped in their group-specific jargon, the two camps on Zoom literally couldn’t understand one another.

The beginning of a global pandemic was a terrible time to get into a fight over words. But she had an inkling that the verbal sparring was a symptom of a bigger problem—that outdated science was underpinning public health policy. She had to get through to them. But first, she had to crack the mystery of why their communication was failing so badly.

I’m sharing this with you to point out that these problems occur everywhere. It’s not just a problem between design and development (the world that I work in), but one that happens where two or more are gathered. Communication alignment is not a luxury, it is a requirement for success. To think otherwise, to do otherwise is a simple sign of naivety (new leaders) or willful ignorance (old managers).

So, how do you get into alignment? Back to the CDC story, Lidia Morawska had to redefine “airborne transmission” and publish her related research in a scientific journal. As a form of validation, the CDC accepted the new definition and soon after came to the conclusion that people needed to wear masks, not gloves, to stop the spread of the pandemic.

It took months for Lidia to perform the necessary research and investigations in order for her to create new language that the CDC understood. While I appreciate the rigor of the scientific community, thankfully, most of us don’t need scientific studies to align our communication.

You can do this easily. Begin by asking questions about one another. Start with simple questions and lean into more challenging questions as the dialogue continues. The types of questions should be relative to the people coming together. Here are some questions that might work for product teams, but the list should be tailored to the people who will be in the room.

  • What is your Super Power?
  • What is your Kryptonite?
  • What is important to you about your work?
  • What makes you feel seen and heard?
  • How are you measured for success?
  • How do you define failure?
  • How do you earn a promotion?
  • What might get you fired?

It might not be obvious, so I’ll add that it takes some vulnerability to make the conversation honest, engaging, and meaningful. But, someone has to start, so it may as well be you. There are no bonus points for transparency. It’s a requirement. The purpose of this exchange is to gain clarity around language while also developing some empathy for one another.

A little investment in time, honesty, and vulnerability go a long, long way. Once a team has developed connections between the members, they will function as one unit versus function as one part or one half of a unit. Your mileage may vary, but I assure you an exercise like this is a lot better than hoping two groups of strangers will get together and jell.

#hellyes

Pop the Dom Pérignon, we launched something great today.

Today at LexBlog, we launched a new publication built with the MVP of a new offering that will come out later this year. The publication is called 99 Park Row, named after the building address that served as the offices of an influential daily newspaper in New York City at the time and one Mr. Joseph Pulitzer. It’s a new channel for us to share what we’re seeing, thinking, and doing—a request that we’ve heard repeatedly in our user research.

For me, this project has been an opportunity to put my imprint on the LexBlog brand and product line—Bringing twenty years of personal blogging experience and even more design experience to bear. I have enjoyed every minute of designing the product and the 99 Park Row version. There are elements of the new LexBlog brand in this design that I can’t wait to show off later in the year.

Until then, one feature to note is the use of Sole Text. In the rebrand of LexBlog, I knew that to elevate the brand, we needed a new typeface designed for editorial purposes. And I wanted to find a family that isn’t overused like Tiempos. I will find a reason to use Guardian Egyptian (one of my all-time favorites), but I felt that LexBlog deserves something relatively undiscovered.

When I came upon Sole Serif, I felt pretty confident it was the type family I set out to find. Sole is designed by Luciano Perondi, chief designer for the Italian foundry Cooperativa Anonima Servizi Tipografici (CAST). It is a “newspaper face with features relating to book typography.” The typeface features a tall x-height, roundish features, and calligraphic terminations to provide a better reading experience. For contrast and function, I brought in FS Millbank, a typeface from FontShop designed by Stuart de Rozario specifically for wayfinding. So far, I think it works well because we use it sparingly for subheads and navigation—neither of which are heavy elements on the page.

A second feature to point out is something new to me, but I’m having fun with the illustrations. Our intent is not to create unique imagery for every post but to build up a library of these images we can reuse. I’ve made five of them so far, and I’m already thinking about how we might channel Joshua Davis and employ a system that will help generate these images for us. Eye magazine did something similar for the cover of issue 94, and it turned out pretty rad.

It has been a lot of fun to get back into some form of editorial design. And we still have a long way to go before all of the design work is complete! There are more publications on more platforms to design. Until then, I’m going to take a step back and enjoy where the body of work is at this point and this awesome achievement by my new team. More to come!

#roundroom

Languishing, "the dominant emotion of 2021."

Do you remember those mornings when you didn’t feel like getting up and going to work? Do you recall sometime after May 2020 when you started feeling like this every single day?! Apparently, it’s not just you and me, but everyone is waking up in a haze. And though we don’t talk about it openly, it sounds like we all started to ask ourselves when a bottle of wine at breakfast would become socially acceptable. From Adam Grant of the NYT:

At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms that we all had in common. Friends mentioned that they were having trouble concentrating. Colleagues reported that even with vaccines on the horizon, they weren’t excited about 2021. It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

Sounds familiar? How often have you asked, “what day is it,” in the last twelve months? Scratch that, how often have you asked, “what day is it,” today? Foggy windshield indeed, and just like everything pandemic related it potentially gets worse!

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways, it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

What in the actual…did the dinosaurs have to go through this shit? First, we get a virus that turns everyone into a permanent waterboarding victim, then we avoid human contact like we’re all that weird bubble kid with no immune system in that one ABC After School Special. And now this. Hey, you survived the zombie pandemic test run, but now you have a mental illness. Awesome!

When I got my first shot, I felt like I had just taken the first step in some sort of addiction recovery process—as if I had chosen to take a new path in life. If the first shot was the start of the process, the second felt like it was validation that I had changed my ways. This may sound weird, but after learning about this mental state, maybe I’m not so crazy. Or perhaps I’m not.

#cycling

The EBIKE Act needs to become law.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I sold our beloved V.W. Toureg and replaced it with a pair of VanMoof S3 electric bikes. While we’re just getting started adapting to this different mode of transportation, it feels like the future. So when I read about the Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment Act, I had to advocate for it.

As my friend and fellow e-bike aficionado Colin writes:

The legislation, if it were to become law, would provide a tax credit of 30 percent off (up to $1,500) a new electric bike priced at under $8,000. For Rad rides, my company of choice, that’d take about a $1,500 purchase down to around $1,000.

It’s important to remember credits like these are not in any way radical. Even setting aside ebike tax credit efforts globally—if you buy an electric car in the United States, you get $7,500 back from the federal government.

As the precedent for promoting the sale of cleaner transportation through tax credits already exists as law, similar benefits for all types of alternate transit should be considered. Especially, EBIKE which is more accessible to more citizens. What’s good for folks who can and/or choose to drive a car should be made available to all financial classes.

If you are so inclined, take a few minutes and ask your representative to support H.R. 1019.

#loslobos

Designer vs Goliath.

I’m currently taking Seth Godin’s class on podcasts. As part of the class, I have come up with a few ideas for a program called Designer vs Goliath, a podcast for designers who are seriously outnumbered by developers and engineers.

In the last five years, I have discovered lone designers tucked into the corners of the enterprise, startups, and everyday small businesses. These are designers who rarely get to perform design-related tasks like user research or participate in a design critique. Yet they churn out the work that powers Billions of dollars in revenue. They need a community as much, if not more, so let’s go find them.

Are you (or do you know) a lone designer surrounded by an army of developers, engineers, and product managers? Do you watch videos of design teams collaborating, hosting critiques, discussing typography, and wish you were there? I’d like to hear from you and know if you might find this type of program worthwhile.

I’ve put together this short survey that I hope you’ll complete. And please consider sharing this post with your network even if you don’t fit the mold of a Designer vs Goliath.

#utopia

I just got vaccinated and, boy, are my arms tired.

I’m wrapping up a meeting on Wednesday morning when my phone buzzed. A text message flash across the screen. A reminder that my appointment to get the second COVID-19 vaccination shot was two hours away. Mild panic set in as Her Holiness of the O.C.D. told me we would be inoculated on Saturday. I know this because we were planning to deal with the “common” side effect of feeling flu-like symptoms all day Sunday. We purposefully bought comfort foods to help make our flu-day pass a little easier.

One hour and forty minutes to go, I telephoned H.H.O.. “Come with me if you want to live,” I did not say to her, but in hindsight, that would have been a great time to use that line. Instead, I relayed the information I had in front of me. “Hold please,” said the voice on the other line, but more like “Huh? That’s wrong.” Several precious seconds passed as information was correlated, verified, and processed. “Ok,” she said, “We gotta go.”

Like several people we know, the facility where we arranged to get our first dose is in another town, on the opposite side of the Seattle metropolitan area from where we live. It is a journey that would take one and a half hours if speed limits are observed and if there are no incidents that might cause further traffic delays. Fortunately, I don’t follow speed limits in the state of Washington as they are off by at least 10 to 20 M.P.H. by California and Texas standards (seriously, who came up with 60 M.P.H. for an interstate? If I drive the same interstate—The Five—in Southern California, it’s damn near like the Autobahn, but in Washington, the whole road is nothing but a speed trap. It’s super lame.

By the time I picked her up, we had one hour to go. I rigged the car for “performance” mode and punched the gas. As we merged from the on-ramp, I somehow managed to get boxed in Clark Griswald Style between three very large semi-trucks. Though they moved around, it wasn’t enough to get past anything. A steady stream of traffic whizzed by effectively blocking any chance to escape. 55MPH for five miles, it was almost enough to send me off the rails. Finally free of pack I increased the speed and took off. We made it in fifty minutes (point-to-point) and had to wait for our appointment time.

The parking lot of Edmonds Community College has been turned into a duo-lane track with checkpoints. Orange cones and people in high-visibility vests everywhere. The first time I saw all of this, I thought of the military checkpoints you see in science fiction films and games—The kind of installation for processing massive amounts of people quickly. I know this particular setup is tiny compared to others I’ve seen in the news, but it still took my breath away. It somehow made the global threat feel even more like a global threat.

The administration of the shot took seconds and was painless. The second shot was the same, but it came with a caution about the very real possibility of experiencing slight fever, aches, cills for twenty-four hours. And that was it. They gave us cards with the serial number for the dose of Moderna that we received and drove to the last checkpoint where you wait in case there is an unwanted reaction to medicine. Fifteen minutes later, we were done. Though everyday life (whatever that means anymore) is still a ways away, a huge weight feels like it has been lifted.

Neither of us got sick, but it does feel like a truck ran into my arm. And we’re both exhausted. I suspect that a good chunk of this weekend will be spent napping. If that’s the only side effect, then we’ll take it. And I know there is a high probability that this won’t be the last shot we’ll have to get to wipe COVID off the map, but at least we’re on our way to defeat this as we have for polio and smallpox.

In two weeks, the vaccine will be in full effect, and we’ll be free again to move about the country. And just in time because I need to see palm trees soon.

#staylocal

When local newspaper focus opinion sections on their community, political polarization lessens.

Last year the local newspaper in Palm Springs, California, The Desert Sun, dropped national politics from its editorial pages for one month. The publisher wanted to test the findings from university study that showed a correlation between national politics and an increase in polarization within the population. So, they abstained from any form of publishing opinion pieces at the national level. From the editor:

That means no columns, no cartoons and no letters about the president, Congress, the Supreme Court, etc. Have a burning opinion about any of those things? Save it up, we’ll get back to that in August.

Why this recess? Let me explain.

Earlier this year, a trio of university researchers from Louisiana State, Texas A&M and Colorado State published a fascinating — and troubling — study that found that the ongoing extinction of local newspapers across the nation contributes to political polarization…

We all know that national news coverage these days has an intense focus on the partisan war in Washington. According to the research study, published in the Journal of Communication, folks who have lost their local newspaper or have given up on it turn to national news outlets. Then, they apply their (increasingly hardened) feelings about national politics to their local city council or state legislature.

The result? More partisanship close to home.

Instead, The Desert Sun focused discussing local issues from “traffic, development, downtown revitalization, schools, and other local issues you can’t read about on NYTimes.com.”

The results are interesting.

Some topics moved from also-rans to mainstays; local arts moved from 4 percent to 28 percent of published letters to the editor. Editorials and op-eds focused much more on education and environmental issues. The share of pieces that mentioned either the Democratic or Republican Party fell by 60 percent.

One unexpected change: When the subject matter got more local, the authors writing became more corporate. Before the experiment, about three-quarters of op-eds had been written by opinion journalists. Moving to local dropped that to one-third. Who filled the gap? Executives from local companies and local elected officials, mostly. In a way, that makes sense: There isn’t a pool of local opinion journalists waiting to be pulled into service, and more specialized local topic matter favored people whose jobs connect with those topics in some way.

And according to the report, web traffic to the opinions page doubled during the time of the experiment. When is the last time you read about traffic to a newspaper website doubling?

Interestingly, the experiment didn’t end partisanship. Still, it did slow it down when compared to other cities with local papers that continued to publish syndicated national opinion pieces during the same period. It’s a shame the newspaper didn’t run the experiment for longer, say 180 days, because I’d wager that the population would feel less stress, be more cordial to one another, and see an increased interest and participation in local activities and programs.

Having read about this study and the outcomes, I wish Twitter and Facebook made similar moves. The Internet might actually feel hospitable again.

#build

How to avoid bad decisions.

This afternoon I bring you required reading from the intelligent minds of Farnam Street (a smart group of people everyone should be reading). It’s in the form of a list of the biggest reasons they make bad decisions. In my years as a leader in digital, I’ve come to know and council with a few hundred peers. Inevitably we share our victories, but more importantly, our defeats. What brings success for one group will likely not work or apply to the next, but failure is almost universal.

If you want to succeed, learn from those whose success you wish for yourself through their stories of failure—their trials and tribulations.

In this article, the Farnam folks list how they arrive at the failure by making different bad decisions. Each failure comes with a rule Farnam created to prevent making the same mistake again. Here’s a paraphrased list:

  • Being unintentionally stupid—“Never make important decisions when you’re tired, emotional, distracted, or in a rush.”
  • They solved the wrong problem—“Never let anyone define the problem for you.”
  • Used bad data, bad information—“Seek out information from someone as close to the source as possible, because they’ve earned their knowledge and have an understanding that you don’t.”
  • They failed to learn from previous mistakes—“Be less busy. Keep a learning journal. Reflect every day.”
  • Focused on optics over outcomes (my favorite)—“Act as you would want an employee to act if you owned the company.”

I’ll add one that, unfortunately, I had to go through first hand:

  • Failure to believe in the potential to fail—Arrogance built upon success in the past does nothing to drive success in the future.

I can’t stress how everyone should read through this post. Make your own notes, your own rules, and build on the past.

#utopia

The next chapter is unexpectedly here.

Moments ago, I received a dizzying array of incoming messages from Kitchen Storey, my mother-in-law, and an SMS schedule bot. A nearby clinic received an additional shipment of vaccinations that they were making available to everyone. There was a link to schedule an appointment, but mine had already been made for me by my family.

Before all of this, I was in a design review talking about font weights, and now I’m scheduled to get my first shot tomorrow afternoon. My head is spinning.

It’s still sinking in—that tomorrow will be the first day of the rest of my life. At 3pm March 17, I will finally have a fighting chance against the death (or worse) this pandemic has brought to our very doorstep. As I read the appointment information, my eyes filled with water, and tears rolled down my face. Calling my wife didn’t help; it just made it worse. The last year has been scary and stressful, but evidently more than I was willing to admit (Oh, and look what The NY Times published a few hours after I posted. The stress was more than I knew that I needed to admit).

I don’t know that I’ve thought much about what happens after you get vaccinated. That day seemed to be months away. But already, it feels like a huge weight has lifted. It will still be some time before we can safely hang around friends and family with certainty, but the next chapter starts tomorrow.

#wcag

Make accessibility a feature, not a fix.

Please consider sharing this story far and wide because it’s important, and more of the digital industry needs to see this.

All-Star designer Stephanie Hagadorn shares a unique and super smart project her team created at Indeed to help build better products through accessibility requirements.

Over the past year, accessibility has become one of Indeed’s top priorities, a massive undertaking. We now require teams to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 ( WCAG 2.1) AA conformance, and go beyond those guidelines to improve the accessibility of the site. This new focus means reexamining our practices throughout the product life cycle, not only to help remediate accessibility problems but to help create genuinely inclusive experiences from the beginning. This is the story of one tool we created that helped us speed up those changes: an accessibility library.

Note their first step:

We drafted our own guidelines, translating some of the often cryptic or verbose WCAG wording into easier-to-understand checklists for designers and developers.

As it turns out, this helped to increase awareness but didn’t solve the problem completely. However, I don’t believe Stephanie’s team would have achieved success without this initial step. Team, especially combined teams, success requires having a shared language.

Much of the instructions from institutions like W3C are written for scientific, engineering, and academic communities. Go look at it—some of the most basic functions are written as if they are launch preparations for exploring deep space. I remember joking with some folks at the consortium about this when they hired Airbag to redesign the website.

The team at Indeed ultimately succeeded because they took the first step to clarify and interpret this lab coat language for into something easier to consume and grok. Improving awareness would have been a huge win, but continue reading to see how they created a tool that drove even better results.

Update — Stephanie and her team released their kit on the Figma community.

#wcag

Make accessibility a feature, not a fix.

Please consider sharing this story far and wide because it’s important, and more of the digital industry needs to see this.

All-Star designer Stephanie Hagadorn shares a unique and super smart project her team created at Indeed to help build better products through accessibility requirements.

Over the past year, accessibility has become one of Indeed’s top priorities, a massive undertaking. We now require teams to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 ( WCAG 2.1) AA conformance, and go beyond those guidelines to improve the accessibility of the site. This new focus means reexamining our practices throughout the product life cycle, not only to help remediate accessibility problems but to help create genuinely inclusive experiences from the beginning. This is the story of one tool we created that helped us speed up those changes: an accessibility library.

Note their first step:

We drafted our own guidelines, translating some of the often cryptic or verbose WCAG wording into easier-to-understand checklists for designers and developers.

As it turns out, this helped to increase awareness but didn’t solve the problem completely. However, I don’t believe Stephanie’s team would have achieved success without this initial step. Team, especially combined teams, success requires having a shared language.

Much of the instructions from institutions like W3C are written for scientific, engineering, and academic communities. Go look at it—some of the most basic functions are written as if they are launch preparations for exploring deep space. I remember joking with some folks at the consortium about this when they hired Airbag to redesign the website.

The team at Indeed ultimately succeeded because they took the first step to clarify and interpret this lab coat language for into something easier to consume and grok. Improving awareness would have been a huge win, but continue reading to see how they created a tool that drove even better results.

PS — Stephanie, if you are reading by chance, I hope your team will consider sharing the tool you made in the Figma community.

#journalism

The 2020 best of digital news design award winners show just how far editorial design has come.

The Society of News Design (SND) posted their awards for work published in 2020. No surprise that the New York Times cleaned house with all of their great work related to the pandemic. And they continued their sweep with many more long-form stories and specials like Who Gets to Breathe Clean Air in New Delhi? and The African-American Art Shaping the 21st Century. The former entry features a side-scrolling interface, but please don’t take that to mean carousels are back! I loved Reuters’ work on Wildfires: A devastated coast because of their use of the screen as a canvas meant to scroll. Take a look at this project and others in these awards and tell me the “fold” still exists!

Looking through more work, I’m inspired by the Marshall Project’s art direction for Mauled: When Police Dogs Are Weapons. And I was immediately pulled into the South China Morning Posts' film China’s Rebel City: The Hong Kong Protests. There is a lot to look through and process.

It’s nice to see the SND catch up to modern times and celebrate the fantastic work that goes into the reportage, data science, and digital design—The new trifecta in solid journalism. The last time I paid attention to the SND awards was five years ago when I attended the event in Washington D.C. at the now-closed Newseum. During the awards, anything published online or considered interactive was referred to as “online multimedia graphics.” As if the newspaper industry had completely let digital transformation blow right past them all—oh, wait…

To demonstrate just how far SND has come in its evolution of acknowledging digital, I caught two projects that received awards, yet neither is primarily a journalistic story. The first is Blacklight, a tool from The Markup that scans websites for technology installed to track user behavior. The second is a typeface called “Climate Crisis Font” designed to represent “the percentual situation of the Arctic ice pack” from 1979 to 2050. The font’s weights are arranged by decade degrade like melted ice as you get closer to the last based on data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Wow, editorial design has sure come a long way!

Seeing the breadth and depth of the work submitted to the SND awards is very exciting. It makes me happy to see such a big field of innovation and new methods for reporting the news and telling stories. Whereas just a few years ago, the possibility of making a career as an editorial designer looked bleak, now it would seem the doors have been blown open.

One more thing. If you enjoyed reading this post and looking through the projects remember that journalism needs your support. Get your credit card out and become a subscriber. I pay good money to five newspapers, ten magazines, public radio, and a few newsletters because the world would absolutely, completely, and utterly suck without solid journalism. Step up and do your part.

#typography

"We need to stop advocating Helvetica as the best typeface."

Aasawari Kulkarni, an AICAD fellow at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, writes in TYPE01 magazine:

Helvetica in all its glory has more than served its life’s purpose and even if we in a combined capacity don’t use it for years to come, will not be lost or diminished. Then why not take a chance by making way for a little more expression where necessary. Peter Bilak says in his essay “We don’t need new fonts…", that “there are typefaces which haven’t been made yet and which we need. Type that reacts to our present reality rather than being constrained by past conventions.” Identifying and valuing such typefaces that have more personality gives our design more of a presence. A union of literal meaning and visual perception through an intentionally defined identity. It is an opportunity to make more space for typefaces that aren’t considered ‘normal’ enough for Helvetica’s world. These typefaces have dared to break away from Swiss ideals of letter design, they’ve dared to be something else—something more, and their otherness stands in the way of their favourable use. They are viewed from a critical standpoint, as opposed to being viewed as more contemporary, more timely solutions to the normalcy, the lazy comfort that grotesque type shadows our world with.

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of my head nodding in agreement. I’ve never been a fan of Helvetica. Up until now, Erik Spiekermann’s professional opinion—“Helvetica is scheisse!”—was enough for me. Aasawari’s point-of-view is more damming, not a simple critique of the typeface itself but a challenge to the industry to move forward, past Helvetica. To start accepting use other forms of type to be more expressive. Yes! I hope this is not the last that we hear from her.

On a related note: I’m ready to bet cash money that in five years or less the same point of view will be expressed about the need to push beyond the Google Font catalog. Type foundries are the new breweries, popping up all over the place. And we no longer have adequate reasons to settle for the selective charity of a technology company.

#hardearnedadvice

Improving the rifts between designers and project or product managers.

Last month my friend Brett Harned and I recorded a session of his podcast Time Limit. I heart this guy a ton, and I miss working with him daily. Brett and I recorded a limited session program called Sprints & Milestones. So, it felt good to get back behind the microphone to record this conversation.

This show is one of the better conversations that I’ve recorded in a while. You could call it a consolidation of what I’ve learned in the last five years of leading all kinds of design initiatives and range of scale at IBM, USAA, and InVision.

Our discussion centered around defining the practice of design and how it could/should interact with project/product management. More interesting, we get into building stronger teams, cross-functional collaboration, and over-all communication skills. It is my experience that poor communication is at the heart of just about every problem—design related or otherwise. And I try to provide helpful ideas on how to overcome this problem at work.

We also get into my thoughts on how project managers can help their designers be more productive and get better outcomes from their communication with whole teams and executives.

The show is called Time Limit, episode number forty-seven.

#blingbling

My book just won an award.

I’ve always held the thought that, like a joke, if you have to explain what an award is then it doesn’t really matter. Having said that, I just learned that the book I co-authored with Ben Goldman and Abby Sinnott received a gold MarCom Award. Our book, Remote Work for Design Teams was conceived, written, and published in three weeks. We crammed to meet the immediate need of thousands of leaders who were struggling with leading teams remotely for the first time in their careers. It’s not a large book but we poured our heart and soul into each sentence. I have a happy memories of working closely with Aarron Walter and Susan Kaplow during the editing process. Both of them helped illuminate a path in my journey to become a better writer. The award came to me as a complete surprise and while I’m happy it has received this recognition, it was the teamwork on such a tight deadline that made the whole endeavor so worthwhile.

#civilization

Heading into 2021—Second verse is same as the first.

Two things kept me from jumping off the balcony this year: Her Holy & Hotness Kitchen Storey, The Only of Her Kind, and my happily self-induced addiction to the world of print publication subscriptions. As we head into 2021 with news that new strains of COVID-19 have been found in the States, it’s clear that this winter will likely be worse than the last one. So I share with you what worked here at the top of downtown Tacoma.

My wife has been a source of inspiration, joy, back-scratching, and food delivery. She is a chef whose talent knows no boundaries for audacity, improvisation, and a healthy dose of panache. The table at Storeyhouse has hosted many excellent meals, making quarantine tolerable and becoming preferable. We have had new decadent dishes created simply by looking at a photo of another creation in the newspaper or a random food goods catalog delivered to the previous tenant to our mailbox. I will also add that the wine program here has done what it can to keep up by ordering more wine via telephone than ever. A handful of affordable wines are kept in constant stock for the everyday meal. At the same time, we have invested in a diverse array of blends and varietals to be paired with the exquisite dining experiences put together for a weekend. This personal challenge to re-create experiences that we would otherwise enjoy outside of our home has led to an upgrade in our cocktail and coffee programs. Morning Joe now requires measuring the critical ingredient in grams (And yes, I just typed that with my pinky fingers pointing up and out).

While I’ve shared the highest of highs, Storeystyle also dictates that I share the low of lows. In 2020 there have been scores of ramen bowls served with boiling hot Nongshim Shin Black Noodle Soup and the occasional run to Taco Bell (without the wife who refuses the authentic American-Mexican food found South of the Border). And we are making our way through the local pizza providers because we have to keep some form of mystery in the relationship, and what better type than pizza mystery. Trust me, it’s way more exciting and delicious than subscribing to a monthly co-op vegetable box (Rutabagas again—WTF?!).

In addition to bespoke cuisine, 2020 was easier to tolerate with subscriptions to a stack of independent magazines. Though we have access to just about every big title through Apple News, it’s simply not the same as having a well-crafted item delivered to the door in nifty packaging to keep it nice, flat, and fresh. Of the many subscriptions that we have to media, a few stand out that I wholeheartedly recommend. Delayed Gratification is by far a champion of both quality journalism and editorial design. Published quarterly, it covers stories long after they were headlines in the 24/7 news cycle. Superb infographics are laced throughout the stories and pages, making the entire experience a visual and intellectual delight. Drift and Eighty cover the worlds of tea and coffee on pages masterfully designed combined with photography to appeal to everyone’s inner art director. No matter how you enjoy your caffeine, picking up either journal will add a lift to your week. Senet is relatively new, but you would not know it based on the content and form. A British publication devoted to current and upcoming board games is a rewarding addition to our newsstand at home. Eye brings nothing but design joy every quarter. I have found Eye to be, by far, the best magazine focused on the subject. They just crossed the 100 issue mark this Fall and devoted the two previous issues to share their knowledge for designing and publishing a quality magazine.

Monocle has been a monthly staple since its debut more than ten years ago. Each year, a subscription brings ten issues with four special publications: The Entrepreneurs (two issues), The Forecast, and The Escape. It’s a fantastic deal that brings fresh perspectives at least once a month to your door. Lastly is Grit City, an oversized, hand-stitched quarterly that tells the stories found in Tacoma. Hyperlocal, though not a newspaper, this is a luxury item I have yet to find it’s equal in any other metropolitan area of the United States—and I’ve been to many. Grit City is a prime example of what happens when a community recognizes a good thing and does everything to support it.

Who knows what 2021 will bring, how it might be different, or dare we hope, better? We are preparing for winter by pouring through recipe books, looking for new things to try. And I am always on the hunt for a new, quality publication to have delivered to the door. If you have recommendations for either or both, do tell.

#dickey

The Feast of Nemesis.

The following is a very short satirical story on the holiday season by British writer Hector Hugh Munro under the pen name Saki in 1914. I’m republishing here because this story resonates with me one hundred percent and I thought it might for you too. Bah humbug everybody! — Greg

“It’s a good thing that Saint Valentine’s Day has dropped out of vogue,” said Mrs. Thackenbury; “what with Christmas and New Year and Easter, not to speak of birthdays, there are quite enough remembrance days as it is. I tried to save myself trouble at Christmas by just sending flowers to all my friends, but it wouldn’t work; Gertrude has eleven hot-houses and about thirty gardeners, so it would have been ridiculous to send flowers to her, and Milly has just started a florist’s shop, so it was equally out of the question there. The stress of having to decide in a hurry what to give to Gertrude and Milly just when I thought I’d got the whole question nicely off my mind completely ruined my Christmas, and then the awful monotony of the letters of thanks: ‘Thank you so much for your lovely flowers. It was so good of you to think of me.’ Of course in the majority of cases I hadn’t thought about the recipients at all; their names were down in my list of ‘people who must not be left out.’ If I trusted to remembering them there would be some awful sins of omission.”

“The trouble is,” said Clovis to his aunt, “all these days of intrusive remembrance harp so persistently on one aspect of human nature and entirely ignore the other; that is why they become so perfunctory and artificial. At Christmas and New Year you are emboldened and encouraged by convention to send gushing messages of optimistic goodwill and servile affection to people whom you would scarcely ask to lunch unless some one else had failed you at the last moment; if you are supping at a restaurant on New Year’s Eve you are permitted and expected to join hands and sing ‘For Auld Lang Syne’ with strangers whom you have never seen before and never want to see again. But no licence is allowed in the opposite direction.”

“Opposite direction; what opposite direction?” queried Mrs. Thackenbury.

“There is no outlet for demonstrating your feelings towards people whom you simply loathe. That is really the crying need of our modern civilisation. Just think how jolly it would be if a recognised day were set apart for the paying off of old scores and grudges, a day when one could lay oneself out to be gracefully vindictive to a carefully treasured list of ‘people who must not be let off.’ I remember when I was at a private school we had one day, the last Monday of the term I think it was, consecrated to the settlement of feuds and grudges; of course we did not appreciate it as much as it deserved, because, after all, any day of the term could be used for that purpose. Still, if one had chastised a smaller boy for being cheeky weeks before, one was always permitted on that day to recall the episode to his memory by chastising him again. That is what the French call reconstructing the crime.”

“I should call it reconstructing the punishment," said Mrs. Thackenbury; “and, anyhow, I don’t see how you could introduce a system of primitive schoolboy vengeance into civilised adult life. We haven’t outgrown our passions, but we are supposed to have learned how to keep them within strictly decorous limits.”

“Of course the thing would have to be done furtively and politely,” said Clovis; “the charm of it would be that it would never be perfunctory like the other thing. Now, for instance, you say to yourself: ‘I must show the Webleys some attention at Christmas, they were kind to dear Bertie at Bournemouth,’ and you send them a calendar, and daily for six days after Christmas the male Webley asks the female Webley if she has remembered to thank you for the calendar you sent them. Well, transplant that idea to the other and more human side of your nature, and say to yourself: ‘Next Thursday is Nemesis Day; what on earth can I do to those odious people next door who made such an absurd fuss when Ping Yang bit their youngest child?’ Then you’d get up awfully early on the allotted day and climb over into their garden and dig for truffles on their tennis court with a good gardening fork, choosing, of course, that part of the court that was screened from observation by the laurel bushes. You wouldn’t find any truffles but you would find a great peace, such as no amount of present-giving could ever bestow.”

“I shouldn’t,” said Mrs. Thackenbury, though her air of protest sounded a bit forced; “I should feel rather a worm for doing such a thing.”

“You exaggerate the power of upheaval which a worm would be able to bring into play in the limited time available,” said Clovis; “if you put in a strenuous ten minutes with a really useful fork, the result ought to suggest the operations of an unusually masterful mole or a badger in a hurry.”

“They might guess I had done it,” said Mrs. Thackenbury.

“Of course they would,” said Clovis; “that would be half the satisfaction of the thing, just as you like people at Christmas to know what presents or cards you’ve sent them. The thing would be much easier to manage, of course, when you were on outwardly friendly terms with the object of your dislike. That greedy little Agnes Blaik, for instance, who thinks of nothing but her food, it would be quite simple to ask her to a picnic in some wild woodland spot and lose her just before lunch was served; when you found her again every morsel of food could have been eaten up.”

“It would require no ordinary human strategy to lose Agnes Blaik when luncheon was imminent: in fact, I don’t believe it could be done.”

“Then have all the other guests, people whom you dislike, and lose the luncheon. It could have been sent by accident in the wrong direction.”

“It would be a ghastly picnic,” said Mrs. Thackenbury.

“For them, but not for you,” said Clovis; “you would have had an early and comforting lunch before you started, and you could improve the occasion by mentioning in detail the items of the missing banquet — the lobster Newburg and the egg mayonnaise, and the curry that was to have been heated in a chafing-dish. Agnes Blaik would be delirious long before you got to the list of wines, and in the long interval of waiting, before they had quite abandoned hope of the lunch turning up, you could induce them to play silly games, such as that idiotic one of ‘the Lord Mayor’s dinner-party,’ in which every one has to choose the name of a dish and do something futile when it is called out. In this case they would probably burst into tears when their dish is mentioned. It would be a heavenly picnic.”

Mrs. Thackenbury was silent for a moment; she was probably making a mental list of the people she would like to invite to the Duke Humphrey picnic. Presently she asked: “And that odious young man, Waldo Plubley, who is always coddling himself — have you thought of anything that one could do to him?” Evidently she was beginning to see the possibilities of Nemesis Day.

“If there was anything like a general observance of the festival,” said Clovis, “Waldo would be in such demand that you would have to bespeak him weeks beforehand, and even then, if there were an east wind blowing or a cloud or two in the sky he might be too careful of his precious self to come out. It would be rather jolly if you could lure him into a hammock in the orchard, just near the spot where there is a wasps' nest every summer. A comfortable hammock on a warm afternoon would appeal to his indolent tastes, and then, when he was getting drowsy, a lighted fusee thrown into the nest would bring the wasps out in an indignant mass, and they would soon find a ‘home away from home’ on Waldo’s fat body. It takes some doing to get out of a hammock in a hurry.”

“They might sting him to death,” protested Mrs. Thackenbury.

“Waldo is one of those people who would be enormously improved by death,” said Clovis; “but if you didn’t want to go as far as that, you could have some wet straw ready to hand, and set it alight under the hammock at the same time that the fusee was thrown into the nest; the smoke would keep all but the most militant of the wasps just outside the stinging line, and as long as Waldo remained within its protection he would escape serious damage, and could be eventually restored to his mother, kippered all over and swollen in places, but still perfectly recognisable.”

“His mother would be my enemy for life,” said Mrs. Thackenbury.

“That would be one greeting less to exchange at Christmas,” said Clovis.

#theaviator

Gabriel Fernandez. One of the few who lived doing what he loved.

The weather was perfect for spectating that afternoon; scattered clouds, with a high of 81F degrees and a slight wind from the north. It was Sunday, September 16, 2011, and the last day of the Reno Air Races. More than one-hundred thousand people attended the event that year. Seating ranged from general grandstands to VIP box seats out on the tarmac for those wanting an unobstructed view. The “track” is outlined with pylons—“sticks”—made from fifty-foot tall telephone poles with brightly painted drum barrels attached at the top. The pilots must fly on the outside of these drums or face penalties. Like most races, several classes hold races throughout the weekend. Each class has a set of requirements that includes everyone racing the same type of plane. The fastest, the “Unlimited Class,” features mostly planes from World War II but modified to race allowing them to fly more than 500 mph. Common aircraft in this class include F-8F Bearcats, Hawker Sea Fury, and the P-51 Mustang.

In preparation for the Reno race, James Leeward and his crew modified a P-51 Mustang. The aircraft had a long history of being used in racing, going back to 1946. James and his crew purchased the plane and made—as he called them—“radical modifications” that included clipping the wings and making significant changes to other systems in the plane to trim weight, increase power, and reduce aerodynamic drag. After the modifications, the plane named The Galloping Ghost flew at a top speed of 530 mph, roughly 40 mph faster than previously flown.

On that Sunday afternoon in 2011, the last race of the day—the Unlimited class—got off to a start. After a few laps The Galloping Ghost held third place. As it passed the 8th pylon, a reused “single-use” locknut broke, causing the left elevator trim tab to fail. The aircraft left the circuit to climb quickly, rotate, and then plunge at 17g towards the ground almost perfectly perpendicular into the tarmac. The plane impacted right in front of a section of the box seats where Gabe (my father-in-law-to-be) was watching the race with his friends.

There was no fire. The plane disintegrated instantly into pieces that covered an area equivalent to two acres. People sitting in front of and behind Gabe died instantly—vanishing into bits so small identification was not possible. Eleven people (including the pilot) died, and sixty-nine suffered life altering injuries, including Gabe, who avoided fatality by mere inches—though he didn’t walk away unharmed. He went through life-altering changes that required years of rehabilitation. But Gabe fought on to recover and lead an everyday life.

To Gabriel Fernandez, aviation was everything. Growing up in San Jose, California, he dreamt of nothing else but being a pilot. And he loved reading about the air races as a child in the 1950’s. As he got older, Gabe paid for flight lessons and earned his pilot’s license, and joined the Air National Guard. After serving his country, Gabe joined Northwest Airlines and quickly worked his way up to captain flying International routes to the East. After 9/11, Gabe didn’t feel the preventative measures to protect fly crews by the FAA were enough, and he retired from commercial service.

I didn’t know any of this when I first met Gabe. He was friendly but quiet and stayed in his lane. When I heard that he had been a commercial pilot, I got excited and prodded politely for stories. The first few times, he responded that it was nothing and kinda boring like “driving a bus.” He’d joke that all he did was set the auto-pilot, read a book, and take a nap. But eventually, I found a connection that later helped unlock a story or two. Not sure how this came up, but Gabe and I shared one thing in common: We both worked as a grocery store clerk while attending high school. And we agreed that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we had to go back to that line of work one day because it was a lot of fun.

Later I would learn that Gabe flew servicemen and women in and out of Vietnam during the war. He would share stories of his flights to Japan, where his navigator would insist on taking him to weird places to get sushi. And there was the story of the time when he met Chris Farley, who was flying in first class to Chicago completely bombed. His work with Northwest Airlines was only a part of what made Gabe a full-blooded aviator. When he wasn’t flying commercially, he flew one of his private craft around the Pacific Northwest, and he’d also fly down to California to visit his mother. No matter what aircraft he was in, Gabe loved to fly. And as I’ve heard it, he was working on one of his planes on the days he wasn’t flying.

One afternoon last fall, I finally got a tour of Gabe’s hangar at Paine Field. Though the airport now hosts commercial service, it was a field for light aircraft and manufacturing (notably where Boeing assembled the 747 starting in the 1960s) when Gabe and his friends built small plane hangers and formed an association decades ago. After getting through the big gates, we drove very slowly along rows of Boeing KC-46a refueling tankers awaiting final assembly and delivery to the Air Force. While I sat in awe to be so close to these large aircraft, Gabe grumbled that you could use all of the airport’s runways before Boeing arrived, whereas today, only North-South was open. We got to the hanger and entered through the side door. It was pitch black until Gabe walked over to a panel, punched in a code to turn off the alarms, and hit another button that engaged the large hanger doors. As light poured in, the contents of the hanger started to take shape. Gabe had several planes, each of them carefully acquired with a particular reason why he had each one. Despite their age, each aircraft was in immaculate shape, looking brand new. And near each plane was at least one project in various states of progress. I recall wire, miles, and miles of wire—all kinds—on spools big and small. Everything in the hanger had a specific spot to make the maximum use of the square footage. Gabe squeezed in a full tour as the sun started to set, and our primary light source started to wane. On the way out, we drove past more large jets in different states of assembly. And again, Gabe grumbled about Boeing and how the commercial flights would ruin what made Paine a unique field for such a long time.

Unfortunately, that was the last time I had the chance to hang out with Gabe at the hanger. Quarantine was in effect when he and my mother-in-law returned from California for the winter. Even then, we kept our distance to play it safe. As time went by, we got together two more times, including an afternoon in which Gabe and I spent time pouring over a couple of aviation coffee table books on airships from the early 1900s to the Boeing 314 Clipper, the plane that turned Pan-Am into a global carrier and brand. He loved talking about airplanes, and I was happy to listen while he imparted his knowledge.

Last month, on the afternoon of November 11, 2020, Gabe moved the 1965 Piper Twin Comanche and took his 1987 Van’s RV-4 for an afternoon flight before he and my mother-in-law were to head back south for the winter. At some point early in his flight, Gabe suffered a severe stroke. He knew something was wrong but couldn’t immediately tell what happened. Somehow, Gabe managed to stay alert and aware enough to radio the tower at Paine Field and land his plane safely. A few buddies from his hanger association came over to his hanger, noticing that uncharacteristically, Gabe wasn’t gone for very long. They found him confused and unable to speak coherently. However, he made it clear that the planes had to be stored before allowing them to call emergency.

Sadly, the stroke Gabe suffered was deep inside his brain. In the beginning, we all thought this might be recoverable, but every twelve hours, his condition grew worse until he lost consciousness and passed away seven days later. It’s so crazy how fast things happened, though it could have been worse. I have a hard time processing how he managed to land his aircraft but Gabe was first and foremost about safety and I know he would have done everything in his power to avoid the fatality of others.

It still hasn’t hit me fully that he’s gone. This year in COVID has been in such isolation that we’ve hardly spent time with anyone. So it feels like everyone is gone. When the family is able to get back together again there will be a huge Gabe sized hole and that will be difficult to comprehend. He was one of a kind—the absolute personification of the saying “do what you love.” I didn’t get enough of this pilot and his stories. I’m hopeful that some new ones will emerge as we unpack that part of his life as a life long aviator stored in the planes, books, and magazines that he collected over the years.

#welldeserved

Thank You for Your Service Day.

I woke up this morning wondering why we say “Happy Veterans Day." Given the sacrifice veterans have made, it seems appropriate to find a better phrase more befitting for the people it is intended to serve. I think I’m especially sensitive because we live in a time when the Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces has many times called veterans who died in the line of service “losers” and “suckers.” He has used the same word to describe veterans captured in the line of duty.

I think about all of the men and women who died fighting to defend liberty and democracy in Europe and Asia from 1914 through 1975. And the ones who made it home, scarred eternally by the experience, what they endured. I think about the servicewoman and her bomb-sniffing K9 I once met on a flight — they were on their way to a fourth tour in Afghanistan. I think about my grandfather, who fought against fascism in Italy and Germany. And my father-in-law who answered the draft and dutifully served a tour in Vietnam. I think about my time at USAA learning about military families that are torn apart when a parent is deployed and the emotional toll on everyone, especially the children.

Veterans deserve more than just another “happy” day. They deserve respect and our attention. I’m not trying to suggest this has to be a solemn day, but rather a grateful one. Today is a day to pay respect to those who serve and the sacrifices they are often required to make. I’m not sure what single word or phrase could replace Happy Veterans Day; maybe it’s not important so long as those who served feel seen, appreciated, and are receiving the care they need.

#utopia

A message worth considering during this tumultuous time.

My brother-in-law just sent me a text with a smart and thoughtful message in response to these uncertain and stressful times. I’m sharing it here because I think more people could use his perspective.

Just my thoughts, but need to get this out there. November is finally here. I have seen a lot of hate spewed in recent months about a man who is a constant winner and overachiever, and that’s what the people who support him like about him. Yes, he’s been caught in lies and twisted the truth a little but he’s still out there proving his haters wrong time after time. Some people are jealous of someone who is successful, powerful, and has a lot of money. Throw in a hot foreign model at his side and they hate him even more. You may not have wanted him in his role, but he’s there now and there’s nothing you can do about it. I know it’s possibly going to get worse over the next several days, but like him or not, Tom Brady is really turning things around in Tampa.

Perhaps satire is not dead yet.

#utopia

If it looks like the end of the world, pull up.

Looking back to four years ago to November 2, 2016, and what has happened since then is a lot to process. At the time, news of the election outcome seemed impossible, but NPR told me time and time again on my way to work that the results were authentic. I think they may have had to repeat it so many times for their own sake as a slight quiver in their professional voices betrayed the incredulousness they were feeling personally.

When I got to work, the floors of IBM Design were mostly empty. Hundreds and hundreds of desks with monitors sat empty. A few televisions glowed blue without input—forgotten in the previous afternoon rush to celebrate an anticipated outcome promised by polling data. Normally a vibrant and jovial workplace that morning was quiet with a mounting feeling of betrayal as more and more persons emerged from the elevators—zombies returning to their desk out of habit for lack of a better place to be. As more folks filled in the space, they began to wander around common areas providing support and seeking it. Sniffling and quiet crying could be heard here and there when I made my own sojourn around the studio to check in on the folks I knew and cared for at the time. Shock and awe was all I found.

That afternoon a meeting was called wherein the executive leadership tried to help make sense of things. Historical references were made. Assurances of checks and balances assured. And a reminder that while we all felt raw and gut-punched that the world was not ending and the best in life was still ahead of us, especially if we decided to make it that way.

That was three jobs ago—three employee IDs ago. One-hundred and sixty designers. One-design class. Two thousand plus miles between where I used to live and where I live now. Two cats, who I raised from kittens to senior citizens, now deceased. Two homes—one sold, one bought. Four new iPhones. One Prince. One Petty. Two 007s. Abdullah. Christopher. And one amazing wife back living at home instead of on another red-eye to places no one really wants to live, let alone visit. A podcast. And a book, co-authored. And that’s just some of the highlights. Digging deeper would require another five-hundred words. Maybe more.

Events these days are so big and so horrible that it’s easy to forget to take a step back and reflect on the details of our personal lives. Four years ago, the world seemed over, and yet life still moved on. And in that time a lot happened—good and bad—but I would never have imagined so much. While it hasn’t always been easy, finding a way to move forward continually was the best thing I could have done.

Tomorrow it’s highly likely that a group of people will feel betrayed. More folks will be scared, frightened by what comes next—not having a clear picture of a positive future. But I want to share that if the results don’t swing your way, the world will not be over. Give things some time, take a deep breath, and put one foot in front of the other. The world is on its own agenda, but it does not have control of your life.

#distruptionwanted

Why are we still playing games with hiring practices in design?

Last week I had a call with a potential employer that I thought had gone well. The role they are looking for is akin to an XO for the team at large. Someone to run the day-to-day details of the design program primarily through the director level. Almost exactly the job I had at USAA.

In addition, the directors were looking for a senior leader who had experience up-leveling designers and directors. So, I told the recruiter about previous times (again at USAA) when I had helped designers and a design leader get to the next level. The person seemed to be content with the stories I provided, and we moved on in the conversation.

A few days later, I received the rejection email. When I asked what it was about our call that the team didn’t like, I received this response:

The team was hoping to hear more specific examples around career growth and development, primarily as it related to more senior members of your team.

Now, I’m not sure how to interpret this, and I would love to have a direct conversation with the design leaders because if they wanted more stories, I could have provided more. Or, maybe they were looking for anecdotes about how I have coached many senior people in different career growth areas like thought leadership or skill development or relationship management. Hard to say, given the conversation I had with the recruiter—someone who is not part of the team who ultimately made the go/no-go decision.

And this is where I am left wondering why we are still using this broken system of depending on a single individual to play the telephone game to determine who is or is not a good fit for a team.

Many months ago, I interviewed for another design leadership position. The person asked about design transformation because the company’s senior leadership wanted to embrace design and bring it into other areas of the business. I recanted my experience at both IBM and USAA, where I was in unique positions to help teach design thinking to a wide array of businesses. Next, I was asked if either business had transformed, and I replied saying it was going to take more than a few years to completely transform either company considering their size and resistance to change. Can you guess what their take-away from that conversation was?

[Candidate] was unable to successfully advocate for design transformation at either of two prior employers and found that design was perennially marginalized.

In other words, “Sorry, Greg, but because you didn’t change IBM or USAA within two years, you just don’t have what it takes to be a VP of Design at a company of 300 people with a design team of twelve.”

And so it goes.

It’s well known that communications between individuals or teams break down due to a lack of alignment around language, and that results in poor interpretation of what was said. I can’t tell you how many times I have led workshops or exercises between teams to align on language as the first collaborative activity. We do this to avoid pour communication that eventually leads to poor information and false expectations.

So why then, in 2020, do we still rely on recruiters to play the game of telephone with job candidates? What is it about the job practices within human relations that our hiring processes are stuck in the 1960s? Why is it taking senior designers like Melissa Kark five months and 130 applications to get to three offers?

How many good, talented people have didn’t make the cut because the recruiter did not have the adequate language and the nuance to relate a candidate’s perspectives and experiences to the hiring team? Where is the genuine curiosity that would help uncover new and potentially intriguing insights that could inform the candidate’s viability? Especially if their “shape” is slightly different than what the team had in mind.

If there is any group at the Enterprise that can fix this, it’s design. And we are unique enough to get away with a break in protocol to execute different methods and experiences to find a much better process for both the “user” and the “business.” Hiring is so important (even more so now), and to continue leaving the process up to the status quo is holding back the maturity and progression of the industry at large.

#lifeislife

Au revoir InVision! Voici ce que la vie a à offrir!

As of last week, I am no longer with InVision. As the business makes adjustments to strategy and tactics, so does the team’s shapes and sizes. I am joined by some of the smartest and hardworking people I have ever worked with thus far. Layoffs are never personal. That’s what makes the whole process a big shit sandwich for both sides. I can assure you I’d rather be let go then to be the one to initiate the conversation. I am in a good place. During a time when so many people are hurting and in need, I am fortunate to be where I am in life.

This event marks almost five years to the date since I stepped down from Happy Cog and closed the Austin studio.

Looking back at the last five years spent at IBM, USAA, and InVision, I have learned so much and had the honor to work with so many designers, product managers, engineers, and business leaders. I have earned a unique perspective having lead teams at every scale of company size—from five to five hundred thousand people. I’ve worked with people all over the world, collaborating at all hours of the day. Where remote working was not an option, it was required. In five years, I’ve worked on Enterprise, fintech, cybersecurity, cloud, HR, software, and education-related problems. Digital and design-led transformation initiatives. And I got to work with hundreds of designers, design leaders, product and business leaders, and engineers. There are many experiences to look back on, probably a book or two to write, but for now I’m going to take some time for reflection.

Five years ago, I had to lay off several employees—including one who started to work from home and I had to ask him to come into the studio. He knew right then and there what was going to happen, but he came into work with a smile on his face and a calm presence. After the others left, the gentleman stayed behind to chat. He extended more grace to me than I deserved. I asked if he was going to be alright, and he laughed and said that he’s learned that life is not defined by where we work but by what we do, how we act. As he began to leave, he told me that he had called his significant other and made reservations at the nicest restaurant in town to celebrate this occasion and what life has in store.

Sam, if you’re reading this, then know that moment had a profound impact on me. I’ll never forget that conversation, your perspective, composure, and the joy that empowers you. Thanks to you, that is how I feel right now. Happy to be in a good spot and excited, almost anxious, to see what is around the corner and what I will do next. Be well and take care of someone who needs it.

Also, if you’re looking for a design leader, I happen to know a great candidate.

#design

Bringing designers back to the office will not help you transform.

An acquaintance recently reached out with a bit of a perplexing problem. They work in a traditional industry that embraces digital transformation when it comes to consumer experiences, but not so much for the employee experience. Now that the threat of COVID-19 is waining in their country, the company wants to recall everyone working from home for seemingly all the wrong reasons.

The first pertains to the change in collaboration with distributed teams. You would think that with everyone working from going back to a distributed model (some of the team at the office while other members are working from home) would be easy because it is essentially working like everyone is remote. And sure, it does require a little extra effort, but nothing so extraneous that it should cause any more problems than fifteen-year-old phone systems or five-year-old computers—which are both prevalent in the Enterprise.

In this case, I would argue that in support of the company’s broader and, arguably, critical need for digital disruption. All facets of the operations need to be on a path of progress that includes how employees can show up to work. Employee and consumer experiences can no longer live in two different realities. As we see in real-time, the consumer experience is radically re-imagined day-to-day. And the ideas that drive recent change and innovation are aided by that radical change in perspective as everyone’s life has been distributed and remains in fluid situations. So why keep your people bound to a desk when they can be out there observing first-hand—living and working—to experience how the world is changing. I guarantee you it’s ten-times harder to be inspired by events if you’re not there. Why risk holding back the possibility of serendipity and innovation?

The second concern regards employee loyalty. The fear is that if designers are allowed to work from wherever they will lose their attachment to the company and bounce to another job more freely. I’ve worked in some pretty cool places, one in which I spent six-figures building out for my own company. That said, my work environment is not near the top of my criteria for consideration of future employment. Perhaps if I worked in one of those worktainment campuses like Facebook, then, yeah, maybe, but there are so many other criteria to help drive employee loyalty. From here on out, if the Enterprise wants to retain top talent, then it needs to stop worrying about people sitting in a particular chair for eight hours. Instead, they need to exercise just the opposite behavior in the from of extending trust, continual transparency, and providing care for career paths. Designers— hell, everybody —have had a taste of all three of these behaviors during the initial response to the Pandemic. Do company’s really think they can revert to old ways of conducting business without any ramifications? Do they think we’ll all forget what it was like to work from home, to work with an adaptive schedule? Do they honestly think people will be okay returning to a workplace because they are no longer trusted to get their job done? Just as consumer experiences are changed forever, it is a fallacy to believe the Enterprise workplace can “go back to normal” without consequences.

Whether you’re feeling it or not, we are all now in a race to innovate. Bankruptcies and businesses closing left-and-right will continue for those businesses that do not have a culture for transformation. The less you’re set up to transform, the more likely you’re to be gone in the next year.

Now is not the time for businesses to worry about where their employees are working, but how they can help them feel supported and inspired. Put everyone in a position to help the company bring about the changes in employee and consumer experiences necessary for survival and, hopefully, more market share. In these times, businesses need to chose distributed teams over better meetings, trust over attendance, transparency over town halls, and career care over happy hours.

#economics

The carbon cost of registering trial accounts.

Since 1995 I’ve lost track of all of the accounts I’ve registered to try new Internet stuff. With all of the newsletters, subscriptions, iOS applications, and I bet the count is close to one thousand. As the web has become more sophisticated with funnels, growth hacking, etc. creating an account comes with a litany of auto-generated emails. A few days ago, I thought about how much registering a free or trial account really costs. Not in dollars, but in energy and resources. If you consider that, on average, registering a free account generates an email with a unique code (to make sure you’re not a bot) required to finish registration. A second email is sent to confirm that you have successfully registered an account. And a third email is sent with some type of greeting and a guide with next steps. When you close the account or stop the free trial, that’s at least one email saying your request has been received and up to two more verifying that you want to close the account and that finally, the account has been closed.

Tim Berners Lee, the guy famous for, you know, creating the World Wide Web, came out with a way to calculate the carbon footprint of email (read the full article, it’s worth understanding):

  • An average spam email: 0.3 g CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent)
  • A standard email: 4 g CO2e
  • An email with “long and tiresome attachments”: 50 g CO2e

So, if we take those free registration accounts without attachments, that puts the email carbon costs somewhere between 16 g and 24 g. And that’s been super conservative. If you sign up for an app with a super aggressive growth strategy, you’re likely to receive at least one daily email—more like three to five. While 24 g per account doesn’t seem much, I haven’t included the power it takes to run servers that process everything. In fact, I’ve barely scratched the surface with an accurate accounting.

Long story short, the practice of trying all of the things comes with a price. A free account or trial may not take money, but it does come with a cost. I’m going to think twice before registering for the next shiny new object just so I can kick the tires.

#utopia

Ballast—005.

Wow, eight weeks sure does fly during a pandemic. June was rather uneventful except that Kitchen Storey had to return to working in her office full-time. Like so many other non-digital workers, her group quickly transformed and was highly productive, but her industry still thinks that productivity is related to being “seen” in the workplace. The irony here, my wife has a private office and keeps the door shut and locked during the workday.

  • I’m still thrilled to be the first guest on Uncle Weepy’s Depression Dungeon. I always have fun talking to Paul and Jeremy, and now Joy. Recording that show was some of the most fun I’ve had this year. Which tells you something about the year, but also how much I like recording podcasts. Hrmmm.
  • I’ve found two new indie magazines to obsess over and purchase. Eighty degrees is all about the world of tea. The production quality is on par with Drift, an indie magazine about coffee. Senet publishes stories on the wonderful world of board games. I highly recommend subscriptions to all three. And while you’re stuck at home, join the slow journalism movement with a subscription to Delayed Gratification.
  • Eye magazine reached its 100th issue. I know that because it says so on their website, but my issue has not arrived. And I am trying not to get worked up about it, but I’d very much like to have this issue as soon as possible, please! Eye is a magazine every designer should read. The quarterly has some of the best everything: production quality, journalism, and design. I wish it was a monthly periodical, but then it wouldn’t feel as unique each time it arrives in the post.
  • While I ping-pong between books, I could not help throwing them all to the ground (metaphorically, of course) to start reading Issac Asimov’s Foundation. After watching the trailer for their upcoming television production, I had to buy it and start reading immediately.
  • I used the launch of Aaron Walter’s second edition of his book, Design for Emotion as an excuse to pick up Jason’s book on typography and Yesenia Perez-Cruz’s Expressive Design Systems. I am looking forward to blasting through these when I’m done science fictioning.
  • The last book mention is Bruce Mau’s newest tome, MC24, on the principles he and his wife have created to drive their life’s work. I read Bruce’s book Massive Change back in 2005, and it was so inspiring but also so much very ahead of its time. While Bruce and his Massive Change Network have made dents for good in the world, it feels like there is still more work to do. MC24 arrived yesterday, but I can already tell this book will be transformative in my thinking about what I’m going to do in the next 20-30 years.
  • Other life changes are in progress. Over-all, alcohol consumption is down from its peak in the winter. I ordered both a standing desk and a Peleton back in early June. Neither order will be fulfilled until August due to demand and COVID manufacturing setbacks. Meanwhile, sporadic sessions in mindfulness and eventually, a stretching regiment are working their way into a routine. Tracksuits, as a daily uniform, are starting to sound appealing.
  • A parting message. Minutes ago, I posted a statement on Instagram to let my friends and followers (y' all) know that I am leaving the platform. As companies hold back their advertising dollars in an effort to get Facebook to change their policies, I feel compelled to join the cause from the user end. As my statement on Instagram says, “Facebook’s leadership and its policies support the spread of racism, fascism, harmful misinformation by anti-vaxers and conspiracy idiots, and plain stupidity. The world does not need any more of this shit.” From here on out, I will be posting photos when I can on Flickr and VSCO as Brilliantcrank.

Be well. Wear masks. Stay home. And be sure you are registered to vote.

#aimhigh

A less gloomy forecast for US banking is also a great lesson in facts and perspective.

A week or so ago (honestly keeping track of time is getting ridiculous) flipping through Apple News, I came across an article titled, The Looming Bank Collapse: The U.S. financial system could be on the cusp of calamity. This time, we might not be able to save it by Frank Partnoy_._ Intrigued and pre-terrified by what I might read, I clicked through and read the article. To sum up the article, the author makes the case that banks are up to their old tricks packing toxic assets into investment vehicles reminiscent of the 2008 collateralized debt obligations (CDO). Which you may remember from its Hollywood debut in the movie _The Big Short_.

The Atlantic article continues that banks shifted their shiftiness to a vehicle called the collateralized loan obligation (CLO). According to the author, “A CLO walks and talks like a CDO, but in place of loans made to home buyers are loans made to businesses—specifically, troubled businesses.” If you read the entire piece without prior knowledge about macroeconomics—like I did—it will likely put you in a corner, rocking back-and-forth, and wondering if it’s time to liquidize everything and put all of your money into gold. After I finished the article, I began to scour bank websites for annual reports to look for the CLO line item. And I found them, found some anyway, and then didn’t know what to do with the information.

So I started making breakfast and tried to put it out of my mind thinking if this begins to be a real thing, I’ll read more about it in the days to come. Weeks later—nothing. Not one utterance of the acronym CLO comes across my feed reader. All is well.

Until this morning, when I kicked the day off by looking into a mortgage refinance rates and what a handful of packages lenders are offering. During a few searches, I came across a link to an article from Bloomberg titled, A 28-Year-Old With No Degree Becomes a Must-Read on the Economy. I had to click. How could you not click that title?!

The profile on Nathan Tankus is short and intriguing—I encourage you all to take a look. The story here is a young guy who has studied macroeconomics since high school and has taken his curiosity and learning to new heights. While he has yet to graduate college, Nathan has a two-year-old newsletter that is read by some of the leading minds in the world of economists, including the folks running the United States Federal Reserve. To my delight, Tankus writes plainly without diluting the topic or his perspective. He is literally the John Gruber of macroeconomics and all topics that pertain hereto.

And wouldn’t you know it, one of his recent pieces is a retort to that stroke-inducing piece from The Atlantic titled, Is There Really A “Looming Bank Collapse?" Now, if you’re into this kind of thing like I am, I would advise you to make a beverage because Nathan’s article will take a while to get through. Almost every point Partnoy made in the original article is countered with an alternative perspective backed by sources and other research. Near the end, Nathan states:

Losses from this [pandemic] may lead to “serious deficiencies in capital,” but if they do, it will not be because of fancy structured products but the failure of good old-fashioned loans because of a good old-fashioned depression.

I won’t give away any more spoilers because once you know the world isn’t going to collapse due to CLOs, it’s a fun and interesting read. The best part is that there is already a sequel! Frank Partnoy responded to back his article only to have Nathan go in and start unraveling the Atlantic’s Brooks Brothers cardigan:

Partnoy is correct that my piece doesn’t dispute any facts he stated in his article. Instead, I focused on his framing and presentation of those facts. However, as I state below, I disagree with the interpretation and presentation of these facts so fundamentally that I still think they fall within the realm of fact checking.

And this leads to the bigger lesson I was reminded of this morning. When stringing together a point-of-view, do you have the right perspective to look at the facts gathered? Do you have all of the facts? And, are you looking at the problem at the right altitude?

When working with designers, I find myself asking that very question more often than I ask anything else. In the hunt for facts, it’s easy to get into the weeds. Curiosity will take us to the nth detail in pursuit of truth. And more often then not, while in that hunt, we forget to look up (and sideways) to check if we’re at the right depth to see the problem or the story in a broader perspective.

#design

Master designer Milton Glaser and a lifetime of evolving his work.

No sooner had I received an update on my order for Mag Men—the story of Walter Bernard and Milton Glaser’s design work on over 100 magazines—Within minutes, I got a news alert on Milton’s passing. He was 91, and I believe he continued to design up until his last day. In a 2018 interview, Milton said about work, “If I woke up in the morning and didn’t have a place to go, I’d go nuts. It’s a great reason to keep on living. Retirement is a trap.

Milton is and will forever be known as the creator of the “I [heart] NY” logo created for a 1970’s tourism campaign to draw visitors to the city. Not satisfied with merely typesetting the phrase, he turned it into an icon, sketching the first draft in the back of a cab with a red pencil on the back of an envelope. He is equally known for a promotional poster of Bob Dylan, which was included as a gift in Dylan’s 1967 greatest hits album. These are just two projects of an enormous catalog of work that also includes the creation and design of New York Magazine and redesigns of TIME, The Nation, Esquire, and The New York Review of Books magazines to name just a few more.

From my perspective, he led a very fulfilling career, and I think that had a lot to do with his non-stop curiosity, willingness, and capacity to learn.

Years ago, I had the privilege to see Milton give a lecture on design. It was in 2011, and I had recently volunteered to start the San Francisco chapter of Creative Mornings. Up until that time, there were only three: New York City, Zurich, and Los Angeles. Because it was still so new, I had yet to attend a Creative Mornings event. So as part of my onboarding, Tina (the founder) and I looked over the calendar for the next best session to attend and observe how the event worked (yes, they shot video of the speaker, but not the entire event, and I wanted to see all of the details). As it happened, the next Creative Mornings NY featured Milton Glaser at the SVA Theatre.

There were two moments during Milton’s January 2011 appearance that have always stood out for me, and that I will never forget. The first was his preamble into his talk. The second is how he dealt with failure on stage during his presentation.

Milton came to Creative Mornings intending to talk about a series of hidden relationships between all the things he had been working on in the last five years. A look into the nature of continuity and change in our work as designers and professionals.

He began with a story of two Italian men and what we can learn from how they approached life and work but arrived at similar outcomes as artists. It’s so good that I transcribed the entire story:

“In my mind, I have two artistic heroes. One is Picasso and the other is Giorgio Morandi who I studied with in the ’50s in Italy. And the interesting thing about them is they represent these extraordinary polarities. Picasso was a man who wanted everything—Wanted all the fame, all the money, all the women. That was Picasso. Morandi, on the other hand, was a man that wanted nothing. He just wanted to teach a little, once a week, in a very ordinary school in Bologna, and then go home and paint.

Even in the work of these two what seems to be contradictory figures or polar opposites figures, what you discover if you pay attention is the extraordinary range of development in every case.

In Picasso it is very easy because of his willingness to abandon what he already succeeded at is one of the sort of extraordinary things about him. Picasso would start doing something and become brilliant at doing it and then forget about it and then move on to something else. He was willing to succeed and then abandon his success.

And I always believed that one of the great difficulties in professional life is that you can’t fail enough without being out of the profession. In professional life, you have to succeed and go from one success to another in order to become visible and important. In artistic life, you have to fail over and over again in order to understand what you are doing. In our particular profession [design] failure is not acceptable and you might say as a consequence of that there really isn’t enough development because you don’t go beyond your sort of self-description of what it is you do and how you do it.

But in the case of Picasso, his courageous abandonment of his own accomplishment in history is one of the reasons he was able to move through the issue of style and manner into something else that by failing he learned.

There was a show of Morandi a couple years ago at the Metropolitan [Museum of Art}, where you really saw all of these pictures—painting and etchings—that look almost identical and then you discover that everyone is different. That in a certain way the development and change is as profound as Picasso except it is done in such a way that is virtually invisible. But I you walk through those galleries—as I did at the time and even though I know Morandi’s work you were overwhelmed by the different manifestations of the singular ideas about light and form.

In any case, what I urge you to do is to fail more often in your professional life if you want to find out what it is you are capable of learning.”

As far as I was concerned, Milton could have stopped at that moment, and it would still be the best Creative Mornings ever. Looking around at the audience, I could tell they, like me, needed some time to let that story sink in, but the teacher continued.

Milton launched into the first few frames of his presentation when it became clear something was wrong. He paused and muttered to himself, looking unsure about what he saw on the computer, but he pushed on. He continued to speak to the work represented on the slides until around twenty-four minutes. He looked to the crowd, stopped the presentation, and apologized to the crowd: “I’m sorry this really is a separate presentation that has found its way onto of this morning’s presentation. And it doesn’t really belong here. Quite unrelated to our thesis this morning.”

Cool as a cucumber. Most speakers I know would have caved if they didn’t have the right slides and would have ended their presentation right then and there. Not Milton, he powered through what he had (often skipping slides) to provide a compelling narration of his work while keeping to the theme of the intended lesson.

On that morning, I learned that there is more to compelling presentations than flipping through hundreds of slides and well-timed animated GIFs with every word memorized and rehearsed like a K-POP performance. As accomplished as he is, Milton could have paraded his top hits and regaled us with a flashy presentation with behind-the-scenes stories and quotes of famous people responding to his work. Instead, he invited us into a more vulnerable place filled with curiosity: questions and wonder. And he did so in a masterful way to inspire us to make his point about finding new ways of evolving our work (and who we are) whether to stop and start over again or spend years on subtle, incremental changes.

Looking back on his work Milton successfully made a case that his career is a successful contemporary blend of Piccaso’s constant reinvention and Morandi’s persistent method. In the middle of his lecture, Milton dropped this line: “Color is one of those subjects you never can fully learn it’s the most mysterious manifestations of the arts.” Wow! If that’s how he felt about his command of a core of art and design, then it is easy to see how he kept going into the studio each day—what an incredible inspiration he was and what an inspiration his work will be to future generations.

I’m thankful I got to be a witness to the greatness of Milton Glaser (albeit briefly) and for the lessons I took away from that day. And the many lessons I still have yet to learn.

#utopia

We can not forget the price we paid for the freedoms we enjoy today.

My mother-in-law, Linda, wrote an Op-ed piece on the lack of news coverage for D-Day’s remembrance. She writes,

How can we celebrate today’s sacrifices and deaths without reflecting on our history and the men [and women] who gave their lives so that we can march in protest, and celebrate our freedoms 76 years later?

Similar reactions from my neighbors appeared on NextDoor. I don’t watch television news (because it’s seldom just the news), but I also noticed an absence of coverage from print journalism.

Typically this anniversary receives “front-page” treatment. I presume with so much else is going on—The protests, The pandemic, The global economy, OPEC, et cetera. that producers and editors felt priorities lay elsewhere. That said, broadcasters have ample time, and newsrooms have infinite webpages to tell stories even if their promotion is brief against the flood of current events.

I know we’re dealing with a lot at the moment, but we must never forget the cost and lasting impact of war. While D-Day may have been a lifetime ago, we are still living in the world shaped mostly by its outcome—the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany and World War II. The cost of that battle was high, 10-15k soldiers (Allied and Nazi) died on that day. The intent is not to overshadow the events unfolding around us but to take time to remember the millions of people who gave their lives fighting to liberate occupied Democracies and protect the freedoms we still employ at home.

As Linda writes, “You will have no future if you forget your history!”

Speaking of the lingering cost of war, last week Jason Kottke shared the story of Irene Triplett, “The last person in America to collect a pension from the Civil War.” Until last week after she passed away, Irene received $73.13 per month from the Department of Veteran Affairs for her father’s participation as a U.S. soldier fighting against the Confederate Union.

Yes, I am referring to The American Civil War from Abraham Lincoln times. The one that started in 1861 and was the topic of Ken Burns breakaway pan-and-scan hit series on PBS. Think about this now; American taxpayers have been paying for a war that ended 155 years ago after the Union conceded defeat. It’s not the amount of Irene’s pension that is insane, but the reminder that the cost of war is far from over when the actual conflict stops.

#writing

There's a voice inside your head that prevents you from sharing ideas—punch it in the face.

If we have worked together or you’ve asked me for career advice, there is a high probability that I have encouraged you to write and hit the publish button often. There are so many benefits to writing that includes processing your thoughts and ideas, improving your ability to communicate, and increasing your thought leadership in the industry (presuming you write about your industry from time-to-time). The excuses—or, I’m sorry, reasons—I hear folks say they can’t write include: I’m not very good at writing (you can’t improve if you don’t write often), my website isn’t finished (classic, and also guilty so shut up), and I don’t know what to write about, there’s nothing new for me to add (oh boy).

The last challenge has always perplexed me because if you look through the archives of my writing, you’ll find a cornucopia of nonsense sprinkled with a few solid posts with well-formed thoughts. Most of my early writing was observational humor laced with misplaced road rage and a complete disregard for people living in the state of Arkansas. To some degree, it doesn’t matter what you write about as long as it is coherent. If you start a thought, finish the thought. Feel free to lead the reader through a backwood of tangents and subplots just as long as at the end you’ve come back full circle.

When I challenge the idea of topics—especially when I suggest writing about a design topic—the “I don’t know what to write about” excuse goes to level two: Someone has already written about [design topic]. And that might be true, but by Great Gutenberg’s Ghost!, if that was a hard requirement for publishing, we’d have one newspaper, a few magazines, and maybe a thousand books. Hollywood would be a ghost town because we got to the end of all of the movie tropes by 1989. We’d only have seventy-five songs with lyrics, but re-recorded in every music style and still, everyone would hate Yanni. The point is you can’t let the people who published something before you be the excuse to stop you from writing or, frankly, creating.

Now, I want to add that I am guilty of this too. There have been some lean years where I wrote lots of articles but deleted them before hitting the publish button. My friends who are prolific writers have also confessed to me that they, too, have suffered from this problem. To be a writer, to be successful at anything, we have to create like no one is watching, listening, or reading. We have to fight that inner voice that says don’t do the thing because we are wired to question sharing our ideas based on originality.

Earlier today, I found a short post by Scott Olster, Editor at LinkedIn. He writes:

Before you discard that brand new idea, you just cooked up into your mental dustbin, hold on for just a moment. According to researchers from INSEAD, The Open University of Israel, and The Technion, people consistently underestimate the originality of their ideas. One reason we do this? We tend to think that everyone else is thinking the same way we are. Turns out they aren’t, or at least not nearly as often as we assume. So, if you feel an urge to keep your suggestion to yourself, speak up instead. Being aware of this tendency can help, and managers can help even more by openly encouraging people to share their idea seedlings.

Did you catch this? “We tend to think that everyone else is thinking the same way we are. Turns out they aren’t, or at least not nearly as often as we assume.”

I don’t know about you, but this made me feel slightly better about feeling that way in the past. As I get older, I realize more and more that as much as I think everyone is thinking the same thing as I am, they are, in fact, seldom thinking in the same way. I have learned that it is important not only to share my ideas but also to get the people around me to share their ideas and thoughts through writing and otherwise. As our world and our work get more complicated, knowing how to express your views is increasingly critical. And writing, whether it’s about the design of the U.S. Presidential Briefing Memo or that one time a father-in-law almost killed himself by hammering a screwdriver through a live wire, will help you develop those skills tremendously.

#donotwant

My friend Abdullah Shaikh. He was one of a kind.

As far as meeting a new co-worker goes, being introduced to Abdullah Shaikh was one of the strangest moments to date. We were both hired into a new team with a mission to create a better incubation program at IBM Design. The program’s purpose was to prepare further brand new designers (young people right out of college, many of whom had never had a job before) to work at IBM and the many worlds of Enterprise computing, storage, education, health, governance, and technology. The incubator program was a six-week project that was the culmination of all the things they learned through other onboarding programs. After they left our care, IBM needed them to be able to interact with other professionals, work with executives, validate Enterprise-grade problems, and create higher caliber solutions than IBM was creating at the time.

I had been on the job for about a month, by myself for most of that time. While the expectations of the outcomes were clear, I was still trying to wrap my brain around IBM, a company of four hundred thousand people working in almost every country on the planet. And here I was on the morning of inheriting twenty designers who I had never met before, so I could lead them through a project to help IBM win in the marketplace (or at the very least help them avoid spending millions to lose in the marketplace). I was pretty anxious.

And then I met Abdullah. He showed up the morning the incubator program started calm and cool as a cucumber. I was glad he was there because I knew plenty about leading teams through projects, but I knew nothing about working at a place like IBM. I used to have clients in similar Enterprise-class companies, and they were always running behind, checking email, and generally not enjoying their job. I thought it just came with working in a place that assigns people a serial or employee number. Abdullah had worked at Microsft for several years and that experience proved to be invaluable.

During that first cohort, Abdullah brought humanity to the program. He helped us all learn to take our anxiety down a notch and enjoy the work at hand. And he did this primarily through doughnut diplomacy. About mid-way through the six weeks, while we were all trying to figure out heads from tails, Abdullah came in one day with ten to twelve boxes of doughnuts and placed them in a common area. He told one team, who told the next, and so on. I was on the other side of the studio, and you could hear the wave of sound-to-silence from one side to the next as designers leaped up and raced to get a treat. With a doughnut in hand, everyone calmed down, and the reduction in anxiety across the studio was palpable.

It became an incubator program tradition combined with the second thing Abdullah loved about the program: The pivot. After the first and second cohort, it was clear to Abdullah and I that every team was very likely to hit a moment when they had to pivot. For some, this happened near the end of research when the team could not validate the program handed to them by an executive. That didn’t mean they could quit and hang out for another month. Instead, they had to dig into their data and come back with an alternative, a course correction that would produce a worthwhile outcome. This happened with such regularity that we sought to make it happen in each project because it taught a few valuable lessons.

  1. Executives are not always right.
  2. If you talk to enough users, they will illuminate the right path forward.
  3. Pivoting means progress, not a failure.

When we started to map out future cohorts, it became a tradition to schedule the pivot celebration, with more than enough doughnuts for everyone.

Abdullah was a smart guy, and his talents and background were different than my own. We made a good team, helping each other where needed, but also giving each other enough space to be our own leader and co-owner of the program. There was overlap in our stories, but that was mostly around former business ownership and life experience. We both enjoyed working with young folks, helping guide them through career (and sometimes life decisions). We both played the role of coach.

While we didn’t talk much about our lives, Abdullah loved to talk about the Delta frequent filer program, specifically the Delta Lounge. If you could live there full time, he would have pushed all of his chips in. Damn, he loved that lounge and mentioned it any time some related topic came up. A few years back, I took a first-class trip to Shanghai. I tried to tell everyone at work the story, “It was on a 787, the plane with the blackout windows. They served a five-course meal paired with French wines…” That’s about as far as I got before Abdullah would break in and say something like, “Yeah, at the Delta Lounge…”

Eventually, we got a third partner when Erin Hauber joined the team. Her perspective and immersive knowledge about design thinking and education helped us make even more improvements. The three of us worked well together, a true testament to diverse teams. I left the Incubator program a year later. I admit being a bit emotional about it, considering how much we had done to improve the program and the outcomes. To this day, our work on the incubator program is one of my proudest achievements.

Abdullah loved the Incubator program and wanted to run it, but eventually, that responsibility was given to someone else, and it didn’t go well. Changes were made without consideration for the work, the improvements that we made. The new owner didn’t have the same heart for the designers and the work as Abdullah did, and it became a point of resentment. I always felt bad about that time because it was a bit like taking Christmas away from Santa Claus. He loved that program and working with young people that much.

Eventually, Abdullah moved on to run different teams, and I moved on to another company. From time to time we would get together for an old fashioned or two followed by giant steaks and bottles of wine. We both loved the steakhouse atmosphere and had plenty of stories of previous experiences to share. And we in touch through Instagram, where he was always posting photos of all the fantastic food he cooked and baked. I honestly don’t know why he didn’t open a food truck or a restaurant because he loved to cook for people. He loved to entertain and provide new experiences for his friends.

Abdullah was an old soul, a friend I would have had for life. Unfortunately, he passed away unexpectedly last Saturday night. While he had no immediate family of his own, Abdullah is survived by hundreds of IBM designers who he coached and fed doughnuts over the years.

#utopia

Ballast—004.

  • After two months of sheltering in place, the walls are starting to feel like they are closing in. Last week we drove a few miles out of town to pick up a delivery and kept ongoing. It felt good to see something different, something new. About forty-five minutes out, we got to a small town where it became apparent that other folks needed to get out too. I’m not in a hurry for quarantine to be over, but I’ll be glad when it is. Thankfully we managed to get our outdoor furniture, which means we can live outside for part of the day, and that’s helped a lot. I have to admit I started to envy the folks who have driveways and backyards.

  • I had no idea how many millions of Darwin worshippers there are on the planet. So many just carrying on like nothing is happening—pandemic, what?! Hanging out in parks, getting together with friends (outside a bubble), and inviting the neighbors over for BBQ! The funny thing is, I bet most of these folks would never lay down $100 on a Blackjack table in Vegas, but they’re quick to gamble their lives. Talk about the ultimate face-palm; now I understand why Jesus did what he did. After a few years roaming the Earth and he knew humans didn’t have it in them to make it through on their own.

  • Zoom has been both a blessing and a curse. Turns out that “Zoom fatigue” is real. National Geographic published an interesting piece on how too much video conferencing is “taxing the brain.” While the quality of video conferencing under Zoom has been phenomenal, the future workforce is going to need more ways to interact and stay connected. I’ve started to use the Phone app on my iPhone instead of Slacking a Zoom link, and that’s been helpful. Also, I’m surprised to find that most people don’t know you can do both audio and video chats within Slack. The toolset is not meant to compete with Zoom’s features that make it perfect for meetings and events like webinars, but it’s quick and works quite well for small group conversations.

  • I got into the Valorant closed beta this week. It has been a long time since playing a game on a PC (In my case, a dual booted a MacBook Pro equipped with a Radeon Pro 560x, it does the job). Going from controller to keyboard and mouse has been weird but not as challenging as I thought it would be. Valorant hasn’t made the transition easy. One of the core tenants of the game is gun accuracy. Meaning the games doesn’t provide aim assistance. It’s still fun and reminds me of playing Return to Wolfenstein many, many years ago.

  • I posted this to Twitter earlier this week, but it’s worth repeating here, I don’t know who the design team is at Riot Games, but they are killing it with their web design right now. I love the art direction, page compositions, color palettes, type choices—all of it. Very nice work.

  • While I still intend to pick up the Cyberpunk 2077 Xbox (because it’s so damn cool looking), I’m not sure about buying into the next generation of consoles later this year and instead might switch to a Razer laptop.

  • Lastly, I enjoyed reading Ethan’s article on the gluttony of frameworks (my words, not his). Whatever trade-offs we’ve made by moving into the frequent use of these systems, it seems clear that the costs have been pushed to the user in loss of time and a severe increase in data usage. There’s another cost in the energy and materials resources it takes to push and pull all of that data. One website might not be a big deal, but look at the numbers with a million sites, and my guess is we’d need a serious forest of trees to offset the carbon generated by all of this extra code. Another keen observation about these frameworks—none of them are geared for accessibility or performance.

Be well y’all and don’t leave the house without a facemask on!

#donotwant

Rest in peace, Christopher. So long, and thanks for all the inspiration.

A pillar of the World Wide Web and digital design passed away this week. His name was Christopher Schmitt, and he was a friend of mine. He was a friend to every first-generation web designer I know. I first came across his name back in 1996 through his work on a digital design magazine called High-Five. The publication featured the best design work on the Web. I think every web designer on the planet devoured each issue. The site is long since gone, but Christopher always swore the entire archive is on a Zip disk…somewhere.

A champion of web standards, Christopher moved on to be a prolific writer and speaker on web design and development. He authored five books and co-authored eight with some of the other smartest minds in the industry. Christopher spoke regularly and co-founded an events company that hosted several conferences a year. He also hosted podcasts—Schmitt was an education machine.

Though we were friends online for many years, I didn’t get to meet Christopher until 2008 at Ethan Marcotte and Lizzy Galle’s wedding in Boston. I tried my best not to talk his ear off about the “old days” of web design. I mean, I would have if the Rocket Scientist hadn’t been there to pull me away. Thankfully, years later, we moved to Austin, Texas, where Christopher and his family live. Fortunately, I got to know him a bit better and talk his ear off about web design, old browsers, and websites.

When you met Christopher, the first thing you did is look up because he was incredibly tall. And then you would look down to see if he was wearing his signature pair of Chucks Taylors. The shoes were always prominently featured in a unique series of photographs documenting all of the places he visited—each photo taken from his vantage point of looking straight down.

I think it’s safe to say the Web and web design and development would not be the same without Christopher Schmitt. He leaves behind a legacy of inspiration and education that is unparalleled in our industry. We all owe him some form of gratitude and a place in the Internet Hall of Fame. And he owes us one more thing, another photo looking down with his black tennis shoes in sharp contrast to the white clouds beneath.

#utopia

Ballast—003.

Another week of random thoughts. I hope you’re sleeping better than I am.

  • I don’t know what’s in the water lately, but I’m on a tear to read, write, design, synthesize ideate. I haven’t felt this creative or the need to get so much done in a very long time. There are not enough hours in the day, but thankfully we’re on the right side of the winter solstice, which means there are more hours in the day where I don’t feel completely drained.
  • Side note: I might be to solar-powered to live in the PNW full time. If we’re here for good, I’m going to need a retreat in California.
  • The book shipped. It’s called Remote Work for Design Teams. I wrote the bulk of content directed towards design leaders. I’m proud of this work and the work of my co-authors. Also, the incredible village it took to make it all happen from the idea to published book in two weeks. Last Friday, we celebrated with a virtual happy hour, and I think all told around forty folks showed up at some point. Just to give you an idea of how many people were behind the entire effort. Thankfully I have more writing to do. Same audience, but content geared for an entirely different discussion. More on this later. Meanwhile, my article on facilitating remote workshops hit the Internet this week, and it’s getting a lot of positive attention.
  • Why did Apple force hyperlinks in Notes to appear in yellow on a white background? This can’t be accessible, but it’s certainly a horrible user experience. Who makes these kinds of brain-fart decisions at a company acknowledged by the world as the leader in extraordinary design? Whoever the jerk is, they should be fired immediately.
  • I have been doing more thinking on the future of this website, but more importantly, the brand. It’s too damn cool—if you don’t mind me saying—for a blog. I’ve been talking to Dorny about how to do something bigger with more folks involved. I’ve got some ideas percolating, especially one that would be crazy if it could be pulled off.
  • Remember, Volume One by Matt Owen? Damn, that was one cool website.
  • Another throwback, how about Veer. I recently discovered that you can download PDFs of almost all of their old catalogs for which they won several awards for their design.
  • Speaking of dope purveyors of amazing typefaces, check out Janus by ThreeDotsType.
  • I did the thing I posted about on Twitter and bought two sports video games, NBA2K20 and FIFA20. I didn’t buy them to play but instead for the computer to play itself so I can watch (and hear) sports again. Would I do this while real people were playing? No. But in the absence of live games, it does the job surprisingly well. Definitely worth the $20 spent on both titles.

Stay inside. It helps us identify the assholes and morons.

#reading

More than rhyming and roses, consuming poetry to set us up for success.

One positive outcome of quarantine is the people who are providing comfort and community through art from musicians performing above the streets of Italy to the communal clanking of pots and pans in highrises of Vancouver. Actors are reading children’s books and late-night television hosts are broadcasting from their home office. And there is Sir Patrick Stewart, who is reading one William Shakespeare sonnet a day via his Twitter account.

When I was a child in the 1940s, my mother would cut up slices of fruit for me (there wasn’t much), and as she put it in front of me, she would say, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” How about, “A sonnet a day keeps the doctor away?” So…here we go Sonnet 1.

Sir Stewart started his daily reading on March 21 and has been going ever since.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the journalists working at the National desk of the New York Times have started to incorporate poetry in their morning editorial meeting.

When the National desk gets together to discuss stories, it can be a grim half-hour. We dissect natural disasters. We reconstruct mass shootings. We delve into political scandals and all manner of domestic tumult. Recently, though, we added a new feature to our morning meetings aimed at inspiring us and boosting our creativity before we embark on another long day of editing the news.

We read a poem.

The article continues with this great quote from Morrigan McCarthy, a photo editor on the team:

[Poetry] jolts your mind into thinking about a subject or theme in an unexpected way. That’s exactly what we want to be doing on the National desk: looking every day for smart and interesting ways to tackle the most important stories in this country.

I have known poetry to be a source of creative inspiration but never thought of it as a way to help develop different points-of-view. John Coleman writes in the Harvard Business Review that poetry helps us create meaning to our observations and our ability to tell a story: Reading and writing poetry can also help us “conceptualize the world and communicate it—through presentations or writing—to others.

The more you know, right?

This morning I happened upon all of this while researching topics related to leadership, and I have to say I’m happier for it. I had no idea of the power this type of prose provides, but given the outcomes now, I want to incorporate it into my life and into my work.

I’ll leave you with a poem I came across this morning that I saved to revisit. My take away is that there’s never going to be a perfect time to start, so why not get started now. Or as Captain Picard would say, “Make it so.”

You Reading This, Be Ready

By William Stafford

Standing here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
Sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
whoever you go right now? Are you waiting
for a time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all the you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life—

What can anyone give you greater that now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

#viewsource

"Zoom is malware."

My father-in-law reached out to me yesterday to ask if I had heard anything about Zoom and user privacy issues. At the time, I had not, except for that webserver issue, which I believe they fixed. It turns out there is more than one problem. From The Guardian:

A number of security flaws affecting Zoom have been reported in the past and as recently as this week. In 2019, it was revealed Zoom had quietly installed a hidden web server on user devices that could allow the user to be added to a call without their permission. And a bug discovered this week would enable hackers to take over a Zoom user’s Mac, including tapping into the webcam and hacking the microphone.

The company said on Thursday it had issued a release to fix the Mac issue, but the number of security issues with Zoom in the past make it as bad as malicious software, said Arvind Narayanan, an associate computer science professor at Princeton University.

“Let’s make this simple,” he said. “Zoom is malware.”

I think we’re all living on Zoom these days, which is scary to think about when you consider that Zoom does not have end-to-end encryption as advertised. And Zoom sends iOS user data to Facebook for advertising purposes even if the user does not have a Facebook account!

Global crisis or not this isn’t good. Not good at all. The company has announced it is shifting engineering resources to address all of these concerns but this is more than three strikes for me—I’m out.

Google Hangouts or Facetime will have to do. Kai Brach had nice things to say about a new conferencing app called Whereby in the lastest issue of Dense Discovery. Stay vigilant my friends.

#utopia

.net Magazine is dead. Long live .net Magazine!

Earlier this morning, I caught some news that .net Magazine and Computer Arts are closing operations. The story now appears to be confirmed by friend and former .net editor Oliver Lindberg. Like many of my friends, my career has had a few meaningful intersections with the magazine over the years.

In 2010 my studio, Happy Cog, was awarded the .net Award for Web Design Studio of the Year. I traveled to London for a 36-hour trip to hang out with my business partners and see some of the sights before the award ceremonies. I’ll never forget having my first Full English Breakfast with Greg Hoy while outside a crew filmed a television commercial for an off-broadway performance of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Very colorful breakfast entertainment at no extra cost. I got to see Big Ben up close and ride The Tube a few times. We ate lunch with our friends at Clearleft, who were also up for the award. Later that day, when we won, my partners and I were on cloud nine. The news was a massive lift for everyone in the company, and we wore that award (figuratively) around our neck for the proceeding year.

Years later, I was profiled for issue 266; weeks after moving on from Happy Cog and closing down the Austin studio. It was a weird and challenging time for me to receive that treatment as I was most definitely in the middle of radical change. A few weeks after the initial interview, the magazine arranged a photoshoot in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I was staying for a few weeks. In her research for the shoot, the photographer noted that I enjoyed cigars and found a shop where she wanted to get some shots. We went to Burns Tobacconist in downtown Chattanooga and received permission to hang out and take photos. We weren’t prepared for Sherman, the owner of the shoeshine stand in the back, and a character I will never forget. That was one of the best days I’d had in years.

Here and there, I’ve been asked to contribute quotes and statements for stories since then. I recently submitted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) feature that I doubt will now see a drop of ink.

I am grateful to everyone behind .net Magazine over the years. It has been an anchor of the web design community and a supporter of generations of web designers. It is sad to see it go, but I am thankful for all it has done for us. Thanks to everyone who turned out issue after issue and extended the brand online. The web would not be the same without all of your interest, devotion, and support.

#utopia

Ballast—002.

This is late but I’m publishing it anyway.

  • Mr. Willis and I co-hosted an hour or two on a pop-up radio station last week. You didn’t miss much, believe me. Except for the part that Eric believes people can read his mind to hack his PIN code. We got into a bit of an argument over which is better: WarGames vs. Hackers (listen, if you want to make a good movie, don’t cast Mathew Lillard as anything other than the director’s assistant). And I shared the story of that one time when we were not fit to drive home and I convinced a valet at Eddie V’s to drive us home, park the vehicle, and run back to the restaurant. Best twenty bucks I ever spent. I’m told we had the best ratings of the twenty-four hours, but I think that was just the station owner’s way of saying, “please, never come back.”
  • I authored chapters for an upcoming book. More on this later.
  • Cloudy, rainy weather makes the home lockdown so much worse. I need to find a different part of the Pacific Northwest to shelter in place for the next pandemic or buy a place in Palm Springs. Also, you can have pools in Palm Springs.
  • We’re getting through more of our board games collection. Last week we played Parks for the first time. It’s a fun, but engaging strategy game that is based upon the artwork from the Fifty-Nine Parks print series. You play hikers engaging with different areas of a park. The path, weather conditions, and end game bonus points are all variables so the game can be replayed often. Another game with similar variables and beauty is Black Angel. I heart everything about the game and its design.
  • More gaming. I turned my MacBook Pro into a dual-boot machine so I could see what PC gaming is all about. It’s been fifteen years since I tried to shoot at people using a keyboard and mouse. It felt weird at first but I picked it back up alright. Windows is definitely the better platform for those experiences because the performance is night-and-day better over MacOS.
  • Having done that, I am going another direction with distractions this week and hopefully the rest of the month. I’ve assembled all of the parts to up my web camera game. I’m down to one last puzzle, finding a mount for my microphone boom. My desk is stainless steel with a secondary lower lip that prevents me from using the typical screw-based desk mount. I purchased a substantial mic stand base, but where there should be a standard-sized receptacle, there are screws instead. I think my end game is going to require a machinist or welder, but that will have to wait for a while. This makes my eye twitch.
  • Last thought. There are suggestions and reminders to call your friends and loved ones—especially the older generations during this time. There is another group that needs your attention as well, the folks who are sequestered by themselves. I’m concerned about this group because I don’t see that they are getting the same attention, but they need human interaction just the same. Friend or not, if you have co-workers or know folks who are living by themselves, make it a point to reach out and touch them—AT&T Style.

Stay safe and non-virusy.

#utopia

Ballast—001.

  • This afternoon I donned a pair of black Semperforce examination gloves from the box and headed out into the open to run errands. I bought the box years ago as part of my gear for cooking with the Big Green Egg because it’s a wonderful, messy process that involves building a fire from big pieces of charcoal. Sigh. Those were the salad days! Long before the world got its trial run at the Zombie Apocalypse. If this was something like a new strain of airborne Ebola—dear Lord in Heaven. And we’re failing by-the-way. At least here in Washington. Our governor is hoping that Gen Pop will do the right things and practice Safe Pandemic—keeping a distance, wearing gloves, not wearing face masks, and staying at home unless you really need to get out. Nope. I just braved the wilds of a Target, and it looked like any other time I’d been to a Target—Too much florescent lighting. Khaki, and metric tons of planet-killing, clutter-inducing shit that no one needs (pssst…no one wants) at discount prices. Not one pair of gloves in sight. I must have looked the closet things to a bubble child the young ones have ever seen. Oh, but I saw masks. Good luck with that, morons! Go ahead and walk around forced to inhale your own chronic halitosis while the Coronavirus collects on the ten digits you’re using to touch every, every, ev-er-y-thing. I don’t have to be an elected public official to know that people are stupid. We are way beyond a shared understanding of civic duty. We can’t rely on our neighbors to take anything seriously because they don’t have skin in the game. We can’t expect them too because they have everything and yet nothing to lose. I bet there’s a parable from the Greeks or Romans about this. A lesson from Classic Literature, but I went to a rural high school in the middle of Alaska, so the closest I got was Call of the Wild. And the only thing I can remember about that book is the dog dying at the end and how much I cried. So, maybe I got a classical education after all.

  • Last week, I was called to duty to help co-write a book. A guide, really. Counting all of my notes and edits, I got out ten thousand words. I’ve never written so much so quickly. Now it feels like I need to be writing all of the time. And so I’m sitting here fist pounding the keyboard into the only form of freestyle I know. From my mind straight to yours—raw! I was shooting at virtual competitors, controlled no doubt by an array of nine-to-fourteen-year-olds. In the past, that’s helped bring some balance; brought my mind some peace. But after cranking out enough words to fill an entire palette, there was something that said, “you need to shut this crap down and get back up on the keyboard.”

  • I got an email from Amazon asking me if I still wanted the thing I ordered even though it was on backorder until June. What am I, Amish? This is America. I don’t have time to wait another six weeks. So, I went to Target because the computer said they have many in stock. Guess what? The computer lied. I don’t know why I trust that source of information because it’s always wrong. Always! As soon as I got home, I placed another order but bought the more expensive option because that one is in stock.

  • In other news, one week from now, my Zoom video is going to look broadcast quality. Totally worth it.

  • The table-to-table meeting between Airbag and Forestry representatives has been postponed for obvious reasons. That said, I can already feel the need to migrate this site to Kirby. Especially after seeing Cameron launch his site earlier this week. And thanks to Corona, there’s never been a better time. Which reminds me, Cameron, I’ll go learn this new CMS while you should bring back Wicked Worn.

  • Last thing, and then I shall return to shooting children, Cameron is writing about mental health. And given these interesting times, I can see this being a beneficial resource sooner than later.

#work

Advice from Ten Years of Leading Remote Teams.

Providing leadership can be challenging because it involves people who have their responsibilities and goals in addition to whatever is happening personally. Add in whatever stress might be taking place at home, with family and friends. Being a human is hard enough, so it makes sense that leading them is at least as difficult. Now put blockers in the middle like restrict when and how you communicate with the people you lead. Or try running a design critique with all of the attendees sitting in front of webcams (and Facebook or email) and no one paying full attention. It doesn’t take a lot of change to disrupt a team’s workflow, energy, and culture. Working remote is likely to become a reality for major portions of our workforce, especially for those jobs that can easily relocate by means of a laptop and a phone.

Most of us have experience working remotely for a day or two here and there. A vacation that we might have wanted to extend or a sick day spent at home. The one-offs are easy enough to do, but it’s the extended remote work that will have an impact on your team’s ability to interact with others, collaborate with parts of the business, and possibly your team’s culture (something that when damaged can take a lot to recover). My intent here is to share what I’ve learned the hard way by building a remote company and culture and then eventually ending up at InVision, which is also a completely distributed company.

Remember, what works for me may not work for you but I hope these ideas will inspire your own path. And it’s also worth noting that some of my experience involves leaving the house, and I realize those activities might be a bit of a touch-and-go situation depending on your circumstances. No matter how these “interesting times” pan out that you will find a way to get some fresh air and a change in scenery.

The Morning Routine & The Evening Escape Plan

Working remote got a lot easier for me when I stopped living like I work out of my house. This meant finding things for me to do before, during, and after work that got me out of the house. Start your day like you don’t work at home. That means getting up and ready for the day like you’re about to enter the daily commute. A few days of the week, I would get in my car and drive a few miles down the road to get coffee and chill out for 20-30 minutes. This gave me enough time to listen to a few stories on NPR and spend some time around people. I love to drive, but there were plenty of times when I left the car parked and walked a few blocks to a local spot.

After seeing me turn into a crazy person after six-months of working from home, my wife made a rule for the evenings. If I had not stepped foot out of our house before she got home from work, then we went out period. Sometimes that meant popping down the block to a cocktail bar for a quick happy hour. Other times it was an excuse for an impromptu date night (Disclaimer: we have zero children which makes that rule easier). It was a good rule to have because on those evenings, I was likely not to be in the right mindset for making decisions.

Standing Interaction Time

Once one person on the team is remote, everyone has to work like they are remote. This rule includes finding meaningful ways to connect—virtually. With my first remote team, we tried normal activities like happy hour, but they don’t translate as well as a digital experience. After trying different activities like group lunch and open Skype sessions, this particular found their fun in beating each other to death with “Doom Hammers” during games of Halo. Even on the worst day at work, once everyone had a controller, then laughter followed soon after. Now, your video game mileage may vary, but the lesson I learned here is that there is a genuine need for the team to interact in a way that has zero to do with work. Here’s a different story from a design team “at-scale”: IBM Design started a radio station that’s streamed behind their firewall. The program is so successful that they now have designers and engineers taking DJ shifts around the world. It now runs twenty-four-seven and features a handful of programs on design.

People First, Work Second

Your soft skills will get a workout when leading a remote team because you’re not around everyone as much. It’s difficult to “see” how they are doing. Standing 1:1s are a must, and they should be considered sacred (meaning they don’t come second to whatever new meeting pops up). Your face-to-face interaction time is going to drop severely, so keep what time you do have together a top priority. I would also advise keeping an eye out for content to help guide your upcoming conversations to help keep your team calm during this time. NPR typically does a great job of finding subject matter experts who provide suggestions on types of conversations to have with your employees.

Kill All of the Elephants, Quickly

Radical candor is super hard in person, but I’ve found that it’s still daunting in a remote team. Try to be as transparent as you can without adding to the existing stresses of working distributed. If you “see” something going on, throw it out in the middle and get people to talk about how it makes them feel. Eventually, this should help the team find an opening to move into a discussion about how to tackle the problem. Remember, focus criticism on the idea, not the person! In a distributed team, the longer elephants are allowed to live, the more risk of toxicity entering the work environment—which is difficult to reverse.

Re-Create Your Working Agreement

Working remote means not being able to “drive-by” a desk or run into someone in the hallway or the kitchen. It also means that it’s now possible to re-arrange your workday to adjust for running errands. Take the good with the bad, but consider amending your team’s work agreement, especially around when, what, and how you will communicate. Consider looping in your partners and stakeholders to create new expectations. Give your revised agreement a few weeks and then come back as a team to check-in and see how the new arrangement is working.

Slack and Email ≠ Communication

It doesn’t take much for the volume of messages in Slack (or Teams) and email to pile up. To top it off, most people don’t care enough to practice proper etiquette when communicating digitally. My personal favorite is the three-foot-tall email-chain that’s been going on for weeks until you’re CC’d with zero context, only a “FYI.” Yet you’re expected to digest the “conversation” and make a quick decision. My next favorite: The impromptu question in Slack that generated a twenty-minute exchange of messages, emoji, and animated GIFs that you’re brought into with a simple @gregstorey followed by “scroll up.” Neither are these exchanges positive or an effective way to communicate, but they’re done all the time. Talk about communication needs and requirements as a team because you need to develop some empathy for what it’s like to be at the end of that shit stick, and then create a shared definition of what proper communication is and how to ensure it happens. Without this discussion and decision making, a remote team is always one Slack thread away from turning into Lord of the Flies.

Learn How to Eat on Camera

This is one behavior I just don’t understand. When we work in person, it’s pretty common to have a meal with your colleagues. When you get into management, it’s common to work through all-day meetings with lunch catered. We eat in front of each other all the time, but take that same team members and put them in front of a camera, and suddenly eating is a no-go. I can understand if folks don’t want to start a Twitch channel and sit in a gamer chair while they eat last night’s dinner reheated, but to avoid a video-based conversation makes things weird. Who cares if you’re eating something, we all do it.

Standups—You Need Them

If there’s one event that gets the most bitching, it’s the team standup. The whole point is to have time to check-in as a team—To see each other! It’s super important, but it’s also the first thing I see fall apart in remote teams. Some folks don’t want to wake up early. Others don’t want to do it during their lunch. There just never seems to be the right day and time that will work for everyone. The best thing you can do for your team is to put your foot down and establish a regular, consistent time to check-in as a team—and stick to it. Oh, and have an agenda! If you want to make standups interesting, then take a page from InVision CMO, Brian Kardon’s playbook. Each team all-hands starts with a provocative question and without fail a quick and a fun conversation ensues as team members enter the meeting.

Also, Don’t Forget to Stand

Because there aren’t any rooms to walk to for a meeting or a phone call (or frantic-jog to because you can’t find an open room), it’s easy to sit down for very long periods of time when working from home. After a while your body will hate you for this and it will begin to impact your mental and physical health. I try to stand as much as I can (I don’t have a standing desk) which means I stand during meetings, in-between meetings, etc. I also have an Apple Watch which tells me to get up and breathe (also important) on a regular basis. Whatever works for you, just make sure you are moving and stretching throughout the day.

You Recharge You

With the additional expenditure of using soft skills combined with the need for more patience, you need to make a point of recharging your own batteries. Find a buddy, a peer at work or someone in the community that you can talk to and unload. Putting yourself out there to take care of your team will take more energy. Who knows how long this is going to last so better to prepare for the marathon than assume this will be a sprint. And get plenty of sleep.

Remote Takes a Remote Village

To those of you who are having to lead remotely for the first time—good luck. I’m hearing more stories of companies that are closing down their campus with not much more than a bare-bones HR/security plan. If you have questions, please feel free to reach out, and I’ll do what I can to find fitting answers. And if you have a design leader (director level or higher), who is not a member of the InVision Design Leadership Forum, please send me a message with an introduction.

I hope this is helpful to you. More content is coming. My colleagues and peers are working on more stories about remote teams, collaboration, and critiques. And if we do it right, we’ll have more stories that go beyond the design team and demonstrate tactics on how to align any team on the day-to-day problems, how to prioritize them, and co-create solutions (screen or no screen).

Be well, stay well.

Droids.

Last week, after much public ridicule and ribbing, Luke Dorny published his new, gorgeous, funky-fresh, personal web site. The kind of website the Internet hasn’t seen in quite a while. Luke’s site is the archetype for a designer’s passion project that also serves as perfect evidence of his creativity, skill, and craft. The site is just as beautiful as it is functional, but my favorite part is that it exists—It’s out there, not hidden behind a private repository or a secondary domain.

This website is the type of project that helped to launch a million careers in the industry we know today as “digital.” In the early days of the web, designers, developers, and engineers came from television, publishing, journalism, public relations, and advertising to try their hand at being pioneers in a medium—a new frontier—called the World Wide Web. In the beginning, we were surrounded by people who were just as curious as we were to learn about this new medium with its own principals, practices, and technologies. Every day offered a new discovery, a way to push the boundaries and the limits of this new space. And we mostly shared what we were discovering along the way through a form of self-expression that manifested in the form of thousands of self-published ‘zines of different shapes, voices, tones—sometimes very visual and other times more narrative.

Dorny’s website is a reminder of the web we lost, as some would say. I have likely said it myself while lamenting for a time when the Internet still felt like a frontier instead of the top of just another marketing funnel.

I am thankful to Luke for the time he invested in creating his site because it’s a reminder that the only thing in the way of a resurgence of an independent web is a simple matter of our own level of passion. How much is each of us who lament what-once-was willing to invest in dusting off a domain and building something new? It was easier when we were younger, and we were all rich in time with an empty canvas and a pirated copy of Photoshop CS in front of us. Now the path is more difficult with higher demand for our attention, and time seems to be in shorter supply.

That said, I see signs to be encouraged.

During our Twitter-based protest towards Luke to launch his website, a side conversation ensued wherein a challenge for everyone to re-launch their own website on March 1 was suggested. And a handful of people accepted (maybe more). New website launch or not, I’d love to see more than a handful an RSS feeds light up again. More signs appear from friends who have long-sense grown tired of social platforms—all of them. Creators are fed up with shifting Terms of Service that favor the corporation’s rights over the creator—Shinny new export user data features are damned. But it’s the Babylon effect of so many social networks that are driving more folks I know back to their own corner of the cloud to create their own channel, photo album, and animated GIF repository. These things are happening slowly, and the folks making these moves are feeling that pioneer spirit again, if even just in a small dose.

Final touches are underway on the code for a visual refresh of this website. While I’m happy with it, I can tell you that it’s no Dorny. Not yet, at least. Now that Luke has set the bar, I don’t intend to sit on another design for as long as I did.

See you next month, if not sooner.

The best comics of the decade, according to Polygon.

Getting a jump on the competition, Polygon published their best-of reviews for the 2010s. While I appreciate the brevity of their comics list (What is it with the 50 or 100 best-of crap? It’s like giving out participation medals instead of declaring winners. It’s no wonder we have an entire generation of young people who have constant anxiety because life doesn’t hand out awards for attendance, and neither should a best-of list. That’s how curation—a word so cherish, beloved, and hugged in this decade—is supposed to work.) I am a little bummed that nothing from Valiant made it in.

Back in Austin, I dipped into the local comic shop to see what was going on in the comics world. I stopped buying physical issues long ago after I learned how expensive it is to move across the country. A few years back, a friendly fellow told me about publisher Valiant and how they were cranking out the best stories at the time. I bought a few books digitally and was delighted by the compactness of the Valiant universe that did not deter the diversity of characters or storylines. It’s a great publisher with fantastic writers and artists who weave tales that are on par with some of the greats at Marvel—and sometimes DC.

Back to Polygon’s picks, it’s a no brainer. Aside from some of their indie selections, these books are the best of the best. If you want the extended list, look for the titles mentioned in the comments.

Steve Austin.

Despite the rough appearance, Airbag is back and better than ever—Six Million Dollar style. It was a bit of slog to get here, but with the help of Jesse from Plasticmind, this old site has been restored, rebuilt, and improved.

From 2006-2019 this site ran on an original Mac mini tucked into a co-location facility in Costa Mesa, California. Running on Movable Type 3.2 (pour one out), it chugged along just fine until earlier this year when the mini just stopped working. A heroic effort was made by Leo at AtlantisNet to save the drive—save the content—but alas, it was too late.

Jesse was already planning on how to clean up years of content and bring it into a new platform. The death of the Mac just made the project more difficult. Thankfully Jesse took on the additional work as a challenge and began the process of scrapping the content from a recent static backup that I did a few months before the site died.

Many moons passed, and punches from the punch list were punched.

Airbag is now living on a combination of Github, Hugo, Netlify, and Forestry. Jesse will provide details in a blog post he’s writing. There is still much work to do, but that’s mostly on my plate. I’ve got a redesign and a rebrand in the works. And a bit of strategy couldn’t hurt. Having the site live now provides the much-needed pressure to get this done sooner than later.

So close and yet so far.

I’m on the other side of a server and site rebuild thanks to a remarkable developer who is helpful, kind, and supportive. They will receive public accolade after the success of this project is ensured. Meanwhile, I am starting to dig into redesigning this site as I’m receiving more and more prompts to write again. Things will get ugly before they look sharp like they did back in 2006.

A handful of book ideas have come my way in the last six months from people whom I respect. Primarily because they are authors themselves and the ideas behind the books are solid. At the same time I’m not eager to jump in because these same folks, and other successful writers I know, have nothing very positive to say about the experience. In fact all I’ve heard about book writing is mostly bitching about how much it sucks. And the level of reward received for the experience isn’t shared across this group. Some make out like a bandit while others don’t see any serious return on their time investment. If you have any inspirational words, I’m all ears.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to keep reading and take notes for future blog posts.

That one time when technical difficulties, user error, and Murphy's Law walk into a bar.

Wouldn’t you know it. I finally get my act together to get Airbag off thirteen-year-old technology and onto a modern, secure platform and the server dies right before the work begins. Literally the day before the engineer I hired finally had a window to start work and the hard drive spins down for the last time. Zero chance of recovery.

There are a few times when I’m such a moron, and this one is it. The kind with a full, five-second-hold facepalm followed with the slow wipe down to the chin. And I use that word deliberately when there is nothing new to learn from the mistakes made because I was already well versed in the consequences if things go wrong. Ugh, so stupid.

Yes, I have a backup of the database. And I had a full site backup from 2017 (which is what I got back up and running). That will have to do for now while we work on a new home for this site. So, if you see something that’s not working right, you’ll know why. I’m making this update by editing the static file for the homepage because trying to get MovableType up and running isn’t worth the effort.

Meanwhile, I hope some of you old site owners out there will learn from my mistakes. This project has been on my radar for a while, but I just let too many other things get in the way. And I almost lost it all.

Adios Muchachos! And Thanks for all of the Sun Downs.

Not in any hurry to tell a story, I typically like to take my time to get to the point, but I think this news warrants the shorter path. Kitchen Storey and I are leaving Tejas and moving to the other side of the Continental Divide to Seattle.

In a few weeks we’ll head for the land of Pearl Jam, the finest of ocean foods, Patrick Dempsey (I know he just retired but I’m going to include him anyway since he’s the reason why we’re Sounders fans), Mac and Jacks African Amber Ale, a body of water called a “sound” with a ferry transit system, and weather that doesn’t melt your face off and incur instant melanoma. Kitchen Storey has pairs of Hunters lined up — My shinny-new yellow North Face is ready to go — looking for rain.

I think every time I’ve been to Seattle in the last twenty-five years I’ve thought, “I need to live here.” Then I would get on a plane, take a photo of Mt. Rainer on climb out, and fly back to wherever home was at the time. Come this November, I won’t be getting on that plane, and any new photos of Rainer are going to be taken from a different, ground-based perspective.

The Toureg is already there. We had it moved a week before Kitchen Storey started her new job as Captain Badass of Tacoma last month. I’ll let her share that news when and if she’s ready, but I want to let the citizens of the Tacoma know you are now a bit safer than they were a month ago — You’re welcome.

Our new home is quite literally on the Sound in Alki Beach. You can expect an instant photo account of water views for the next year, maybe more. For those folks in Austin, think early Rainey Street, on the water, without college students on a daily basis. The local upscale establishment has a selection of options for chilled seafood presentations. It’s one of the first things I checked while auditing the neighborhood. In short, Storeyhouse 6.0 is going to be pretty dope.

Of course there are mixed feelings leaving a place that we’ve called home for seven years. I love Austin. And I love even more the design community that formed here despite the lack of design jobs from the major Bay Area tech companies at the time. From the humble days of moving Happy Cog here in 2011 to working at mass scale at IBM in 2015 to starting up a design program at USAA in 2017, I have met and worked with several hundreds of designers in Austin over the years. I’ve had a hell of a time hanging out at Dribbble meetups and hosting the annual SXSW party. And I personally got a kick watching many early designers evolve into confident, talented, pillars of the local and global design community.

I don’t know if I’ll be in such a unique position again in my career and I’m thankful for opportunities and the results of being in Austin during a truly magical time. Y’all who were there know what I mean — if you weren’t here then you’ll never understand.

Speaking of…to my friends in Austin, there is a silver lining. I am fortunate to be able to continue my work at USAA providing that I return to Texas one week per month. Chances are we’ll have the opportunity to hang out soon, or soon enough.

Looking forward I am genuinely excited to call Seattle home. It has been a long time coming. To my friends and acquaintances in the Pacific Northwest, prepare for Storeystyle.

Kitchen Storey has Left the Airport.

Yesterday morning Kitchen Storey came home from a two week gig in Des Moines, Iowa. American Airlines flight AA1326 to Austin arrived at 9:53AM, and with that, almost eight years of constant travel — life on the “road” — came to a welcome conclusion.

For those who don’t know the last eight out of ten years Kitchen Storey and I have lived mostly apart due to travel requirements for her job. She is a chemical engineer who compiles and facilitates hazard safety reviews for manufacturing and refining process that deal with hazardous chemicals. Name the worst chemicals on the planet and she’s dealt with it at places that make things like dynamite, frozen food, beer, food additives, oil, and natural gas. It’s her job to review processes around the use of these chemicals and try to kill people on paper so that she can work upstream and figure out how to ensure that particular event never happens (in simulation anyway, it’s up to the facility owners and operators to follow the recommendations derived from the facilitation work).

So yeah, Kitchen Storey is a badass.

Her work has brought her to some amazing places. There was the one time she worked in the middle of nowhere China (still had a population in the millions) that required twenty hours of travel by plane and car. After she finished the gig we met in Shanghai and had an amazing week of wandering around and keeping full on soup noodles. For a few years we were able to live in Ko Olina, Hawaii for a month at a time. And there was a year that she spent a few weeks each month in Kenai, Alaska which brought her back to the mountains and allowed her to visit our nieces on more than one layover.

And her work has allowed us to visit areas we would not have normally, but we’re richer for the experience. I will never forget living in Chattanooga, Tennessee for a bit. It was not long after I lost my business and the town provided a nice distraction while I tried to figure things out. It was also great getting to better know some distant friends who lived there. Earlier this year we got to go back home to Southern California and live in Redondo Beach and got a chance to go back and experience Salt Lake City, Utah. As a last hurrah, we spent a delightful weekend in Des Moines. I knew the city had a lot going for it, but we were both pleasantly surprised by the quality of life that exists there.

As for the rest of her travel, the majority of her time away from home…lets just say that it was spent living in some form of a Marriott hotel sandwiched between a Waffle House and an Applebees in places that resemble Gary, Indiana. And she did this for weeks to a month. If time allowed, she would come home for thirty-six to forty-eight hours and then go back to the Armpits of America.

While I will miss the fun places that we’ve been able to stay, I will not miss living apart. Most years we only spent one-third of the year together and it gets old really fast. I have been pleading with her to find a new career, change jobs, do something that gets her off the road and she finally found an opportunity that fits the bill.

For the first time in a while, my wife doesn’t have to pack two weeks worth of luggage on a Saturday night. And we can sleep in on Sunday, not worried about getting everything done before she’s due at the airport around noon. Which also means that I’m not eating dinner alone tomorrow night. Oh man, this is going to take some getting used too. I hope she still likes HBO.

I made an Internet radio program and it’s called Sprints & Milestones.

I’m pleased as punch to share that a friend and I have begun recording the first season of a podcast called Sprints and Milestones.

Brett Harned — one-time co-worker and a long time friend of mine — wrote a book last fall called Project Management for Humans. After reading the first draft, I asked about Brett’s plans to market the book and suggested that he start a podcast to help continue the lift that new books typically get when they launch.

Many, many months later we finally have a program that not only compliments the many messages in the book but should provide useful to anyone who has to manage projects whether it’s a part of their job or a full-time role. We had a lot of fun putting the show together, and we’ve already got a handful of ideas to keep things fun and informative in the future.

We’ve set up a newsletter to keep people informed of new episodes along with updates on interesting news and events in the world of digital project management. Give us your email address; I promise it will be worth it.

Don’t hire the person in front of you, hire the person you’re going to help them become.

The now cliché quote from hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, has been overplayed when it comes to talking about business, products, and services. The point of the quote, “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been,” is not to react to what’s immediately in front of you, but what will be in front of you shortly.

The same strategy should be used in hiring. I’ve used it in the last twenty years, and it rarely fails. I don’t hire the person in front of me, but the person I know that I can help them become. Sometimes this means getting a designer to their next level of craft or into a confident leadership role. And in other cases, it means bringing in someone who has all of the ability and aptitude, but none of the skills.

Two of my best employees ever were persons who did not have any of the skills needed immediately to perform the roles that I needed to be fulfilled. While they were very professional, their resumes were bare of the base qualifications, but there was plenty of evidence that both had the aptitude to jump into new vocations and learn what they needed to become solid performers.

The downside was the immediate initial investment I had to make to provide on-the-job training. The upside was unlocking new skills, thinking, and confidence. The same employees eventually took over my role and not only excelled but went on to amazing careers. After twenty years of hiring, I am proud to say there are many others who had left my employment much better off than when we first met.

These particular cases are a tad extreme, but for me, they were evidence that people who are willing to learn — willing to fight for the role — are always worth the investment.

As leaders and employers our job is to find the right fit, but often the person in front of you is not always the same shape as the role you are trying to fill. That doesn’t mean they aren’t capable, it just means more work for you in the beginning, but the payoff is likely to be huge.

Don’t hire for where people are today, hire for where you will get them tomorrow.

We Could Have Saved Eden But The 1:1 Will Suffice.

People make managing people hard. God said as much in the book of Genesis. I mean people were handed one simple request—don’t eat The Damn Fruit from The Damn Tree—and sure enough they done did the one thing. People are stupid.

What often makes interactions between people difficult is a lack of an ability to listen and empathize combined with an absence of soft skills. I don’t have a scientific study to back this up, but I’ve managed and mentored hundreds of humans to know that 85.6% of people don’t shoot out of the magic world portal with the ability to relate or talk to other people.

This problem is why we have gone through an entire forest after forest after forest printing business books about the need for successful communication between people, how to do it, and why this creates a “win-win.” Eventually, HR got the memo and invented the “1:1,” a bi-weekly event where a manager and the employee are forced to speak for thirty minutes. The intent of these times is for the manager to provide dedicated time for open and honest dialogue regarding the business relationship.

Instead, as far as I can tell from many (a ton) conversations I’ve had with people who suffer from bad, 1:1 conversations, in these situations the manager abuses the time to:

1. Arrive five minutes late
2. Ask for an update about the person’s current project
3. Talk about themselves
4. Check their phone for messages
5. Ask what people are saying about the manager

Sound familiar?

As it turns out, in the “people suck” area, we have one more problem: we’re not great at investing time to train leaders (managers) on developing skills related to listening and empathy.

It’s okay though, if God couldn’t control two people around an apple tree then we can’t exactly be held to a higher standard.

However, that doesn’t mean we have to stand idly by, letting so many bad managers poison the Trust Tree (I wonder, what’s the carbon footprint of time wasted in bad 1:1s? I don’t have a TI-85 otherwise I’d calculate this myself.)

This is exactly why I help my friend Jen Dary build her business, Plucky. She helps managers, new and old, be better at their job by developing proper people skills. So when she came to me with an idea to help people host better 1:1 conversations I didn’t hesitate. I’ve had far too many conversations with designers who’ve suffered from empty interactions with their managers to know there are too many people out there expelling enough useless carbon monoxide to cause massive flooding in Tahiti.

The result of our collaboration is the Plucky 1:1 Starter Pack. A deck of smartly written, wonderfully designed cards that will enable even the most Luddite manager (Hey Ray) to have more productive, meaningful conversations with the people they manage. Based on Jen’s broad experience mentoring studio owners, industry titans, and brand new spanking managers alike, this initial pack of cards covers a wide array of topics that will force those soft skills to any 1:1.

Perhaps if God had these cards in olden times, then today we’d all be buck naked, eating peeled grapes, and riding tigers towards double-rainbows.

Alright, enough of my yuckity-yuck. Go, read Jen’s post about the creation of the 1:1 Starter Pack, and then buy a pack or ten. I don’t make a wooden nickel off sales of this product; I just want to help build better communication between people. Which means less of my time spent consoling victims of bad management.

Twenty Years Apart.

A List Apart turned twenty last week without any fanfare from what I can tell. No parades of accolades from old designers now turned executives, IPO millionaires, goat farmers, and those still doing the Lords’s work in the thick of it all. ALA turned twenty just like it did every other year, it published the next edition.

No matter what your experience is to ALA, we should all take a moment and consider this milestone for a moment. While publications are crashing all around (that pivot to video — pfffft). While journalism is currently in a fight for its existence. We should appreciate that an independent magazine focused on the advancement of a new medium outlived many other publications, digital fads, and horrible startups with budgets “ten-thousand-X” of what ALA has ever had to work with.

We have lost a few great publications of original web content in this time including High Five, Swanky, Dreamless, Feed, Suck, Digital Web Magazine, Hot Wired, k10k, The Fray, Gawker, and The AWL

The longevity of ALA is a testament to what can be done when you have a smart, talented, and humble publisher who puts the interests of the community-at-large over those of his own. Jeffrey Zeldman has — many times — passed on an easy sell-out for the sake of the readers, creating a lasting beacon, a shining resources for aspirational designers to hardened veterans to come together to share experience, knowledge, and opinions on the future of our medium.

Having said that, you can’t get to a publishing milestone of twenty years alone. Our community would not have an accolade like this to celebrate without all of the editors, writers, designers, and developers who gave a lot of their time and expertise to keep the magazine running like clockwork all these years.

Congratulations Jeffrey, nice work my friend! And thank you to Erin, Eric, Fred, Brian, Ethan, Ryan, Jason, Tim, Mike, Kevin, Sara, Jenn, Yesenia, Mica, Aaron, and so many others for your time and hard work publishing every issue all these years. I would not be where I am without A List Apart. It connected me to a community of folks that inspired me in so many ways to get to where I am today.

Here’s to another twenty years of ALA!

PS — Here is, to date, my only contribution to A List Apart. I’m still proud of it because the title cracks me up and I was able to bring something I learned studying advertising to the web.

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.

Now serving those whom serve.

Yesterday I had my photo taken. It’s horrible, but we were in a bit of a hurry to get enough paperwork signed and submitted so that I can attend an all day workshop this Thursday. On the way back to the visitor’s lounge, I squeezed in a quick visit to the logo store to get this sweet new baseball cap with well-stitched logo hotness:

In just a few days I will start the next chapter of my career as an Executive Director of Design at USAA. I’m pretty excited.

Once again I will have designers of many roles and levels, to lead and mentor, full-time. My enthusiasm is not driven by a position on an org-chart, but by the challenge and opportunity to help others become better designers, business persons, and community leaders. And all of it in the service of deserving persons who served their country (and their families), like my father-in-law who served in Vietnam.

USAA was not the only role that I had on the horizon, but after learning more and more about the company and its culture, it wasn’t hard to think the universe was trying to tell me something.

Everyone I spoke to about USAA had nothing but praise for the company: Industry titans, peers, family, and friends — across the board, they all had nothing but incredibly positive remarks. It is rare, for me, to have a conversation about a service provider and for every person to not only recognize the brand but also have a positive comment based on their engagement.

More importantly, the member (user) is the center of everything USAA does. It’s one thing to talk to fellow designers about the importance of user-centered design, but in my experience, it’s another for the leadership to agree. In fact, during the many conversations I had with product and service leadership (read: VPs), they were fervent about the importance of a user-centered focus. How glorious is it to not have to defend the role design plays in creating better experiences for users?

There are challenges ahead and a lot of work to do, but all seemingly within my wheelhouse. It’s just a matter of how well we can execute, and I’m ready to give it all I’ve got.

Thank you to everyone for your positive statements and support, I appreciat’cha.

Goodbye Big Blue.

It is with bittersweet emotion, that I announce I am no longer an International Business Man. I served the company for two years, one month in an array of capacities. The highlights include incubating ten new IBM products and services, producing a short film (to be announced soon), starting a quarterly culture magazine, creating a studio leadership conference, creating a global design news program, starting Design at IBM, and — the best thing of all — leading and mentoring one-hundred designers.

Not too shabby.

My best days at IBM were the ones when I lead teams of designers, researchers, and front-end developers. The worst days were the ones immediately following the end of design bootcamps when my teams disbanded and left for their permanent assignments.

In-between I had the tremendous opportunity to work with designers and studio leaders from all over the world on a daily basis. And the folks in Austin…they are a very special group. It’s only been a few days and already I miss seeing you all—Doctor.

To make this more meaningful to those of you outside of the IBM bubble, here are a few things I learned (sometimes the hard way) in the last two years:

  • If you want to earn an MBA, don’t go to school. Instead, go work for IBM where you will end up with a better education than you will ever receive reading about business. IBM is an exceptional place to observe where the future of business, technology, and design is heading for some of the world’s largest corporations and enterprise-at-large.
  • The old cliché holds true, especially at a company with four hundred thousand employees: Don’t seek permission to start or fix something so long as you delivered to your very best. It is my experience that big business loves spirited entrepreneurial individuals that can connect different parts of the business and deliver quality results — org-charts be dammed. You’ll know when you’re doing the right thing.
  • Being a jack-of-all trades, especially when it comes to knowledge of business, technology, and design practices from multiple industries and business verticals have a lot of value. When you join a large company it’s important to dive deep into the culture, but not to the point that you lose touch with the outside world.
  • Tools and process are less important than connecting people from different parts of the business and solving problems together. It’s still all about finding and working with the right people.
  • It is possible to take a group of talented strangers who know nothing about an industry and turn them into an effective team who produce a mind blowing product. The secret, find the users and involve them in the process. It’s so stupidly simple and yet so many people screw this part up. If you’re not working with your users, you’re working towards unemployment.

Thank you Fahad Osmani, Nigel Prentice, Doug Powell, and Phil Gilbert for making my time at IBM a worthwhile challenge. I learned a lot in the last two years, and that’s mostly due to the trust that you afforded to me from day one. I won’t forget it.

Lastly, I’d like to end this with a friendly apology to all of my former co-workers in Austin and around the world. I don’t like saying goodbye, so I have to admit to slipping out the back door. As I’ve stated in the past, I’ll always be around for every one of you when you need perspective. Don’t hesitate to reach out and let’s keep in touch. Meanwhile, keep writing.

Farewell IBM.

C'est la Vie Austin?

UnderConsideration, the force behind some of the best and longest running digital publications on design, organizers of amazing conferences, and fellow Austin residents have pulled stakes to move to Bloomington, Indiana. That’s right, some incredibly creative, entrepreneurial, smart people just left one of the hottest cities in North America for a small town in Indiana, the type that was recently the subject of parody on television.

Armin Vit (co-founder of UnderConsideration) provided some rationale for this seemingly-crazy relocation.

One of the keys to doing what we do, which is an unconventional and highly unlikely way of earning an income—an income that is sufficient for a few extravagances like an HBO subscription (I know, living large!)—for two adults, two kids, and two dogs, is to have a low cost of living. The cost of living in Austin has increased, our property taxes are off the roof, and the traffic has become pretty insane. Even the Austin airport, which was super chill is now nearing JFK levels at peak hours.

As an Austin resident of six years I find myself nodding in agreement, especially at the last bit about the airport. Austin Bergstrom was one of the most chill airports in the country and now it’s just as stressful as Oakland on a Monday morning—every day. I knew Austin was going to blow up, but I had no idea it would scale so big, so quickly. And it’s still growing like crazy. The city and surrounding area is set to double in size in the next twenty years.

I don’t know that Kitchen Storey and I could move to the middle-middle of the country, but we’re certainly starting to consider that it’s time to move back to the Pacific Time Zone. Airport lines be damned.

You are not your job search.

I have always tried to be an open book so as to help others. I’ve learned that having too much of an ego gets in the way of everything (progress, growth, success, to name a few). So, I try not to whitewash any mistakes or failures that I’ve had to confront. In my experience, honesty is liberating and paves the way to move forward, mature, and grow. However, there is one recent period of my life that I find difficult to process, and I haven’t been as open about it, but I know very clearly what some of you are going through a similar difficulty and so it’s time to open my book a bit more.

The following story is one I haven’t shared openly because it does not have a happy ending. It still stings, but I’m sharing this now because I believe it will help some of those persons I know are out there that need to know they are not their job search (especially those whom I met during the Holiday Office Hours). At the time all of this took place, I would have given anything for someone to share a similar story with me when I needed it the most.

When I arrived at the offices, it was just as I had imagined based on a few photos I’d seen previously. On the way to my first meeting, I bumped into the CEO in the hall way. He was the reason I was there, after having a greatconversation a few weeks prior. The CEO said he wanted to talk and asked that I not leave until we had a chance to chat. I took that as a good sign of things to come.

The interviews lasted six hours without a break for lunch; a thorough string of conversations and exercises around the practice of design and sharing my related experiences. It was clear midway through that none of this day was merely a formality — as sometimes the “on sites” are — and that I was still very much a prospect. We had several types of interactions from conversations about the product, a UX design challenge, and my passion(s) for design.

The CEO never showed up. Instead, the Head of Talent ended the day with a brief review of the day and thanked me for coming in while he escorted me to the exit. A lot of the office had already cleared out, and I remember how quiet it was walking to the door. It was two weeks before Christmas, and I hoped to come home with a bit of a miracle because I was interviewing at a company that I admire greatly. Still, I was leaving without an offer and I did my best not to Charlie Brown out of there.

Thankfully I had dinner plans with a good friend who worked nearby. We met and had drinks while I relayed the events of the day. We both thought the experience at the end was abnormal. I tried not to think too much about it too much when I got a text message from a phone number I did not recognize.

“Are you still here?” followed a few second later with “It’s Ev.”

I affirmed that I was still in the city. He replied with an apology for not being able to see me at the end of the day due to a meeting that ran longer than anticipated. He still wanted to meet, and so we exchanged more messages to figure out logistics as Ev had one more meeting to attend before he could call it a day.

At the appointed time nothing happened. The final text to establish time and place never came. A few hours passed quietly, so I packed for an early flight home the next morning and began reading in bed. At 10:30 pm my phone vibrated with one more question from Ev asking if I was still around. I replied, and we agreed to meet in my hotel’s lobby at 11 pm.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I figured that if an industry mogul is going out of his way to meet with a candidate at 11 pm in their hotel lobby…well, I thought that it was a very good sign of things to come.

We talked for a little more than an hour on the makeup of the current design team and what their needs are, the future of Medium, and Ev’s thoughts about the future of the media industry in general. It was an amazing conversation, and I still feel lucky to have had that experience. Ev closed out the session by saying he wanted me to have one more conversation after everyone got back from vacation in the new year.

As you can imagine, I went home feeling confident and excited about moving back to San Francisco to work in the design group at Medium.

A week after New Years I had that “last conversation” with the person in charge of running the editorial group. We had a pleasant discussion which ended with “I can’t use a guy with your experience, just yet.” He further explained his plans for growing the department, and then I would be a great fit.

We said goodbye, and that was that — I never received a job offer.

At the time I had two other great opportunities lined up at different companies, and those too went ice cold in the new year. I was devastated. As if the loss of my company months before wasn’t enough — not having a single job offer was like being repeatedly hit by a very large and fast moving vehicle, with no one around to help.

I didn’t move much for the rest of January.

My self confidence shattered, it took a lot of energy to get back up and continue searching for “what’s next.” After having several conversations with friends and fellow design leaders I came to understand that while some of my experiences came as a surprise to me, they weren’t that unusual, and it certainly wasn’t personal.

That made my situation a bit easier to process, but not by much. Before leaving Happy Cog, I had held a job since grade school (a two-mile long paper route that I served faithfully every day of the week until I was able to work in retail). Many of my peers told me to use the time to process where I wanted to go next, but I found it hard to be positive, let alone feel that I had any control over my future. My “processing time” started to feel more like a prison sentence.

After six months had gone by without having a single job offer I began to believe that my value to the industry I helped create was absolute zero. As you can imagine, it wasn’t a good time for me, and to be honest, I’m still struggling a bit with that feeling. It took many more conversations, attempts, and failures at finding a job before I landed a unique position at IBM.

Roughly two years have gone by now, and I’ve received more information to help process that time in my career—both, from those whom I interviewed with and from industry acquaintances who have gone through their own challenges in moving on to the next role.

As it turns out, I was well liked at Medium, but I was a different “shape” for the “hole” they were trying to fill. And, given that I hadn’t interviewed in eleven years, I wasn’t at all prepared. Simply put, I didn’t go into that interview (or the others) with a clear vision for what I wanted to do in the company. Which means I wasn’t prepared to sell Greg Storey like I should have been. I delivered a lot of passion for the company — who they are and what they do — it was all there, but I left it up to others to translate that energy into an idea of how I could fit in the company. And you can’t do that anymore, especially if they don’t know you personally.

I was in the right place, but the way wrong time, for me.

Meanwhile, I’ve learned through a handful of stories that other peers — people who helped build the industry and have had very successful careers — are experiencing the same difficulties in their transition. Even with published books, years of public speaking, and leading successful studios or companies, it took each of them roughly a year to find the next role. I have to admit that this news made me feel better (I hope that makes you feel better too).

After comparing transition stories, it would seem that the practice of hiring in our industry has evolved. Companies now have a better idea of how to hire and manage designers. Their data points have changed as have the archetypes of a successful candidates. While cultural fit is still important if your “shape” of experience and skills does not exactly fit the “hole” of the archetype then, no job for you!

After giving all of this more thought, I should have treated my job search like a service design with considerations for all of the possible touch points: email introductions, in-person introductions (sometimes at very loud parties—I’m looking at you private Apple SXSW party at the Concrete Cowboy), applications, the portfolio, resume, cover letters, the recruiter screen call, the two-to-three follow-up phone calls, the one “failure” story, the one “success” story, the on-site visit, the team lunch, the office/studio tour, the goodbyes, and the thank you notes. Applying for a job is no different than a sales effort, and given the increasing competition against digital design’s commoditization, good work and a lot of experience is not enough.

To everyone in digital design working towards “what’s next,” I hope this is helpful. And I hope you can close your own “sale” before too long.

We’re publishing a cultural print magazine at work—you should too.

Producing a print magazine on design culture has been an unexpected perk of working at IBM Studios. Seeing it featured on FPO (For Print Only) is just icing on the cake. Go ahead and re-read that first sentence, I get it.

All Things X features human-centered stories from within and outside of IBM. Each article is produced and designed individually giving each piece it’s own voice and tone, which allows for more personal creativity for both the author and the designer. All of the work is done outside of daily responsibilities, and the volunteer roster of producers, writers, and designers grows with each issue. As you can see, it’s gorgeous, but what you can’t experience is the feel. The magazine has some heft to it like an issue of Drift or The Great Discontent.

The result is an unexpected delightful outcome.

Every time someone from outside the studio is shown the magazine, their jaw drops. Seriously, this happens every time. And while they are scanning through the pages their head shakes in disbelief, as if they are trying to process how such a wonderful print experience could come out of a digital studio. It probably helps that the stories are not those you would expect to come from within IBM.

The vision for the magazine came from two young designers that I work with closely, Adam Lehman and Patrick Lowden. Inspired by the depth and breadth of human-centered culture at IBM Studios, they came up with the idea to create a magazine with a focus on stories about IBM users and the people within the global studios program. They were passionate about the project and dammed if anyone was going to get in their way.

Now, this is the part of the story that I’d like you all to pay attention to. I’ve talked with and mentored enough young designers to know that most of you all have dreams of producing something that we’re unsure, afraid, whatever, to pursue. So, let me give you an idea of how this worked for one of your peers.

Rather than put together some half-baked proposal, Adam and Patrick gathered a small group of volunteers to create a proof of concept. They did everything from scratch and ended up farther than they initially intended with a hefty 175-page publication. Not one to let little problems get in the way of his ambition, Adam threw down his personal credit card to print fifty copies. Weeks later, with their printed prototype in hand they socialized the product, gathered support from senior leadership who helped the guys land a meeting with the general manager of IBM Design, Phil Gilbert. In that meeting, Adam and Patrick made a straight business case for why the magazine should exist, how it supports the human-centered mission of the design program, and what an annual budget would look like.

Upon approval to proceed with production, two mandates were set for the group: Distribution stays within the walls of IBM Studios and the stories stay in print form only, no digital versions allowed (however, we do have a brand new Medium publication called Design at IBM)— to keep the experience unique, and thankfully that is where it has stayed except for this surprise appearance in FPO.

Publishing each issue takes a lot of work, and there are many designers who spend late nights finishing the details, it’s a labor of love of print, journalism, photography, illustration, and publishing and the results show. In fact, the deadline for issue three hits in a few days and already there are a few zombies walking around the studio.

Yellow is the new normal.

Roughly fifteen years to the day, I published the fourth blog post on Airbag. It was a quick reaction to an exciting game Super Bowl between the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots. The Rams mounted a last-minute comeback that was surely going to force the game into overtime, but with one minute and thirty seconds on the clock, Tom Brady drove the team within field goal range, and the Patriots added three points to their scorecard and one the game.

The year was 2002, and everyone was still trying to process 9/11 and the aftermath–we were still processing shock. Due to national security concerns, the NFL season was pushed by a week while the country considered what security precautions were necessary for events like football games were potential future attacks could occur. Thus, the Super Bowl XXXVI was the first NFL game to be played in February.

At the time we were collectively looking over our shoulder for another round, the next wave of attacks, all while trying to get back to routines. Before the Super Bowl, there was special news coverage on security–demonstrations of tactics and a showcase of equipment to be used to thwart any attacks. This was especially true for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. There seemed to be just as many news stories about security as there were stories about athletes and the games themselves. You had to wonder if this was going to be the new normal.

I can’t recall the last time I read or watched a story about event security. And I don’t remember the last time I heard what security color we’re on. It’s yellow or “Elevated Condition.” Thankfully, I had to look it up.

Holiday Office Hours, the Airbag Way.

Dustin Senos, former Head of Design for Medium, and all around good guy came up with a pretty cool idea after a bit of introspection.

As the year comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my career, the future, the past, and the present (2016, you’ve been a doozy.) When thinking about companies I’ve had the chance to work with, and the people I’ve met, I always come back to how thankful I am for those who took me under their wing. The people who took a risk hiring me when I was young and inexperienced, the people who supported me taking on more responsibility later in my career, and the people who took the time just to chat. My career exists because of those people.

Looking back at my early career I too had a handful of supportive mentors during school and at work (I could use one now come to think of it). More recently, I have enjoyed building up and continuing to mentor nearly one-hundred early career designers, developers, and offering managers at IBM Studios around the world.

Inspired by his career reflection, Dustin came up with Holiday Office Hours—a way to give back by arranging eight hours of time in thirty minute blocks over the holiday break to provide consultation for “people who may be in school, getting into the industry, new to design or engineering, or struggling with their first tech job.”

Once I caught what Dustin was up to and why I joined up along with Noah and a growing list of industry professionals.

So, as long as you don’t work for IBM (because you all already know how to find and schedule my time), sign up for a time slot and lets talk*. I’m happy to answer any questions you have and give what advice I might have after being in the industry for twenty-plus years.

I removed the link because all slots have been taken. Given the response I’m going to consider doing this again soon, but after I get through the initial round of sixteen discussions. Follow this account and @brilliantcrank for future

100% Clever, 0% Hired.

“So I have started seeing this in a lot in designer portfolios and resumes recently. A candidate will have a title that says “My Skills”, and below are bar graphs that are in percentages. What do the percentages mean? If you say Photoshop: 85%, does that mean you know 85% of all there is to know about Photoshop? Is this even a good way to represent this? I’m afraid it makes no sense to me.”

When the proceeding question came in to Dear Design Student I jumped on it because it hits on all the Pet Peeve cylinders. Resumés are communication documents that gain nothing from the addition of sparkles, graphs, and your little big data.

“Photoshop: 85%,” this makes 0% sense to me which is to say, none-at-all. And since when in the hell is Photoshop a skill?

In the last 25 years, I have personally reviewed hundreds of applications, resumes, and portfolios. As I recall, the “percentages” started appearing around the time Nicolas Felton started to publish annual reports with visualized data on all facets of his life in 2004. A year or two later young persons, fresh out of school, started trying to make their resumes stand out by visualizing their data, even when it meant making things up.

There are two problems with this. First, trying to communicate something as a percentage of 100 without any context. Second, mistaking tools with skills — likely to fill in for a lack of experience (that’s how it comes across to an employer). For the sake of discussion, let’s take on the first problem and try to apply a percentage of knowledge to something broader: walking.

I don’t know exactly when I started to walk upright, but I’ll take a stab and say that I have 43 years of experience in walking. That’s a lot of time on two feet, but that doesn’t mean I know everything about walking. For instance, I have no experience in speed walking. Walking up hills is an activity I try to avoid. Growing up in Alaska, I spent a lot of time walking in snow, but not all types of snow. I’ve spent time on a treadmill, but not enough that I can coach someone to improve their level of competency. I could go on. So where does that leave me in communicating my experience in walking as a percentage of the total? Nowhere.

This is exactly where you get when trying to enumerate the fractional knowledge of a skill. Even with my decades of experience, don’t take my word for it. As soon as I came across this question, I took this problem to the recruiting team at IBM Design. This group evaluates thousands of applications, resumes, and portfolios each month. I asked what they thought about resumes that tried to convey experience as percentages, and I got gnarled, annoyed, confused, faces. “I hate that,” said one member of the team, “because I have no idea what it means.” Knowing their distaste for resume visualization, I inquired what format they preferred, and they replied with the tried and true triad of “beginner, intermediate, or expert.”

You may think this boring, but percentages are simply not the best way for anyone to report their skill level. Looking for clear guidelines, I headed to good ole Monster, which has processed millions of applications. Here are their guidelines for rating skill levels:

Beginner: A novice understanding of the skill. You have exposure to the skill and understand its basic concepts but lack experience.
Intermediate: Between a beginner and an expert. You have experience with and can carry out the skill but don’t understand its advanced concepts.

_
Expert: A highly developed skill level. You have solid experience and training with the skill and understand advanced concepts. You demonstrate proficiency and superior skill level._

In an era of non-stop data visualization, it’s easy for designers to get caught up in trying to design everything, but it only works in the context of what needs to be communicated and how it needs to be conveyed. Otherwise, you’ll end up being this guy and that’s no bueno.

Let’s move on to listing Photoshop as a skill. Yucky — don’t do it. Stating that you are an expert in Photoshop doesn’t tell me anything about your skill as a designer. It only tells me that you know how the application works, and knowing tools does not make you a designer. Here’s more practical knowledge from Monster:

Job-related and transferable skills are the most desirable to list on your resume.For each skill, indicate your skill level and years of experience.

The people who hire designers want to understand what you know how to do, your level of competency, and how long you’ve been doing it. How well can you select and set type? Can you design for email and for how long? What is your level of competency in editorial design? There are many straightforward ways to promote skill levels, and they are fundamentally more important than reading your knowledge of applications.

Warning: Trying to be clever with “design” will only get in the way of your objectives. Whether applying for a job or delivering client work, apply design only when and where it’s appropriate. When applying for work there are better ways to stand out from the pack like solid typesetting, a well-written cover letter, and demonstrating that you can use design when and where it’s needed. Remember that expressing an idea in words is a vital core design skill. And check your spelling and grammar, because bad writing leads to deleted resumes 100% of the time, every time.

The new MacBook Pro, the one without the “Touchbar,” is pretty great.

As I have done many times in the past, I snatched up a new Apple product on the day of its release. This time it’s the new MacBook Pro — the thirteen-inch model, the one without the second screen above the keyboard. While I think it’s a nifty idea, I prefer my keyboard sans an area that is sure to become a different place to put logos and convenient links to “buy more,” because the laptop screen already does a great job with those things.

Before this model, I have been using the MacBook that is so thin you can almost see through it. I really like the smaller form factor, but found that I really missed having a laptop that didn’t choke on things like trying to load The Verge (Had I known that the publication was going to release a new version that is 25–50% faster to load prior to my purchase I might have thought otherwise, but now it’s out of the box, all the files migrated, and my scent on the keyboard so there’s no going back. And Mr. Marcotte, if you’re reading this then I know you just made a grimacing face. You’re welcome.)

Speaking of the keyboard, as I tweeted earlier, this is by far the best and fastest keyboard I have used to date — Apple or otherwise. It may have helped that I have a lot of hours clocked on the MacBook keyboard (the predecessor to this one), but I feel a lot more spring after each strike which, for me, means I can type faster with fewer mistakes. The keys feel snug and confident which makes a great writing experience.

The screen is nice, and I like that I don’t have to touch it because finger prints on screens spread disease and just look super gross under any light source more powerful than a 60-watt bulb. I’ve never understood why people want to poke and swipe their computer screen so badly. Most people don’t poke and swipe their HDTV and then try to Netflix and chill, because there would be no chill while trying to view a crystal clear image through little bits of DNA. That’s like watching Netflix through a car windshield after a driving a few miles on a turnpike.

Gross.

Anyway, back to this amazing device. It’s small, powerful, and light just as the old white guys on stage promised. The one thing I still have not been able figure out is how to get a handful of jerks to respond to my direct messages on Twitter, but Apple Support seem pretty sure that’s not the product’s fault. Not satisfied with that answer, I tried to argue my point of view with Siri, but “she” is still dumb as a post. Maybe I should have waited for a different model, but somehow I don’t think a “Touchbar” is going to fix that white hot mess.

A better way to make better forms.

Accessibility is important — right up there next the regular intake of oxygen. So when I came across this piece on “Unlabelled search fields” by Mr. Keith, I had to help spread the word.

Adam Silver is writing a book on forms — you may be familiar with his previous book on maintainable CSS. In a recent article (that for some reason isn’t on his blog), he looks at markup patterns for search forms and advocates that we should always use a label. I agree. But for some reason, we keep getting handed designs that show unlabelled search forms. And no, a placeholder is not a label.

Jeremy then goes through several examples of how design teams around the world are working through this problem. I don’t want to spoil the conclusion, but safe-to-say, if you make digital things, you need to read this piece and share it out to your own network.

Trusting Your Way to a Better Design Team.

There is nothing like working with a team that is in total sync. Once you have well-established relationships grounded in trust everyone is more productive, faster about their work, and, in my experience, genuinely happier. Getting to a high level of trust between individuals is key to a successful team — especially between different practice groups (i.e., designers and engineers).

A few days ago I came across an interview in the New York Times with Tobi Lütke, CEO of Shopify, a SAAS e-commerce company that continues to grow quickly. When asked about his companies culture, Tobi replied:

“We’re very honest about everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. We even post them on our internal wiki. Everyone is invited to do it, and they can explain how they like to work and what they value. It takes a year of working together until you sort of understand people. We’ve always been looking for ways to accelerate this.

Another concept we talk a lot about is something called a “trust battery.” It’s charged at 50 percent when people are first hired. And then every time you work with someone at the company, the “trust battery” between the two of you is either charged or discharged, based on things like whether you deliver on what you promise.

Humans already work like this. It’s just that we decided to create a metaphor so that we can talk about this in performance reviews without people feeling like the criticisms are personal.”

As a former studio owner and employer both of these ideas resonated with me:

  1. Growing a team through shared transparency of everyone’s strength and weaknesses.
  2. The concept of using a metaphor to quantify the level of trust between individuals and the leadership.

In my second week on the IBM Studios team, we all took the Gallup Strengths Finder test and reported the results to the group. While that exercise doesn’t specifically call out weaknesses, it was easy for us, as a group to chart out where we have some deficiencies in our abilities to work well together and, frankly, get things done. It’s healthy for each of us to be aware of where we can fast-find trust and where we’re going to possibly put more effort in to help our team as a whole be more productive.

The idea of Tobi’s “Trust Battery” is intriguing because not everyone is equipped to received criticism (constructive or otherwise, depending on the personality you’re dealing with, feedback can be hard to consume). I found more details on how Shopify uses the “Trust Battery” in an interview published by the The Globe And Mail a few years ago:

“When I hire people and work with them closely, I have this weird kind of thing I talk with them about, which I call the ‘trust battery.’ You meet someone, and then you trust them about 50 percent, because you have not a lot to go on. Then you interact with them, and maybe you have positive experiences when you work together and they do something really well, and then it sort of slowly charges; it might go up to 60 percent, 70 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent. Something magical happens at around 80 to 90 percent, where the need for communication actually starts reducing significantly.”

Further, once an employee hits 80 percent, they are able to work autonomously. Shopify employees are aware of that number and what it means to their career at the company.

In closing here are two additional thoughts about trust from the two-part Truth and Consequences episode of the NPR Ted Hour — I encourage you all to listen to both episodes.

The first program is a conversation with orchestra conductor Charles Hazelwood. He talks about the absolute need to build trust between himself and the one hundred or so musicians. In the second episode, they talk to Simon Sinek the author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action and Leaders Eat Last. The had each had a great line that, when put together, respectively, provide absolute clarity on the need for trust in a team.

“Trust is actually the most fundamental gel in every single human relationship, and without no relationship can flourish,” Hazelwood says. “Until we feel that we can rely completely on the person to the left of us or the person to the right of us,” said Sinek, “then we can’t really achieve anything great.”

I can’t say it any better than that.

A moment for us all to rally and answer the call to help someone who has helped us all.

In an effort to draw more attention to a story that some of you may have already heard, I have spent more time than I should have to try to put together words that will drive a response from you. I have failed to write a successful narrative that begins with a meaningful backstory, relatable to you, so that when I come to a conclusion, you, filled with empathy and emotion, feel absolutely compelled to act and share the story within your sphere of influence, but in an attempt to be clever I have wasted too much time.

Lame.

So let me get to the point: Carolyn Wood—someone you have likely never heard of before—a quiet, but important member of our community is in dire need of help from all of us.

If you make things for the digital world (World Wide Web, mobile, etc.) then you owe some part of your career to Carolyn. She has worked mostly behind the scenes, helping the community at large express, present, and distribute ideas, strategies, and tactics on building a better world—a better career path for you and I. This may come across as hyperbole but I assure you it is not. Many of the quintessential books and articles that have steered our industry in the right direction.

If you use the Internet directly through a web browser or possibly indirectly through an iPhone app, you have Carolyn Wood to thank. She has worked to support the community that creates compelling arguments and supportive statements that foster curiosity, innovation, and conversation that lead to many of the delightful experiences that you and I enjoy.

There is a hard working, very smart, important, kind woman who has been there for all of us, albeit in a small, maybe obscure but impactful way and she now needs our help and support. I hope I have held your attention enough that you’ll click through and help Carolyn Wood—please contribute what you are able either financially or through sharing this story to your network. We have to get this done; we can’t fail those who’s hard work helped pave the way for us to enjoy better careers and experiences.

A peak behind the gigantic enterprise design kimono.

Tomorrow I will join a panel to talk about “Designing the Enterprise.” The event is hosted by Funsize and will take place at 6PM in downtown Austin at TechSpace.

Ryan Rumsey, Anette Priest, and I will share our experiences and point of view on how to “navigate the sometimes tricky waters of enterprise organizations. The discussion will center around Culture, Career Path and Professional Development as well as Hiring.”

Funsize has put together an interesting group around an interesting topic and I’m looking forward to sharing what I know–what I feels–and hearing from the experiences of Ryan and Anette. Especially Ryan, because, well, Electronic Arts!

If all goes well the session will be recorded and turned into a future program for Hustle. If you aren’t subscribed to the podcast yet, make it happen now.

Jeffrey Zeldman announces a new startup — 1999 2.0.

True fact, I am the only person on the planet who has been a Happy Cog client, contractor, and captain. As many of you know I merged my business with Happy Cog in 2009 and ran one of three studios for five years. When I went out on my own and started Airbag in 2005, I worked on several projects for Happy Cog as a freelance contractor. And long before any of that nonsense, in 2003, I convinced Jeffrey Zeldman (at the time, the sole proprietor and employee of Happy Cog) to work with me on a redesign project for my employer at the time, The Crystal Cathedral Ministries.

Our project kick-off took place in Jeffrey’s flat that sat atop Murray Hill. We sat in Jeffrey’s living room which featured a gorgeous, white, thick, shag-like carpet. The room was surrounded by a fantastic collection of books, music, and movies (everything classic or destined to be). I took a spot on an amazing orange leather couch and did my best not to lose my shit because I was sitting in Zeldman’s living room, and we were working together on a project.

So you can imagine what it was like for me to get to work with Jeffrey for the next eleven years. Though, to be honest, we didn’t work together nearly enough. If I have one regret from my time with Happy Cog, it is that I wish we could have worked on more projects together as I have always enjoyed my time with Zeldman, especially when we commiserate as designers and writers.

This morning Jeffrey announced his next endeavor, Studio.Zeldman—now open for business! I presume this means he has said goodbye to Happy Cog, the studio he founded seventeen years ago. I don’t think I’m wrong to say that Zeldman is one of a select few pioneers of the digital/interactive/web/device/whatevs industry that is now available for consultation. Anyone who operates a content-based property or business should have Zeldman on retainer.

Meanwhile, I need to convince someone to give me a project and a budget to hire Studio Zeldman and start the cycle over again.

Vive la Happy Cog! Vive la Airbag! Vive la Studio.Zeldman!

Making sense of all the jibba jabba during user research.

Talking to users is paramount to the success of any design project. It’s one of the activities I enjoy a lot because I can talk to users until they suffer from discomfort due to hunger and dehydration. The hard part of research, the part that sometimes puts me into a round room is the work that’s required after having a nice chat — synthesizing the results into meaningful insights.

One of my former Design Campers, Jessica Zhang, now a UX researcher at IBM, recently shared her thoughts on the topic in an essay called “What Should I Do with My Interview Notes?”

You just interviewed a user. You feel excited about all the insights you obtained from him or her. You upload your notes into your online storage with a click. Now what?

In other words, how do you turn lines and lines of words (and snippets of your memory) into an accurate picture of what the user needs, without needing years of formal training? Moreover, how do you strike a balance between doing this collaboratively and getting it done quickly?

Please click that heart shaped icon at the end of the article. Unlike most of my designers, Jessica is one who actually listened when I said that writing is vital to early career success. More importantly, she is one sharp tack so follow her on Medium and look for more productive thoughts as she navigates the world of user research in enterprise software and cognitive intelligence design.

An unexpected, worldwide turn.

My one year anniversary at IBM Design is on the horizon. Ten months in I have successfully co-created a new program that provides systematic incubation capabilities available to every business unit at the company. More importantly, I have, as Monteiro puts it, “designed” sixty designers. Together we created nine new products and services for a wide array of business domains including global procurement services, cognitive Internet of Things, cognitive education, cloud product support, cloud marketing SAAS, and Blockchain—patents pending.

I have learned a lot about myself and where I want to go in my career in the last year. After closing Happy Cog Austin, I was repeatedly asked what I wanted to do, and I didn’t have a good answer at the time. It goes without saying that I wasn’t prepared to go from studio owner one day to unemployed the next.

Now, after a year of working on the Incubator Program, I know without a doubt that I love leading and mentoring designers—especially the ones right out of school. I have had the privilege of working with world-class talent. But after time, I realized that as much as I enjoyed leading with these teams, I grew weary of having to start over after six-week sprints. It takes a lot of effort, energy, and passion to take a team of strangers and turn them into a highly functional product design team within a few weeks. I enjoyed the challenge, but I got tired of saying goodbye.

So I have been on a search for a different type of experience. I thought for sure this meant leaving Austin to join a team on the West coast. Many conversations were had, and multiple opportunities were on the horizon, but something seemingly came out of nowhere that I was not expecting.

A few weeks ago I was invited to join a new team at IBM with a mandate to duplicate the success of the Austin studio around the world (That’s right folks; Storey Style is going international). While I genuinely want to be reunited with the Pacific Time Zone, this is an opportunity I could not pass up. In this new role, I have the pleasure of working directly with design leaders I admire, and some of you know: Nigel Prentice, Sarah Nelson, and Doug Powell, who has a new role of his own.

In my first year at IBM, I proved that I’ve still got it when it comes to leading team’s of designers to fantastic outcomes—at a large scale. My attention will now be focused on building a global community for studio directors and design leaders in every continent except that cold one down South.

West Coast, I will see you soon, but I’ve got a new job to do.

Hired.

One evening, eleven years ago, I got an instant message from Cameron Moll. He asked if he could show me some work he recently completed. After agreeing to keep what I was about to see a secret, he sent over a hyperlink. I clicked the link and got my very first look at Authentic Jobs.

Cameron had a history of posting design jobs to his blog. Those posts became so popular that employers and recruiters started sending him emails asking to have their job listing posted. Seeing an opportunity, Cameron, got to work creating one of the first job boards devoted to our trade.

That evening, he also showed me a new addition to the sidebar of his blog featuring links to the last five job listings. Wanting to help a friend, I asked how I could put that list on my site, Airbag. As I recall, Cameron seemed slightly confused that someone would want to help promote his site, but a few weeks later I got the code and happily added it to my site.

That gesture turned into an opportunity to join the advisory board for Authentic Jobs. I served for ten years, happily peppering Cameron with ideas and thoughts on how to expand market share and revenue. Not every suggestion made it through the Storey Filter, but enough did to make me feel like a worthwhile contributor to the team.

Though I resigned from the advisory board a year ago, I am still a big supporter and fan of Cameron and his team. Last night the guys deployed a brand new Authentic Jobs that has been a long time coming. It’s a big improvement, and the team should feel proud.

With that in mind, a heartfelt congratulations go to Cameron, Adam, and Myles. Nice work boys.

Dealing with an Absent Decision Maker During Times of Review.

A solid question came across the desk at Dear Design Student this week that brought back a few unpleasant memories: “How do you deal with decision makers not being present in the design presentation?”

Dear Lord in Heaven. I’ve been through the absent decision maker situation one too many times to know nothing good comes of it, and I’ve got the scars to prove it. I’ll share a few thoughts based on two decades worth of lessons learned the hard way.

Alright, so here’s what happens when the decision maker is not present for a design review. They will either send someone in their place to take notes so said someone can represent the design later or ask for the Keynote deck that the decision maker will use to provide feedback in a complete vacuum. And nothing good will come from this. The intent of the decision-maker is to do what they can to keep the project moving forward for the sake of forward movement, but the likelihood is that this intention will lead to category five failure (Especially when the assistant is sent to take notes so they can “present” your design work later. When that happens, take a hostage. Take two. Pull the fire alarm on your way out to the car. Drive towards the border, any border. And when the US Marshals ask what in the hell you were thinking, you can say, “You wouldn’t hire a designer to hang drywall, so why in the hell would you send a secretary to present design?”Remember to duck your head as they put you in the back seat.).

If the decision maker cannot attend a design presentation, then do everything in your power to prevent that meeting from happening. Cancel immediately and ask the client/stakeholders to reschedule as soon as possible. Go into hiding if you have to, to avoid the original meeting.

Having said that, we can’t always just up and disappear to force a meeting with decision makers. The sad reality is that if you go dark, the decision maker will follow suit and blame you for it later after the project is on life support. The next step may be uncomfortable to you, but it’s necessary.

Contact the decision maker directly. Do not post a passive aggressive note to Basecamp in an attempt to shame them into rescheduling. Be professional!Put your empathy hat on and start with an email. For example:

Hi Miranda,

I canceled our design presentation once I learned that you are unable to attend. For the project to move forward successfully, I need to present the design direction, get your feedback, and review next steps with you.

I understand you are very busy, and I’m willing and able to meet you when and wherever is more convenient to your schedule. Please reply with a time and place or call me directly so we can schedule a meeting.

Sincerely,

Greg

Approximately one hour after sending the email, take out your phone and use the Phone app to call the decision maker. Leave a voice mail message if they do not answer the call. Repeat this step as often as necessary, but be mindful of the balance between being a nag and a good project partner.

If you still have not found a way to reschedule, then it’s time to consider other options that should only be used as a matter of last resort.

Chase Them Down, Chase Them Down to Chinatown

Offer to meet the client/stakeholder when and wherever so that you can present your work in person and have a meaningful, productive conversation. You may be surprised by how willing and thankful they are for the gesture, and buckle up because you might be in for a surreal experience.

True story: I once met a client in a Multi-User Dungeon (MUD — think text-based World of Warcraft) because he was not able to talk to me on the phone. I don’t recall why, but I think it had to do with his discomfort in having to talk to humans. After I had logged in, my character was transported to a chamber, and thank God for that, because otherwise I would have had to enter directions like “go north, go west, go north, go north, go east…” you get the idea. While we chatted about the design, he responded with in-game emotes (e.g., “Wizard waves hello” or “Wizard nods in approval”). Unorthodox doesn’t even begin to describe that situation, but we had a productive conversation, cleared up a lot of ambiguity, and kept the project on track. Then I logged out, pushed away from the computer, and took a long drive to consider what in the actual fuck just happened.

Years later, I had a project that was about to go thermonuclear. Our client disappeared off the radar, galavanting around the Western United States in full OCD-style trying to save the planet ten eco-projects at a time. Since none of his employees could reign him in, they asked if I would be willing to fly to an area he was currently saving. Two days later I found myself in Reno, Nevada camped out in a late 70’s swanky room at the Golden Nugget Casino (it was nautically themed, overlooked the Interstate, and featured a large, classy painting of a clipper ship fighting against rough seas). Eight hours later, I got the call that his jet landed, and he would meet me at a private board room in thirty minutes. We met, discussed the work, and got the approval we needed. When I got into the cab, the driver asked if I wanted to go to the strip club, mall, or airport because those were the most popular destinations—in that order. Thankfully, I made my flight.

It’s not every day that a client will fly you to a D-class casino where everyone who walks through the door gets one free game of keno. You must be prepared to do what it takes to avoid the white-hot-category-five-mess that is the third party design presentation.

Help the Blind Lead the Blind

First, let’s be honest with each other. Let us have a tender moment. This is going to happen! And it will hurt, but you will survive, and work through the pain just as thousands of designers have done before you. You will not receive a badge of honor, but you might get a good story out of the experience.

So. The decision maker is a no-show and in her place is someone sitting awkwardly, possibly someone you’ve never met before, and he’s there to take detailed notes. This proxy’s job is to guide the decision maker, at a later time and date, through a review of your design work in a vacuum.

Hopefully, you have prepared a script. Having a script with prepared questions will help guide your presentation, shape the agenda, and provide the right context and constraints for a response. This needs to be in the form of a physical document — do not rely on anyone’s note taking ability.Consider even recording a video if you want to control the presentation, but don’t forget the questions: Why you are presenting design, who needs to respond to the work, what type of response you need (spell out your expectations as if you were talking to a five-year-old, leave nothing up to interpretation, and provide rationale as to why you need that type of feedback), and how the decision maker’s response will impact the project.

With this in hand, it’s possible for the decision maker to listen, review, and provide their feedback without any outside interference. Sure, this isn’t as good as presenting to them in person, but it’s sure of a hell a lot better than leaving your good work in the hands of a third party. I was born with a lot of empathy, and I feel for the assistants of the world, but I’ve also been a victim of their incompetence, unwillingness, personal opinions, or worse, politics. Nothing is worse than a third party using your work for political gain. There is a special place in hell for these people filled with paper cuts, 404 pages, and non-stop Nyan Cat, The Cursed Pit Lord of Hell’s Rainbow Room.

Carry On My Wayward Designer

Like sands through the hourglass, so are design presentations without decision makers. In all situations, it’s important to channel empathy for everyone involved. I’ve never had a decision maker bail on a presentation because they thought it was worthless. In fact, that’s why they tried to send someone in their place, in an attempt to try and keep the project going, but not everyone understands how and why this can be a negative against the health of the project. Finding a way to make this work may require a lot of effort, but there’ll be peace when you are done.

Decision makers are likely very busy and overbooked so get creative and offer alternative ways to meet them where it’s convenient. Clients, stakeholders, and decision makers are always (well, mostly) appreciative when you work with their schedule. Then you can go home and, knowing you did what it took to get the job done, lay your weary head to rest.

When all else fails, and your work will be presented without you, do all that you can to prepare for a review without you. If you did things right, then you’re in good shape to prepare a third-party to walk through the design and follow up with the right questions. Always provide the proper context and constraints for the presentation and don’t you cry no more.

A design presentation without a decision maker in attendance sucks, but there are worse hells to suffer on this planet.

Handicapped.

A weird question came across the Dear Design Student desk recently: “What are some things (if any) that designers are incapable of?”

My immediate reaction was, “nothing.” Why would anyone seek to define limitations to someone’s capabilities? I grew up in a community that assumed anyone from fifty miles out was better, smarter, and more successful. That point-of-view sucks and it took me decades to understand that it’s simply not true.

That said, after giving the question more consideration within the context of my experiences as a designer, I uncovered more than a handful of things designers are incapable of doing.

Things Designers Simply Can’t Do, The List

  • Designers are incapable of fixing your disaster in a fraction of the time and of the budget that it took to create the problem in the first place. If you want a miracle call the Pope.
  • Designers are incapable of reading minds. When they present work to you, speak up and provide constructive, useful feedback. Share user and/or sales data that can help inform creative and user experience decisions. In short, be professional and stop playing stupid mind games with your designers.
  • Designers are incapable of delivering their best work for free. Stop asking designers to waste their time and your’s through the creation of misinformed, misguided comps as a way to help you make a hiring decision. Look for results and recommendations—good designers will have both in spades.
  • Designers are incapable of doing their job when they are art directed by someone without any design sensibility. I’m talking to all of the CEOs, Presidents, VPs…anyone who feel they know better. Take your misguided OCD malfunction and direct it towards HR.
  • Designers are incapable of learning if they are not nurtured. Invest in your designers through continuing education opportunities. Start with a modest book budget, time off for related community events, and throw in an annual conference.
  • Designers are incapable of working well with developers and engineers if they can’t collaborate. Throwing work back and forth over a fence never produces great results. So stop doing it. Designers and developers should work side-by-side (that doesn’t have to mean cheek-to-cheek, there are plenty of ways to work collaboratively remotely).
  • Designers are incapable of helping to take your company to the “next level” when they are directed to copy what the competition is doing. And, holy hell, stop asking designers to “just do what Apple does.”
  • Designers are incapable of creating “tomorrow’s future.” I heard that from a client once and it still makes me want to reach through the phone and smack them upside the head. So stupid. Stick to the fundamentals of good design paired with good data, user insights, and creative freedom.
  • Designers are incapable of being happy with their work when they are micro-managed. Just, stop micro managing. It probably kills babies or something.
  • Designers are incapable of coming to work excited, energized, and ready to deliver amazing work when they are merely asked to color in wireframes or make whatever engineering cooked up look “good.”
  • Designers are incapable of growing if they don’t read, write, and share their thoughts with the community. Give your designer time to do these things and require outcomes on a regular basis.
  • Designers are incapable of saving the world with design. We have a lot of problems and challenges on this planet that are not going to be fixed by an iOS app. Sure, design has a role to play in working towards a better future, but we’re not going to do it alone. Sorry FastCompany.

Each of these points was written based upon a lot of career experience earned the hard way over the last twenty-plus years. There are a lot of bad expectations out there regarding the design trade. That said, if you treat designers right, they can be capable of a lot. Give them the proper support, a collaborative environment, the freedom to do their job, and then prepare to be pleasantly surprised.

A comprehensive, well considered list of things designers simply can’t do.

A weird question came across the Dear Design Student desk recently: “What are some things (if any) that designers are incapable of?”

My immediate reaction was, “nothing?!” Why would anyone seek to define limitations to someone’s capabilities? I grew up in a community that assumed anyone from fifty miles out was better, smarter, and more successful. That point-of-view sucks and it took me decades to understand that it’s simply not true.

That said, after giving the question more consideration within the context of my experiences as a designer, I uncovered more than a handful of things designers are incapable of doing.

Things Designers Simply Can’t Do, The List

  • Designers are incapable of fixing your disaster in a fraction of the time and of the budget that it took to create the problem in the first place. If you want a miracle call the Pope.
  • Designers are incapable of reading minds. When they present work to you, speak up and provide constructive, useful feedback. Share user and/or sales data that can help inform creative and user experience decisions. In short, be professional and stop playing stupid mind games with your designers.
  • Designers are incapable of delivering their best work for free. Stop asking designers to waste their time and your’s through the creation of misinformed, misguided comps as a way to help you make a hiring decision. Look for results and recommendations — good designers will have both in spades.
  • Designers are incapable of doing their job when they are art directed by someone without any design sensibility. I’m talking to all of the CEOs, Presidents, VPs…anyone who feel they know better. Take your misguided OCD malfunction and direct it towards HR.
  • Designers are incapable of learning if they are not nurtured. Invest in your designers through continuing education opportunities. Start with a modest book budget, time off for related community events, and throw in an annual conference.
  • Designers are incapable of working well with developers and engineers if they can’t collaborate. Throwing work back and forth over a fence never produces great results. So stop doing it. Designers and developers should work side-by-side (that doesn’t have to mean cheek-to-cheek, there are plenty of ways to work collaboratively remotely).
  • Designers are incapable of helping to take your company to the “next level” when they are directed to copy what the competition is doing.And, holy hell, stop asking designers to “just do what Apple does.”
  • Designers are incapable of creating “tomorrow’s future.” I heard that from a client once and it still makes me want to reach through the phone and smack them upside the head. So stupid. Stick to the fundamentals of good design paired with good data, user insights, and creative freedom.
  • Designers are incapable of being happy with their work when they are micro-managed. Just, stop micro managing. It probably kills babies or something.
  • Designers are incapable of coming to work excited, energized, and ready to deliver amazing work when they are merely asked to color in wireframes or make whatever engineering cooked up look “good.”
  • Designers are incapable of growing if they don’t read, write, and share their thoughts with the community. Give your designer time to do these things and require outcomes on a regular basis.
  • Designers are incapable of saving the world with design. We have a lot of problems and challenges on this planet that are not going to be fixed by an iOS app. Sure, design has a role to play in working towards a better future, but we’re not going to do it alone. Sorry FastCompany.

Each of these points was written based upon a lot of career experience earned the hard way over the last twenty-plus years. There are a lot of bad expectations out there regarding the design trade. That said, if you treat designers right, they can be capable of a lot. Give them the proper support, a collaborative environment, the freedom to do their job, and then prepare to be pleasantly surprised.

Maybe.

In the days after September 11th, I waited for news of terrorist attacks in small towns around the United States. As horrific as the attacks were in New York City and Washington D.C. (including the crashed plane destined for the White House), they took place in two big cities on the East Coast. At the time, I lived in Southern California, three times zones or a six-hour flight away. I felt a certain amount of security being so far away from Ground Zero (except that one time a F/A 18 flew CAP (cover and protect) above Disneyland for about an hour, that was pretty freaky).

I thought for sure a few small towns around the country were going to get hit. Nothing as spectacular killing by jet plane, but maybe a local diner or cafe shot to hell. Keep in mind, assault rifle massacres were not so common as they are now. At the time, I theorized that the best way to really shut down the United States was to hit a handful of really small towns in Middle America. Thankfully, it never happened.

This evening I read the attack in San Bernardino is being investigated federally as terrorism. And now, though I am thousands of miles away in Austin, I don’t feel the same security via distance as I did fourteen years ago. Look, I’m not going to avoid public places, but with all the shit going down this year, nowhere is 100% safe. Nothing is off the table anymore: Elementary schools, university campuses, offices, government buildings, theaters, malls, coffee shops, and now Christmas parties.

@#$%!

Given the current state of our country–our government–I am concerned that our country’s leadership will be more willing turn parts of Syria and Iraq into glass (that is to say, drop a nuclear weapon) than they are to conduct level-headed discourse and take appropriate action about access to weapons in this nation. I don’t see the government willing nor able to come together to work this out.

So, Happy Holidays everyone! Drink and be merry, this will all pass soon or at least never happen in your town—maybe. And may little, Instgramable, birthday boy, baby Jesus bless the United States of AR15s.

Never Write a Contract using Cut-and-Paste.

Writing contracts is not an activity to be taken lightly. Consider your time working with a lawyer as a smart and necessary investment for you and your business. No matter if it’s just you working nights and weekends or if you have employees and contractors (which requires another, different, type of contract), find a good lawyer and invest in your future.

There is way, way too much to risk with writing a contract by yourself without review by a practicing lawyer. I suggest gathering the resources on contracts that you have found and working with a lawyer to create the right document that protects you within your country’s legal system. Laws are different between countries, provinces, states, counties, municipalities, cities, etc.

Look for a lawyer or law firm that has expertise in copyright and intellectual property. Just as I would not hire a designer to hang drywall, I would not pay a dime to a law firm that specializes in real estate law to write a contract for a digital services firm, because they likely do not know enough about that area of law. Don’t discount how important this is because your future may rely on your lawyer’s fundamental understanding of your business and the related legal areas. And once you’ve found a good lawyer, do what you can to create a great, long-standing relationship.

Finally, let’s talk about the cost because this should not be an issue. How many times do we lament about client’s who don’t want to pay for our own services? Whether it’s being asked for no-spec work or reducing rates, how is paying for legal services any different? You get what you pay for whether it’s cheap legal help or trying to get something for nothing. In either case the potential consequences — bad contracts or a bad reputation — aren’t worth it. You’re a designer, be a good member of the community by investing in your future and theirs.

You may never find yourself on the wrong side of a lawsuit (hooray!), but it’s not worth the risk relying on a piecemeal contract that you put together by yourself. Don’t be cheap, find a good lawyer who understands the digital realm and cover your ass. A good Pro-forma contract will take a lawyer a few hours at most, an expense you can easily amortize over a handful of projects. Seek to establish a new business relationship with a good law firm, it’s money and time well-spent.

Stay on Target: No One Forgets a Designer Who Quits.

Another interesting question came across the Dear Design Student desk: “While consulting, have you become so interested in a project, that at a point, you wanted to ignore the client and make it your own thing?”

After reading this question multiple times, I still found two potential meanings. Rather than impose my interpretation, I’ll attempt to answer both variants.

Have I ever become so interested in a side project that I wanted to ignore my client work?

Yes, and in ignoring my client work, I did nothing but ruin my reputation and that of my fellow designers.

It’s my experience, both personally and through observation, that designers sometimes have difficulty with focus. Often, in our pursuit to overthink a solution, we can procrastinate which leads to tinkering and getting sidetracked. These pursuits can to get in the way of the work that pays the bills. Before too long you look at your watch and realize you’re way behind in delivering work to your client, and then your professional relationship begins the downward, toxic spiral.

I’ve seen this scenario play out so many times that I can almost guarantee every consultant will go through this at some point. So, let’s talk about how to deal with it, because these divergent paths can sometimes lead to interesting, productive, and lucrative outcomes. The important thing to consider is how to go after these opportunities and inspirations without destroying your consultancy and your reputation.

The bottom line is that no matter what your financial situation is, if you have signed a contract with a client, you must place your priority on your contractual obligations. Getting distracted has nothing to do with the potential opportunity or your level of excitement/boredom and everything to do with your integrity, honor and respect. For without these qualities, your consultancy is worth zilch.

Everyone should tinker — be curious and explore—but never to the extent that it puts your character and business in jeopardy. Spend X amount of time per week on the work that covers your obligations and Y amount of time to pursue your personal interests.

I have known designers who almost killed their company and their reputation by spending too much time sidetracked on their projects. And I know a few who wrecked an amazing future by obsessing about something other than the work in front of them (both as a freelancer and working in-house). If you’re in the middle of this conundrum now, then drop the personal project and get your client work back on track. Map out a daily or weekly plan for how you make good on your contracts.

Destroying a consultancy or company by dropping the ball over and over again is one thing, but ruining your reputation and integrity…that’s almost impossible to get back.

Have I ever become so enamored with a client’s idea that I wanted to make it my own?

As they say in Minnesota, “Uf-da.”

If you haven’t seen the movie Social Network, don’t, it’s a waste of time. However, the plot, based on real events, is applicable here. The premise is that Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook) was hired as a contractor to build a social network for the client, twin Olympic athletes with a neat idea. Mark took their money and then turned his client’s project into his product. The story goes that Mark’s client project inspired a much more ambitious outcome, so much so that he went off contract and turned it into something beyond the original scope or work. All of this and more resulted in a lot of money exchanged, massive lawsuits, and a lame movie.

While Zuckerberg managed to get his way out of many lawsuits and threats, don’t think you can get away with it. Breaking a contract, especially in these circumstances, can lead to many miles of bad road. Proceed at your own risk and consider that it’s not just money that might be at stake, but your integrity and reputation. Making more money is easy, but repairing a damaged reputation can take a lifetime.

There is an alternative to going rogue: join forces with your client. Combine your ambition and passion with them, not against them.

I know a few people who became so enamored with their client’s ideas that they wanted to dive deeper, go “all-in,” if you will. Instead of ignoring the client, they chose a better path by proposing a way to move forward through a different type of relationship and under different terms. This new relationship, as a partner, not a vendor, provided a mutually beneficial way forward (win, win).

No matter the situation, designers need to fulfill their obligations and be respectful of their client relationships

Side projects are fun and useful, but not to the point of becoming a distraction to your responsibilities. Being a successful contractor requires discipline that won’t ruin your creativity or free-will. For years, I avoided using calendars and to-do lists, because I feared that once I incorporated more discipline, I’d lose the ability to day-dream and tinker, but that’s not the case. That may sound counter-intuitive, but creativity can happen outside of serendipity, it just requires the right preparation and practice.

Responsibility for your client relationships is vital to your growth and success as a designer. It’s not unusual for a client’s project to inspire new ideas and fuel a passion larger than the scope-of-work, but that doesn’t excuse you from your obligations. Ideas aren’t enough to assure success — especially the type that might help you get out of a lawsuit. Be smart and find ways to turn your passion into a win, win.

One last point: No matter the scenario when you join a project — whether as a contractor, member of a studio, or in-house — you need to stay until the work is complete. Jumping ship, before the end of the gig, is one of the worst things you can do for your career. Circumstances be damned; no one forgets a designer who quits, and I can assure you, everyone you leave behind won’t be quiet about it. Always fulfill your obligations.

Whatever you do, don’t be the next wanna-be professional designer who adds another chapter to the book, “We’ve Been Burned by Designers.” That tome is too big as it is.

Cupcake.

“I work at IBM Design here in Austin.” For many people outside the program, that statement doesn’t do much to explain what I do or what IBM Design is and what it’s trying to do. Even after I explain what I do exactly, I still get puzzled looks.

This is understandable. After six months, IBM at large is an enigma to me, but I’m learning. A lot of people I talk to think IBM makes the Thinkpad and that I’m required to wear a suit to work every day. Neither of these things is true and haven’t been for some time.

This morning, the New York Times published a fantastic, well-rounded article on the IBM Design program in Austin. The piece provides a full overview, from humble beginnings to a group that is tasked with helping IBM do what it has done time-and-time again: Evolve. A major theme to the story, and where my own comes into play, is that for IBM to evolve with the times we have to hire designers at an incredible scale.

IBM has hired several hundred designers, about two-thirds of them freshly minted college graduates and a third experienced designers. By the end of this year, IBM plans to have 1,100 designers working throughout the company, on the way to a target total of 1,500. They are embedded in IBM product teams and work alongside customers in the field or at one of 24 design studios around the world.

The recruiting pitch made by Mr. Gilbert and his colleagues has been essentially twofold: First, you can make a difference in socially important fields because IBM’s technology plays a crucial role in health care, energy, transportation, water and even agriculture. Second, you can be part of a groundbreaking effort to apply design thinking in business.

The wonderful part of my job is to work with the new hires in their first three months and lead them through a six-week-long project that has a direct impact on a product or line of business. To date, I have led six teams of six-to-seven designers and front-end developers—forty people total. And that’s just my teams, there are several others.

We have created everything from re-envisioned service designs to prototypes for brand new mobile experiences. The work is real, not theoretical. The teams is tasked with a tremendous amount of research, prototyping, and user testing all the while learning how to interact with IBM executives and presenting their work for discussion and critique.

This is the type of work that would make the average new employee fold, give up, but not these young men and women. Oh, if I could share their portfolios with you! I’ll just say that the recruiting department does an amazing job finding and hiring a lot of very intelligent, smart, and gifted designers to the program. And it is my pleasure to be a part of their first projects at the forefront of their career.

Tomorrow begins the last week of the current cohort. On Thursday, my three teams will present the culmination of their work to executives. It’s nerve racking and exhilarating. Come Friday, “my” designers will move on to their assigned business unit, the 7th floor will go quiet, and I will begin preparing for the next wave of work in early 2016.

Croft.

Last night Kitchen Storey and I came to a difficult decision that I hope will spare our marriage, reduce blood pressure, and result in a much happier life. After careful consideration based upon some bad history, we have decided to stop going to restaurants during their opening week. We are done spending good money on an intended experience that always falls through the floor.

And this is frustrating because we love to try new places and because She Who Flies All The Time is on the road, it’s not often that we get into a place during their debut. It’s also really frustrating because almost all of our bad experiences aren’t the result of the food, but the quality of customer service.

What I don’t understand is how restaurant workers, especially servers and bar tenders, who typically move from restaurant to restaurant seem to fall all over their faces during an opening week. Let me clarify that I don’t take issue with food coming out at weird times. That is expected up to the point of ridiculousness (e.g. food not coming out at all). I get that it takes time for a kitchen to develop its cadence.

Good customer service is not reliant upon having a rhythm. You only need to pay attention and check-in with your customers to communicate, set expectations, and do what you can to avoid a bad experience. This is the basic structure of the relationship between the restaurant server and the patron. And yet somehow this all falls to the floor during the first week—maybe three weeks—of a restaurant opening.

I’m sure everyone is nice and doing what they can, but that’s not good enough when we’re dropping a few hundred dollars on, what we hope to be, an amazing meal. Thus was the case yesterday when we went to Wu Chow, a new Chinese place on West 5th in downtown Austin. It wasn’t the white-hot mess that we experienced at Juliet’s opening weekend back in July, but here again, we left the restaurant wanting for a better experience and making excuses.

I love that Austin is growing and with it an ever-expanding restaurant scene, but I’m done paying for on-the-job training for servers, bar tenders, and the like. I’m happy to be a user tester, but not on my American Express. There is nothing special gained by attending an opening other than bragging about it—which would be cool if I was still in grade school.

Pâté.

This following discussion, “Medium vs. The Self-Hosted Blog,” occurred June 29 between 10:18-10:28 AM in the “ATX Built” Slack. Some dialogue was edited to protect the innocent from bad grammar.

Professor Plum: Has Medium killed the self-hosted blog? Does publishing on Medium make writers appear more “legit” (especially if you’re not web-famous like Adactio or Daring Fireball)? Is there any advantage to hosting your blog on a personal site?

Professor Plum: What if you’re an agency/business? Does anyone worry that their content (or at least URLs) might be gone if Medium calls it quits one day? I like owning my content, but it’s hard to beat the Medium platform for writing and publishing.

Mrs. Peacock: I think it’s a great place for posting essays and thoughts. Just post to your blog first and cross-post to Medium. Too bad Mrs. White isn’t on here, her Medium post has 7000 views today!

Mrs. Scarlett: Just invited Mrs. White, tell her to check her email.

Professor Plum: I was thinking about that approach as well. I do like the idea of having posts on my site so that places that I’m interested in working at can see my work and writing in the same place.

Mrs. Peacock: I also think it’s great for non-web famous people. Your posts look exactly the same as everyone else’s. If you write something worthwhile, people will respond.

Col. Mustard: Medium is awesome for discovery. And you can still “own” your content.

Miss Scarlett: Professor, I am totally a fan of cross-posting b/n your blog and medium. Medium gives you exposure outside your circle, but I like the idea of still “owning” my writing, so to speak, and keeping it on my blog.

Col. Mustard: Lots of people publish both places similar to Linkedin.

Mrs. White: Hello.

Mr. Green: I’ll often post on my site, and then post to Medium. Then link to the Medium post with a “Recommend this article on Medium” type blurb somewhere on my site’s version.

Professor Plum: So I guess the answer is just do both.

Miss Scarlett: Also, from the perspective of someone Googling you, if they go to my site, I want them to stay there and view my writing without making them leave to Medium.

Mr. Green: But Medium has offered me far more reach every single time than my site ever has.

Professor Plum: Nice. They do a good job with the daily read emails.

Mr. Green: Yeah, they do. One of the only of its kind that I actually insist on looking through daily without archiving right away, lol

Mrs. White: I would definitely go for Medium. I am an indie web booster, and all, of course— post it on your own site too— but the readers are on Medium. There are lots of them, and If you get a boost by getting recommended by someone, it can be huge.

Col. Mustard: /gliphy huge

Medium vs. The Self-Hosted Blog.

This following discussion occurred June 29 between 10:18–10:28 AM in the “ATX Built” Slack. Some dialogue was edited to protect the innocent from bad grammar.

Professor Plum: Has Medium killed the self-hosted blog? Does publishing on Medium make writers appear more “legit” (especially if you’re not web-famous like Adactio or Daring Fireball)? Is there any advantage to hosting your blog on a personal site?

Professor Plum: What if you’re an agency/business? Does anyone worry that their content (or at least URLs) might be gone if Medium calls it quits one day? I like owning my content, but it’s hard to beat the Medium platform for writing and publishing.

Mrs. Peacock: I think it’s a great place for posting essays and thoughts. Just post to your blog first and cross-post to Medium. Too bad Mrs. White isn’t on here, her Medium post has 7000 views today!

Mrs. Scarlett: Just invited Mrs. White, tell her to check her email.

Professor Plum: I was thinking about that approach as well. I do like the idea of having posts on my site so that places that I’m interested in working at can see my work and writing in the same place.

Mrs. Peacock: I also think it’s great for non-web famous people. Your posts look exactly the same as everyone else’s. If you write something worthwhile, people will respond.

Col. Mustard: Medium is awesome for discovery. And you can still “own” your content.

Miss Scarlett: Professor, I am totally a fan of cross-posting b/n your blog and medium. Medium gives you exposure outside your circle, but I like the idea of still “owning” my writing, so to speak, and keeping it on my blog.

Col. Mustard: Lots of people publish both places similar to Linkedin.

Mrs. White: Hello.

Mr. Green: I’ll often post on my site, and then post to Medium. Then link to the Medium post with a “Recommend this article on Medium” type blurb somewhere on my site’s version.

Professor Plum: So I guess the answer is just do both.

Miss Scarlett: Also, from the perspective of someone Googling you, if they go to my site, I want them to stay there and view my writing without making them leave to Medium.

Mr. Green: But Medium has offered me far more reach every single time than my site ever has.

Professor Plum: Nice. They do a good job with the daily read emails.

Mr. Green: Yeah, they do. One of the only of its kind that I actually insist on looking through daily without archiving right away, lol

Mrs. White: I would definitely go for Medium. I am an indie web booster, and all, of course — post it on your own site too — but the readers are on Medium. There are lots of them, and If you get a boost by getting recommended by someone, it can be huge.

Col. Mustard: /gliphy huge

Bruce.

The last time I saw Bruce, he was bent over an old truck engine, taking a turn at a rusted lug nut. The garage was as cold as a meat locker, but that didn’t stop the guys. They had a refuge from the dinner party, a mechanical project, country music, and a case of beer. By the time I got out there, half of the beer was gone, and most of the guys had worked up enough sweat to shed their coats.

Bruce cranked on the lug nut hard enough to cause the truck to move. His grip slipped, the wrench fell to the floor with a clang, and he came up with chunks of his knuckles freshly removed. Despite his best attempts, the engine won that night. With blood running down his hand, Bruce grabbed a fresh beer, opened it up, and took a swig while staring down his foe.

He surrendered the battle as he told his son-in-law that he’d have to take the truck into a garage with a lift where they could get to the problematic part directly. The truck hood was closed, and tools put away. We stayed out there a bit longer and talked about life and family in “these parts,” near the border of Kansas and Missouri. Not much longer we had to say our goodbyes and return home.

For most of his life, Bruce drove a truck around the country. In the beginning, he worked for himself with his company name on the side of his rig. Towards the end of his career, his truck was adorned with a familiar big box store logo. I always enjoyed talking to Bruce about his job because talking to him was like taking several road trips. He was a living Rand McNally and knew every Interstate and highway for eight-hundred miles in every direction. Exit numbers were as familiar to him as stars are to an astronomer.

Just a few months ago, within the same week of losing a daughter to a decades-long battle with cancer, Bruce learned that he was inflicted with the same poison. Stage four, inoperable and maybe, but not likely, treatable, he was told that his time was limited—a year, maybe longer.

Unfortunately, Bruce didn’t make it that far. It was one of the few, if not the only trip he did not complete. Sometime in the night Bruce Voigts (father, brother, uncle, grandfather, and great-grandfather) found his last exit and turned the wheel to the right. While I am sad that I will not be able to hear another story about his time on the road, I am glad that Bruce did not suffer for very long.

Blue.

My longer-than-expected, un-intended, un-paid, dumb “sabbatical” is finally at an end. The last nine months have been exhilarating, fun, stressful, depressing, eventful, and then non-eventful. I spent more time talking to cats than any grown man should. I’m glad it’s over.

I traveled more than I thought I would which led to making new friends and reconnecting with a few people I haven’t talked to in years. I also got to spend more time with family than I have in a while. Looking back, things were not as horrible as they felt at the time, and I’m incredibly lucky to have had those opportunities.

Airbag signed two clients in 2015, which means I’ll be able to celebrate the company’s ten-year anniversary (soon and in full-on Storey Style). Boy, talk about your highs-and-lows…I don’t think I’ll bother putting together a Keynote deck for that party. I intend to write more about this, but for now, let’s get to some great news.

Next week I will begin a new chapter in my career.

I have accepted an amazing position at IBM Design in Austin. A few years back IBM initiated a massive design program dedicated to a big, bold vision for the future. Today there are four hundred designers in the program, and hundreds more to come. IBM Design itself is bigger than any place I have worked before, yet it is tiny when you consider there are four hundred and twenty-five thousand employees around the world. As a Design Practice Manager, I will step into a new position on a new team that will work across all of IBM’s business divisions. From what little I know about my role, I’m in for an incredibly crazy ride.

Thank you to everyone who went the extra mile for me in the last nine months, I won’t forget it. To the Austin digital community-at-large, thank you as well for your support and selfish desire to have me stay in Austin. I’m not going anywhere.

Fake.

Recently I caught a few episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. If you haven’t seen it yet, the show is just as the title says, comedians talking about their profession and life while drinking coffee and driving around (in amazing vehicles). Last season ended with a two-part episode featuring Jerry Seinfeld and Jimmy Fallon. While funny throughout, there was this exchange that caught my attention:

  • Seinfeld: I opened my eyes this morning and I thought, I can’t do this, I can’t do a show. Do you ever wake up and think, I can’t get in front of these people?
  • Fallon: Always. Yeah, yeah.
  • Seinfeld: How close to the curtains opening and, you walking out, have you ever said to yourself, I don’t think I can do this.
  • Fallon: Right up until the curtain opens.
  • Seinfeld: But, do you ever just feel like, I don’t belong out there.
  • Fallon: I think once they are open… this is exactly where I should be.
  • Seinfeld: Once you walk out. When the light hits you, yes?
  • Fallon: Yeah.
  • Seinfeld: But sometimes, backstage, I think I don’t know why I even picked this business. I don’t have what these people want to see. They want to see a funny guy, and that’s not me. {: .nobullets}

Given their success and how long they have been in business it seems unfathomable that Jimmy and Jerry have these thoughts, but they’re human, so it makes sense. Anyone who steps forward and takes a risk, at some point, will feel they are in the wrong place—It’s just a matter of time. Continue to take risks and the feelings are bound to return.

I have had these feelings of self-doubt several times in the last twenty years. Moments when I felt I had no business being where I was. Usually around times when I dared to take a leap into the unknown. It’s comforting to know that despite the level of success, everyone suffers through self-doubt from time-to-time.

This is all a good reminder that as long as I keep pushing myself, my job title may change, but the role will remain the same, Imposter.

John.

“Are you a movie star?” he asked without waiting for an answer, “You’re a star, I know it.” That is the greeting I received walking into Burns Tobacconist in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. We arrived at 11AM as the store was preparing for afternoon customers. A clerk tended to some bookkeeping while another restocked inventory. In the back corner stood a large man, next to his shoe shine stand, seemingly eager for conversation.

It was a little early to shop for a cigar, but we were there to get a photograph—everything else that was about to happen was a bonus round.

As we asked for permission to take photos in the store, the man in the back continued to bellow, “You’re a star, I know it! Go on, get your cigar, and come see me.” I was more than happy to oblige. After a quick review of the inventory, I purchased an Oliva Serie V Double Torro. Cut and torched, I took a few good draws and headed straight for the stand.

Sherman put his newspaper down and prepped the stand for service. I climbed, sat down, took a quick puff, and he immediately went to work. While he cleaned the shoes, I tried to tell the man that I was not a star, but it’s not clear that he understood or cared. Though I doubt many people walk into the shop with a photographer in tow, my guess is that he treats everyone with the same positive gusto—a constant salesman.

Through the shine, Sherman gave me his take on life, especially pertaining to the pursuit of dating women. “The first thing women do is look at your shoes—this is what I try to tell these men (motioning around the office buildings surrounding us)—if you don’t take care of your shoes; women ain’t interested.” He continued, “When you go to the church picnic, the first thing they look at is your shoes. And if they like your shoes, next thing they ask is what kind of car you drive. And if they like your car, next they ask what you got in your pocket. And if you say, I have money in my pocket, then they say, okay, I’ll let you take me out for a chicken and steak dinner.”

These tidbits of wisdom were offered several times, in different configurations. It was clear to me that three things mattered the most in Sherman’s world: well-shined shoes, women, and chicken and steak dinners (in that order).

As he preached, Sherman repeated a process which included polishing, buffing with a rag, buffing with a machine, more polishing, drying with heat, and more buffing. He did these things three times. Meanwhile, Chloe took photos from every angle possible, and I enjoyed every bit of the Oliva. This scene went on for twenty minutes. I wasn’t a star when I walked into the shop, but I was starting to feel like one.

Unfortunately, the shoe shine came to an end. Sherman rolled my pant cuffs down and put things away. Chloe packed her camera. My time in the smoky limelight finished. We came into the store to find a final backdrop for a photoshoot, but got a lot more. Unintentionally, my world had grown richer; I made a new acquaintance, and—yegods!—my loafers looked better than new. I was ready for my chicken and steak dinner.

You can see the photo, and read my interview, in the May 2015 issue (the “Money Issue”) of Net magazine.

I’m attending the Society of News Design Annual Conference in DC and I Can’t Hold My Pee.

To say that I’m looking forward to the upcoming conference for the Society for News Design in Washington D.C. is an understatement. I’m so excited that while registering, I opted to join the organization at the same time.

Why?

For starters, the conference schedule if filled with talks on the intersection of typography, editorial design, technology, and the future of journalism. The speaker line-up is chuck-full of several people whose work and careers I admire — It will be like watching my own Voltron come together. And the venue is one of my favorite places on Earth, the Newseum. As this will be my first SND conference, I didn’t want to take a chance that this kind of magic comes together every spring, so I pounced and bought a ticket.

I don’t think I’ve been this excited about attending a conference since SXSW in 2002. And just like in the good old days, I thought I’d channel some of that energy into a post about what I’m looking forward to seeing in Washington.

Now, I’m going to prattle on like a fanboy here so deal with it or go home.

To kick things off we’ve got the Richard Saul Wurman, you know, the author of phenominal books such as Information Architects and Information Anxiety? The guy who started the TED conference. This guy is the original information architect. Admittedly, I’d love this man to be the hip, cool grandparent I never had so my judgement might be clouded here. Richard could show vacation slides from 1988 while eating a pastrami sandwich, and he’d still have my undivided attention. That said, RSW will discuss listening and understanding (the subject of many of his books) as the basis for design.

Quick question, what’s black and white and red all over? Answer: Roger Black’s portfolio! I first learned of Roger through his book on web designpublished in 1996, and I’ve admired his work ever since. The founder of ye olde Interactive Bureau and Font Bureau, and the designer behind many newspapers, magazines, and websites. Roger will speak on “typography as the relationship between elements, instead of layouts.” This guy made a career out of turning typography, rules, and compositions into visual gold — long before things like the Macintosh existed — so you know it’s going to be good.

You may recall the responsive (RWD) re-design of the Boston Globe? It was a big deal back then, and it’s still a big deal now. Dan Zedek, the assistant managing editor for design, will talk about how the site carries on, three years after Ethan and the Filament Group delivered the goods. Early assumption: All lights are still green for go.

In the same vein, Mike Schwartz will join his clients from the Minneapolis Star Tribune to talk about the redesign of the newspaper’s website. The session title, “Digital Redesign: Simple Lessons, Complicated Process,”sounds intriguing. Who doesn’t like to see and hear how a project unfolded? Bam!

Next up, Designing News author, Francesco Franchi. Wait…are you freaking kidding me?! When Francesco’s book arrived at my door, I took it out for drinks and tried to get it pregnant behind the middle school. I don’t think I’ve managed to read it cover-to-cover because I can’t get past drooling over all of the gorgeous pictures of the featured work. Seriously though, Francesco’s essays on the current state and future of news make for a great read. If you haven’t read it yet, make it happen. At SND DC Francesco will talk about his redesign of IL Sole 24 and it’s going to rock.

Where were you on May 15, 2014, when the New York Times Innovation report leaked? I was in my office, and immediately dropped what I was doing, grabbed a copy, and read the whole thing through. Then I printed a copy, read it again while taking notes. It was, and still is, a goldmine of insight and ideas for anyone who designs for content (sorry, stories). Roughly a year later, Ian Adelman, the Times’ Director of Digital, will present on “The Ongoing Redesign of The New York Times Digital Experience.” Side note: In the early days at Airbag Industries, we had the opportunity to work with Ian while he was at the New York Magazine. Since then I have I admired his work and his vacations. This guy is the Steve McQueen of the industry and if there were Tinder for news designers and Ian was on it…I’d swipe right.

There are some typefaces that I could stare at all day long, and one of those is Guardian Egyptian Text. I’d love to start a newspaper just so I had a reason to use it all day long. Alex Breuer, creative director from The Guardian, will talk about “keeping the craft of good editorial design thinking alive in a world of algorithms, acronyms, and complex responsive systems.” Alex spoke with Ethan and Karen on the Responsive Web Design podcast about this subject, and I hope this presentation will be an extension of that discussion. If you’re not familiar with this work, stop reading and go savor the design crack that is The Guardian on iOS.

I would consider giving a body part to work at Vox Media. So, with that in mind, there is no way I’m going to miss “One Year of Vox.com — What We’re Learning.” These guys are at dead center in the intersection of design, technology, journalism, and whatever the hell social is supposed to be. Vox keeps on their toes, and the results are amazing. I know they have put in a lot of effort on their backend tools, and I’m hoping we’ll get to hear a bit about that side of the business as well.

When I first pulled up Nautilus, my jaw dropped. Code and Theory, the studio behind the design of that site, does impressive work, to say the least. Even now, I’ll visit Nautilus just to play with the sliding cover and gawk at the art direction underneath. Code and Theory’s work on Bloomberg Business and LA Times are just as impressive and worth a tour around wherever the site’s navigation will take you. Can’t wait to hear more about their culture and attitude toward design.

“Designing for Your Ears,” a session on the evolution of NPR One. I need not write any further, done and done!

Lastly, then there is Rob King. You may remember Rob King from such interviews as, “All Sports Everything: Inside the studio where ESPN is betting billions on the future of sports.” Based on The Verge article and Rob’s position, I assume his keynote will focus on the roles and functions of reporting of the news in an ever-evolving multi-device/multi-platform world. While I doubt the role of design will come up, I look forward to Rob’s insights and inspiration.

And that’s just the people I know about already. There are a slew of crazy talented folks who I hope to get to know. It’s going to be a busy three days.

The icing on the cake is the venue. Last spring I had the opportunity to tour the Newseum for the first time. The experience brought back so many memories including those of my early career ambitions. In high school, I studied architecture and art, but graphic design had my heart. We had one Macintosh Plus with an external 20MB hard drive and a copy of Aldus Pagemaker. While the hockey players tried to figure out how to make fake IDs with it, I created signs, school newspaper compositions, and “paste-up boards” for the yearbook. My intention was to study graphic design in college and work at the Anchorage Daily News. I took a bit of a different turn and ended up studying advertising with a bit of journalism.

Touring the Newseum last year reminded me not only of my earlier ambition, but of the type of design that fuels my passion. It also helped to explain why I continue to buy so many magazines and newspapers simply to gawk at the typography, art direction, and compositions. I can’t stop, won’t stop. And it’s because of this passion that I decided to give SND membership a try. I have no idea what to expect, but if they continue to put on such a great events at amazing venues, then I want to be a part of it.

In addition to all of this badassery, across the street from the Newseum is the Capital Grill. That’s right, there is a steakhouse 100 ft., door-to-door, from the event venue. For those who know me, you might think divine intervintion is in play here. Last time I was at this Capital Grill, a grizzled old man came in with his copy of the Washington Post, sat next to me at the bar, and ordered two 18 year Irish whiskeys for lunch.

I can’t wait to see him again.

Volleyball.

I’m often asked how I’m doing. I do my best to put on a good face, but the truth is that some days my mental state is all over the place. The hardest part of this transition is the solitude. She Who Saves the Planet from Exploding Refineries is traveling more than she’s supposed to which means that more days than not the only words I hear are my own. And that’s only when I start talking to the cats.

Last fall I went from years of office chatter, Slack channels (previously Campfire) full of banter and animated GIFs, lunch dates, Skype meetings, phone calls, and the occasional happy hour to a twice daily scrum with cats. On an average day, my inbox received anywhere from 150-200 messages. Now, it’s quiet. God help you if we talk by phone or Skype. I’ll talk your ear off like an AARP member who calls QVC to chat about air purification systems, because the kids have stopped visiting, and Matlock isn’t on for another hour.

If I’ve learned anything about myself in the last couple of months, it’s that I would make a horrible cast away. At least I’ve got cats.

Grandma Storey once asked me what I thought hell was. Her question was pretty deep for a twelve-year-old. I hadn’t given it much thought beyond the fire and lava pits depicted in Sunday school. In response, she told me that her idea of hell was to be “truly alone.” Now that I think about it, she may have been reflecting on her situation at the time. Earlier in the year she had lost her husband leaving only his grandfather clock to fill the house with sound–not nearly enough to replace his booming personality. That said, I thought my version of hell, with the fire and the lava, was much more frightening.

Back to the present time, honestly, I’m in a good place. I am grateful to have the opportunity to take time to figure out exactly what I want to do next and with whom. Each week brings new ideas, introductions, and potential. It has been great to talk to so many people about possibilities, conversations that otherwise would likely have not taken place.

I look forward to being a part of a team again, having a Slack account, Inbox 200, non-QVC phone calls, meetings, reviews, and happy hours—though sooner than later. If this “solace” continues much longer, I might have to get a fern and that, Grandma, would be hell to me.

Omkara.

News of GigaOm’s demise hits hard this evening.

In the search for words in response of my own, I came across Wren’s, and she puts it so well, “The web I fell in love with is disappearing into Nothingness. No doubt we get the web that we deserve. Now get off my damn lawn.” It’s true. Slowly but surely it feels like everything we built from 2000-2010 is fading fast or already gone forever.

Back in 2005, the boys at 9rules were on fire, creating some of the hottest properties on the Internet at the time. They were one of the first groups to recognize the blog format’s commercial potential. Amidst the group, Mike Rundle, helped to elevate the experience of a blog through his design. Mike’s work attracted a lot of attention because of the influence 9rules had on content site design at the time.

Mike’s work on the redesign of GigaOm had an impact on all digital design in the day. The site became a destination for what was considered “great design” and was referenced often by Airbag clients back then. PaidContent, in particular, wanted/needed an experience that was on par with Rundle’s work on GigaOm, a direct competitor. It was a tough gig to follow because Mike’s minimalist work on GigaOm left little room to differentiate visually, and I was damned if I was going to deliver a carbon copy of someone else’s work. Especially that of a good friend.

I was never a big GigaOm reader, but it was always a cornerstone of the Internet that I knew and love. And now, like a handful of other pieces from another era, it is gone. I’m all for the “new” taking over the “old,” but, tonight this news…well, this just sucks.

Thank you Om, Mike, Mathew, and the rest of the 9rules crew for your work. You all helped make my Internet better, more interesting place.

The Future of the Web Design Agency in the United States.

Last week I joined my friend and peer Anthony Armendariz on his studio’s podcast called,_ “Hustle.”_ For months we wanted to record a session on the future of the design agency. Wouldn’t you know it, the day we scheduled to talk, the partners of Teehan + Lax announced they closed their studio to work for Facebook. Still reeling in shock, we hit the record button. This article is a follow-up to episode Number 13.

“Web Design” Still Makes It Rain

There have been plenty of articles posted about the future of the design agency amid a very difficult and confusing 18 months in client services. 2014 was the roughest year I’ve seen in the last ten and I know I’m not alone. Last year I had the opportunity to co-host three Owner Camp retreats — a forum for studio owners to commiserate and exchange ideas. Most of the attendees and fellow owners reported big drops in leads, very slow sales cycles, and falling budgets.

Despite the seemingly apocalyptic downturn that was last year, there is data to suggest that there is positive news about the future of the design agency.

In August 2013, IBISWorld published a report on the online design industry. The report, titled, “Web Design Services in the US,” was to me the first of its kind in a long while. As far as I am aware, not even the Industry Standard, the industry oracle of the time, generated a report that focused solely on client services related to the web.

Before moving on, let me add a disclaimer: It’s not clear how the report’s author gathered his data in order to reach the conclusions found in the report. Nonetheless, this is the first time I’ve seen any data related to our industry and, if anything, this should provide conversation fodder for your next industry mixer.

IBISWorld reports that the “web design” industry in the United States is projected to generate $21bn in revenue in 2015 (Yes, you read that right). Revenue is expected to climb at an annual rate of around 4% between 2014 and 2019. Before going further, it needs to be noted the the IBIS label for the report is a bit off. “Web design” also includes services for SEO, e-commerce, site development, and something labeled “other services.” All services that most studios provide in one configuration or another. The report does not include a segmentation for native mobile OS apps. Design, as a service type, accounted for roughly 25% of services provided, or roughly $5 billion in revenue last year.

No matter how you dice up the numbers, that’s a lot of Adobe subscriptions and opportunity.

Winter is Coming

On their website IBISWorld claims that there are “no companies with a dominant market share,” yet Sapient, for example — a well known player in the digital space — posted $1.305bn revenue in 2013. It’s not clear how the report’s author arrived at that conclusion. That said, there are approximately 125,000 “web design” related businesses in the United States with more than 222,000 employees. An overwhelming majority of “web design” businesses employ less than 10 people.

The number of “web design” companies is expected to grow at an average rate of 6% between 2014 and 2018. The number of companies is expected to grow at a faster pace than revenue than in the previous ten years. From 2004 to 2014 revenue grew at an average rate of 2% higher than the rate of businesses. And you can expect competition from foreign markets to increase in the near future.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone. Part of what makes our industry so attractive and potentially lucrative is the relatively low barrier to entry versus other business types. As more web design businesses spring up (in addition to those whom specialize in native apps) specialization and differentiation will be a key factor to longevity.

So, what can we conclude from this data? It’s clear that the design agency, client services, (whatever you want to call it), is far from dead or dying, but it is evolving quickly.

Do Great Work, Repeat

Back in 1999 I had to convince a board room full of television minded executives that the Internet was not a fad. It wasn’t until AOL bought Time Warner a year later that they finally listened in sullen disbelief. In 2008 I had to walk a procurement officer through a proposal to design and develop a website. The document may as well have been written in Cyrillic because that’s about how little the person understood our vocation.

Ten years later our world is very different. Clients are reading our books, going to our conferences, and listening to our podcasts. This is a fantastic development, but there are ramifications on how studios conduct business. The client is getting smarter and therefore so are their expectations.

As part of their Interactive Design Agency Overview 2014, Forrester Research published a short set of recommendations for persons who hire creative services. In short they recommend:

  • Conduct annual reviews of the digital agency for their industry insights, the agency road map, and evaluate the evolution of their capabilities and processes.
  • Take agencies out for a “test drive” with a small project, before considering them to pitch larger projects.
  • Look for a cultural fit just as closely as they do for capabilities to help reduce failures during the relationship.

If you can land a big gig and the culture is a perfect fit, good for you, but be prepared to have to work for the next milestone or two-week sprint.

Be Excellent To Each Other

Forrester’s report also hinted that a studio’s future success will hinge on their ability to work well with others. I wouldn’t be surprised if this thought landed in their set of recommendations next year.

Do you remember the white-hot mess that was a brand new Target.com in 2011? Or how about the public fiasco and Teamwork posterchild known as Healthcare.gov? Yeah, that was amazing. As more and more businesses spring up and the need for differentiation drives specialization, expect to be asked to partner with another agency. As history has shown, a successful partnership does not come easily and requires practice. Militaries around the world get together to conduct exercises so that they can find out where the problems are before their services are needed for real. Client service businesses should look for opportunities to buddy up and tackle a problem or a project together.

Work with your peers. Rehearse working together. Create situations that require communications between your teams and mash your cultures together. This can be something as simple as going to an event together, inviting them to your team’s Slack, or take a Friday afternoon to tackle a design exercise. Doing so will help you to discover areas within your own practice that might need improvement. Assess where the there are problems and build upon the experience.

Run, Lola, Run

At the aforementioned Owner Camp retreats, I learned that a growing number of design shops are selling their services in blocks of time: anywhere from 20 hours to two weeks. This idea isn’t new, design studio 31Three has been doing this for more than ten years, but the practice is becoming more and more commonplace. Call it what you want but the “sprint” is a form of retainer or subscription. The difference is now, the marketplace seems to prefer this type of transaction. It’s more compatible with in-house technology teams, easier to buy, and makes it possible to conduct a trial run before committing to a longer engagement.

Pay Attention to the Marketplace

According to a survey published by E-Consultancy in 2014, the buyers of “web design” services are primarily focused on the customer experience. Both B2B and B2C companies continue to search for ways to “offer a distinct and original voice.” The same companies were asked to rank their digital spend priorities for the year. The top five were (in order):

  1. Content marketing
  2. Social engagement
  3. Mobile optimization
  4. Personalization
  5. Conversion

No type of “design” was called out specifically, but it’s safe to assume that some amount of creative work is required to execute these priorities to a successful outcome- especially mobile optimization, which relates to the client’s question of “whether they should go down the ‘responsive’ route or not.” When faced with market priorities like this, stop selling “responsive design” and start selling “engagement design,” or “conversion design.” And find partners who can augment the skill sets necessary to provide what clients want.

Market demands are always evolving, but sometimes in title alone. Unfortunately our industry has a social popularity driven desire to come up with new names for the old things. I’m not an advocate for chasing the new, but if clients are looking for UX and you’re insistent upon selling IA, then be prepared to lose opportunities.

We’re Not Dead Yet

The world still needs people to design things powered by HTML and CSS. It still needs web designers, and a lot of them. The design agency is far from dead and it will live long.

However, more and more professionals are joining the industry at faster pace than we’ve seen before. The increase in businesses will likely increase volatility and profit margins will decrease, but there is still a nice living to be had as data from the IBISWorld report indicates.

Clients may not always seek design services specifically, but what they are looking for still requires good design to succeed. Businesses don’t have to continually re-invent themselves, but, perhaps change the semantics of what they offer. Competitive businesses will also seek partnerships with other studios. Not only to help augment their skill sets but potentially make the studio more attractive to the marketplace.

As we contemplate the future of our industry it’s important to consider that it is still very much in it’s infancy. We only need to look at other industries to see that consultants and client service providers are a fixture in every vertical. Businesses will come and go, but even when the mighty have fallen don’t think for one minute that the game is over. It’s the perfect opportunity to pounce.

Vaughn.

A few weeks ago my niece completely lost it. If there was a Richter scale for child meltdowns I would put it somewhere around 8.4. She was screaming at concert grade decibel levels and there were a few times when no sounds came out at all, but you could hear it all the same. Although she’s not old enough to form sentences, she was very aware that in a short while she’d have to head home. With the van all packed her mother asked her to say goodbye. She replied with a quick and defiant, “No!”

Nobody could blame her, we didn’t want to say goodbye either. Our family had just enjoyed a glorious, long weekend together for the first time in many years. It was a moment that none of us wanted to end.

When you’re a part of something great, it’s the last thing that you want to ever have to do, but often circumstances, whatever they may be, necessitate saying goodbye.

In the last ten years, I have been a part of something great, really great. In the early days it was called Airbag which later merged with Happy Cog. It started eleven years ago at a lunch with Jeffrey Zeldman. During a meal of Thai food, Jeffrey strongly encouraged me to leave my job and start freelancing. Eventually I did, and turned a one man operation into a ten person company. Later, I met Greg Hoy, who had partnered with Jeffrey. He had established his own office and turned Happy Cog on its head with impressive success. Later, Greg and I decided to stop competing against each other and turned our friendship into family.

I’ll never forget that Friday night during 2008 SXSW Interactive when Greg and I went over to the Cedar Door after dinner. We purposefully went to a corner of downtown Austin that was opposite to all of the big parties. The large back patio was empty and easy to claim as our own for the night. Hoy launched some newly minted Twitter app and posted our location. Moments later our friends and “family” started appearing, seemingly out of the wood-work. It didn’t take too long for the fifty or so seats to be completely packed and remain that way into the early morning hours.

From that night forward, The Greg’s were formed and we have had amazing times ever since. In addition to his business acumen and entrepreneurial knack, Hoy has a spirit for travel and traveling well. No matter where we had to go for business, Greg made sure that we were staying, eating, and imbibing at smart, swanky, and eclectic places—sometimes all three. It also helped that we both enjoy dead grapes and dead cow, especially when one is paired with the other. When Airbag merged with Happy Cog, I didn’t end up with just a business partner, I gained a friend, a mentor, and a brother.

As much as Greg and the rest of Happy Cog made it a joy to come into work every day, the services business has been grinding away at me. I have found myself more and more distracted by the realities that come with the peaks and valleys of the services business model. And this stupid year certainly did nothing to help relax that anxiety. More importantly, I miss being able to stick with a project or a property to see things through. The relationship between the service provider and the client feels more and more surrogate than nurturing in nature.

Several weeks ago, Greg and I were faced with making difficult, but necessary changes to the company. We ran through several scenarios and all the while, the voice inside my head and my heart screamed, “No!” I knew there was a better option, but I did not want to say it (hell, I don’t even like writing about it now). At a quiet point during the discussion, shaking and crying on the inside, I stepped forward, suggested a different future, and said goodbye to my family.

Sitting across from Zeldman on that fateful winter afternoon in 2003, I would have never imagined the future that was before me. I have had so many wonderful experiences. If not for Jeffrey I might still be stuck at that dead end job, but instead he opened a door with a lot of opportunity. Greg came along and kicked that door wide open in a way that set the bar very high. We have had an extraordinary ride and that is going to be difficult to replace, if that’s even possible.

I am sincerely grateful to the people I had the opportunity to work with at Airbag and Happy Cog. I’m thankful to my clients without whom, I would never be in a position to write this post. Thank you to my family who were there to give me the push I both wanted and needed in the beginning and the support at the end.

The great thing about saying goodbye to family is that often it’s relatively short lived. Soon I’ll get to visit with my niece again. We’ll pick back up where we left off, reading about mermaids and playing with blocks. Though it’s only been a few weeks, I already miss Greg and my Happy Cog family dearly. I look forward to the time when we’ll see each other again, pick up where we left off, and have many laughs.

Ruxpin.

Children are now learning how to code interactive content before they are able to read.

Researchers in Massachusetts have created a basic computer coding app that they say is the first designed specifically for children as young as 5. Kids who haven’t yet learned to read can use the app to craft their own interactive stories and games.

Coding before reading. Yep, you just read that.

With ScratchJr, children can snap together graphical programming blocks to make characters and other elements in their project move, jump, talk and change size. Users can modify various elements in the paint editor, add their own voices and sounds, and even insert their own photos.

What the?! In my day you didn’t learn how to “code” until the 5th grade. And by coding, I mean we were taught how to create a 40×40 pixel graphic image using Apple Basic. There was no animation, photos, or story telling. The closet we got to “interactive storytelling” was this crap, and it required knowing a lot about PEEKs, POKEs, and GOSUBs. Which you didn’t learn until you where in the 6th grade.

Okay, so kids aren’t walking away from 30 minutes of using ScratchJr with the ability to knock out HTML or Objective C or Swift. After looking through the website this app looks like the cross between a coloring book and Flash 1.0. But, hang on, don’t get me wrong, this is amazing. And I can’t wait to watch my nieces (side note: yep, that’s right, the #storeystyle line ends when I’m gone, get it while it lasts folks) tear this up.

For a while now I’ve had this assumption that soon, people will knock out websites using nothing but a tablet. And, oh look, it just so happens that that makes this possible. Well timed Cabel, well timed.

So now we live in a world where children, unable to read, are able to create robust content for the web. And people a bit older than 5 are able to interact–edit/add files–with web servers using nothing more than a tablet. If you are in the business of making websites, you need to pay attention to these developments because they are going to very likely going to have an impact on your career path.

People, we are living in science fiction times right now. Next year, it will all start to feel like a family sitcom.

Salon.

Recently, two friends have lamented what Twitter has turned into, for very similar reasons. For Jason, “it takes away so much more than it gives. Like the conversations are often more impersonal and inflammatory than they used to be. Like the experience is more toxic than nourishing.” Erin’s experience was, perhaps, not as toxic:

There was a time when blogs and their related discussions were engaging, sometimes enraging, but otherwise fun and interesting to take part in. These exchanges of ideas, thoughts, and their related discussions helped to create the foundation of today’s web design and development community. Twitter helped to extended and then eventually replaced the platform for discussion within the community. And our discussions and connectedness has never been the as it once was.

As the World Wide Web gets wider, the quality of interaction tanks. While I am glad that more and more people have access to this digital world, the continual addition people and applications has not helped improve the quality of discourse.

Nothing I am saying is new. I’m allowing myself to reminisce and be a bit curmudgeon about what we once had, knowing that we’ll never get it back.

I don’t think I’m alone with my thoughts. Carole Guevin (aka Netdiver) is doing her damnedest to spark a fire on Ello right now. While Ello itself is under debate, you have to admire the time and energy that Carole is devoting to get the community back in action.

Should Ello fizzle, then I’d love to help find/create the next inspiring and supportive place for our community to exchange thoughts and ideas. If you have any ideas, leave a comment on Ello.

We Are Losing the History of Web Design.

We need a web design museum.

We need to start collecting and gathering artifacts (physical and digital), stories, documents, whatever we can get our hands on, to preserve the history of web design. From the launch of the World Wide Web to Netscape 1.1 to the adoption of web standards which enabled Web 2.0, Responsive Web Design and the multi-device world that we live in today.

For too long we have relied upon a service that “archives” other websites but it’s not enough. The archives are tragically incomplete and lack the means to provide the full experience of what used to be. Archive.org does not adequately preserve enough information to serve as a lasting account of the our work. We can not rely on large, multi-billion dollar companies to do this for us. Nor can we depend upon individuals to properly archive PSDs, HTML, their work, which helped to change the world.

We have already lost too much. There are so many wonderful sites from 1994-2004 that have disappeared. All that is left are domains that have been turned into Go-Daddy-SEO-Landing-Page-clutter because the old site had a Google Page Rank higher than the pulse of a nursing home. I hate to think about how many amazing pre-Web 2.0 sites that are gone for good because a service shut down, ad revenue dwindled, or there was a lack of time or interest or both.

Somewhere in Christopher Schmitt’s home is a Zip disk with a complete backup of High Five, one of the first sites dedicated to the review and critique of web design. I know he’s looked up and down for that disk but it might be gone forever and with it, an important piece of our professions’ history and heritage.

The work Studio Archetype did on the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics website has to be my favorite of all time. I have no idea who designed it, who developed it, all I have are a series of screenshots.

We need a museum! An institution that can help preserve first-hand accounts of how things were done, what went down in the past. The working files, important emails, formative essays, and forgotten blog posts. We need to preserve the story of how web design began and how it has evolved to today.

In 1996 I purchased my first web design book, _Designing Web Graphics _by Lynda Weinman. Since then, I have amassed a small library of web design books. Looking through the collection you can see how web design changed with larger screen resolutions, new versions of HTML, and eventually different devices.

While I love to look through that collection, it only provides glimpses of the design, not a complete representation of the experience. We shouldn’t settle for this and certainly not for anything less.

And They All Look Just the Same.

I borrowed the title from Malvina Reynolds’ song, “Little Boxes.”No doubt, many of you have heard the lyrics, though sung by a different artist than the original songwriter. Malvina wrote the song to protest the mass conformity of home development taking place in a suburb of San Francisco in the early 1960s. If you have ever driven through the area, you can still see all the ticky-tacky, little boxes dotting the hillsides and throughout the area. Though Daly City provided the inspiration for the song, Suburbs of Sameness are prevalent throughout the country.

Today, ticky-tacky seems to have crept into another area of our society: the World Wide Web. Big advances in technology built upon shared standards have allowed web designers to create incredible websites that would have been seen as science fiction 20 years ago. It is amazing what the combination of HTML, CSS, and Javascript can do today.

Before his current gig as CEO for Basecamp, Jason Fried was a talented web designer (still is); his client services company 37signals was a smashing success, because of his insightfulness and business acumen. Needless to say, I have high regard for Jason’s opinion and insight into web design.

He recently wrote about redesigning his company’s websiteand what he’s seeing as a trend that’s not for the better. And not just for designers, but businesses too:

When I look at what’s hot in Web design these days, I’m turned off. It’s all a bit too slick, a little over designed. I’m sick of slick.

Most of these designs can be described like this: First, you see a huge photo with some text over it. Then, as you scroll down, the background slides away and another big photo with more text on it pops up. And so on…. Maybe you’ve seen this style—it’s starting to crop up everywhere. To a designer’s eye, it looks good, and it’s technically impressive, but I’m not sure it says anything meaningful about the companies using it. Worse (for those companies), it’s created a new kind of clutter: Too many companies look the same—all style and not enough substance.

Let me reiterate that Jason’s business savvy is keen. Business owners, marketing managers, creative directors, and designers should all consider this statement regarding their own digital properties or the ones they are in care of:

“Too many companies look the same—all style and not enough substance.”

As our toolset continues to evolve and our technology enables more and more Flash-like experiences, we need to define the best, most straightforward way to reach our customers and our users. Do they want/need long, scrolling narrative with fly-ins, carousels, and quiet video gifs, or are they just looking for the soup of the day? Dan Cederholm made a really good point about this a year ago:

This is my favorite website. I visit it almost every day. It’s not responsive. It’s not optimized for iPhone. It looks blurry on a Retina display. It doesn’t use the latest HTML5/CSS3 framework. It doesn’t have a thoughtful vertical rhythm. The fonts are nothing special. It is neither skeuomorphic nor flat. It doesn’t have its own favicon. It doesn’t have a native app or Twitter or Instagram. It doesn’t use AJAX or SCRUM or node.js or Sinatra. It doesn’t have an API or an RSS feed or VC funding. It hasn’t been featured on a prominent tech blog or won an award.

It tells me the soups of the day. That’s web design.”

Dan’s post reminds me of the website for Berkshire Hathaway, one of the most successful capital management and investment companies in the world. It is also the owner of one of the most outdated-looking sites on the web today.

If it wanted to, Berkshire Hathaway could hire or buy any design studio of its choosing to work on nothing but its website fulltime, in perpetuity. It could have done this at any time since 1996 (when its site first appeared), but it doesn’t, because the company is notoriously frugal—and to act otherwise would be out of step for both the business and its customers. Its site, by design, is all substance and little, if any, style. And for that reason, it’s wonderful.

I would love, love, love if Happy Cog (my design studio) had the opportunity to work with Berkshire Hathaway. We could do a lot to make the site more compatible with all devices, ensure that it meets accessibility requirements, and help update its appearance and usability through better typography (Holy Toledo, would that be cool!), but I would never, not in a million years, ever try to sell the business on modernizing its look simply to keep up with the times.

That would be ticky-tacky.

While our new post-Internet Explorer 6 world enables an amazing array of browser effects, the one tool we all need is constraint. Though the people we serve—managers, stakeholders, and clients—come to us with parallax envy, we must be mindful of who we are all really working for: their customers, the users.

Happy Cog founder and chairman Jeffrey Zeldman addressed this problem during his presentation, Understanding Web Design, at An Event Apart Seattle (he’ll be giving this presentation at all the AEA conferences this year; go see it yourself). Jeffrey argues that as part of defining what we do as web designers, we must continue focus on creating experiences for the user, not just on what technology enables us to do:

We don’t design for browsers. We design for people. Layout is always the servant of purpose. We naturally get excited about technology. It’s great to think about what we can do with the new tech. But we don’t make our content accessible to get a gold star, we do it forpeople.

To an extent, this subject is not new. At the turn of the century, when content management systems became amazingly affordable and accessible to everyone, we celebrated the democratization of the web. At SXSW in 2002, an entire track of panels was created and branded Independents Dayto celebrate how “.com” had lost, and we, the people, had got some of our counter culture back. (Our founder, with Carole Guevin and Sooz Kaup, was responsible for the concept, the name, and the track.)

A few years later, as more sites transitioned to content management systems or were created fresh from a choice of five “designs,” we lamented the demise of our beloved, bohemian World Wide Web. Seemingly overnight, we lost our curiosity toward a blank page in favor of tools that made our sites easy to manage. Before we knew it, every site looked the same. Then came Responsive Web Design (created by Ethan Marcotte while working at Happy Cog on a design project for the W3C), which moved our medium and our industry forward, but with similar consequences. Now, here we are in a Sass, Github, device-powered world, and the sites we make? They continue to all look the same.

Rather than just add to the voices pointing out the problems of mass conformity in web design, I’d like to offer a few closing thoughts:

Keep pushing the limits of what we currently know web design to be. As I said earlier, there is a lot of circa-1995 science fiction going on today, and it’s wonderful. So push on what seems like alien technology in 2014, but not at the expense of the user or the business. Does this mean “wearables”? I don’t know, but no. Please, dear God, no.

Don’t let “X Best of Y” linkbait articles on design be your guide. If an article has the number-of-subject-formula for a title, move on. As an industry, we’re never going to really break free of molds if we’re borrowing design patterns and styles from everything that is already out there. Learn how designers, architects, typographers, and composers broke the mold in their day. Study the works of Helmut Krone, Olt Aicher (read Otl Aicher), Adrian Frutiger, Jan Tschichold, Bruce Mau, Aaron Copland, and Chip Kidd. Be open to inspiration, learn from their trials, triumphs, and failures. History repeats itself, and that applies to web design.

While we’re learning from others, keep viewing source. While effects like parallax are now being thrown under the bus, they have helped us think differently about how the web can work. And then somehow the loop button got stuck, and we’ve been cranking out the same site over and over again. Don’t borrow code and sit on your ass. Keep trying new things. Share with the community. And move on.

As Greg Hoy writes, “differentiate or die.” When I see my business partner and Jason Fried come to similar conclusions on their own, my ears perk up like a cat detecting a bird’s chirp. It does nobody any good to have a web that all looks the same. Be mindful of the user’s needs and business requirements, but for the sake of success, go a different route. Take inspiration from Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Now go, and make all the difference.

Pick Up the Phone.

“Pick up the phone!” This is my reply of choice—what I say, sometimes yell, when I hear about a co-workers’ failed attempts to communicate through every means except calling those they are trying to reach. I’m not sure when our culture, especially our business culture, came to be so sensitive about using a phone to verbally communicate, but when I say “pick up the phone,” you would think I was trying to arrange an unwanted marriage.

It is not uncommon for one of my co-workers to ask if I know the whereabouts of another co-worker. “Did you call them?” I’ll ask. “No,” they’ll reply, “I’ve texted and sent an email, but haven’t gotten a reply.” This happens with enough frequency that I’m close to having motivational posters made for every office. The copy will read: “Need to communicate now? Use your phone’s Phone app!”

More frequent are the times when a simple email is sent or received and it’s taken out of context and/or the wrong tone is conveyed. To use meteorology as a metaphor, this is the point in communication wherein a tropical storm is upgraded to a hurricane. When these situations are brought to my attention, my response is always the same: “Pick up the phone!” You can do it now or after the hurricane has been upgraded to category 5, but I assure you that at some point both parties will end up on the phone—it’s just a matter of how angry and out of control they’ll be while dialing. That’s one more poster: “Trouble with tone? Call now!” Okay, one more motivational poster idea: “Sometimes words hurt more. Reach out and yell at someone.”

I’d love to tell you that our communication problems are behind us, but they still happen now and then, although we now know to get on the phone sooner rather than later. Eventually, one of us will learn to just pick up the phone right from the start.

Almost everyone at Happy Cog has an iPhone (the others are publicly shunned), and I don’t have to be Nate Silver to tell you that statistically, Phone is one of the least used apps, right after Compass and Stocks. Now, before you get the impression that I’m using the word count here to build my ivory tower, let me assure you that I am just as guilty.

There have been a few times when Jeffrey Zeldman (founder and one of my business partners at our studio, Happy Cog) and I have turned a simple email exchange into a monster storm of written fury. It’s really awesome when we’re sending replies simultaneously and they pass like warriors hopping through trees in a Kung Fu movie, completely missing their target mid-air. In these circumstances, we’ve ended up on the phone, both somewhat astonished that the other isn’t in a complete vein-pulsing rage, because that’s how we came across to one another via email.

Email, Basecamp, instant messages, text messages, and Twitter are all perfectly fine means to communicate with one another, but before you hit that “send” button, consider the situation. Calling your intended recipient may initially take a bit longer than tapping out a message, but in the long run it will save you time and frustration while helping to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Do yourself and others a favor, pick up the phone, reach out and touch someone.

Vogel.

We need a web design museum.

We need to start collecting and gathering artifacts (physical and digital), stories, documents, whatever we can get our hands on to preserve the history of web design. From the launch of the World Wide Web to Netscape 1.1 to the adoption of web standards which enabled Web 2.0, Responsive Web Design and the multi-device world that we live in today.

For too long we have relied upon a service that “archives” other websites but it’s not enough. The archives are tragically incomplete and lack the means to provide the full experience of what used to be. Archive.org does not adequately preserve enough information to serve as a lasting account of the web. We can not rely on large, multi-billion dollar companies to do this for us. Nor can we depend upon individuals to properly archive their PSDs, HTML, their work, which helped to change the world.

We have already lost too much. There are so many wonderful sites from 1994-2004 that have disappeared. All that is left are domains that have been turned into Go-Daddy-SEO-Landing-Page-clutter because the old site had a Google Page Rank higher than the pulse of a nursing home. I hate to think about how many amazing pre-Web 2.0 sites that are gone for good because a service shut down, ad revenue dwindled, or there was a lack of time or interest or both.

Somewhere in Christopher Schmitt’s home is a Zip disk with a complete backup of High Five, one of the first sites dedicated to the review and critique of web design. I know he’s looked up and down for that disk but it might be gone forever and with it, an important piece of our professions’ history and heritage.

We need a museum! An institution that can help preserve first-hand accounts of how things were done, what went down in the past. The working files, important emails, formative essays, and forgotten blog posts. We need to preserve the story of how web design began and how it has evolved to today.

In 1996 I purchased my first web design book, Designing Web Graphics by Lynda Weinman. Since then, I have amassed a small library of web design books. Looking through the collection you can see how web design changed with larger screen resolutions, new versions of HTML, and eventually different devices.

While I love to look through that collection, it only provides glimpses of the design, not a complete representation of the experience. We shouldn’t settle for this and certainly not for anything less.

Related: The tragedy of the commons.

Survivor.

Earlier today I wrote out two checks to the IRS and neither of them were for the current tax season. Both were for mistakes that were made in last year’s filing. The mistakes were made by my CPA at the time. Despite my efforts my filing was done literally at the last minute. The accountant was also responsible for my bookeeping which made it difficult to pick up and go to another consultancy. Furthermore, it’s not like good CPAs are everywhere. It takes time to gather recommendations, get introductions, and go through an interview (the good ones always work from word-of-mouth, not advertising). So, there I was running right up to the last minute when I finally got my return.

“Good news,” I was told. “Looks like you’re going to get a refund and a hefty one.” My gut said that this was all wrong. Though I am not an accountant, I’ve been in business long enough to know that when you have money in the bank at the end of the year the IRS gets some. Instead, I was told that I would be receiving a five-digit refund. Assurances were given that all the numbers lined up and so the filling was made.

Two weeks later a paper check arrived in the mail. It felt wrong just to have it.

Weeks later I found a new tax professional. After having passed the interview process I hired them to audit my PNL and tax fillings for the year. After their initial review I was asked to make introductions to the former CPA. A slew of accounting questions soon followed. Some of it I recognized, a lot of it was like a foreign language.

Eventually a meeting by phone was requested with the former accountant. I was there too, but primarily as the audience, trying to pick up words I understood. The meeting was mostly a boring review until it came to a discrepancy that the new accountant could not reconcile.

“Hright, shughtyt,” questioned the new guy.

“Aie! K, ms osjup jsjughe!, ” answered the old.

“F-me,” I thought.

Turns out the old CPA forgot to carry over revenue from the previous year. The submitted PNL and income tax filling were off by a lot. As in, a lot, a lot. Just weeks before I had received a low five-figure refund. Now, after the accounting correction, I owed the United States close to six-figures. Though my gut knew it all along, the revelation still felt like being relentlessly hit in the abdomen for the better part of an afternoon.

Fortunately, I had prepared for this conclusion and was able to write the IRS a new check with a lot of zeros without having to liquidate anything. Years ago, this would have kicked off a Defcon 1 level stroke, but after being in business for nine years I have come to learn that there is only one real way to look at events like these: Mistakes were made, thankfully no one died.

After close to a decade as a business owner, I have learned a lot from mistakes. I have lost a year of sleep from anxiety attacks at 2AM–reminding myself that I wasn’t having a heart attack and to just relax and go back to bed. I’ve had to cancel vacation or worked through holidays because of mistakes made by contractors, employees, or clients, or all three. It’s just part of being an entrepreneur and an owner.

My business partner Greg Hoy and I were invited to host a half-day workshop on running a business at ConvergeSE. In about 30 days are going to share many of the mistakes we made staring, growing, and managing our business and how we got through all of it. We’ll be there to share our experiences, laugh, cry, hug, answer questions and do what we can to help other shop owners learn from our experiences, good and bad.

Pause.

If you haven’t read it yet, Jeffrey Zeldman shared a few memories and thoughts about his experience in public speaking since he began in 1998. Over the years, I’ve seen Zeldman give plenty of talks. He’s become a natural and is comfortable on stage, in-between a large screen and a large audience. His speaking style is one that I myself favor, story telling, a few slides and plenty of opportunity to ad-lib should the audience react to one direction over another.

After years and years of experience and success, Jeffrey has been inspired by other speakers to up his game by changing the format of his presentation style to one that I have come to fear the most:

This year, inspired by the rigorous (and highly effective) speech preparation regimes of my friends Karen McGrane and Mike Monteiro, I’m once again writing a speech out word for word in advance. I will polish it like a manuscript. Only when it is perfectƒlogically structured, funny, passionate, persuasiveƒwill I design accompanying slides.

I may read the speech out loud, word for word, as Mike sometimes does, or I may revise and practice it so often that I no longer need to see it to say it, like Karen. Either way, my talk this year should be tighter than any I’ve given in the past decade. Hopefully, that’s saying something.

The thought of having a fully prepared speech/presentation gives me the shivers. This reaction is in response to a horrible public speaking experience I had in college.

As a student studying advertising, I joined the related student club to get more hands on experience than the coursework offered. Like many national student programs, we had an annual competition. The American Advertising Federation sponsored an annual contest wherein students were given a client (in 1997 it was Saturn, the now defunct automobile manufacturer) an imaginary budget and constraints regarding the brand and the direction the “client” wanted to go with the campaign.

Our task was to create a national campaign that would reach the primary audience and convince them to check out Saturn through advertising placed in all markets and included print, radio and television. It’s not as easy as it may sound.

Many months were spent on research, costs, schedules, potential reach, and media buys with flights for optimal market penetration. The business side of our work had to be published in a book and sent to the judges in order to be invited to the competition (they didn’t just let anyone in, you had to show that you knew what in the hell you were doing as compared to what a real agency would recommend). Once our spot in the competition was confirmed another six weeks was spent producing all of the advertising creative work, which was to debut at the competition. Many days were spent into the pre-dawn hours (which included “borrowing” a few Macintosh SEs from time-to-time because the student lab closed at 11PM). And a lot of money was spent to get things developed, printed, fabricated and produced.

At the competition, each college team was given twenty minutes to pitch their campaign to the judges (aka The Client). Each pitch was required to provide a review all of the data driven decisions made and the debut of all of the creative work. Our presentation had to be well rehearsed and choreographed. As this was 1997, the only way to present our work on stage was with synchronized Kodak slide projectors that had a propensity to jam. In order for us to have enough visual aids for twenty minutes of dense charts, bullet points and creative work slides had to be sequenced in alternating carousels. Should a jam occur, we were given verbal instructions how to recover, which involved more luck than technique and time–which we would not have during competition.

For a solid week we rehearsed our pitch, before classes, in-between classes, after classes, on the plane to the competition and later in our hotel rooms, right up until it was time for us to go up on stage. During all that time, our slide projectors did their job and we eventually stopped worrying potential technical difficulties. Murphy’s Law caught up to us and right in the middle of our pitch, the slides jammed like two tectonic plates coming together to form a mountain range. It was a giant Kodak created mess.

Despite getting the slides back together, we never recovered. Six months of hard, extra curricular work and a lot of money was gone. More devastating for me, I lost all confidence in presenting or talking, especially with an accompaniment of visual aids.

To those of you who have invited me to speak or have have asked why I don’t speak over the years–there it is, your real answer.

Haunting Kodak memories be damned, last year I was invited to speak twice with my business partner Greg Hoy. Despite sweating through some anxiety, it went pretty well and, thankfully, our slides never jammed. Our presentation was in the style Jeffrey found comforting and I have to say, it really made a difference after not being on stage for more than a decade.

Though I don’t know if I’m ready to give the super polished talk another chance just yet, I’m am happy to be back on the stage and being a part of the community.

Meanwhile, I’m really looking forward to seeing Zeldman’s new presentation at AEA Seattle in March.

Forty.

Fig. 1—The administrator panel as seen by the Airbag Dept. of Publishing

There has been some lamenting about the [death of blogs](<a href=) as of late. Ok, maybe it’s been over the last year or two but it’s become a lingering topic. For me, if I look behind the curtain, I really stopped writing in 2010 (see fig. 1). Honestly, thats when my personal and professional life became much, much more complicated and stressful than at any time previously. Those complications doubled and quadrupled for a number of years and thankfully they are on the decline.

Lets be honest though, I had the time. I mean, I could have made the time to write and continue what I started twelve years ago, but I wasn’t feeling it. There was that one time when Tumblr was fun to post too but I didn’t really start to get the itch to write again until recently. That’s when I decided that enough has been enough and the crap that has been plaguing me creatively for the last four years is going to get knocked on it’s ass and kicked to the curb this year—So long sucka.

I don’t think blogs are dead. Like anything we do, sometimes you just need a break.

Ok, introspection done. PSA delivered. Back to writing.

Caviar.

There always seems to be too much going on in the fall, let alone December, to have adequate time to reflect introspectively on the year and then make resolutions on what you intend to fix in the new year. It’s rush, rush, rush, think a minute, proclaim something, fireworks are going off and before you know it, you really wake up and it’s the middle of January. The first month of the new year comes with abrupt, quiet calm, fitness ads, and a relative absentia of events that I wonder why people bother trying to hit an annual deadline.

Any day is a good day to make changes, especially after you’ve had time to really consider what you’re changing and why. With that in mind, this year I’m going to not buy anything that isn’t consumable, required for work or necessary for living, like pants and maybe another piece of art.

Over the last four years Kitchen Storey (that’s right) and I have moved from Orange County to San Francisco to Austin. And then again to our new home in South Austin. Each time we purged material goods, packing it all in boxes and donating the goods to the neighborhood “good will.” In those four years we got rid of a lot of things bought, stored, collected over the many years we have been together. Looking back there was nothing left behind that we missed or needed.

This weekend, while She Who Takes to the Skies A Lot took to the skies for a family trip, I had plenty of time to consider the recent expansion of material and virtual goods. It’s amazing what kind of damage you can do with an iTunes Store and a double income with no kids. I reacquainted myself with all of the albums, movies and television programs that I have purchased over the years through iTunes.

I had not seen this library in a while. Services like Rdio, Netflix and Hulu have improved so much in so little time that at some point I just started to ignore my iTunes collection altogether. So there I was on a Sunday afternoon, listening to music I hadn’t heard in years and I started to think of all the stuff I purchased after arriving in Austin. Thankfully, it’s not an obscene list–my home will never be featured in an episode of Hoarders–but it’s long enough that I have things lying around, physical and virtual that don’t get enough use. In addition to this problem, their presence causes me to consider devoting time to their use over others and I waste time and focus on choosing one activity/thing over another.

Simply put, I have continued to create more options than I have time for. More options than I should ever want to have time for. My enthusiasm for wanting to try everything has trumped my ability to really get the most out of anything. This personal crisis is similar to what I wrote about for Cognition, “the possibility of what could be deter you from forward progress.”

The discovery of new things is a lot of fun, but I’m feeling the need for fewer options, fewer distractions. It’s time to put less emphasis on discovery and more on appreciation and application. From here on out I’m going to look at my home, my life, like a museum values their permanent collection. Everything will be considered for how it works in the existing collection, the existing ecosystem. A few years back all the cool kids learned a new word, “curation.” It was overused like white on rice, but in this case it is directly applicable to this situation and I intend to stick to it.

If you don’t know him yet, Naz Hamid is a tremendously talented guy whom I admire greatly. He operates his company to fit an amazingly simple lifestyle that includes a balance of body, mind and spirit. A few months ago I got the chance to catch up with Naz. We talked shop and he told me that he has been working towards prioritizing travel to be equal with that of the time he spends on client work. It’s right in line with the mythos posted at the top of his blog, “seek experiences, not materials.”

Well put Naz, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Spin.

When you have lived with the same person for close to eighteen years you feel like you know them pretty well, almost like a book. And then one day you decide to add said person to your Rdio family plan, which provides unlimited access to just about every album ever made.

Earlier today, within hours of having access to the digital music wonderland, She Who Apparently Does Listen to Music already had a healthy collection of albums added to her virtual collection. This made me very happy as I have been trying to get the Rocket Scientist into the this decade forever. I’m not sure what medications she’s taking now, but this year has proven to be a scientific breakthrough with the adoption of an iPhone, Twitter, Instagram and now, Rdio (crazy right?!). If only I was a Ph. D. candidate because this dissertation writes itself.

Looking over the collection I saw a few albums I recognized from way back in 1995, when we merged our CD collections together. Oh, there’s a few more albums from our early years in Alaska. There’s a couple from her days studying chemical engineering. And then, well, it all falls apart from there.

I don’t recall living with a Detroit rap fan or a connoisseur of American Idol graduates–wait, who the hell is Kim Carnes? And where is the rave music from her time right before we got together? Now, that would have been amazing but no, nothing awesome. Ok, maybe the U2.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised. After years of sharing a Netflix account I have given up hope that their recommendation engine will ever be able to understand the bi-polar disorder that is our viewing history. It’s filled with classic war movies, comedy from the 80s, and Criterion Collection mixed in with Transporter 1-3, Disney channel princess pajama party hoopla, and more ballerina documentaries than I ever knew existed. Somewhere in Netflix’s version of WOPR, I know I’ve been classified as a “weird, perverted uncle.”

Thankfully, with Rdio I have my own account and listening history; safe and sound from ever receiving a suggestion that I should listen to Kelly Clarkson.

Hee Haw.

There is a Company in the middle of the country that I have grown to despise because their business practices are pure evil. They create spec work and underbid contracts to get their foot in the door. Once they’re in, the Company find ways to go over budget and extend time lines like a pandemic in Asia. Despite having clawed more money and time from their clients, they produce work that would be considered subpar by third world standards. Nothing can be re-used and/or the Clients are eternally bound to horrible, proprietary off-the-shelf software.

I know this because we have been called in to provide relief to their haggard clients and attempt to fix the abominations they create.

This Company seeds distrust and their actions work to destroy the reputation of our industry. By the time we are brought in we have to provide an over abundance of assurances that Happy Cog is nothing like the Company. We have had to do this enough times now that during sales pitches and conversations, we go out of our way to position ourselves as anti-agency so as to be crystal clear that our modus operandi does not entail finding ways to issue change order after change order. As professionals it is not in our fabric to do so but who can blame the client after being burned so bad?

Yesterday, we lost a project to the Company. They pitched with spec work and underbid the effort. I’m willing to put cash money down in Vegas that the client will end up blowing past their deadline and forking over more money than originally proposed. What looked great to them this week will become high blood pressure a year from now. Somewhere North of where I am sitting right now a butterfly flaps its wings and a small disaster begins to build.

I’d love to call the client and try to talk them off the ledge but there’s only so much you can do without coming across like an angry person who is pouting because they lost. Look, I don’t mind losing work to people I know who share our passion for quality, devotion to creating great solutions and a high standard of professionalism. I’m happy to loose a project to our friends and peers, but when the Company (or anyone like them) takes one away from us, any of us, I’d like nothing more than to see them all leave their cubicles and find their way in front of a fast moving bus.

Maybe this project will be different and the good people we spoke to won’t get the shaft as so many others have. And maybe I’ll go home tonight and find twenty burros wearing sombreros making churros after eating a hoof-full of habaneros. Hey, it could happen.

Uncrate.

GARB: BROOKLYN BETA/>

Time flies when you’re being hip in Brooklyn. Recently described as “the new bohemia” by USA Today a good time can be had by all but only if you’re ready to arrive in fashion that allows you to drop a kayak in a river and make a grilled cheese sandwich!

The American Kef ($24.00). Slim Fit Ten-Pleat Tennis Collar Formal Tuxedo Shirt ($135.00). Levi’s Acid Wash Skinny Fit Jeans ($31.00). Motorola RAZR V3 ($43.00). Woodsman’s Hatchet (ETSY) River Ferret (Free). The Hathaway, Eye Patch ($29.95). Fila Skele-Toes EZ Slide Shoes ($49.95).

Whatever your reason for being so rad in New York’s East Bank, I’ll see you all in October.

Caw.

I have learned perhaps the most “Pro of Tips” for the iPhone. It comes from Mr. Nevin Lyne, whom I had the pleasure of introducing the “Rainey Street Pub Crawl” yesterday afternoon.

While enjoying a frosty cold beverage at Javelina, I noticed that his iPhone, placed face down, flashed occasionally like a mini strobe light. As I had never seen this happen before my left eye-brow naturally raised slightly tipping off Nevin that I was curious about what I had just seen.

Typically, when the iPhone receives a SMS message, it flashes on the screen for a few seconds. Long enough that if the phone is placed face-up, it draws the attention of everyone within range, not just the intended recipient. This is potentially awkward enough that most of us place our phones face down but this also prevents us from seeing said message. Unless you have the sound turned up, then it’s difficult to know when a SMS has been received.

Until now, thanks to Nevin.

If you look at your iPhone when its face-down you’ll notice that the camera and the flash face “up.” Fortunately, Apple thought through how to use the flash to alert the user when a message has been received. You’ll find this brilliant feature under Settings > General > Accessibility. Scroll down to “LED Flash for Alerts” and turn it “on.” The camera flash will now blink when a message comes through but no where near as bright as when the flash is used while taking a photo.

It’s quiet. You won’t miss it. And it looks pretty cool.

That is all.

Jeffersons.

For the last six months the Rocket Scientist and I have had the privilege of living on the sixteenth floor of The Shore building in downtown Austin. Rented sight unseen, it was an unexpected surprise to discover the view this place has. Our unit in particular has unique perspective that allows us to see the five bridges (three motor, one pedestrian and one rail) over the Colorado River that lead into downtown Austin. While cars, trains and people head North and South, boats, crew teams, canoes and paddle boards scurry East and West on the water below. Activity everywhere. To cap it all off the sunset ties it all together in the perfect send-off to every day.

Those who follow me on Instagram, Flickr or Tumblr have already seen my chronicle of this view. For the rest of you, here is a sample of what I have seen and will miss soon.

On Tuesday afternoon we closed title on our next home in the South Congress neighborhood. By the end of the month we’ll have a completely different view of Austin but nothing quite so high as our deluxe apartment in the sky.

Approach.

It’s shortly after 8 AM and the plane is still climbing to reach cruising altitude. The flight attendants are up and taking drink orders but I can’t hear them because of the Bose noise canceling headphones I have on and activated. When she gets here I’ll order a bloody mary. It is Sunday morning after all.

Mr. Irelan is with me on the flight as well but sitting in another row and next to the aisle. I prefer the window so I can see what’s going on if I want to while Ryan likes the option of moving about the cabin without interruption. Meanwhile, two time zones West of our position, Mr. Anders will take to the sky on his own flight.

The three of us are spending a good portion of our Sunday morning and afternoon to get to Philadelphia. As you may have heard, we have blocked out all of next week to completely redefine, rewrite, redesign, and redevelop our studio website. This is a project I have been waiting two years for and I’m very pleased that we’re finally getting to this task.

We tried this before. After the merger there was a genuine effort to recreate our online home but the challenge was too great at the time. The relationship between two companies and three studios was too green to tackle a job that all of us had deep personal and professional attachment. Add in a very busy project roster to make the whole shebang more difficult. There were other mistakes that we made which I hope we’ll document in some way in the near future. Happy Cog has a history and tradition of being open and honest, I don’t see why we can’t share that backstory, eventually.

Last December, Greg Hoy and I got together to talk through problems and opportunities that came up in 2011 and how to turn it all into positive actions in the new year. As it does each year, the topic of website redesign came up. Our biggest challenge in the past has been finding the time to get with all the people we needed to be involved. We have attempted in the past to schedule resources but time and distance always proved too much to manage around busy work schedules. So, we came up with a plan to get half of our team in one place, for one week, to completely overhaul our website into a proper foundation that we can use to progressively enhance over time.

The following week, right before Christmas, Greg and I blocked off the time on team calendars and met with project managers to inform them of an internal project that would require certain people to be unavailable for client work. We held ad hoc discussions to delegate preparatory tasks like content audit, requirements gathering, and writing new marketing objectives and strategy. By early January we were well on our way to a solid project plan. Two weeks ago jobs and responsibilities were delegated and assigned to each individual on the project team. Last week work started on creative direction and the formation of a technology/development plan. Meanwhile, the three principals met and made our final decision on the new brand in time for Helms Workshop to delivery the final brand package just in time for work to begin on Monday.

So far we’ve I’d say we’ve Hannibal Smith’d it.

The engines have just throttled back a bit and the nose has pitched forward ever so slightly which means we’ll be landing soon. With each mile closer to Philly my excitement for next week climbs closer and closer to “off the charts.” For so long, we have all wanted to make this happen and it’s finally coming together like Legos. Next week we’ll all be documenting this event in one form or another over blogs, Twitter, Cognition, and a variety of Path and Instagram accounts. Don’t forget to check our new Tumblr site to keep up with our progress and group antics.

March.

I am an impatient man. Perhaps no different than any other Y chromosome person but feedback from my immediate peer group suggests otherwise. I can see the forest through the trees. I see clearly the opportunity that is at our collective doorstep. I see the solution that will end client woes. I can see how money works in a way unfathomable just twelve months ago. I can see how you get from point A to point Z but I have little patience for the process and time it takes. I am no different than most people but that does little to settle the tide of frustration that ebbs and floes within my being.

My friends, my business partners, my co-workers often suggest that we are on a normal course but I see a sea to conquer, a divide to cross, a path to success so clear in my mind that it’s already happened. It’s possible this is my Achilles heel but I’ll be damned if I let complacency set in.

Success favors those who take risks no matter how big or small. And while there are many, many steps between failure and success I see it all happen at once, ending only in total success. Of course failure is an option but to dwell on such thoughts is to give in. The loss is merely a form of surrender that we are all born and raised with but it doesn’t have to be that way.

I am an impatient man and I know I am not alone.

There was a time when our employers, global markets, and credit ratings helped persuade a better path forward but enough is enough and we have to see past thirty, sixty, or ninety days. When we are older we’ll talk to tomorrow’s youth and encourage them to follow in our foot steps that, at this time, seemed like walking with anvils crashing on our heads.

Lets conquer 2012 together and make it a point in time when we can all look back and agree that’s when it all really began.

Slapshot.

In case you missed it, we are looking for a Sr. UX Designer to join the Happy Cog team in Austin, Texas. I’m going to give the application receiving phase till the end of this week. To date I’ve received a handful of really excellent applications and I’m anxious to see what turns up “last minute.” The team and I are looking forward to finding a good compliment to our well-established group.

A personal thought about this position. The UX community seems to put an unnecessarily strong emphasis on quantity as it pertains to conferences and public speaking. At Happy Cog we like to see members of our team speak and teach others but we’re looking for a designer, not a public speaker. I’m looking for someone who is more interested in creating solutions instead of delivering slide shows on stage. If you desire to work with a highly skilled, highly talented team that loves nothing more than an elegant, well crafted solution then please send me your resume, references and salary history.

Meanwhile, over at Authentic Jobs they are kicking off the New Year right with a special on job listings for the first half of January. Post a job before January 12th, 2012 and receive 50% off the fee (this promotion also includes the UK site). To take advantage of this special offer post a your listing and use promotional code TWELVESTOREY during the payment process. Let me know if you have any issues posting your job and I’ll get someone to help. As an added bonus to you, dear Airbag reader, send me your listing and I’ll personally promote it from this site and my Twitter account.

One last related thought in effort to score a Jobs Post Hat Trick. In case you missed it, Cameron posted a nice teaser for Authentic Crew, a service/application that has been in the works for a while. I have a lot of passion for this addition to the Authentic suite and I’m ecstatic to finally see it start to come alive. Crew is going to be a big asset to everyone’s career path.

Dust.

Well, I’m glad that’s over.

Last year wasn’t easy. I thought ’09 and ’10 were rough but ’11 took the prize. Let’s be honest though, a lot of the stress was of my own creation: starting Creative Mornings San Francisco and deciding to relocate Happy Cog from San Francisco to Austin. As for the relocation, if anyone would have listed out every possible, conceivable thing to go wrong with the transition to Austin I might have chickened out. Creative Mornings was a bigger challenge and cost than I had planned on but I’m happy with the results. I’m also thankful for Erika Hall taking over and continuing to grow the event. Despite the unknown, I moved forward with a sense of happiness and optimism and met with, seemingly, a constant barrage of set backs and unforeseen challenges.

Sales at Happy Cog proved to be more difficult in 2011 than the years before. I know we weren’t alone having talked to other shop owners all over the country. Sure we did pretty good but I don’t think any of us want to go through that kind of struggle again. Ever. Way too many signed projects disappeared, people lead us on only to drop off the face of the planet or come up short on cash right before the start of the project. My shop lost a project after having scored the highest on the client’s hiring criteria. We were dismissed because we didn’t work out of Los Angeles even though we already have an existing client right next door to their location. That short story right there is the epitome of how stupid 2011 was. Despite all of the idiocy we dealt with the year ended stronger than ever.

Too much of 2011 was spent in planes, rental cars, and hotel rooms. I earned A-List Preferred status on Southwest Airlines by mid-September–not an achievement that I am particularly happy about. On more than one occasion I was flying in and out of Oakland International Airport twice in one week. Last year I traveled by jet plane to New York City, Sun Valley, Atlanta, Kansas City, Fort Collins, Raleigh, Los Angeles, Irvine, Palm Springs, Birmingham, Minneapolis, Denver (three times), Ko’Olina, Kapaa and Austin (four times before the move).

It wasn’t all bad though. I got to spend two days with the monks at the Kauai Hindu Monastery. Truly an experience I will never forget and hope to repeat again. We bought the monks a tree for Christmas to plant on their grounds and I want to see how it turns out a few years from now.

Which brings me to the real reason for finally coming back to this poor, tired, website that has seen little love or attention over the years, especially 2011. I have missed Airbag and tried on several occasions to participate in the on-going conversation of our community. I wrote several blog posts last year that never saw the light of day. Too worn out, stressed or both, I deleted more words than I can to remember. I did so because I was burned out. Without clicking the “publish” button I knew already what people would say or not say. I had become the worst editor when I didn’t need to be. So I took a break and assumed I didn’t need to post to that effect as many others have done before me.

Instead of drafting prose I spent a considerable amount of time in Photoshop tinkering with ideas I’ve had in my head for a long time. This also turned into a self-defeating exercise but instead of stopping I chose to work towards a smaller victory by working towards a simple solution preferring to get something out-the-door instead of letting the vicious self-doubt cycle continue to torment my creativity into depression.

As a result, I posted this earlier to Dribbble today.

It is a sneak peek at what’s coming and soon. It’s not going to turn any heads. I could give a damn if it did but I’m happy with it and ready to move on. If anything I’ll beat Gruber with launching his redesign. That achievement ought to earn a few mojitos at the local realtors cougar bar.

It’s silly, really, to be so obsessed with something so small and I’d be lying if I didn’t feel dumb about it. I tell people all the time not to worry about site design in favor of creating content and there I sat in 2011 doing exactly what I preached against. Learn from my stupidity people. Look and learn.

In a matter of days the design will be finished and I’ll hand it off to a few guys who are more adept at turning it into a fully functioning, improved Airbag experience. And just in time as I have a lot of plans for Airbag, Happy Cog and the Austin interactive community in this new year–some of which has been in progress for a few months now.

I have a good feeling about this year. I don’t recall the last time I felt this positive about the prospects for the new year but I like the feeling and I’m going to go with it.

Happy New Year everyone.

Stamped.

Last week I had the opportunity to be the guest on The Conversation. The show description reads:

Greg Storey joins Dan Benjamin to discuss being an entrepreneur, running a business, design, development, consulting, pricing work, working with local and remote teams, being true to yourself, and more.

It’s the second time I’ve been on the program and answered questions about what it’s like to start and run a web design business, what it’s like to work at Happy Cog, how do I deal with clients and their RFPs, etc. All fine questions that I am glad to discuss, but I don’t believe I’ve ever been asked what I don’t like about being a business owner.

The toughest part about my job (aside from worrying about cashflow) is that it’s hard to tell if I’m really doing a good job or not. As I don’t report to anyone the only real metric I have to rely on is the bottom line. It’s a horrible way to validate performance on the job—I may as well be shlepping time-share property in Acapulco—but that’s what I have to work with. I receive positive comments from clients, peers, and co-workers but none of them are able to see all that I do in order to provide a truly comprehensive review.

The Rocket Scientist, as supportive and wonderful as she is, says that just looking at how far the company has gone in the last five years says it all. I listen to her feedback but I also know that with the right amount of initiative a monkey could start and grow a banana business—It’s just a matter of how much failure you are able to endure and find a way to fight through the setback. Take a punch and get back up fighting. How many times do I keep getting up before feeling like a sucker?

I keep thinking that once I can go thirty, sixty, ninety days without any problems then I’ll know that I’m doing it right, but the longer I’m in business it’s clear that thinking is impossible. Especially in the client services business.

When I was in high school I got a job at the local grocery store to bag items and provide carry out service for customers. On my first day the assistant manager called a fellow bagger to the front desk. She introduced me and ask that they train me.

My training was nothing more than a on hour tour of the entire store (front, back, upstairs, and outside) because my “trainer” just wanted to slack off as much as possible. He never told me how to do my job or told me anything about what I was expected to do. This type of training continued long after I was hired and the curriculum resulted in most new hires being completely useless. It was amazing to watch relatively intelligent people turn into mouth breathers as soon as you put them in front of a pile of objects and asked them to neatly arrange them into bags.

Months later I decided that I had had enough of having to compensate for new employees poor performance and volunteered to start and run a better training program. I didn’t expect additional pay, I just knew that with the right training I could improve performance and thereby customer satisfaction, their own job satisfaction, and I wouldn’t have to work twice as hard. It worked and all I had to do was provide a few goals, criteria for success, and some hands on training without the pressure of working in front of customers.

One day I got called to the front office by the store manager, John Jacobsen. He was 6’8″ and played college football for USC. He was known for being stern and grouchy which resulted in most people being a little terrified to be in his presence and I was one of them. As I approached he came out of the office, threw his hands on my shoulders, looked in my eyes, and said, “Greg, you’re doing a great job with the training, I appreciate that you took the initiative and I’ve just put in a raise for you. Keep up the good work.”

It would have taken a crowbar to remove the perm-a-grin and the overwhelming sense of pride that I was doing a great job. There are a lot of moments of joy to be had in this world but a job well done ranks at the top for me. I don’t yet know how to get that kind of validation as a business owner but I’d give my left arm to have that kind of feeling again.

In the meantime I am a cog at the top of the machine, but I am a happy cog.

Babylon.

Last week we launched Cognition, a studio blog, that replaced the traditional open-mic text area commenting system with two options: Either post a response via your own Twitter account or link to a post on your own blog. To kick things off Jeffrey took the honor of writing the first post and introduced our experiment. He wrote:

Kids today are more likely to respond to a blog post on Twitter than in the article’s comments section; so we’ve collocated our comments on Twitter. Share a tweet-length response here, and, with your permission, it will go there. If you are moved to respond with more than 140 characters, post the response on your website, and it will show up here.

Hundreds of readers replied with support, curiosity, and doubt. All-in-all it has been the best response we could have hoped for. A lot of the responses pertained to the Twitter integration. I suspect most of the comments we received were the result of people just kicking the tires but there were a few who questioned our motive and intentions via Twitter and blogs. As someone who has led this project from the very first day let me walk you through our thought process.

In some very early discussion about Cognition the topic of comments came up. I suggested that we try to find a way to integrate Twitter and comments instead of having them be two separate pieces of functionality. Mr. Unger (Director of User Experience), playing the much needed devil’s advocate, questioned the idea of how we would integrate Twitter, “if comments are restricted to 140 characters, it does not seem that format would allow for much substance.” To which I replied, “The idea of using Twitter from comments came from the fact that comments on most blogs are dead. There are a few blogs that have productive comments from their users but otherwise we have all seen a shift from blog comments to Twitter comments. The idea was to embrace this shift and a format the encourages brevity or responsive blog posts (for those who always want to write a short essay as a comment). It would be cool to find a way to incorporate reader’s Twitter comments but after a month if it sucks then we’ll just move on.”

None of us could imagine creating a blog without comments—but we have all observed that commenting on blogs, in general, has decreased since the use of twitter has increased. Of course there are exceptions—there will always been exceptions—but it seems that these days most readers will respond almost exclusively via Twitter instead of leaving a blog comment. Because of this it seems that blog comment threads are rarely engaging on the majority of websites today. Sure, there are some cases where every now and then a blog post will actually foster a good comment thread but as long time Airbag reader Thibaut noted:

“My personal experience on blog comments is that the longer a comment thread is, the less likely I will take time to read each one of them.”

Of course this applies to Twitter comments as James Young observed on his blog:

I’m sure once the article has been open for a few weeks, there will literally be thousands of tweets and retweets to filter through [Ed. note: Thousands! #thousands]. Tricky and of little potential value if you’re trying to follow a discussion or ask questions/report/fix bugs etc.

The problem with most comment threads is that they can reach that useless tipping point very quickly. Without having an active moderator to keep up with all of the various threads it’s practically impossible to provide any sort of conversational value.

Meanwhile we have also informally noticed a decline in blog usage since the wider adoption of Twitter within our community. Sites like Airbag have been rotting away like the Soviet’s Pacific Fleet in the 90’s, their glory days seemingly behind them while waiting for their room assignment at Sunset Estate. Happy Cog loves blogs. So much so that I think almost everyone of us has at least one and the majority of us have three or more. What if we could help bring some life back into the old network by encouraging people to write blog posts when they have more to say than what can fit into one-hundred-and-forty characters? Anything we can do to bring writers back to their blogs would be a “big win” win.

With all of this in mind here is our pre-launch strategy in a nutshell: Let’s use Twitter for what it’s good for: quick and disposable comments and let’s encourage more thoughtful responses on blogs. We’ll have harnessed Twitter in an appropriate way while, hopefully, bringing new life to old blogs (or maybe even start a few).

It’s a little early to say whether commenting-via-twitter-and-blogs works or not but the sheer numbers of positive comments tells us that we’re on to something with this idea. After a few days it’s already evident that some tweaks are needed. For starters, we realize the design needs to provide equal emphasis on promoting a blogged response as much as one via Twitter—if not more so. And blog comments/links should be given more emphasis because we should reward those who take the time to write out a longer response. Meanwhile, we’ve already started mapping out how to filter out retweets, reposts, etc.—that should help improve the signal-to-noise ratio.

We’ll keep working at this until we either get this right or end up turning to a different solution. However this shakes out, we’re already learning from trying something new which ultimately means adds value for our clients, our friends, and our community.

UPDATE My friend and colleague Greg Hoy comments on the user response thus far and our approach for making changes.

Drink.

Some time ago a friend of ours needed some help. He was finishing up grad school and had just learned that his cat was very, very sick. He took his pet to the vet, and found out the poor animal needed a costly procedure to live. The price was too much to consider on a student salary. So he turned to the Internet for help and told the sad story through his blog. In the days that followed our friend received a lot of community and financial support, enough to cover the costs of the operation. It’s a story of unselfish giving by complete strangers (blog readers) that I will never forget.

Somehow, our subset of the industry cares. Whether it’s the latest HTML technique, a new CSS hack, or help for a sick pet, I’ve seen our community come together like Voltron and provide support, fix the problem, or sometimes just collectively laugh or cry. This kind of support is downright rare. Our community strives to improve as a team; even though we’re made up of tens of thousands of individuals who will never meet, we’ll stop what we’re doing to rally together when needed.

As you may know already, our friend Cameron Moll has started a campaign to raise twenty thousand dollars for Charity: Water, an organization that installs fresh water wells in African villages. Twenty thousand dollars is an ambitious goal, of course—but I firmly believe it’s attainable if we can combine our online reach and financial resources. While this is Cameron’s initiative, I see this as a challenge for everyone in our industry. Let’s see what web designers and developers can do here.

In an effort to help raise more support and awareness, I reached out to a few friends of mine, business owners and successful individuals who can help support this campaign. I’d like to personally thank Jim Coudal of Coudal Partners, John Gruber of Daring Fireball, Josh Williams of Gowalla, Rick Ellis of ExpressionEngine, Todd Dominey of SlideShowPro, Aaron Mentele and the crew at Electric Pulp and Mike Monteiro of Mule Design for making a generous contribution, each proving that together as a community we can go find some water.

With disasters in Haiti and Pakistan, I know it’s been a tough year for giving—but Cameron’s campaign has some fantastic momentum building behind it. Just as we’ve always done, let’s band together and find some water. I’m not asking you to put off rent, but consider holding off on buying that movie on iTunes or ordering one less drink at the bar this week and help find some water. Wait a week before buying the pro version of Twitteriffic and help find some water.

If you are not able to contribute monetarily this time that is perfectly understandable. Please consider blogging, tweeting, throw up a Bat Signal, anything that will bring more of us together and support a great cause.

Cat.

As if the world needed one more reason to appreciate NPR, I found one more. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Vivian Schiller, president and CEO of NPR, had this to say about the design of their iPad application:

The trick there for all media organizations is not just say, “Here is what it looks like online, so we’re just going to plop it down on the iPad,” but to think about how you use the device and design something that suits it. NPR‘s iPad device doesn’t look anything like our website. It doesn’t look anything like our iPhone, but is really suited for that particular screen size and form factor.

Wow! I wish more executives took the time to learn and understand core principals of design and function as it relates to the experience. Sadly, the reality is that every year there will be at least one time that you and I will have to fight the good fight because a client or in-house executive thinks their ten-second intuition knows best.

Con.

As part of LA Times weak pre-event coverage of Comic-Con, they had Seth Rogen and some other dude provide tips on attending the event. Among other worthless points Seth could have provided, this one stands out:

  1. Apparently they’re having some comic book stuff there this year. If you can find it among all the movie booths, check it out.

Screw you Seth and your stupid curly head. Take your Hollywood crap and invade some other large gathering of people. Oh, I hear the unemployment lines are really popular right now.

Shelved.

This afternoon will be spent preparing the office for next weeks move into the city. Anyone who has ever come by to visit my office could not help but notice the Airbag Published Materials Collection that started more than fifteen years ago. From time-to-time I have weeded the library of titles that either ended up being completely useless or I had somehow gained a duplicate copy. Samples from the collection include DHTML and CSS for the World Wide Web by Jason Cranford Teague, Hot Wired Style by Jeffrey Veen, and Lynda Weinman’s web designer staple Designing with Web Graphics.2 (I gave away the first one to a college who wanted to learn how to become a designer).

Years ago I had a discussion with a person who had a lot of passion for libraries and collections. She was very happy to know that I was hanging on to such tomes in hopes that one day it would be handed over to someone as a matter of keeping all of it for historical record. And so I have continued to provide care for these books in effort to help preserve them as close to the condition as they were when I bought them.

Books like those written by Weinman and Veen are definitely keepers because they were more than a vocational how-to and provided invaluable information and insight on how to be creative despite the constraints of the web at the time. It is these volumes which I believe will be valuable–not in the monetary way mind you–to future generations of researchers and hobbyist who are curious about the different phases in the our creative evolution. Those books get to stay and will be cared for until it is time to hand them off to a library or collection somewhere.

I’m not so certain that I should continue to provide care for books that provide how-to information for things like DHTML, Flash MX, or old versions, think very old, of Photoshop. I have brought them along with the assumption that they might have the same curiosity value as an old Chilton’s manual from decades ago but now I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s time to thin the heard and recycle these things into something more useful.

When I consulted the Rocket Scientist on his matter she made the Are You Kidding Me?™ face, waved her hand, and with a “Pfffft” to dismiss me and my First World quandary away. Perhaps deservingly so, but if you share the same passion for the web that I have then hopefully you’ll understand and provide more than one syllable suggestion.

Meltdown.

Facebook, the global leader in online privacy protection, is working on an upgrade to their privacy options that will require the new Facebook Privacy Control Center® to be installed in every user’s home. At this time the planned array of privacy options will require approximately 5000 sq. ft. of controls, dials, notebooks, drink holders, and several monitors. Facebook is working around the clock to integrate the use of microchip technology which should reduce the footprint to the size of a Buick Electra by late fall of 2014.

HTML5.

If you are a web designer/developer who burned their copy of Frontpage 98, delighted in replacing an awful Flash site with a standards-based design and have watched as HTML, CSS, and Javascript combine to form the best Three’s Company ever made then your world is about to get rocked.

The very language we use day in and day out is being branded as the solution for the future—the smart choice for companies to reach their intended audiences. So much so that you have two giants of the web/publishing/design industry going toe-to-toe in a very public debate over whose vision and platform will dominate.

I could be wrong, but I don’t ever recall a global icon being quoted as saying the future is HTML. Nor do I ever recall a CEO saying they were betting their company on HTML (Okay, maybe there’s a quote from some random issue of GOPHER magazine during the late 80’s).

There should be celebrating in the streets, dancing on the ceiling, Ewoks, and the firing pistolas in the air. For years we’ve had to preach and defend the gospel of web standards to the mouth-breathing masses who have been drawn to twinkle lights and really bad house background tracks. No more will we have to spend precious time debating the merits of presentation layers being divorced from markup, usability, and every day common sense to a communications major who would really rather be producing ads for television.

Steve Jobs’ flag planting doesn’t mean an instant win for any of us. But with a guy like that in your corner, how can HTMLnot be the sought after method for publishing content via hypertext? We still have an uphill battle before us but HTML5 and the growing support from outside our vocation are strong allies. It’s simple, elegant, and the first spec to make the most sense. I know this to be true after taking a few hours to read through an advance copy of Jeremy’s book on the subject.

Back in my day, books on HTML came in the form of “bibles” and they weighed as much as a NYC telephone directory from 1978. I don’t recall if the writers were more verbose than necessary, or it just took that many more pages to document how frames and tables worked, but I love that in eighty-seven pages HTML5 for Web Designers provides a very robust and complete guide for this new version of our foundation.

If you earn your living in any way related to the web then I strongly suggest coughing up a Jackson and waking up in a HTML dominated world—what many would call their Happy Place. As an added extra bonus, Keith’s book is also a great way to learn all the right talking points for schmoozing a Cougar into buying you a round of mojitos.

UPDATE: This article has been translated into Belorussian by Patricia Clausnitzer

Meh.

This morning I decided to browse the Internet. I came across an article on motivation and self promotion. In it was this quote that hits a little too close to home right now:

The whole idea of motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it. Exercise, lose weight, test your blood sugar, or whatever. Do it without motivation. And then, guess what? After you start doing the thing, that’s when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep on doing it.

— John Maxwell

As I finished reading, the Angelic-Me appeared on my right shoulder, took a strum on a harp and said, “Nice idea. Let’s get started right now!” To which the real Mini-Me—dressed in a fine red velvet smoking jacket—appeared to my left, took an angry puff on a cigar and yelled, “Fine John, just…dammit…just get off my back. I’m doing it already. See?! Ok?! Good, now just leave me alone and go motivate Haiti or something. Damn.”

I blame El Niño.

Matt.

In 2009 I bought a Kindle mostly out of curiosity. I thought for sure I’d turn it one, flip around the store, download a book, read a few pages, and put it up for sale on Craigslist the next day. Instead, I downloaded a book and promptly read for four hours straight. Short of a full year later I ended up reading more books than I had in the last decade. It’s a great device, something I can’t imagine living without now, but it has always had one short coming: no comics, no trades, or graphic novels.

Long time readers will know that I normally don’t gush about products in this space but my bet is that you’re going to want to know about Panelfly. It’s Kindle for comics and it’s off to a great start. This is the kind of app that I’m hoping everyone will download, use, and support because I’d like to see it succeed (rather than have Marvel, DC., Darkhorse, etc., create their own reader). Ever since using the Kindle 2 I’ve wanted a comic shop in a box and that’s exactly what Panelfly delivers. It’s already getting more use than any other leisure app on my iPhone right now and I can’t imagine how much better it’s going to be on the iPad with it’s faster processor and larger screen.

As a bonus Panelfly happens to be well designed and a pleasure to use. Upon opening the main menu sits on top of cover art from one of the issues in your library. This type of treatment continues throughout the Library where all of your issues are stored and initially listed by title (the list can also be sorted by publisher, author, artist, and genre). The store will be familiar territory though it should be noted that it’s not a knock-off of iTunes Store but just as easy to use. Users are able to browse issues just as you would in a comic shop, by opening the book and taking a look inside. Purchasing requires setup of an account but after that it’s as simple as Amazon’s One-Click. The hardest part of this application will be to resist buying almost everything that comes out on a weekly basis. Thankfully issue prices are not as expensive as printed issues and there are a number of free books available. A practice I presume will keep going as publishers continue to seek new readers.

Ok, that’s it. Now it’s all on you. After you’ve downloaded Panelfly check out Robot 13, a title that will remind you of the artistic and storytelling quality of early Hellboy.

Nope.

This morning from Washington comes news of Obama’s latest triumph over Bush Jr.:

President Obama, who pledged to establish the most open and transparent administration in history, on Monday surpasses his predecessor’s record for avoiding a full-fledged question-and-answer session with White House reporters in a formal press conference.

President George W. Bush’s longest stretch between prime-time, nationally televised press conferences was 214 days, from April 4 to Nov. 4, 2004. Mr. Obama tops that record on Monday, going 215 days – stretching back to July 22, according to records kept by CBS Radio’s veteran reporter Mark Knoller.

This is helping right? I mean this is Change, just not the kind none of us expected? Maybe this is some kind of Chicago poker tactic?

Oh, I think I know what this is. It’s called: Plain Stupid.

Out of all the campaign promises Obama made, transparency has to be one of the easiest to implement and maintain because it only requires the support of one person: himself. Sure it takes energy to perform in front of a crowd but that’s the show most of this country bought tickets to see. I don’t care how difficult it has been to run the country through a recession, two wars, Snowpocolypse, and a fight to change healthcare; that doesn’t give any leader the privilege to hide.

None. None what-so-ever.

Lift.

Time for a quick history lesson about the Marine Corps Air Station Tustin:

The Air Station was established in 1942 as Naval Air Station Santa Ana, a base for airship operations in support of the United States Navy’s coastal patrol efforts during World War II. NAS Santa Ana was decommissioned in 1949. In 1951, the facility was reactivated as Marine Corps Air Station Santa Ana to support the Korean War. It was the country’s first air facility developed solely for helicopter operations. It was renamed Marine Corps Air Station Tustin in 1970. By the early 1990s, MCAS Tustin was a major center for Marine Corps helicopter aviation on the Pacific Coast. Its primary purpose was to provide support services and material for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and for other units utilizing the base.

Tomorrow a few of us at Happy Cog West will be hanging out in the shadows of the airship hangars. Come on by and say hi from 5-7PM over at JT Schmids. If the weather holds up we’ll be outside.

Video.

I’m not one for writing down the product of brain activity while sleeping but once and a while the neural playback of recent events is so amalgamated that it has to be shared. So I tried that this morning, relaying the events from my dream state to the Rocket Scientist. After I was done she looked confused and then became annoyed that I had just taken valuable time out of her morning.

Not satisfied with her reaction I decided to take things to the web wherein I run the risk of annoying even more people but as I always say: If you’re riding a train wreck, go big.

It started with an early afternoon walk in a nice, quiet neighborhood. The streets were clean but not sterile. The pavement was uneven here and there where trees had decided they had the right-of-way. The sidewalk led to Main street lined with an assortment of shops and restaurants. There were people everywhere, shopping, eating, walking back to work. It was a peaceful scene of a small American town, the kind that Hollywood likes to create.

As I was walking through I noticed that up ahead a group had gathered and was growing larger. I moved closer to the commotion and saw that a woman in dirty, tattered clothing was pacing angrily in front of a store. She had a sign that looked like it had seen many months in the sun and in the rain. Occasionally she would yell angrily and make violent motions while tears streamed down her face. She talked but made no sense.

Police started to walk in from all around to take up strategic positions. The onlookers were pushed back to a safe location while they continued to talk quietly and stretch their necks for some kind of view. One of the cops started to talk to the distraught woman, making hand motions to show he meant no harm.

I pulled away from the crowd and walked over to a policeman who was standing alone. He turned out to be the Chief.

“What’s going on,” I asked?

“Oh, it’s just another Flash developer who’s down and out and blames HTML 5,” the Chief replied, “we’re going to try and get her to safety and hopefully recovery.”

We both looked on as his co-workers inched their way forward towards the demonstrator. Their arms outstretched, they grabbed her while she kicked and cried. As they got her to calm down the crowd started to disperse and then the buzz of the alarm clock pulled instantly away from the scene, down Main street, over the uneven sidewalk, and back to reality.

Have I just foretold the future? I’m not sure, but I can tell you this much: it’s time to put radishes back on the cuisine quarantine list.

Ash.

This morning my attention was directed to the following article at Salon Magazine:

“Obama vs. House GOP: Best TV ever. The president smoothly mocks House Republicans, in an entertaining U.S. take on the prime minister’s question time.”

If I could kick a website in the ding ding my foot would already be behind my back and swinging forward with all the might I could muster, toe pointed forward, poised for a sure shot.

Salon (and they’re not the only ones) ought to be ashamed for stating such a smug opinion on yesterday’s meeting between the Whitehouse and the House of Representatives. Yesterday we witnessed a rare event that should be celebrated with a fervent demand for an encore and another and another. It should not be treated like a simple media event wherein tallies are made and a victor is announced. The entire point of the session was to but an end to the daily soundbyte sniper hunt and talk candidly without the interruption of pundits who are paid to pour gasoline on a tire fire.

It’s easy for all of us to cynical (including the media) about what was said yesterday but we can’t expect politicians to change overnight. We have had such a vicious decade of division that is not going to simply go away. Like all wounds, this will take time to heal and it is on us to stop running back to our ideological bunkers to dissect what was said into triumphant taking points.

Every voter in this union should take some time this weekend to thank their representatives for participating in yesterdays Q&A and encourage them to conduct more open sessions until it becomes a routine of our political culture, a structural thread in our evolving democracy. Write to the President and write to your members of the House. Meanwhile, we should harass and snub media outlets who seek to continue opening the divide between neighbors because civil discourse would likely mean lower ratings with declining advertising revenue.

Yesterday’s open door talk wasn’t perfect but it was a start. Lets go team go.

Reds.

There’s nothing worse than bland food. The only thing that trumps it are bad comedians.

Therefore, I propose that Leno is as funny as Subway is tasty.

Build.

To kick off a great year Cameron is doing something a bit different with his annual promotion over at Authentic Jobs. Normally I don’t dedicate an entire post to such events but I do like to support a good cause every now and then.

We’re calling it the Twenty Ten promotion. It works like this: Post a listing between now and January 22 and you’ll receive 20% off your listing. More importantly, 10% of your purchase will be donated to Charity:Water to help bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.

To participate use code AIRBAGTEN. Hire someone cool, help a village develop a source of fresh water. Win, win.

You may also join in and donate to the campaign independent of posting a listing. Cameron and the Team AJ are hoping to raise $5,000, which is enough to fund the development of a freshwater well in one village.

Bipolar.

The Society of Publication Designers recently did a feature on the art direction for the Riverfront Times, an alternative weekly available in the St. Louis area. In this piece they celebrate the work of senior art director, Tom Carlson.

In short, they say, “He does a lot of smart, cool work.”

Carlson’s best covers at Riverfront Times are complete self-creations, made with stock imagery and Carlson’s own technical skills. What photography he uses on the cover is generally by former staff photographer Jennifer Silverberg, and is made-to-order to Carlson’s creative direction. “My cover philosophy is object-oriented. I like to go for visual solutions with clarity and directness that render text all but unnecessary. I tend to avoid decorative type choices and use type that just is, and let the words (when we have them) do their job.”

See for yourself and I think you’ll agree, Tom does a lot of smart, cool work.

The article continues to offer a reason as to why Tom is able to be so crafty with his art and design.

Oh look, as it turns out the Riverfront Times is just another newspaper that is living in the past and waiting for that Internet thing to go away and to stop bothering them. Pity.

Peanuts.

After all the travel I did this year I’m going to hop on Kottke’s meme. Long story short, I had to endure airport security way too many times. There was a time when I was flying an average of two flights every week. That said, Jared “Travel Machine” Spool made my flight schedule look like a series of grade school field trips. Still, I’ve got enough free drink coupons to last for a long, long time and a handy A-List Membership card that lets me jump to the front of the line for Federal Flight Safety Processing Happy Fun Time.

Here is a list of the places I traveled to and stayed in for one or more nights in 2009.

Aliso Viejo, California 1

Emeryville, California 1

Palm Springs, California 2

Palo Alto, California

Pasadena, California

Walnut Creek, California 2

Yountville, California

Fort Collins, Colorado

Boston, Massachusetts 2

Albany, New York

Eugene, Oregon 2

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 2

Austin, Texas

Seattle, Washington 2

Tacoma, Washington

Sadly, I wasn’t able to make my annual trip to Las Vegas in November—a problem I hope to remedy not too long after New Years.

1 Permanent residence.

2 Visited multiple times during the year.

Ketchup.

I bring to you a few gems from a recent interview with Garrison Keillor with Tom Peters (more like ghost interview really, apparently Tom was too busy to talk to Garrison but that’s Ok it’s what Mr. Minnesota says that’s important here).

Thoughts on post college life yesterday vs. today:

When I started out writing for the New Yorker I was living in a farmhouse in central Minnesota, because it was so cheap. It really removed a lot of the pressure of having to sell-sell-sell. I loved it there. I was desperately lonely, but that’s not a bad thing.

I was sitting in a room upstairs at a desk that was a sheet of three-quarter-inch plywood across two used file cabinets, looking at an Underwood typewriter, and typing on yellow paper. It was a contemplative life that had great, deep pleasure. I wouldn’t know how to recover it today.

This, for me, is how the world has changed, that a man sits at a desk in utter silence, and the phone line is simply the phone line. Somebody calls, and you don’t have to answer it. You sit in silence, and hours pass and you tap-tap-tap-tap at a typewriter. I will never, ever recover that life. It’s gone forever. And the college students I know will never know that life.

On direction (and potentially management):

[Bob] Altman had the courage to remove himself a little bit, distance himself from the people in the scene, and to be a sort of reassuring, paternal presence. He gave them that freedom. You knew that all of those performers had an internal critic. He didn’t need to add his own critical persona to it.

On acting in the movie A Prairie Home Companion:

When you’re on the screen with Meryl Streep, you are furniture and you might as well just accept that fact.

Regarding U.S. Senators:

He was a U.S. Senator. You cannot tell these people what to do. They all see themselves as the future President of the United States.

On writing:

As you get older, you learn how to throw it out without much thought, without much pity. You look at a piece that you’ve written, and you take those first three paragraphs, and you dump them. You just rip them out. Usually, that’s the part that needs to be thrown out, the big windup, the big introduction. The first page almost always can go. You learn to do that without regret. I edit myself much more quickly and mercilessly now than I ever could have 20, 30 years ago.

On becoming a nation of individuals as a brand (which is a notion and product line that Tom Peters created and promotes):

I think that the decline within manufacturing in this country is a terrible loss, and a cultural loss. I don’t want us to become a nation of authors, humorists, and writers of sonnets. For one thing, I don’t encourage the competition. But I just think that it’s a terrible cultural loss for the country, as well as an economic loss, to lose the ethics of physical work.

My father was a carpenter. He worked with his hands. He was gifted with his hands. This was a life for him that had great dignity and meaning. This should be fostered. I hope that people don’t follow my lead. I am a man who, in many ways, leads the life of a ten-year-old child. It’s a very immature life. You have adults around you who are steering the ship.

Of course to really appreciate these quotes you should sit down and read the entire piece.

Bananas.

Just as I’m preparing to ramp up creative production on personal work here and in other places, I feel as though I’ve been hit by a virtual Mack truck in the middle of a quiet street. Last week I posted a quick little jab, and you may have even seen it. Not that a huge amount of work went into that effort but it definitely took more than a few minutes to get everything just the way I wanted.

Hours after posting I noticed something I had not seen before: other websites posting my content verbatim (or in some cases with a different headline of their own choosing) with a link labeled thusly: “via airbagindustries.com”. That’s “via”. As in, “I found the content from someplace else and are passing it through to the next person.” In my day if you reposted someone else’s content you attributed the source either by quoting said material, and/or posted a label that started with the word “from.” I don’t recall seeing this just a year ago and it makes me wonder if someone needs to change the filter in the global water cooler.

Look, I’m not Merlin Mann here. I am under no delusions that any of the posts here at Airbag are worth a plugged nickel. But the change in word usage for attributing the source of the content is rather odd and potentially problem-causing in the future. Perhaps it’s not so much a legal matter (rest in peace Stephen Ambrose), but more of a how do we prevent homo sapiens from devolving back into monkeys.

Yo-Yo.

The backseat of the car was draped in several layers of old bed sheets, towels, and “piddle pads” to help absorb what ever the cats could not hold back in their state of drugged out panic. As we had rented a car for this maneuver I suggested we let the felines have free rein, go ballistic if they wanted to. Not because I’m a freak like that, I’ve just always wanted to turn in a rental car that is in a state of condition that would suggest Hunter S. Thompson had come back to life and decided another drug induced road trip to Vegas was in order. Perhaps that’s a lot of stress to put on some cats—here kitties, take some downers, some uppers, pee where ever you want too and pretend there are wolves chasing you inside the car while it is on fire. Instead all I got was some really freaked out pets who had shed half their weight in fur all over some old laundry. If only I was a member of a country club then I could regale Ted, Brick, and The Judge with this tale and it would come off as being more like my deranged fantasy.

And to think at that point we were only as far as Kettleman City. A place that exists solely because someone realized it was a good place for people to pull over and do something other than drive themselves further off the flat earth and into the type of mind numbing sheer boredom that encourages people to drive faster than you really should in effort to shave a few precious minutes off your total drive time. Perhaps if I had stocked for the road trip properly I could have enjoyed the trip but no amount of Pringles or Svenhard’s Horns A Plenty would have taken my mind off the fact that I had to power through eight hours of pavement. Thankfully I did not have to endure this journey in something like a Honda Civic otherwise I would have jumped the hybrid vehicle off the road and into Harris Ranch wherein I could have Duke Boy’d a few doughnuts, knocked over a few filet mignons on hooves, and prepared myself for a thirty-day summer vacation at the local lock-up. I had to dig down deep and bring forth and remember my training as a Cub Scout to power through the rest of the bang-hammer-to-the-head drive up north. All that time planning, designing, carving, painting, assembling, and racing that Pinewood Derby car finally paid off.

It is different living up here, among the real Obama voters—not like those posers down South who plastered an Obama/Biden ’08 sticker to the back of their Hummer—the real kind, not the limp-wristed H2 that General Motors churned out like Rock Crack Cocaine for the masses of The Sopranos Compete Set owning, suburbanized short men. The big difference, thus far, has been the weather and the constant noises that remind you that you do have neighbors. Some good, some who are aggressively auditioning for the next season of COPS, like the gentlemen I saw being cuffed by no less than five “po-lice” while on my way to the market. Hopefully that was nothing more than a little casual racial discrimination and he’s now at home, like me, sitting comfortably in a nice chair and bitching aimlessly into a glowing screen.

As if migrating office, home, and my own Siegfried and Roy show wasn’t enough excitement for the week, I had to fly back down to Southern California days later to meet with a potential new client. This is ironic, you must understand, because I moved up North so the Rocket Scientist and I could cut down on all the flying we have had to endure in the last two years. I now know that it doesn’t take a full hour to get to SFO at 5:30AM on a Sunday morning. Who knew? I can’t tell you how much fun it is to wake up with the world’s melting pot with the sounds of vacuum cleaners and the smell of eggs and bacon wafting throughout terminal—everyone looking like how the other person feels. There is no joy in traveling between the hours of 10PM and 6AM. None.

I spent the night within visual range of Los Angeles County’s largest fire on record. From my hotel room I could see flames as tall as buildings lashing about trees and shrubbery that hadn’t committed a single act of violence in their lifetime. The view was nothing short of spectacular and I found it disturbing that more people weren’t pining for a view of an event on a magnitude that only comes along every one-hundred years or so. Shame on them, sitting in their cafe’s, pretending as if the fireman killing hellfire just up the road was nothing more than another cloudy day.

Here at home—the new home—we have a man-made miracle occurring a mile (as the crow flies) from where I sit now. As I write this hundreds of people are performing an engineering feat that should be considered a small wonder of the world—altering the route of a major bridge by moving hundreds of tons of road and steel to the side while a new path can be slid into its place. It’s invasive surgery on a major artery of commerce and connectivity. The grandeur and scale of such ambition leaves me feeling silly for stressing about constructing digital experiences, none of which, that I know of, ever put anyone in harms way or had so much risk involved. I am glad to be here, to watch from the shore as progress is being slid into place.

This weekend we’ll continue to settle in and add to the mountain of boxes and wrapping paper that is slowly starting to resemble the base of Devil’s Tower. With any luck we’ll have it removed by recyclers before I start to think it’s really important and develop this need to head to Wyoming because I don’t know that I can put another hundred miles on my car without seriously going out of my mind. In the meantime the cats and I will be at home, adjusting to all the new sounds. Eventually we’ll be able to get through the day without hiding under the covers.

Memento.

“Trust me,” Hoy declared, “one day we’re all going to be working together and it’s going to be huge.”

We were at the An Event Apart after party in March 2007, and I was very happy to meet Greg Hoy. He had recently opened Happy Cog’s Philadelphia office after many, many years of managing web production shops for various companies. Hoy talked openly of his ideas on how to improve the industry, offered many suggestions on how to better handle business operations, and displayed a wit compatible with the current Airbag standard. I knew that evening that I had gained a friend and mentor whose opinion and confidence I could trust.

“Screw LA,” I replied to Jeffrey with a grin, “if I’m ever going to become Happy Cog then it’s going to be Happy Cog West.”

I was standing in his apartment, wrapping up a very pleasant afternoon spent with Jeffrey and his family, catching up with personal news and talking shop. Airbag was about to grow by a third and I had flown to New York City to reaffirm my desire to continue to work with Happy Cog when and where it made sense. Having exhausted current events, we started to talk openly about future possibilities when the subject of Airbag and Happy Cog’s future came up. After I gave my response, we chuckled, quickly said our good-byes, and I headed for JFK airport on a warm spring afternoon in April, 2006.

“You should quit your job and start your own business,” he said in-between bites of Pad Thai, “I know you’ll be good at it.”

In December, 2003, I called in sick at work so I could drive up to Pasadena to have lunch with Jeffrey. After-all, It’s not every day that Zeldman makes it out to California, and he had invited me to lunch on his only free day. Across from the table Zeldman continued talking, improving my self-esteem by orders of magnitude with just about each sentence thereafter. By the time we were cracking open the fortune cookies, my smile wouldn’t fit through the door, and my head required FAA clearance for the flight path back home. Despite the enormous feeling of empowerment, the advice was hard to internalize because I wasn’t in a good position to act on his advice, but even more difficult because I didn’t want to believe it.

“You should call it Airbag, because that’s how everyone knows you,” Zeldman said over the phone. “You’re Airbag.”

It was June of 2005. The Rocket Scientist and I were about to turn a new leaf in our lives after twelve very difficult months. She had just started a new job that made it possible for us to take the risk of starting a business without any dependable income. We wouldn’t be living in luxury any time soon, but I had good advice from many successful people that if I didn’t try, it would become my single largest regret later in life. On the phone, Jeffrey offered words of encouragement and offered a few suggestions for getting started. A few days later, I called my lawyer and had him start the process of incorporating Airbag Industries into an Limited Liability Corporation. A month later, it was official.

“Hoy and I agreed that at the end of the day, if we are going to open another office then it has to be with you.” Hoy nodded with confidence as Jeffrey spoke, “It has to be with Airbag.”

We were sitting at the far end of the concierge room near the top of the Hilton Austin in March of 2009. South By Southwest Interactive was in full swing below and even at that height you could tell that the ants were nerds. While Jeffrey and Hoy continued talking, my head was in a mind numbing haze as I replayed some of these conversations and events from the last six years over and over. Though it may be easy to connect the dots now, I didn’t see this coming and I certainly wasn’t expecting to receive such an invitation. “We would like Airbag to become Happy Cog West,” they said. “We have similar processes, our teams work and play well together, and combined, there’s nothing we can’t do.” Everything they said was true and I knew it. Ten minutes into the meeting and the subject changed from “what if” to discussing next steps, goals, and timelines.

“Done and done,” I posted last Friday in response to signing the final document.

It is now August 3, 2009 and it is with exuberance and joy I am very pleased to announce that on this day our friends become our family. Airbag Industries has merged with Happy Cog™ Studios. Many months of planning and negotiations have lead to this event, and I’m very excited about the potential that lies ahead for all of us. Today marks the next step in Happy Cog’s evolution and the future before us is filled with more opportunity than I can currently fathom.

Shop.

A few days ago I received an email newsletter from one of my all-time favorite book stores, William Stout Architectural Books. Along with the usual list of newly available products, this edition came with big news for design book buyers: Everything in stock is twenty-five percent off until twenty February.

Wanting to help the independent book seller, I made an announcement of the sale on Twitter and went back to work. Hours latter Mr. Murtaugh asked what books he should buy to take advantage of the sale. Looking through the online store, there were so many that I could not name one or two. And thus ensued a quick burst of recommendations. And there were many, perhaps too many to post in such rapid succession for most @brilliantcrank follower’s patience, but it’s not often that I turn the fire hose on so, deal with it.

Many Twitter friends asked to collect the suggestions on Airbag. And that is what this is, a list of really great books to add to your library, sale of no sale. Keep in mind there is no referral money being made here. No under the table arrangements between shifty design book collectors. I love good books and good book stores, and I’ll always try to help them when I can, especially the ones that expose readers to volumes you’ll never find in a big box chain.

For those of you who were first-hand witness to the Brilliantcrank Twitter Storm of Ninteen February there is something new for you and the end of this list. I guarantee that you’re not going to want to pass it up.

Otherwise, here it is, the list of books I recommend buying from William Stout.

Design

Online

Wayfinding

Typography

As some of you know, this list originally included the much sought after FontBook along with the words “go buy now”.

Stephen Coles, editor of Typographica and Type Director at FontShop pointed out that Stout’s sale only includes books that are in stock and that he had first hand knowledge that they were, in fact, currently out of stock. I asked if the good people at FontShop could match the offer (who looks out for you people, huh?) and he replied with a different idea.

The Airbag Exclusive FontShop Special

From now until 28 February, Airbag readers get fifteen percent off FontBook, the must have tome for any serious designer and/or typography fanboy, and Made with FontFont, Erik Spiekermann’s fabulously designed salute to FontFont’s fantastic type collection. Act fast and spread the word. It’s not every day these volumes are offered at a discount.

To get the special price use code AIRBAGGERY when purchasing FontBook and code AIRBAGFF when purchasing Made with FontFont.

And that’s it, I am spent. Perhaps one day I shall make my own Uncrate for things related to online design so that this kind of excitement happens all year. For now I shall retire my clerks apron and get back to work in the mines.

Mendoza.

While American bankers appear and act oblivious to crimes of their actions while we go into into nation-crushing amounts of debt to pay for their sins, their British counterparts seem to see the writing on the wall. And they’re taking a different approach to respond to the crisis: They’re apologizing.

The former heads of banks bailed out by the British state amid the credit crunch gave unreserved apologies Tuesday for their conduct, and agreed changes to the bonus system were needed.

Dennis Stevenson, the former chairman of HBOS, told the Treasury Select Committee investigating the crisis that he and the bank’s former chief executive Andy Hornby were “profoundly sorry.”

Fred Goodwin, previously chief executive of RBS and a man nicknamed “Fred the Shred” for his aggressive style, added: “I apologised in full and I’m happy to do so again.” He said there was a “profound and unqualified apology for all of the distress that has been caused.”

Stevenson said: “All of us have lost a great deal of money, including of course a great number of our colleagues, and we are very sorry for that.

Sure, apologies won’t fix what’s wrong, they can’t change the past, but it sure is nice to see men of power own up to their mistakes. Humble apologies go a long way. If only the captains of the American banking industry had the courage to face their nation and do the same.

President Obama, it seems to me that we ought not to close down Guantanamo Bay so fast. Let’s turn it into a destination resort for American bank executives who haven’t demonstrated an ounce of personal shame from the destruction they have wrought.

Amazed.

He and she thought I should share seven things about myself that you may or may not know about me. At first I thought this was a thinly veiled attempt to scam my credit card information but I have been assured this it’s just another meme thing. I was supposed to do this weeks ago, possibly months ago, but I had to help Obama fix the economy first. Now that it’s in the Senate’s hands I can get back to what’s important in life.

Prepare to have your mind blown, in seven ways

  1. I’ve been online since 1985, participating in what they now call “social communities”. Pffft, noobs.
  2. Sports that require an arena usually end up boring me to tears. I’d like to take a page from the Romans and bring back the lions and tigers.
  3. One day I’d like to ditch the Internet and do something tangible.
  4. I may have once fished illegally whilst canoeing down a river during a time when the fish had already spawned and mostly died. I was bored and borrowed a fishing pole form a friend to help cut the monotony of floating down stream never imagining that my spastic technique (think John Candy in A River Runs Through It) would hook anything but a soggy stick. Minutes later I might have had a close call with fish and game authorities which could have turned into a really, really bad. Whoops. Also, there may have been large bears that at a certain time in the trip caused us to panic, draw weapons, and walk slowly backwards to the canoes for a hasty departure from shore. I really can’t say anything more, I’ve already said too much.
  5. I tip either twenty or zero percent depending on the quality of service, not the quality of the food.
  6. I’ve never been to a high school reunion. So far, so good.
  7. If ever there is a chance I can use a laser death ray from Earth’s orbit. I will most certainly point it at AT&T and press the FIRE button. And then I would do it again, and again, and again until weak signals and dropped calls have been vaporized.

You people have been served

This is where I’m supposed to bring seven more people into this Madoff trivia scam.

That is all. Perhaps, after leaving an insightful comment, you should go learn more about liberal arts and how it has entered the Ajax Age or browse through last Friday’s tennis match (the serve totally owned).

Sense.

A few moments ago, shortly after President Obama took the oath of office, a switch was flipped and a new website for the Whitehouse was unveiled. Since the 90’s there have been more than a handful of upgrades, updates, and redesigns to the President’s website but this new site is a vast improvement over the others. Not due to the wonderful design or the fact that each page validates, those improvements are nice but they are small and mostly unseen merits compared to the bigger improvements to the space.

Macon Phillips (former online strategist for Blue State Digital—the folks behind the Obama ’08 campaign Internet endeavors), the Director of New Media for the White House says there are three priorities for the new website: Communication, transparency, and participation. The first two have, in some fashion, been a part of Whitehouse.gov for a number of years. It’s the third initiative that should raise a few eyebrows.

President Obama started his career as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, where he saw firsthand what people can do when they come together for a common cause. Citizen participation will be a priority for the Administration, and the internet will play an important role in that. One significant addition to WhiteHouse.gov reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.

I’m going to assume this means more than just turning on the ability to post comments and I look forward to seeing how this idea executed, maintained, and used by the President’s office. I hope there will be a time when we’ll get a chance to look behind the curtain and see how responses are collected, parsed, turned into reports, and how that information is used in the President’s decision making process.

Meanwhile, anyone who is looking to succeed using the Internet as a main channel for talking to clients, customers, and constituents should follow closely the work Macon and his team are doing. The model they are following is one that can certainly be used beyond government work.

Lasky.

Last night at 23:46 Patrol One “Officer” 984 at post Y045 entered my garage—the door of which I had left open accidentally—and placed a NOTICE on my car alerting me to the fact that the garage door was open. At 11:46 PM (or 23:46 in Rent-A-Paramilitary-Cop-Time-Code) I was wide awake, working, with many lights on. Lights, that could be seen by anyone who can see through their eyes, which I would assume includes trooper 984 but historical documentation says otherwise.

There were enough lights on that would indicate to anyone with an IQ higher than baloney that I was not asleep, but active and awake. And yet while I was working away, Sergeant Numbnut sat in his Patrol One Patrol Car, carefully took down all my vehicle information, ripped the White Copy away from the triplicate form, walked into my garage, and laid this document on my vehicle.

Meanwhile I was on the other side of the garage wall, working through the wee hours of the morning, oblivious to both my community appearance infraction but more importantly the guf-fah I had made to my own personal safety.

So it was this morning I was surprised to learn that I had left the garage door open and felt rather stupid about the whole thing. That is, until I saw 984’s handiwork, laid carefully on the top of my car. Livid is the word I would use to best describe my reaction as I read through this carefully penned notice. Instead of walking fifteen paces to my front door, ringing the door bell (or knocking), so as to gain my attention and suggest that if I wish to avoid being the victim of some type of crime I might consider closing the largest entrance to my house for the night, this moron walked into an extension of my home and left a note to say the obvious. Why tomorrow, I expect to see a note that says, “You’re awake now.” Or, “the sun will rise today.” Or, “Obama Won.”

I don’t exactly know what the hiring practices at Patrol One are but from my own personal experience I’d have to guess that full-time employment requires a fourth grade education and the ability to use a ink-ball pen. Eye sight (20/20 or significantly lower) and rational thinking is preferred, but not required. Free clothes provided.

Goldfish.

For the last three months I have been on the hunt for any news, any indication of how the global economic situation will impact this industry. Everyone I talked to was doing the same and had the same conclusion: anyone involved in the Internet development game is going to be okay. If anything, many suggested, we’ll be busier than ever before as competitors and middleman collapse under the weight of their overhead and unwillingness to add in-house Internet expertise. Everything I have read about previous economic down turns suggests that these revelations appear to be historically accurate. Furthermore, we’ve seen a lot of good news lately: the ongoing hubbub about the sharp increase of Internet users, the inevitable online transition being made by several paper-based institutions to online mediums, and Obama’s determination to move America from the fifteenth most online nation to somewhere near number one.

With big stories like that, it’s hard not to get excited about what the future holds.

And then I started to receive news of friends and colleagues who were laid off in the days leading up to Christmas and the new year. It wasn’t their fault, they were simply collateral damage from an upper management campaign to save the company (or their own salary, benefits, and bonus—hard to tell these days). It’s one thing to lose your job because you weren’t meeting the exceptions of your employers. It’s another to come to work and find out that your position was considered expendable to day-to-day operations and overall success of the company you’ve worked so hard for.

Though I can not say this from personal experience (knock on wood), nothing is worse than being let go due to circumstances way, way beyond your control.

During Christmas season travel it occurred to me that the larger problems we, as an industry, have to work around right now are not all financial. More of our friends and colleagues may lose their jobs in the coming months, and it’s our shared responsibility to help them whenever possible. In this new year, it is simply not going to be enough to just meet your bottom line, but to help others who may not be in a position to be so entrepreneurial or carefree.

To those who own their own business: I challenge you to push harder. If you need $50k to keep your family under house and home then do everything you can to bring in $150k. Chances are you won’t make the larger goal, but you’ll do far better than selling yourself short and it’s likely that you’ll need extra resources to finish all the work, help from people who are looking to supplement lost income. I’m not talking about going through the process and stress of actually hiring more people (there is a good reason why the IRS created the 1099 form). Don’t turn away any work that comes through your door. Get it. Grab it. Take it—as much as you can— and network with the people who are ready and willing and have the skills you need. Team up, and conquer.

To the designers and developers, the employees and the freelancers, your challenge is to do your best to get work done in a speedy way that does not sacrifice quality. Time really is money, be smart about your efforts and spend it wisely. Don’t leave anything to chance or undone in a way that will cause further stress and anxiety for your employer as they are likely already significant pressure to keep the work coming through the door. Working smarter will not only make business more successful but ensure that clients are impressed, thankful, and very willing to sing your praises to everyone they know. Good teamwork means never letting anyone on the team fail. If you work by those mantras then nothing should ever get in your way to being very, very successful.

To the persons who support the entire team, make sure everyone (clients, management, workers, everyone) is communicating always. Poor communication causes anxiety which leads to uncertainty and eventually a breakdown in trust. It’s likely that you are on the frontline between an awkward alliance of those with money and those who need money—an amalgam of personalities who are trying to get work done on time, on budget without sacrificing quality and ingenuity. The best way to win the day is to ensure that everyone is speaking clearly and openly. Leave no phone call or email unanswered, no meeting or appointment unattended. Remember that the level of customer service is always remember by those who pay the bill.

To the vendors who support us all, don’t leave your customers and, ultimately, their clients waiting. Respond to sales calls and support tickets with gusto. Our symbiotic relationship requires a certain sense of urgency. One day waiting for a response is a production day lost forever. Just as important, be frank and let us know how we can improve our relationship and business practices. Too often the picture is clear from your viewpoint while we’re sitting inside the box.

Let’s not go into this next year with blind enthusiasm or crushing anxiety, but with a great sense of kinsmanship and and eager promise. Let us all work together to do what we can to grow our network into a future titan of industry. One that contributes to the community and the economy, global and local.

Good luck to all of us in this coming year. If you have any questions or concerns, or you’re looking for good people to do great work let me know. I’ll do what I can to help out.

Cholesterol.

On defending his cabinet appointments yesterday morning, president-elect Obama had this to say:

“I assembled this team because I am a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions. I think that’s how the best decisions are made. One of the dangers in a White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in group-think and everybody agrees with everything and there’s no discussion and there are no dissenting views. So I am going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House. But understand, I will be setting policy as president. I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out, and I will expect them to implement that vision once decisions are made.”

Ah, if only more leaders were strong enough to consider a point of view that may not jibe with their own. Not just political leaders, all of them.

I have worked for persons who didn’t like the idea of debate in the workplace, even when it was conducted in the interest of delivering a smarter and better result. After a while my existence at these organizations became absolutely pointless and I quickly lost interest in the work and ultimately employment. Not because I feel the need to fight each and every little battle. It’s just that we don’t live long enough on this Earth to go through life jumping off bridges or drinking instant grape beverage each and every time we’re asked to do so.

My mentor in college, Jim Avery, once told me, “If two people think alike all the time, one of them is redundant.” From the many pieces of advice I received in college that line will always remain in active memory (the other piece of advice: “Get out of Alaska as soon as you can.” Well, I’m almost ten years Alaska-sober now and haven’t touched an ulu in fifteen). The more you live and work around people who rarely present a different viewpoint, the softer your brain gets, the more complacent you become, and before you know it Wilford Bradley is the only one who makes any sense in the world.

S-MART.

The Bible has a rule against coveting what your neighbor has. Be it his wife, slaves, a farm animal, whatever. The point is, don’t lie around wishing you had something that you did not because it will cause trouble for you and your community. Unfortunately, I can’t find any statistics that report if the crime rate declined YTD after the Ten Commandments were brought down from the mountain but I’ll take a guess and say probably not. It doesn’t matter if laws are written on paper or etched in stone by God, nothing can prevent the unchecked desire to have and to hold.

This morning a man was trampled to death by consumers racing to buy items priced considerably lower than their normal cost. The same mob ran over a pregnant woman who then lost her unborn child to the violent frenzy. Frugal shoppers—people who are commonly referred to as being smart and wise with their money—killed a human being in their lust to obtain lifeless items priced to entice the highest to the lowest income. Two hundred people, ran past and on top of a fellow human beings who could not move, who could not breathe, who lost their lives. They killed two humans in their pursuit to obtain something that they otherwise would likely not be able to afford.

Executives from Wall Street, financial institutions, and the federal government have all been assigned varied degrees of responsibility for the failure in the American economy but somehow one very red-handed and dangerous culprit has been left out: Consumers. The same people who would knock down a pregnant women to the curb for a few hundred bucks. The same people who will trample the life out of fellow human being so they can have something previously unavailable to them are just as responsible for the condition of our economy.

It’s convenient to point to the people who sit at the top and place all the blame on them but it’s the face in the mirror that will ensure this FUBAR situation will happen again and again and again because laws and rules, no matter from how high they are handed down, can never hold back that level of kill-to-own kind of greed.

I hope those who are responsible, all two-hundred of them, are charged with double homicide and sentenced accordingly. This event is so sick and it is so, so wrong, but I doubt nothing will happen. My guess is that this story will focus on how the store owners allowed this to happen rather than why these people were so infatuated with obtaining a flat panel television that they could not notice a dying man or a pregnant woman in peril. We’ll feel bad for them and go on as if nothing happened and go back to buying things no one really needs or wants.

Also: Avoid death, shop online.

Neobama.

I’m not happy to read that Keith got called out for “questioning Obama’s polices” and “suggesting that McCain loved his country” from someone who, apparently, “would have moved to Canada if McCain won.”

Keith, I didn’t know that you hung out with Sean Pean. Huh.

Ardent Obama supporters need to learn quickly that if there is to be “hope” and “change” it’s going to have to come from their actions just as much as it does from the president elect. And that starts with being open to listen to others who may not think a like. The “for me or against me” mentality stinks just as much coming from left leaning persons as it does from those who are bent to the right.

Alec Baldwin—I know, I know, bear with me here—had a very good point on this matter:

The greatest thing we can do now, those of us who support Obama, is hold him to the same standards to which we held Bush. Let’s face it. We’ve worked Bush over pretty badly these past few years. It is time for us to face that reality from conservatives, especially with the Triple Crown in place.

Obama is likely to turn out to be a better President than Bush (with Shrub’s approval ratings of late who couldn’t, but it’s a tad too early to say that with absolute certainty) but that doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to call into question his administration’s policies. Especially the important ones.

Completed.

We’re actively working on a completely new website for Airbag, the company, but it’s far from ready and I’m too antsy to show off some of the work we’ve finished in the last month or so.

Change.org

Last April, we were contracted to help redesign Change.org to be a better, more engaging place for people to stay informed on social issues and get involved with causes and related non-profits. The new site features a complete makeover, including a design system that enables the cause spaces to hold up on their own. Through this project we have had the fortune of developing a strong friendship with Ben Rattray (CEO) and we’ve already started the next phase of design and development work that will make Change.org stronger, smarter, and more effective. While Stephen did almost all of the heavy lifting for this project we had the absolute pleasure of working with Meagan Fisher, who crafted the look and feel of ten of the causes included in the launch.

Red 5 Studios

Airbag has been at Red 5’s side going on four years now. We were there to help formulate ideas and deliverables for the much talked about Golden Ticket Campaign and then moved forward by creating a new site that represents and facilitates the company’s growth in people, creativity and innovation. The new site features artwork from their amazing in-house design department and a better publishing system with the capacity to display content in multiple languages. Ethan and Ryan deserve a lot of credit on this project as they did a lot of the work to get the site to where it is today. Mr Irelan built the site using Radiant—at the client’s request—and a fair amount of custom development work.

School of Visual Arts: Interaction

Star of An Event Apart: San Francisco, Liz Danzico chose Team Airbag to help create the website for the new and exciting interactive program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. When I heard there was a need for print work, I suggested hiring Heads of State and then we could use their work as the art direction for the website. I’ve always wanted to work with/near those guys and this turned out to be a great opportunity and I’m happy with the results. Once again, Ethan and I collaborated on the design, while he and Ryan developed and shipped the site.

Clinician1

It’s not every day that you’re asked to architect, design, develop and deploy a small social community. So we jumped at the chance to create Clinician1 from the ground up. Stephen, Drew, Ethan, and Ryan worked together to create a new community space for Nurse Practitioners. We were having so much fun that we invited Brian Warren to join the party and help Ryan with the heavy lifting on the site’s construction. The finished product looks a tad different from what we came up with but all-in-all it was a great project to add to the book and another first for Team Airbag.

Welton Investment Corporation

While we can not and will not take any credit for the design work, we will jump up and down when asked, “who built this handsome site?” Welton has been a really good client and since helping them develop and deploy their new site, we have already made several new additions under the hood. Ryan continues to do most of the heavy lifting while getting Stephen to lend a hand from time to time.

Peels Prairie Provinces

Wicked Worn is well represented here. Seems like just yesterday when we handed over the design and templates to the good folks at the University of Alberta. I love that we were given free reign to create the look and feel for this online collection of historical work. The worn look runs through our veins and it was great to go nuts and have almost all of our efforts approved with flying colors. Unfortunately this project was over too quickly and I hope we get to work with our friends up north again. As Drew is from Canada and he often missed his homeland I gave him the honor of pushing pixels. Nice job, eh? Once again we tapped into the Airbag Brotherhood of Web Workers Local 415 and brought Tim Murtaugh in to make web standards like with the HTML and CSS.

W3C

Yep. We did this thing. Well, it’s not up yet but just keep reading. Debuted during Ethan’s much praised presentation at An Event Apart: Boston, Airbag designed a completely new website for the W3C. It’s smart, clean, blue, different. Needless to say we’re very eager to see this work go live (hopefully in tact) as it will be a shiny, yellowish, new beacon of hope for the future of the Internet. Ethan took this one and ran with it right form the start and from time to time the rest of the Airbag Design Strike Team chimed in to offer support and backup, Yo Joe Style.

That’s it for now, there will be more later. In the meantime we currently have openings for projects starting in late ’08 to early ’09. If you’re smart and looking for other smart people to make your Internet dreams come true then give us a jingle.

OCC.

Recently I visited three states in three days. I traveled mostly by plane and during these flights I was asked on three separate occasions where I was from. When I replied Southern California I was pushed to provide more detail. Apparently everyone wants to get a city name because they just might know the exact location despite never really spending much time there. Must be an East coast geo-ninja skill that we don’t have out in the West or maybe it’s that we, who live in the West, don’t really care much about anything past Vegas because we know that we live on the best side of the States.

“Orange County,” I would reply.

“Oh, where the choppers are made!” I’ll swear to Congress that’s what they said each time. Three-different-people, on three-different-occasions.

“No,” I shot back which produced a very puzzled look on their face.

“But they’re in Orange County…” they stated, looking as if they were starting to piece facts together for their cross examination. Before they could finish laying out a chain of logic, I would cut-in and tell them that Orange County Choppers operates in upstate New York, not lower California.

This confused each inquisitors even more while they silently mouthed the words “orange” and “county.”

“That I know of,” I continued while they seemingly rang their index finger in the air, across an invisible globe, “there are three Orange Counties in the United States. One is in California, another in New York, and the third is located in Florida.”

“Oh…” and the conversation would end after they added something about not knowing our country had so many Orange Counties and that they always assumed it was in southern California. To end the vocal water boarding I finished with a short monologue on the fact that in more than a handful of episodes of American Chopper, snow makes a big, big appearance. And that for that kind of weather to happen in Southern California is likely a meteorological impossibility in (Although earlier this decade we had a freak rain storm that produced a lot of hail in Santa Ana. The quantity and ferocity allowed for the frozen precipitation to collect on the ground and if you looked at it from the SkyChopper 5 Live-Feed, it looked like snow. This was enough for the inner-city youth to lie on the ground in front a local 7-11 to make what the reporter lady called “snow angels”. I called it “sadness”).

Anyway, lets repeat the lesson learned here. The popular dysfunctional family that makes hot rod motor bikes on television does so from their facilities located somewhere between Yonkers and Buffalo, not between San Diego and where OJ killed those people.

Please pass this information along to your friends, family, co-workers, and maybe that awkward guy on the train. Last thing we need during these times of crisis is for our fellow citizens to be confused about where the best choppers on the planet are born.

Crisp.

The Fall season always has some weirdness when it comes to announcements of new work. It’s usually around this time that I get a handful of last minute RFPs with aggressive schedules for completing work before the end of the year. In most cases after talking through the project with the potential client they realize that their scope of work would require a Christmas miracle. Not to say that these timelines are impossible, just very improbable. And after receiving proposals from Airbag and our unknown competitors typically the client puts the project on hold until sometime in the next year.

Of course this doesn’t happen for every RFP received in the Fall but I bet I’ve described more than half the RFPs floating around from late September to early November. The whole situation is a bit awkward, frustrating yet rewarding in that everyone could use more practice with interviewing for a job.

This is all to say that if you have a project of any size and you’re seriously ready to get started now is the time to get that job on the boards. To help with your endeavor, Cameron Moll has given Airbag readers a 30% discount off listings of any kind over at Authentic Jobs. To receive this discount use promotion code AIRBAG31 at the time of checkout. As always each job posted is backed by a money-back guarantee:

Now, if you’re really looking for an All Star Team of Giant Talent and Small Egos then by all means please tell us about your project. We love working with good, smart people.

Foxworthy.

On a warm August evening I found myself in the company of Dan Cederholm and Luke Dorny. We were a small group split off from a larger crowd that had just finished dinning together. After the meal most of us walked across the street to an An Event Apart after-party. It was late and most of the casual and curious were long gone leaving a few persons of name recognition and a small group of people who just wanted another minute of their time. Even nerds have their fans and followers.

Such a person walked up to Dan, introduced himself and began a conversation with a question. Pretty standard conference party chit chat soon turned into hard core questions pertaining to development, validation, and strict adherence to both. Given the company I was in I figured these topics were standard faire—though trying to discuss such matters at 10PM in a art gallery turned into quasi-cool flat party doesn’t provide a best setting. Still, Dan, being the very decent citizen he is, kept his focus on the visitor and did his best to engage him in a manner befit his reputation for being a really nice guy.

Hard of hearing in a crowded place I’m not sure exactly what was said but the guy became irate and his discourse took a harsh tone. The conversation turned into accusations. Apparently this person was upset that Mr. Bulletproof did not take strict adherence to web standards as seriously as he should. And (pardon me if I don’t have this exactly word-for-word) that considering his position and influence he was preaching the gospel too askew for the greater good of the world.

It was at this point that Dorny put his drink down, stealthily slipped in-between the two and masterfully inserted himself as the primary target. A minute later Dan quietly backed away from the trio, looking like he had just been through a minor traffic accident. It wasn’t long after that Luke and his new friend were onto another topic less stressful and animated (knowing Dorny that means they were talking about beer, 1960’s European Poster design, Volkswagens, or all three).

There are a few lessons to be learned from this observed encounter.

A “perfectionist” and a “purist” are not the same person. The perfectionist seeks to do everything to the best of their ability against standards that are often set higher than average. The purist, on the other hand, seeks to adhere to some set of rules that are written for conditions in a world wherein Tom Cruise is taller and a lot less creepy, and every morning the box of Trix is full and fresh without all those lame crumb particles at the bottom of the box.

In the time that I have known him Dan is a perfectionist. This is partially why he has attained his rank and stature within our community (it also helps that he’s a fantastic designer, author, and presenter). More importantly, this attribute is why clients pay him money to create work for them. They know that while he will earnestly try to craft things using methods that are pure and as by-the-book as possible, he won’t seek a strict path that will end up causing delays or over run a project budget.

Clients, supervisors, vice presidents, and so forth—they don’t want the purist. Purists freak them out. While they might make for interesting subjects on the Discovery Channel, purists aren’t the best fit in the business world. Purity costs money and dedication to a path that often leads to even more unwanted or unnecessary expenditures.

Duct Tape is a business tool. It’s not one that anyone wants to use but it’s there for when perfection has run it’s course and it’s time to move on to other pursuits. Purity has no duct tape—only devotion.

Lastly, when you want to talk to someone who you admire for one reason or another it’s probably best not to verbally attack them for problems that aren’t their fault. If you want to be religious go to church.

Allayed.

Are you freaked out yet? Truthfully there has been a little fear swimming around in the back of my mind. For mostly no reason other than no matter where you turn there is increasingly bad news, stupid news, about the economy. If you swallow everything the Talking Heads are trying to sell verbatim then I’m sure you’re stocking up on duct tape and Visqueen.

Not wanting to get into a tailspin of worry and fright I have found the best source of calm to be the bank. I use two banks and have been to both in the last five days to make deposits.

One in particular, a commercial bank, is nothing but calm and relaxed. I keep looking for signs of panic but have seen none. Either everyone is eating the right brownies or they really aren’t worried to the point of over turning desks, starting small fires with shredded paper, and hoarding the candy jars. In fact I get the sense that they would love nothing other than to see the troubled institutions collapse so they can point and say, “Ha, ha, subprime is for suckwads”. Of course these folks are far from the boardroom but their sense of calm has certainly been a nice oasis from the world-ending panic that has become pervasive across anything that can broadcast a signal or hold ink.

This morning Ryan sent me a link to a post Seth Godin wrote a few days ago that puts current events in a completely different frame of mind.

Growth is frightening for a lot of people. It brings change and the opportunity for public failure. So if the astrological signs aren’t right or the water is too cold or we’ve got a twinge in our elbow, we find an excuse. We decide to do it later, or not at all.

Inc. magazine reports that a huge percentage of companies in this year’s Inc. 500 were founded within months of 9/11. Talk about uncertain times.

But uncertain times, frozen liquidity, political change and poor astrological forecasts (not to mention chicken entrails) all lead to less competition, more available talent and a do-or-die attitude that causes real change to happen.

If I wasn’t already running my own business, today is the day I’d start one.

I think this morning I’m going to relax a bit and take the road less traveled by. It takes ten minutes longer to get to work but the path runs right through the Laguna Canyon and some of the prettiest country in Southern California. And then I’m going to sit down at my desk and revise plans for taking over the Interactive world.

Armageddon.

More companies, no matter their customer base, would do well to take a page from Adult Swim’s playbook. When the world is melting around our ankles any touch of humor is appreciated. Especially when you can write it like this:

Adult Swim is a celebration of nature, friendship and leather crafts. We specialize in soft rock, novelty muffins, custom typewriter cases and industrial tarpaulins. We also pride ourselves in presenting highly popular television shows and videogames for adults in a format that is almost perfect for viewing on a computer that has the internet running. Adultswim.com has been voted “Best Site to Visit While You’re Supposed to Be Working” for eight consecutive years now, which may mean that we held the title before we even existed, we’ll have to check our records.

Personally I like to throw in a dash of humor at the expense of the Amish or Arkansas but novelty muffins is a great substitute.

Hire.

Good projects start with clear, straightforward communication. Unfortunately, some requests for proposals, or RFPs, we receive are anything but. This isn’t our clients’ fault: our industry hasn’t done much to educate them on how to approach studios with their project.

The whole RFP process is awkward. Frankly, agencies like Airbag would be better off if we provided an intuitive way for potential clients to outline a scope of work.

Sure, there are studios out there with a requirements document that clients can download, fill out, and send back via email. But after years of reading through these forms, I can tell you that they’re often confusing, and rarely completed in the detail requested. What follows is a clumsy ballet of follow-up emails, phone calls, voice mail, faxes, and sometimes people in brown uniforms delivering packages.

When trying to think through this problem, I realized it’d be great if potential Airbag clients could send us a concise, descriptive business letter, instead of the usual dashed-off email or the twenty pages-long write-up of various business rules.

After drafting said letter, I took it to the boys and together we created a simple application that starts off by asking a few questions, and ends with a well-crafted business request. We’ve created something that should help future clients provide just enough information about their needs that doesn’t require any second-guessing. It’s a fun, great way to put clients’ minds at ease—at the time when they’re traditionally the most overwhelmed.

For now, it’s called the Airbag Work Requisition Form and I’d invite you to check it out—especially the cool video Ryan put together. With the help of future clients we’re going to kick the tires on this thing, and see if it really helps improve communication between clients and agencies.

Mybad.

Note to self: Consider taking a break from writing about anything related to this election because as much fun and passionate as it was with previous elections, this one is has turned into a complete circus.

I mean when the candidate is from Wasilla, Alaska why should this come as a surprise really?

We have been blessed with five wonderful children who we love with all our heart and mean everything to us. Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. We’re proud of Bristol’s decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support.

Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family. We ask the media to respect our daughter and Levi’s privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates.

My apologies to all. I thought I was speaking up for common sense and decency… and apparently I spoke too soon?

Time for this Hulk to go smash into a stiff drink and hope that his head will stop shaking in disbelief sometime today.

Predator.

Less than a week ago Obama said that we’re better than the last eight years and I agree with that statement but wonder if some of his staunchest supporters understood the point he was trying to make. Here, let me answer my own question: No. No, they weren’t listening or seemingly capable of knowing what Obama meant in his use of the words “better than” otherwise how do you explain this crap?

Members of the lefty blogosphere haven’t stopped perpetuating the rumor Sarah Palin “faked” her last pregnancy and are now humiliating her daughter Bristol on the blatantly incorrect suspicion she is the real mother of baby Trig.

“Sarah Palin is NOT the Mother” is the title of this DailyKos blog that accuses Bristol, a completely fit-looking adolescent teen, of having a “baby bump” in a photo they allege was taken March 9th of this year.

“Sarah, I’m calling you a liar” wrote blogger ArcXIX. “And not even a good one. Trig Paxson Van Palin is not your son. He is your grandson. The sooner you come forward with this revelation to the public, the better. ” Photos of Bristol with detailed commentary about her abdomen are contained in the post.

Not that Obama or any of his campaign people are going to read this but I’d like him to know that this kind of behavior—from the very core of his base—is not better than the last eight years, it’s not better than the last two-hundred and thiry-two years.

REDACTION Apparently I ragged way too early this morning when, in hindsight, what I should have done was wait a few hours for a weird situation to get even more so.

Thirteenth.

I turned my head towards the kitchen where an odd, foreign sound starting to emanate from the kitchen. I thought maybe the cats had started some new version of their post dinner Battle Royale. Maybe, like world of tennis, they chose to take their nightly contests to a different surface but aside from the obvious growling, head batting, and fur tearing there was a fluttering noise that did not belong.

“Just a sec,” I said to the Skype window, “something’s going on.”

Walking into the kitchen I looked towards the sound, “Ah dammit are you kidding me!” and then muttered a few choice adult words.

“What is it?” the Skype window asked.

There on the tile—fluttering madly, trying to figure out where in the hell it was and how it might be able to put distance between itself and the large furry mammal creatures—was the largest, prehistoric bug I’ve ever seen. This bug was even bigger than the bright blue bug that landed on my cheek and then refused to die after I swatted it to the ground, and began repeatedly stepping on it while shrieking like a little girl. Each time it just shook off the attack and eventually flew away. At that point I thought for sure the apocalypse was just around the corner, I mean that thing could have had a leading role in Jurrasic Park it was so big and gnarly.

Never mind that we’re not supposed to have bugs in Orange County at all. This is God’s Country, we spray every year to kill off anything that’s not angelic or blonde. And yet, nonetheless, here was this giant prehistoric thing—scared, pissed and, for all I knew, chock full of some vile poison that I would soon be introduced to all because my pets were playing Turok out on the patio.

“The cats have brought in the biggest…”

“I don’t want to know,” the video image of the Rocket Scientist interrupted.

Looking back at video chat I replied, “Yeah, you don’t want to know. Hell, I don’t even want to know!”

I looked back and the bug was gone. The hairs on my neck shot up and I started to wonder how fast I could get to my Los Angeles Police Attack Maglite because, you know, that thing can stop bullets so I know it can kill bugs good and this thing needed to get got.

“I’ve got to go deal with this. I’ll try to call you back if you’re not already asleep.” And with that my once-a-day link to the Rocket Scientist was gone.

The house went silent save a few fluttering noises coming from a different location in the house. Somewhere, the possibly lethal giant insect was preparing for its counter attack, and I knew this fight was going to take more than a bunch of rolled-up toilet paper.

Punchlist.

In the last few years, when the subject of presidential candidates came up, I made it clear that I thought our best hope was a contest of centrists, a fight between McCain and Obama. And while I’m happy that that outcome has become an unofficial reality, I’m having second and third thoughts about John’s ability to provide a fresh perspective to the Republican party and ultimately the country.

I think Gedeon explains it best in the opening notes for his well crafted One Hundred Reasons Why McCain Won’t Be President of the United States.

For years I greatly admired Senator John McCain. He had a reputation for being a political maverick and seemed to vote with his conscience instead of with his party. When it came down to choosing between what was right and what the GOP wanted, John McCain more-often-than-not chose what was right.

Then he set his sights on the White House.”

It’s hard to see the image of McCain the Maverick start to unravel. And after reading through Ged’s list it’s increasingly difficult to consider punching a chad next to REP come this November.

Look, dammit, this sucks! I wanted a good, title grade fight. I wanted to see this election go all fifteen rounds but it doesn’t look that we’re going to get that kind of match and I don’t believe we’re all the better for it.

I suppose there’s still time to hope. Maybe someone will craft a similar list for Obama while he tailspins away from his 5000 FT. gleaming image but somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Choke.

You can bet good, hard earned money that the Rocket Scientist and I are going to be glued to the HDTV to watch the opening ceremonies, because anyone with a soul can’t…not…watch. Despite all the geopolitical, economic, steroid injected crap that comes up each and every time Bob Costas gets measured for a NBC Sports jumpsuit, I always, whole-heartedly buy into the notion that during these next two weeks we’re a planet, not a bunch of borders.

That said, as much as I will enjoy NBC‘s multi-channel 24/7 LIVE, OMG coverage, the Summer Olympics can suck smog because anyone with a brain knows that the Winter Olympics are where it’s at.

See you in Vancouver, two years from now.

Solomon.

Yesterday afternoon was spent writing copy for the new Airbag website. Bronwyn says it’s the best place to start and she’s pretty smart (Intelligence 18) so I’m taking her advice and typing words instead of pushing pixels. Starting with the low hanging fruit first, I assembled a complete list of clients, something I’ve never done before.

I went back in time (via Blinksale—that important and intuitive business application that makes it easy to say, “Hey client, we gots to get paid. Aight?”) and composed a historical record of clients. When finished and printed the list was about as long as my forearm. That surprised but did not impress me, so I bumped up the font size to eleven and increased the leading, and increased the font size and leading again, one more time and then, well, uh, maybe three more times. Now our client list stands five feet tall (or about as high as our new project manager, who could have been a successful jockey if not for her love of project management, but all the same I wish she would come to work in something other than racing silks) and, in this impressive format I think it’s going to be a fantastic replacement for the California DMV Eye Examination Chart.

Work continues on the new site at a slow and steady pace. It’s been a challenge to find good creative time to work on this project rather than the ones that bring in the monies (That’s not a complaint mind you. If you’re in the creative services business then that’s how the business works, if it’s successful). A design treatment has been drafted but there’s this one nagging problem that, for almost two years, I’ve been hard pressed to find a good solution. One that typing alone can’t solve.

What in the hell do I do with the blog?

For anyone who hasn’t been around for the last eight years, Airbag began life as a blog. Then one day, after the Rocket Scientist became successfully employed, I decided to try for myself this business ownership thing. At the time my council of peers all agreed that, given Airbag’s popularity as a brand in the web design sphere, I would be an idiot to use anything else as the name for my new endeavor. Paying heed to their wisdom Airbag Industries LLC was incorporated in the state of California in the summer of 2005 but the website, the blog, remained fixed in place. Despite the lack of a good shingle, work continues to come in solely based off recommendation and/or reputation—so I haven’t been too concerned to make any big changes to the website (see also: All Time Devoted To Client Work).

The blog has always just been there not making a whole lot of sense to most of our clients who aren’t aware of this site’s history. That hasn’t been a problem or an issue until recently that confusion has been heard on occasion during our weekly status calls. Clients don’t complain or suggest anything negative but they do utter things like “saw that, didn’t understand…political…sarcasm…apples!” all of which is to say, “hey you have this blog on the homepage of your website that makes frank commentary on things entirely not related to the core of your business and we don’t really understand why it’s there.” Sure there are plenty of posts that relate to the business of interactive design but it’s those other kind of posts that keep feeling more and more out of place as Airbag grows.

And so here I am, working on this new business focused website wondering what to do with Airbag: Rigid Frame Commentary. No way in hell it’s going away but the blog’s current feature placement will become more of a problem if the range of subject matter is to remain intact. The easy answer, I suppose, would be to move the blog to another domain but Ryan, Ethan, and Russ feel strongly that the blog should not go away, that it’s a part of the brand, part of the Airbag experience.

This quandary isn’t make or break for Airbag, it’s not like once something has been implemented it has to stay that way for the next five years (like the current design has), but this brand would most certainly not be what it is today without the readers and for that reason your feedback is requested.

Applesauce.

Approximately four minutes into it, I finished taking this year’s survey, The Survey For People Who Make Websites. It was all smooth sailing until I hit question thirty-nine:

  1. Do you find web design to be an exciting profession?

Web design exciting? I remember design being very exciting from 1994 to 1999 when it seemed that new tricks and methods were being discovered every other day. Back then to be a web designer meant that you were constantly on the edge, pushing the frontier of a new world. I mean until you know what it was like to read Powazek’s column that documented how to use this newfangled HTML tag called “tables” or browse through Studio Archetype’s 1998 Nagano Olympic Winter Games…and these are just two events in a medium whose then-short history already seemed to be brimming with game-changing events.

It’s not as exciting as it was, but I suppose that’s to be expected when you’ve been with a brand new industry since the beginning, watching it mature and become mainstream. This isn’t a stab at the quality of work that I see these days—a lot of it is really, really great work—but I don’t know that I find it as exciting as it once was.

Today, my enthusiasm comes from getting to work with the amazing talent we have at Airbag, working with friends and colleagues from time to time, and sometimes arguing, sometimes laughing, but always working with really great clients.

So, honestly, I answered the question “Yes – once in a while” but what I wanted to answer was “Dear question Thirty-Nine, I don’t like you very much, you make me feel old and grumpy. And oh, by the way: I find your mom to be very exciting. Suck it.”

Underoos.

ACT ONE : BLUE COLLAR EMO TYPE

Wherein Jason Santa Maria really doth make believe and prance around, truly believing, that he’th Trade Gothic.

Trade Gothic: Old bitmap!

Arial: Truetype!

Trade Gothic: Truetype. Sorry. What font lives in that suitcase over there?

Arial: I’m thirty-seven.

Trade Gothic: I– what?

Arial: I’m thirty-seven. I’m not old.

Trade Gothic: Well, I can’t just call you ‘Truetype’.

Arial: Well, you could say ‘Arial’.

Trade Gothic: Well, I didn’t know you were called ‘Arial’.

Arial: Well, you didn’t bother to find out, did you?

Trade Gothic: I did say ‘sorry’ about the ‘old bitmap’, but from the behind you looked–

Arial: What I object to is that you automatically treat me like an inferior!

Trade Gothic: Well, I am Trade Gothic

Arial: Oh, Trade Gothic, eh, very nice. And how d’you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers! By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society. If there’s ever going to be any progress with the–

Times New Roman: Arial, there’s some lovely filth down here. Oh! How d’you do?

Trade Gothic: How do you do, good serif? I am Trade Gothic, Multiple Master of the Fonts. Whose suitcase is that?

Times New Roman: Multiple Master of the who?

Trade Gothic: The Fonts.

Times New Roman: Who are the Fonts?

Trade Gothic: Well, we all are. We are all Fonts, and I am your Multiple Master.

Times New Roman: I didn’t know we had a Multiple Master. I thought we were an autonomous collective.

Arial: You’re fooling yourself. We’re living in a dictatorship: a self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working typefaces–

Times New Roman: Oh, there you go bringing class into it again.

Arial: That’s what it’s all about. If only people would hear of–

Trade Gothic: Please! Please, good people. I am in haste. Who lives in that suitcase?

Times New Roman: No one lives there.

Trade Gothic: Then who is your Bold?

Times New Roman: We don’t have a Bold.

Trade Gothic: What?

Arial: I told you. We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as a sort of Bold Italics for the week,…

Trade Gothic: Yes.

Arial: …but all the decisions of that style have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting…

Trade Gothic: Yes, I see.

Arial: …by a simple majority in the case of purely font family…

Trade Gothic: Be quiet!

Arial: …but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more major–

Trade Gothic: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!

Times New Roman: Order, eh? Who does he think he is? Heh.

Trade Gothic: I am Multiple Master!

Times New Roman: Well, I didn’t vote for you.

Trade Gothic: You don’t vote for typefaces.

Times New Roman: Well, how did you become Trade Gothic, then?

Trade Gothic: Zapfino…

…her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Ligature from the bosom of the water signifying by Hoefler & Frere-Jones that I, Trade Gothic, was to carry Linotype Font Explorer.

That is why I am Multiple Master!

Arial: Listen. Strange serifs lying in ponds distributing type management software is no basis for a system of typography. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatical ceremony.

Trade Gothic: Be quiet!

Arial: Well, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a gliph at you!

Trade Gothic: Shut up!

Arial: I mean, if I went ’round saying I was a type collection just because some moistened bink had lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away!

Trade Gothic: Shut up, will you? Shut up!

Arial: Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system.

Trade Gothic: Shut up!

Arial: Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I’m being disabled!

Trade Gothic: Bloody True Type!

Arial: Oh, what a give-away. Did you hear that? Did you hear that, eh? That’s what I’m on about. Did you see him disabling me? You saw it, didn’t you?

Limonade.

Everything about design is drama. The process, the people, the product, all filled with drama. So I suppose it’s a natural fit as the subject of a reality television series (as if reality television can somehow be associated with the word natural).

Leading lemmings into the fire is non other than Phillpe Stark.

Philippe Starck’s School of Design, a working title, will see the Frenchman—whose work spans everything from windmills to chairs, hotels to toothbrushes and yachts to beer bottles—invite 25 would-be designers to bid for one of 10 places on a design course in Paris.

Pity, I would have called the show: French Eye for The Anything That Can Be Sold In Target Design Stooge.

The successful applicants will be given the chance to demonstrate their abilities by working on real design projects, with Starck gradually whittling down the class. At the end of the course at least one student will be rewarded with a six-month placement at Starck’s design agency in the French capital.

What the…call the kettle hypocrite…back in May—as in just a few months ago—Stark declared that design is dead, a “dreadful form of expression”, and then went on to regret the part in his life wherein he designed everything from cars to catheters.

I was a producer of materiality and I am ashamed of this fact. Everything I designed was unnecessary. In future there will be no more designers. The designers of the future will be the personal coach, the gym trainer, the diet consultant. I will definitely give up in two years’ time. I want to do something else, but I don’t know what yet. I want to find a new way of expressing myself…design is a dreadful form of expression.

So I guess when you’re having a pity party…when the face staring back at you in the Phillipe Stark Bathroom Mirror™ is old, frumpy and is designed with more gray hairs than desired the thing to do is to have a heart-to-heart with the International press and then seek out a television deal.

Touché Monsieur Starck, touché.

Jewel.

Standing in the middle of the huge hall I slowly turned to scan the surroundings, mapping out where I was in relation to the rest of the event and plotting my next course. There was enough visual ephemera to choke a Bob Costas narrated Olympic opening ceremonies but it was all so damn cool. No schedule, no where to be any real time soon, I stood there and soaked it all in.

Across from me two girls walked by, looked at me and stopped. We stood across this intersection and looked at each other for a few seconds. They were pointing and getting out their cameras while I started to panic and wonder why they were pointing at me and getting out their cameras. Not wanting to be the but of some weird convention thing I waved to them and asked what they were pointing at.

One of them looked at me as if I had just moved to town after a life time of living in a sheltered, land locked nation (which I had), “Turn around.”

I did. Directly behind me was nothing special but an old guy with horrible hair, dressed in a sports coat and jeans combo complete with black cowboy boots.

More people started to walk by, glance, stop, and jaw drop. This puzzled me. I knew I was ignorant to a lot of the behind the scenes trivia but this person didn’t seem to be any special other than he’s likely to be on a most wanted list in more than a few counties.

I turned back to the girls, who were now taking as many photos as allowed by gaps in the walking crowd, and moved over to them—turning to gain their vantage point, hoping that it would help make sense of the badly dressed urban cowboy thug who’s popularity continued to grow.

“Who is that,” I asked.

I got this look that’s normally reserved for commercials like Feed the Children or whatever the hell cause Sally Struthers is shlepping—her thoughts could be read like word balloons: “Oh, you poor starving refrigerator repairman and/or private detective, you must have been raised in a cave.”

With a smirk and raised eyebrow when one of them replied, “That’s Gene Simmons.”

I looked back, clearly unimpressed thinking that if I had been a KISS fan I would be very disappointed right now considering Gene’s JcPenny Fall Catalog chique.

My interest in the thirty second scene waned. I turned and plodded along with the crowd, taking in the sights and sounds. Later in the day I would come across a replica of Boba Fett that was only sold in Japan. I stood, pointed, and reached for my wallet as, in this circumstance, a photo or five would simply not do.

With one bad-ass bounty hunter in hand I decided to call it a day and prepare for the multi-hour journey home. As much as I loved the weirdness and wonderment of ComicCon, northbound traffic from San Diego can be hell on a Sunday afternoon.

Savant.

Is it possible that a lack of good design had something to do with an Internet startup’s failure?

PodTech Sells for Less Than $500k – They suffered from the same disease a lot of podcasting sites do–not spending a dime on real branding and design. Look at the god awful logo. They raised $7.5 million in funding and that’s the logo? Should’ve spent the money on an identity and branding, not Robert Scoble.

That’s Scoble, as in Robert Scoble, the guy who once exclaimed that ugly design (anti-marketing design) is key to Internet fueled success:

…sites that have ugly designs are well known to pull more revenue, be more sticky, build better brands, and generally be more fun to participate in, than sites with beautiful designs. 

Kids, next time Uncle Touchy Touchy tells you that bad design equates to big success just remember there are at least seven million reasons why that’s a load of horse pucky.

Snap.

Proof that while the cat is away the mice will play. And, apparently, they play very well…

A little Campfire tomfoolery provided by Mr Warkentin and Mr Caver.

Waste.

I can’t believe this made the news. Gore endorses Obama? What a load of crap:

Former Vice President Al Gore made his debut appearance in the presidential campaign here Monday evening, offering a vigorous endorsement of Senator Barack Obama and urging Democrats to keep in mind the consequences of not taking the general election with grave seriousness.

Wow, that took a lot courage—come out after it’s clear Obama won the nomination and then throw support behind his candidacy. I appreciate that Al may have his head elsewhere (no comment) but given his prominence in our political system and in the Democrat Party, I expected way, way more from him and he failed to deliver, once again.

If this is to be the way Old America choses to run things at the DNC then they may as well crown McBush president and save this country the huge cost of running a federal election.

Drucker.

I’m not sure what all the brouhaha over 37signals’ Declaration of Independence from Adobe is all about. They design safe, bare-bones, boxy, Volvo-esque web based applications. Hell if all I had to do was make boxes all day for my own products then I’d drop Bloatshop in a heartbeat.

If your design aesthetic is similar to that of the boys in Chicago—and clients are willing to pay you really good money for the Boxy but They’re Good Chique—then I’d certainly heed their advice, otherwise why should any of us care what a box factory says when we’re in the landscaping business?

OHD.

I suppose when you agree to subsidize the cost of a popular consumer product it buys you a little leverage in how said product is sold. That’s the only reason why I can think that Steve allowed for AT&T to end home activation of the iPhone. This isn’t a small step backwards, it’s an orbital free fall. From here on out, every new purchase of an iPhone will require ten to twelve minutes of quality time with an expert who will rip out your soul, give it to AT&T, and then press the phone’s on switch.

Ten to twelves minutes, per phone! Does anyone remember bread lines?

Whereas standing in line for a new Apple product in the past usually only took a few hours, this arrangement will usher in a new era of Soviet style queueing. Nevermind that last year I was able to activate it in three minutes in the comfort of my own home. Tens of thousands of us did this without any problems, but maybe that was just a fluke. After-all none of us are fully trained expert technicians who are skilled in the ways of turning a phone on for the first time. Only AT&T can provide that kind of experience and know-how.

I used to hate AT&T for all it’s dropped calls and day-late text messages and voice mail delivery, now…well I don’t know what you call bile inducing rage against stupidity.

Change.

The cats have been given their baths and all claw wounds have been properly patched up with antiseptic and bandages (the kind that is flexible and matches skin color). My best suit has laid out along with socks that match, swanky cuff links and a pocket square. The hair not quite so perfect, I really should stop cutting it myself and go see someone more qualified—and by qualified I mean being able to see all of my head without obstruction—but it will do for today. The house has been cleaned and a single scented candle has been lit while the windows have been opened to allow the slight ocean breeze to saunter in and help freshen things up. The champagne is chilled and the spotless flutes wait patiently.

Now if someone could just give me an idea when Hiliary is going to end her campaign today that would be great. Simply recording this moment on Tivo will not do.

Shemeckis.

I just came across a link to a store where a two-terabyte drive can be purchased for the price of an iPod. Two. Terabytes. !@#$% What the hell?! Arrrrgggg. Wait, uh, let me get into character here…cinch the pants up a few inches—yes, good—put on some flannel, and hunch over…all set.

Seems like only yesterday when Apple unveiled the one-megabyte drive for the Macintosh Plus. It cost way more than an iPod but you could do things like store all your fonts, all your documents (even scanned documents) and Aldus Pagemaker in one neat, tidy place and there was still a vast sea of room left over to store things like the Library of Congress, Ultima II, and China. It was so huge, look, you don’t even know how much one-megabyte was. Now, I think my cat’s digital watch as more storage space.

Two-terabytes though? I don’t get it?!

How is it that a two-terrabyte drive is just another commonly available product available at a low, low price, because the last time I checked I still can’t visit Mars. I can’t “beam” to the East Coast and have dinner with Ryan and Ethan and then “beam” back home. My car still has tires and requires 1/4th of a dinosaur to commute for a week. Cancer still kills people and every other year I get that damned, knock you on your ass head and chest cold. We still don’t know if we’re the only humanoids in existence in the universe. NBC still doesn’t have a viable strategy for digital content distribution better than what they had with iTunes (The Zune?! Are you kidding me?! And oh hey, 1985 IBM called and they’d like to talk to you about working with Microsoft). The closest thing to having a robot in the house is an upside down bowl that sucks up and it can’t tell you the square root of jack, it just runs around until it bumps into something, turns a bit and tries to forge a new path. My cats aren’t wearing Astro Boots with that matching glass dome helmet. Newspapers, newspapers, newspapers. And we still have people waiting to be awakened from their frozen slumber into a bright new future where their head can be attached to new cyborg body.

Look, the two-terrabyte drive isn’t supposed to exist yet. We’re not supposed to have that kind of technology until I can take a pneumatic tube to work. So either someone has found a way to travel into the future (also part of the list of things you’re supposed to be able to do in a two-terrabyte world) or we’re all getting gypped.

Julie.

I’ve come a long way in this business. And by that I mean that I can post an ad for a job without feeling the need to be the exact opposite of conscious, lose my lunch, breathe with complications, drink heavily—smoke heavily, clench my chest in that area it’s not such a good idea to feel the need to clench, shave the cat, walk my neighborhood in a bathrobe waving a six-gun (I do this no mater the stress level, it’s a Tuesday thing), call twenty-four hour hotlines on the twenty-fourth minute at every hour on the hour, pace back and forth in front of the local Navy recruitment office, pull hair off my head, one clump at a time, Rick Roll hundreds of unknowing, trusting people, shave the other cat, buy a one way ticket to the middle of nowhere, develop a twitch right above my left eye, and/or taste copper.

I’m going to go home and duct tape my house now, but with Scotch tape.

Rusty.

Most of you have, no doubt, seen the few links pointing to a new social network group for web standards designers and developers. Here is a little background.

Week to week I field questions regarding the industry of web design and development by people who create websites in many capacities. I’m happy to provide what I’ve learned along the way in hopes that others can learn from my mistakes and success (a silly thought if you consider that history has rarely ever prevented another war). The first recommendation is to start talking to as many people who are either industry peers or people who might know people who have money that may want to exchange for the work that you know how to do. I put it this way because most people I meet—no matter where they are in their career—hate the word commonly associated with this activity: Networking.

The only activity worse than networking is known to my people as public speaking and fortunately not many of us are called to run for public office or audition for a spot in the community theatre, or those pursuits that require speaking in front of others. Standing up there, alone, under the heat and blinding glare of stage lights, looking over a sea of people not paying attention to a word your saying, Twittering as if you weren’t risking life and limb, soul laid out in front of a hastily re-worked Keynote presentation.

No, networking is not like that.

I’d say a good deal of us are as busy as we want to be, some of us are even busier, and it’s a necessity to always be on the hunt for good talent for future collaboration, potential employment, or new fodder for La société pour l’Amélioration d’Airbag.

The purpose of the Web Standards Design + Development group is to form a strong network of individuals who have taken the initiative to become craftsmen of their trade. I hope you’ll join.

Mike.

Two big announcements from Cameron this morning. Authentic Jobs, the best damn jobs listing site on the whole Internet has added a generous affiliate program and a whiz bang API (you can see an example of this in action over at Jeff’s big brown wonder). Anyone who owns a website that speaks to interactive designers and developers would do well to participate in both of these new programs. As someone who has supported Authentic Jobs since day one, it’s great to see Cameron’s business take this next step.

Now, who wants to start pool on how long it will take 37signals to respond in kind? I’ll put money on the squares for 8, 12, 24, and 29 hours.

Pill.

When I came across Textism for the first time I spent an hour staring at the design and, more importantly, consuming the archives. This style of writing was new to me and I loved it. The range of emotion conveyed through the eclectic array of stories, played out through a small cast of voices…this is what I had been waiting for. I now had proof that writing wasn’t an activity set aside exclusively for journalist, poets, or authors and their distinct vehicles of content delivery. Instead, writing, as an amalgam of those three factions of English, made for very interesting and enjoyable reading.

And so, after one hour and one minute, a wall had been breached: If ever I was to to enjoy and savor the process and outcome of writing then I needed to do it for myself, not for family, not for friends, and not worry about bending the rules. Just as it took a 1999 Edna Valley Pinot Noir for me to finally appreciate wine, it took an hour at Textism (I’m a slow reader) for me to be comfortable with a writing style that seemed natural to me.

And then it went away for four years. Yeah, that sucked.

It doesn’t matter why, that’s Dean’s business and none of ours (see explanation), you and I should just thank our lucky stars that he back. And, if the last week-or-so is any indication, there is a neon sign outside the Allen Content Concern LTD. now reads: Open And Kicking.

If writing is a skill that you seek to improve then you would do well to follow the Dean, no mater the topic or time of day.

Murcell.

This morning, whilst reading through a RFP I came across a page with bullet points used to describe the design direction of the project.

The first bullet point read:

  • Post Web 2.0

Normally I don’t condone this kind of behavior but this client deserves a big fat kiss, on both cheeks—Russian Diplomat ’67 Style.

Farnsworth.

Each week, no matter the condition of the weather, the color of Ethan’s mood ring, or the extra hours it will take to meet our deadlines, we call each of our clients. We check in, ask how they’re doing, and give them an update on the activities surrounding their project. We call every week throughout the project, and even two to three weeks past the time we’ve delivered our work—all to make sure the client doesn’t have any last-minute needs, or has run into any problems.

That’s how we roll. We care like that.

This afternoon, we talked to a client who’s been working with our templates for about a week. When asked if they were still happy with the work that we had done, the client replied thusly:

We’ve been tearing our hair out looking for things that you guys did wrong.

That’s always nice to hear.

Cake.

Happy anniversary everyone! I can’t believe it’s been five years already but look at how much has been Mission Accomplished. Gosh, how we were able to get through the day without being boots down in Iraq, I’ll never know.

Among all the other happy financial news of late it was certainly delightful to read that Bush’s initial cost estimates for the Iraq War have turned out to be just one-tenth of the actual cost.

At the outset of the Iraq war, the Bush administration predicted that it would cost $50 billion to $60 billion to oust Saddam Hussein, restore order and install a new government.

Five years in, the Pentagon tags the cost of the Iraq war at roughly $600 billion and counting. Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and critic of the war, pegs the long-term cost at more than $4 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office and other analysts say that $1 trillion to $2 trillion is more realistic, depending on troop levels and on how long the American occupation continues.

Two trillion (and that’s just money, lets not forget all of the people who have died or are now wounded for life). That is fan-tas-tic! Absolutely brilliant. I mean, how did we get so lucky to have such great leadership? God bless America?! OMG it’s so, so true.

Now, I could be wrong here but if the CEO of any company in the world was to run costs through the roof like this he’d be kicked out on his ass and no one would think twice about it.

You would think that after one year we would have been unsettled enough to kick Shrub out on his head, but after five years? We should all be ashamed of ourselves.

Now, are we having cake for this anniversary or maybe someone brought cup cakes?

Dorthy.

I have a situation. Ramses, our male cat, is uh, having problems containing his number-one game inside the rink. It all started months ago, suddenly and seemingly at random but as time has passed, and after a discussion with Bill the Cat Sitter (who has likely tended to more cats than the Egyptians did back when they built pointy buildings and walked around like they were all living in the game Lode Runner) it’s now apparent that this is has become regular thing.

Look, I know that cats age faster than humans but I didn’t think that after six years they turned into prunes with a need for a lap blanket and a colostomy bag. Still the problem exists and as there is no veterinary equivalent to House M.D. I am left to my own devices in coming up with a theory as to why this is happening.

This is what I know so far:

  • There have been no radical changes to the cat’s living environment since moving here more than two years ago save for a slight upgrade to the audio/visual equipment in the living room.

  • There have been no radical changes to the cat’s diet.

  • There have been no radical changes within the Moulton Niguel Water District (concluded through deductive reasoning that as I am also a male, then I too would have a problem with my “aim” if changes had been made to our common source of drinking water, and I can assure you that is not the case).

  • My kill/death ratio in Halo has shown moderate improvements over same date, last fiscal year. Not really relevant to this case but all the facts need to be on the table during an investigation.

  • Starbucks has improved the quality of their core products and store experience through changes in management structure, training, and upsell tactics. While the cat rarely makes into Starbucks I can understand how news of these changes could have an impact on a guy. Relevant? Remember, think: WWHMDD?!

  • The cats have received packages addressed to them specifically, sent by caring “grandparents”. These boxes were thought to contain toys made from feathers, drug paraphernalia, and samples of dietary supplements.

It is with all these facts in mind that I have come to one simple conclusion: My cat hasn’t been able to hit the side of a barn because he has fallen for spam email propaganda and has started to take penis enlarging drugs. My hunch is that these supplements come from a pharmaceutical company called Phormorenchez but I’m having a hell of a time finding where he’s keeping the bottles so that part might not be completely accurate, but I bet it is!

Damn you Nancy Regan! If you would have done your day job back in olden times we would never have had this spam email drug problem to begin with and now it’s impacted our home, our lives, eight-rolls of paper towels, and our spare-bathroom tile—quite possibly forever, but hopefully for no more than four hours. Otherwise we’re going to have to consult a doctor and at this time of night I think you have to pay them quadruple overtime.

Danville.

Last week I ended up living in a Hotel in the Easy Bay area of Northern California—albeit sick and, except for an hour of two a day, bound to my room working and feeling generally not-well. I made the journey and the stay because in the week prior to this seven-day-adventure, the Rocket Scientist accepted an advanced promotion (Sr. Engineer) that requires her presence away from Orange County for a few months. However, if all goes well this new post will stretch into years.

Nine years ago I was offered a job. Accepting the position meant we would have to move to Southern California (Ten miles to Disneyland) and away from Alaska, most likely for good. Unfortunately this also meant that the Rocket Scientist would have to put her college education on hold for at least a year because we could not afford the out-of-state tuition. Knowing that I needed to get out of Alaska and take a risk, she agreed to the situation even though it was a set back to her own plans. Fortunately everything worked out for the best and the risk has paid off many, many times.

Now we find ourselves on the verge of moving for her new job and I’m happy to take on a new set of risks, especially if it means supporting The Love and Joy of My Life (besides it’s not like we have to move back to Alaska or some forsaken land, like Arkansas).

So for the next couple of months I’ll be jetting up and down the coast for a few days here and few days there to spend evenings and weekends with the wife while carefully mapping out where all the best restaurants are. More importantly I’ll use this opportunity to conduct scientific research in the area of how the weight of wine by the caseloads affects the federal MPG estimates for a Volkswagen Touareg. There is so much that is unknown about this science and It’s my intent to make efficient use of my time up North (and Google Maps) in effort to gather exhaustive data.

Hampton.

I won’t be in Austin this year. I’ve decided, along with the rest of the Airbag crew, to take the year off from the growing insanity of ever increasing event population and infiltration of corporate-culture. But don’t let that stop you from going, I know all of you’re all going to have a blast.

As a member of this years advisory board I was asked to provide some advice for new attendees (the information gathered will be published in this years event guide) on how to make the most of SXSW. Unfortunately I didn’t make the deadline but I want to help so I’ll share that wisdom here.

  • Get the badge but leave the book bag behind, it’s full of crap you’re not going to want to take home anyway. And it’s likely that you are already carrying a bag on your person.
  • Don’t spend all day sitting in panels.
  • Don’t launch anything on the web from now till April. Everybody and their third cousin posts a redesign, new application, etc. right before Austin and it all gets lost in the mix. Hold your water and wait a few weeks when all the hype, launches, and announcements have died down and people are looking for something new to talk about.
  • Use your laptop sparingly. You’d be amazed at how much better your experience will be if you’re eyes aren’t glued to a screen. I’m not saying you shouldn’t bring technology with you, just keep it in the bag more often than not.
  • Be polite. No, you’re no more cool than the other dork standing next to you. They may call it an “Interactive” conference but really it’s a large gathering of computer nerds.
  • Learn to say hello. You’re going to be around people who share similar interest. Rather than send an instant message or email someone you already know, turn to the person at your side and great them.
  • Want to meet that OMG OMG OMG blog A-lister?! Fine, just go do it. Nobody, and I mean nobody in this industry is so huge that they can’t be bothered to say hello and shake your hand. And that’s it, done. Note: If more conversation takes place great, but don’t consider that an opportunity to give your life’s story—save that for church.
  • Go to all the parties. And go early because SXSW is getting more and more crowded and lines will form. More importantly the parties are a great place to network. That said: Not all parties work out so be prepared to bail and hit the next location, even if it means showing up a tad early.
  • Don’t be a Scoble. Absolutely, positively (with an up-AND-down no vote) do not bring your computer to evening activities. You’re not going to need it.
  • Texas law prohibits bringing your own wine to restaurants—they’re savage like that. Flemings Steak House, right across from the convention center, has a pleasant grape-based inventory and their filet mignon is excellent.
  • If you hit Jason Santa Maria over the head with the branch of a mesquite tree he turns into a smoked BBQ meal for forty people. Take aim and fire.

Lastly, have fun.

Swatch.

Not a day goes by wherein the factory at Airbag Industries is completely shut down and we’ve got a lot to show for it, just not quite yet. I’m very proud of the work we’re doing and wanted to show you all a sample of our efforts from the last sixty days.

Eventually I’ll formally introduce you to all of these projects but for right now I have to get back to the grind.

Bobble.

Full on dead cow, lobster, and The Stash; I was ready to fade in-and-out of power naps for the remainder of the evening. The nap, so powerful with its ability to bend time, turning three hours into mere minutes. Slouched, in the best possible position for nodding off while preventing any chance of chicken-head bobbing I was more than prepared to take full advantage of my surroundings.

Fifteen minutes later I awoke, fully, and there before me, on stage, were fluorescent monkeys dancing around a man with a feather on his head, a flute in hand, and everyone was singing in German. I sat up, adjusted the sport coat, and muttered aloud, “Aw crap.”

I’m wide awake and there’s still two-hours and forty-five minutes left of this season’s The Magic Flute.

Now I’m a fan of the arts, especially live productions. I have no idea of the amount of work and dedication it takes to successfully pull-off a performance on stage. That said, opera always sounds better than it turns out to be and I keep forgetting that every time She Who Loves Opera asks if I’ll take her to a show.

“You’ll like this one,” she’ll say, “it’s about the battle of good versus evil.” Little have I learned over the years that all opera is about good versus evil and that no matter how much the plot sounds like a cool lyrical version of The Terminator 2, it’s going to be exactly the opposite.

My operatic finger-nails-on-the-chalkboard is how long it takes for the story to move along, never mind that it’s either in German or Italian. Take for instance Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, a “cycle” of four operas that takes fifteen hours to perform over the course of four days. Four. Days.

Here’s a common synopsis:

The plot revolves around a magic ring that grants the power to rule the world, forged by the Nibelung dwarf Alberich from gold stolen from the river Rhine. Several mythic figures struggle for possession of the Ring, including Wotan (Odin), the chief of the Gods. Wotan’s scheme, spanning generations, to overcome his limitations, drives much of the action in the story. The hero Siegfried wins the Ring, as Wotan intended, but is eventually betrayed and slain. Finally, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, Siegfried’s lover and Wotan’s estranged daughter, returns the Ring to the Rhine. In the process, the Gods are destroyed.

Let’s see here: Magic ring, awesome, check. Several mythic figures, even more cool, check. Dwarf, hero, betrayal, Valkyries, destroyed Gods? Check, check, check, check, and hell yes—we are so going to see that!

Last year, the Rocket Scientist and I went to go see the second opera of the Der Ring des Nibelungen (featuring Plácido Domingo as the lead no less) assuming that by going on the second night we’d hit the story right in the middle of the action. Now, I wasn’t expecting to see Lord of the Rings brought to stage but after four hours of mind-numbing sing-song the opera I saw did not provide the TNT-esque action as advertised.

Based off that experience here’s how I would have written the synopsis:

The plot (if you can call it that, it’s more of a long, drawn out conversation) revolves around a wounded man who asks a strange woman for food, water, and lodging. Everyone in the performance wears burlap like it’s 1999 and for some reason it takes eight minutes for one character to ask “can I have some water?” and the other to reply, “yes.” Oh, and bring a Snickers bar because they charge ten dollars for store-bought cookies and four ounces of soda.

I am under no illusion that opera needs to change its ways to appease my short-attention span. Lord knows they’re doing something right if they can continue performing the same show that debuted in the late 18th century. I am happy to support the art scene, but dammit, I have got to remember this next year because Mrs. La bohème is going to want to go to the opera again. And no matter how fantastic the plot will sound; it’s going to turn out to be a group of people singing and prancing on the stage with day-glow forest animals in an epic, albeit snails-pace struggle to ask for a glass of water from mildly angry Greek-style gods.

Bones.

Predictions are better left to sad people who live in trailer parks and channel Satan through a silly deck of cards that can’t even be used to play poker, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

So here it goes.

Tomorrow, nothing that Steve Jobs will announce or unveil or demonstrate, not even with Winston Marsalis and Bono pounding out a power ballad in the background, will make AT&T suck any less.

Tomorrow, the iPhone will still be crippled—like My Left Foot crippled—because AT&T is the worst—and I mean rock bottom in a way that can only be measured in fathoms—phone company in the United States; not even Apple, in all of their gadget glory can turn that around.

Maybe if Jesus were to come back and help out, that might work, but something tells me he’s got better things to do with his time back on Earth.

Caucus.

I can’t wait until February so let’s do this now.

Ishtar.

Since the start, this site has sported a homemade icon featuring a smiling President Nixon giving a big thumbs up living over the word: Vote!

It’s there because I am a big believer that all citizens should participate in democracy. And until the Chinese, Canadians, and South Americans divide this country into their own imperial colonies, I’ll openly advocate for citizens to participate in their own democracy.

For years the Declare Yourself website has done a great job of promoting this message. And I was happy to link to their initiative until a few days ago when I noticed their new feature video. In “The Message” a young nerd is seen laying in front of his computer, unbuttoning his shirt. Dialogue follows:

Hey America, welcome to my bedroom. I’m just about to register to vote. (5 minutes pass) Now stick around and you can watch me touch myself.”

Declare Yourself, I know there’s a writers strike going on but is that seriously the best you could do? Next time hold a writing contest and/or consider outsourcing your creative direction to China. Anything but this.

Look, we’re able to participate in free elections because a lot of men, women, and children lost their lives during wars to ensure we didn’t become someone’s little pet colony. Even more died over differences that haunt our country to this day but the United States and its democracy endured. Is that sappy? Maybe, but our forefather’s and grandfather’s heritage is one of the few characteristics we’ve still got going for us (Bush and his Lawless Band of Constitution Burners be damned).

Now I realize that Declare Yourself is targeted towards young people but this latest campaign is not one I can support or encourage, hell it’s not even funny. And so over the course of the next week or so I’m on the hunt for a new website wherein U.S. citizens can register to vote in national elections without having to watch a B-side actor in a wannabe Abercrombie & Fitch advertisement. Suggestions are welcome.

Help.

I’ve been thinking of the best way to summarize this year, not just for myself but everyone I know in the industry. After much consideration one word will do nicely: Slammed.

From small companies to freelancers, everyone I know had more work than they knew what to do with in 2007 despite all the up-and-down news about economies and consumer confidence. Thankfully much of the work we did this year had little relationship to the Dow Jones or venture capital and from what I can see this will trend will continue into the new year.

A few weeks ago essays and comments were traded regarding the future of the syntax we use to craft web sites. It was a nifty exchange but I’d rather see that passion directed at the larger problem affecting this industry: The dwindling population of qualified, talented, and educated people who are available.

Do what you must to bring new techniques/frameworks to the market, but without more and improved labor to put it all into practice, it’s just words on a website.

As an employer of a growing number of full-time and freelance workers I can tell you that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find good people. I have had several conversations with persons of top stature in the web design business who are of the same opinion. Their own businesses’ have been slightly crippled this year due to work demand vs. human supply. Even non-web specific companies are having difficulty finding solid talent.

I don’t see there being a quick turn-around for this problem but it will escalate if we don’t spend time and resources to proactively help improve the situation (and hopefully with better results than with that other not-for-profit institution we all know and love). We can’t rely on educational institutions to figure this out for themselves. Nor should we rely singularly on these facilities as we need to also embrace the self-starter with the same bravado and commitment that was given to web standards earlier this decade.

The work that most of us do is largely compatible, somewhat interchangeable, and with that in mind I believe it should be possible to come up with a simple curriculum—a guide for what a person can do to discover their strengths and weaknesses (designer vs. developer), understand the process of how a web shop operates, and set the standard for what is considered acceptable work for all disciplines. If we could do that much, and in a way that is inviting to persons so they will want to improve their own skill sets, then there is nothing to stand in the way of the next phase of success in our sphere of the entire industry.

I hope everyone has had a great holiday and a happy new year. Here’s to all of us succeeding like wildfire in 2008.

Global.

Six months ago I had an idea:

I would love to see a snapshot of Airbag around the world starting and ending somewhere around the International Date Line. If you have a minute take a photo of how you normally digest my attempts molding the English language into sentences and if the response is decent I’ll whip something up for us all to take a look at.

The response was more than decent, it was amazing and quite humbling, with responses coming from places I would never think to find an Airbag reader. So I went to work (with the masterful help of Ethan and Ryan whos ideas and efforts made this whole thing possible) designing the best possible frame for all these wonderful glimpses into the lives of readers from all over the world.

Many of you have waited for too long to see this, and for that I apologize—work has been a little more than hectic. Oh, and I may have some entrants in the wrong time zone, but that’s easy enough to fix, just let me know.

Without further ado I give you: Airbag: As Seen from Around the World.

Fail.

After six years big business still has no idea what to do with this blog thing.

The Blog Council, a professional community of top global brands dedicated to promoting best practices in corporate blogging, officially launched today. Founding members include the leading companies from a diverse range of business sectors: AccuQuote, Cisco Systems, The Coca-Cola Company, Dell, Gemstar-TV Guide, General Motors, Kaiser Permanente, Microsoft, Nokia, SAP, and Wells Fargo.

Oh, that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Of course, these are the companies that should know right? I mean they’ve been using Trapper Keepers and Daytimers all their lives, so blogs are just like that right? A neat folder system for your mind-thoughts?

The Blog Council exists as a forum for executives to meet one another in a private, vendor-free environment and share tactics, offer advice based on past experience, and develop standards-based best practices as a model for other corporate blogs.

Read: We’re going share notes on how we pretend to be fifteen year olds who can’t stop blogging about how great our products are and how to avoid being sniffed out as a fraudlog two hours after the first post. Oh, and we’re going to have a lovely salad with Pacific Northwest farmed salmon for lunch.

Representing thought leaders from corporate departments as diverse as corporate communications, global communities, marketing and customer service, the Blog Council’s advocacy role functions as a collective voice in support of responsible, ethics-based corporate blogs. Other issues the Council will address include:

As someone who’s been at this for years, lets answer these questions right now and maybe save some of you the horror of having to stay overnight the Sheraton Orlando.

How do global brands manage blogs in more than one language?

Hire individuals who speak the native language (and I don’t mean as a second language). Provide them with the full experience of what you are trying to shlep and let them write about it in a way that energizes the local population.

What do you do when 2000 employees have personal blogs?

Rejoice?!

Oh, I mean indoctrinate the workers on the heroic qualities of your brand. Let them know that lawyers are monitoring their feeds and at the first sign of dissent, they will be sent to Gitmo’s Executive Bootcamp for Re-Education. Remind them that blogging is not the road to liberty—their voice represents the brand at all times, even when they might be writing about an obsession with Lisa Frank products.

What is the role of the corporate brand in a media landscape increasingly geared toward consumer-generated media?

Dynamic Global Revenue Upstream says what? Here’s an idea: make fantastic products and services and stop trying to control the citizen voice. It only comes back to haunt you. Always has, always will.

What is the correct way to engage and respond to bloggers who write about your company?

First, don’t freak if someone says you suck. Ask them why, take notes, and try harder. Second, don’t freak if someone says you rock. They didn’t blog about it to get more attention or free stuff (that’s always nice but we don’t like it when companies try too hard).

“Every major corporation is struggling with the question of how to use blogs and engage the blogosphere the right way,” said Sean O’Driscoll, General Manager, Community Support Services for Microsoft. “The Blog Council brings together precisely the people who need to explore these issues together, in a productive and private networking environment.

Yeah that makes sense. Explore and talk about a very, very public medium behind closed doors (What the hell is a private networking environment anyway? Tell me they provide free t-shirts: PNE-4-EVA). That’s perfect! As long as you keep doing that, you’ll always need your stupid councils to discuss why the cool kids think you’re an idiot. Well played, asshats.

Maybe if you spent time actually blogging and engaging the community personally, not as a corporate stooge you might learn a thing or two, but I understand it’s a lot easier to get a free chicken-based lunch at a pompous council meeting than it is through a trackback.

Hexagon.

You could say that things are going swimmingly at Airbag Industries LLC. Over the weekend, after creating projections for the next three years, Russ looked up from the spreadsheet and told me to go hire more people. So I did—on the same day even.

Introducing Airbag’s newest production designer/developers:

Drew Warkentin is our first multi-national hire, coming to us from the dollar-squashing country of Canada. We’ve been working with Drew for a while now though his own successful freelance business and we’ve been nothing but pleased about the results. Mr. Warkentin, AOCAD, graduated from the Ontario College of Art & Design in Toronto, Canada in 2002.

Stephen Caver is a fresh out of school and ready to rock standards-based design. I was invited to Stephen’s portfolio review in September and immediately saw untapped potential. Fortunately he stuck around Orange County and we’re happy to have him on board. Mr. Caver received a Bachelor of Science in Interactive Media Design from the Art Institute of California in 2007.

This is a big change for Airbag as the California office has quadrupled in size this year (that sounds bigger than it really is). I used to work where-ever, almost when-ever, but those days are long, long gone, but that’s a small price to pay. In 2007 we somewhat mastered managing a virtual office and now we’ll take what we’ve learned and apply that to growing the local offices in year ahead.

Meanwhile, we’ll be in Park City this January for the opening of Sundance Film Festival where we’ll meet with festival staff and film makers to discuss how we can make next years site even better. In March, providing I can get the right accommodations, the entire team will be at SXSW to do a little work and see all of our friends.

If I had the time, I’d go to Vancouver in February to see Dave Shea and company at Web Directions North (Note: Airbag readers can get $50 off early bird registration and $150 off regular registration to this event by using the coupon code: AIRBAG, spread the word) but, unfortunately, it looks like I won’t get to my favorite city until their performing Bard on the Beach.

Enough about work, I’m tired. Time to find some bullet recipients in Halo 3.

Upton.

From what I’ve read in the last two weeks I’ve learned this much: design is like water, it comes in a variety of quality and clarity, in abundance or scarcity, both under valued and under appreciated at the same time.

Design is everywhere, it’s talked about everywhere, it’s for sale everywhere, it’s practiced everywhere. It is ingrained in global culture from street signs to home interiors, newspapers to product packaging.

Design as a verb is overused everywhere, even in places where a proper vocabulary would mandate the use of a different descriptor.

I, myself, design websites while She Who Is to Be Adored and Cherished designs distillation facilities for jet fuel. My mother-in-law designs interiors of hotels, while my father-in-law has designed an environmentally sound process for extracting oil out of the ground. The word is ubiquitous and while correctly applicable to each of these trades does nothing but water-down its meaning.

It’s an overexposed word in an instant message, Target-ad-campaign world. And as long as that word continues to be beat into the ground we’ll get statements like: “You’re a designer? Oh, so am I! Got Canonical?”

Of course much of this has to do with problems in the education of design. We used to let universities and colleges certify the educated and expert but now that’s left to “design things” like Photoshop and IKEA and Apple and blog software.

Teraton.

Seeing a lot of bru-ha-ha over the little 5.6 earthquake that occurred in San Jose yesterday. Mostly from the new kids who aren’t used to the ground moving hither-to-and-fro on its own accord, because nothing under a 6.4 is really anything to write home about.

So to you fault line-living n00bs I say: welcome to the Ring of Fire. You’ll never get more than a two-second warning, so there’s no need to worry needlessly. If the earth shakes, it shakes — just ride it out as best you can and hope it’s not going to turn into a 10.0+.

Also: Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.

Point.

A few minutes ago the FedEx man dropped off one small-to-medium sized box with the smiling Amazon logo printed on the top and sides. I knew this was coming; I’d planned to work from home today so that I could rip open the box and immediately start soaking in the knowledge contained within the pages of Designing Web Navigation.

As I just got the book, I can’t provide a full review yet. But after scanning every page and reading a few snippets here and there, I can assure you this is a book you’re going to want. Maybe not right away, but make sure Santa doesn’t let your chimney scuff his reindeer fur without leaving one of these beauties under the tree.

I found the book on a recent Amazon binge and was disappointed in myself for not knowing that the book had been out for more than a month. Personally, I’ve always struggled with designing “great” navigation. I have a tendency to overthink these matters, but still: I think we have quite a way to go before we can say that we’ve uncovered all the fundamentals in navigation design. Sure, it’s a natural part of the information architecture process. But wayfinding is so important, and yet the attention given to the topic is scattered throughout the planning and design process. We don’t need another job title dedicated to thinking about these issues, but giving this topic more time to study and develop can only bring about better websites that result in increased usage, sales, subscriptions, etc.

It is my hope that this book will shed some light on ideas I hadn’t considered and refutes or supports ideals we’ve long held as “biblical” in the online design word.

Shadow.

The Rocket Scientist and I are fine, thanks for asking. We live about ten miles from the fire in Irvine and while I doubt our home is in peril we have a few bags packed in case we have to get out of dodge in a hurry.

Some of our friends are not so lucky as they live in areas that are a little too close to comfort. Should the winds change direction, we’ll head to Russ’ house to pack up as much as we can and get he and his family to safety. On the opposite end of Orange County we have even more friends who are currently in the potential path of destruction.

Meanwhile our friend Drew Warkenten and his wife live near an evacuation zone in San Diego and it’s likely he and his wife will be told to relocate if things don’t calm down. This sounds a little more dire than it probably will turn out but these fires are astonishingly unpredictable.

Sunday night we wandered around the hills in Aliso Viejo in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Santiago Fire (the one closest to us, so far). I thought maybe we would see the ridge-line of a distant hill on fire. Instead the sky all-around and above us was a brilliant deep orange. Within, what seemed to be arms reach, a wall of flame could be seen flickering on the tops of trees while it’s shadow danced in the smoke.

I was expecting an as seen-on-television image but the vista before me was something completely different and I was startled by the new reality. We called everyone we knew to make sure they were aware of where the fire was and how fast it was growing (2-3000 acres in two hours) because thirty-second news wasn’t providing a proper context.

Curiosity got the better of us both and we drove closer to help gain a better understanding of what was happing in our back yard. We stopped at the Irvine train station which is on the other side of the former El Toro military base. The train station has a walking tower that rises two stories above a mostly flat landscape making for the perfect vantage point while not getting in the way of the fight or putting ourselves in danger. Across the dark, vacant runway was an amalgam of blinking lights, trees bending to the wind and the heat and flames shooting hundreds of feet in the air.

The air around us was thick with ash, thick gray smoke, and the smell of burning wood. It was so dry and the wind was blowing so hard that your throat started to burn after only a few minutes. And this was from a half-mile away. We watched the scene for a few minutes and decided to head home, our dose of reality had satisfied our need to know but that didn’t prevent me from stopping a few times on the way home to turn back and watch Irvine go up in smoke.

The winds have died down since then and the threat to us has seemingly been pacified but it’s still very real for so many others. Ad hoc plans are being made to turn our humble abode into potential shelter and storage. Lord willing it won’t come to that.

Dalmatian.

Each month I receive questions relating to the field of website makery and/vs. post-secondary education. Instead of replying privately, as I have for years, these inquiries will be posted publicly. Here is the first:

What happens when you feel like you’re stuck at a place who refuses to go beyond what was done five years ago. However, you’re still in college, about to graduate, trying to find some experience, but worry that you won’t get work that will get you out of this place.”

Well for starters, count your lucky stars that you got to go to college instead of an indefinite camping trip inside a place called the Green Zone.

If you’re really just getting out of school I wouldn’t worry too much about not having enough experience. Recognize that college is more about developing personal responsibility and improving your analytical and creative thinking skills. Going to school is not about resume building.

College is about learning theory (how to go beyond this place in time) and history (how we got to this place in time) in a well-balanced array of subjects. This knowledge gives you depth and helps develop character. Learn how to transpose solutions from one discipline or event to another in order to solve a problem or create an opportunity.

Universities will always be “behind the curve” because their business model is not about being in the now. That’s more the job of vocational schools–which I would argue do not provide one-fifth of the quality of education and life experience that you receive while attending university, state or otherwise. The job of the educational institution is to get you to the point where you can go and make something of yourself, but not to the point of limiting you, necessarily, to only working in one industry or another. More than half my friends went to school for X but ended up doing Y or C. Hell, I studied journalism, advertising, and history, and yet I’m in my fourteenth year of designing and developing websites.

The subject of your email demonstrates that you have some level of ambition. All of my best employees were the best not because of where they went to school or because they had a lot of prior experience. They were the best because they had the ambition to learn new skills, methods, applications, etc. I’ve seen more resume crafty-crap from people who never skipped a class, turned in A+ homework, printed their resume on fancy paper–just like the books say to do–and every one of those documents went right into the trash.

Ambition generates motivation, which will provide opportunities to gain experience. Experience with a proper education will foster confidence. Repeat that cycle over and over again and you’ll never have to worry about getting out of any small town.

Sure, if you’re applying for a job to build websites then you ought to know a thing or two about HTML, Photoshop, whatever, but don’t get caught up with a lack of experience. Employers want to know that if they hire you–go the trouble of filling out all that paperwork, add you to the payroll, put you through training, get you a parking permit–that you’re going to be able to do the tasks they hired you to do. They want to know that you’re going to show up for work on time and be productive without requiring micromanagement. That’s worth more to them than how much experience you gained while attending college.

Oh, and it’s tremendously important to dress appropriately. Never dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want (just ask the Podcast Pickle guy).

Handkerchief.

I can’t think of a Fall retail season that’s been so rough on gamers. As it is the season that buts up against the spending/buying tsunami known as Christmas (Jesus who?) a lot of games are released during this time. That’s to be expected but this XRS is proving to be extremely difficult as I barely have time to game as it is (not a bad thing necessarily) and yet there are a lot of titles being released that I have been tracking—waiting/wanting to play—for a long, long time.

  • Halo 3
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfrare
  • Mass Effect
  • Assassin’s Creed
  • Medal of Honor Airborne
  • The Orange Box
  • Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
  • Hellgate: London
  • Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron
  • Warhawk
  • Folklore
  • Unreal Tournament III
  • Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
  • Super Mario Galaxy
  • The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
  • Harvey Birdman

Some of these plastic tools of wonderment have already been obtained and played (Halo 3 has been conquered though that was hardly a battle worthy of song) but to get through the rest of the list I’m going to need the power of Santa, Fred Thompson, and American Express to help decide which lucky titles will make it into the library.

At least Blizzard isn’t releasing anything this year.

Hyacinth.

Exactly how and when did this happen? I just got off the phone with another in a long list of clients who used the word “bucket” several times during a conversation about information architecture. In olden times we used words like “categories” or “sections” but these new kids are dropping their own slang as if creating a website is the new rap-battle.

Neither of the established books on the subject of information architecture—Don’t Make Me Think! or the Polar Bear Book—have an indexed reference for the word “bucket”. Does the word really work that much better than long established terms? No. The preferred word, “category”, is used to described “things having shared characteristics” while “bucket” is a “container”. One implies the relationship of things while the other is an object you put things in with absolutely no relationship implied.

From what I can tell this has happened as the result of more and more clients taking on the role of information architect. In the last two years almost half of our clients have come to us finished site map in hand and eager to drop the B-bomb. I don’t believe that’s the result of failure on the part of web designers and developers but the client believing that they know what works for them. A few months ago we pushed back on sitemap generated by a client. Before coming to us they formed an ad hoc group and met for six weeks to re-categorize their existing site into a new, mythical world of Bucketopia.

In these situations the client is rarely considering the user or goals and objectives for their online presence. Rather these groups often use this exercise to help make sense of their own internal world which doesn’t translate into a great experience for the user (We got one site map that was drawn up according to the companies organization chart once and that was such a happy-fun project). It’s not that I don’t think clients are capable of crafting a proper sitemap. We have had several clients come to us with some really great information architecture—wireframes and all—but anytime I hear the word “bucket” it’s like the someone just handed me a piece of wrinkled, tattered paper marked with a black spot.

Using the word “bucket” in web development is the equivalent of using the words “things” or “stuff” in conversation. In both cases details are hit-and-run over by the practice of subtle oversimplification. The result is an experience that lacks eloquence, education, and energy.

Rather than let “buckets” become or own “axe” we ought to push back in these circumstances and do our best to help the client understand why their own internal review and lingo doesn’t always craft a better experience. If they want to form in-house tickle-clubs and create their own linguistics so be it, but let them do those things and stuff like that for their accounting or human relations, not web development.

Lastly, a highly accurate representation of the bucket/client relationship.

Melvin.

For a little more than two years, I’ve been the sole occupant of Airbag’s headquarters. After a few years alone, I’ve gotten used to having my own space outside of the home, where the books, newspapers, and magazines are stacked high, notes are scattered, and the Boba Fett collection provides security. I guess the reading materials can stay as they are, but I’ll have to use my inside voice for future Executive Board Meetings with Chairman Fett. Because while Airbag has home offices in Boston and Raleigh, another team member will finally occupy a desk next to mine.

A few months ago I had lunch with Russ Casenhiser, a good friend and former boss. We talked about poker, gaming, wine and the good old days of working together. As I often did, I prodded him to leave the his current job, as I knew that his skills, experience, and initiative could be put to better use elsewhere. I figured he would start up his own company…but Russ had a different idea.

Armed with a B.S. in Economics and a M.B.A. from Pepperdine University, Russ has a long history of starting, managing, and leading businesses in such varied sectors such as technology, interactive, retail, and non-profit. From 1998 to 2000, he served as Vice President of Retail Sales for The Knot when the company acquired a business he and his wife started in 1996. Many moons passed, and after many years of gratifying work and a successful IPO, he left the company to be closer to his family. A year later Russ was brought on as CTO for Crystal Cathedral Ministries, where he and I worked together for many years. During his tenure there, he was integral in streamlining the worldwide organization’s operations.

I am pleased to announce that this morning Russ has joined Airbag as our full-time project manager and business developer. Russ will lead efforts to improve customer service and project management beyond the best industry standards, while also working with the team to formulate our strategy and tactics for sustainable growth.

Meanwhile he’ll have to do his best to ignore me while I fly Slave I around the office.

Rolled.

As of this morning Amazon has no tabs. There are no tabs at Amazon. Tabs, which have dominated the masthead at Amazon since it’s earliest days as a simple retailer of the written word, are gone. They are no more. That is to say, the method of navigation that Amazon single-handily mastered through years of information architectural study and graphic design refinement have been removed from the site.

If you can find a tab in new design at Amazon then consider yourself a living witness to the history of interactive design.

What this means for the world, I am uncertain. What this means for online design, well my friend, that is the Million-dollar question. Tabs have been around since the earliest construct of World Wide Web but it was Amazon who perfected it’s use as a navigation scheme for more than a decade, spending hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars (perhaps Millions!) research and design. I can only assume that this decision is the result of careful study by many scientists, designers, and mathematics experts from all over the world. Possibly ending an era of navigation through a secret vote conducted in Geneva, Switzerland.

I can tell you that it will take a while for this to sink in. For so many years the tabs have always been there, starting with a few in the late nineties, multiplying like rabbits during the dawn of this new century, and trimmed to a more manageable and handsome looking group in recent years. Now they are gone, most likely, forever.

Oh, and the hue of blue used across the top has changed too. Amazon says it’s “slightly more fetching” but I don’t see it.

Caylee.

A few days ago I attended a memorial service for a young man named Dak who died of leukemia. I didn’t know him at all, but some of my friends did; I went to support them and whomever else attended. I figured that anyone who dies at the young age of twenty-eight deserves to be remembered, even if by complete strangers.

The oddity of this event was that it took place within a game, within World of Warcraft.

I don’t play very often, but my friends who do asked if I would attend the ceremony. When I arrived at the scene I found scores of other players who had gathered to pay their final respects. Attendants were from all over the United States, Canada, and Australia–some had even re-started their account just so they could pay their last respects.

A procession started at the gates of a castle and ended in a church. People were given time to say something about the departed through voice chat or text message. At first there was a long, awkward silence, and then one at a time people began to speak and type.

After hearing (or reading) story after story, I was amazed by how closely these people had come to know the departed. Whereas I play the game for recreation, it had become their full-time community. Many of the mourners recounted events and conversations that they had with him both on and offline. Some had even tried to visit him in the hospital but Dak insisted they remain home as he would surely be able to do the same soon enough.

As weird as this sounds, I found myself admiring the players around me. These gamers, these people, this community of perfect strangers–they did what they could to comfort Dak while he was alive, and to make sure his life would be remembered.

Pulp.

From the lovely new publication A Brief Message comes a, eh, brief message on the bleak future of print written by Steve Heller. Please go read all two-hundred words, I’ll wait (and you really need to go check out what Khoi and Ms. Danzico have created, it’s simply tres chic).

Now I know I don’t work in the print industry but I am a huge consumer of printed products (newspapers, periodicals and books) and I have a hard time understanding all the hub-bub over whether this medium is dying or not. Maybe if I showed you my yearly budget for acquiring print material you would understand. Still what’s all this hoo-ha about?

Are persons who work with print afraid that one day they’ll come to work and find the doors locked and a sign that reads: “Sorry we’re closed indefinitely because print died in its sleep last night”? Do print designers huddle in corners nervously smoking cigarettes and say things like, “five more issues, maybe, maybe a sixth, and then that’s it, I’m out, because there is no way print can live much longer and I’ll be damned if I’m going down with the ship.”

In his essay Steve makes a point that print is no longer the preferred medium of reaching the most amount of people but that’s nothing new. Print has taken a back seat to television as the primary tool for reaching the masses for decades. So why does this conversation loom as if one day we’ll have print and the next we won’t? It’s as if there is this giant fear that this will all end with thousands of designers homeless, hungry, and roaming the streets, where they will offer to kern type for a spare change or provide color corrections for food.

Call it a hunch but something tells me that’s not gonna happen any time soon. So buck-up little print designer, I seriously doubt your medium will go Dodo in my lifetime or yours. Get back to Quark and keep on keepin’ on, my wallet is at that ready.

Superbad.

In the last two days I’ve seen two asshats completely steal the design work of my friends and try to pass it off as their own. I don’t know what’s worse: the fact that they do this, or that they make their actions so transparent and public that it forces the original designers to take action. This is getting old—really old. I’m tired of writing about it, as I’m sure my friends are. So rather than spend another sentence on why this is bad, I’ve written a short set of instructions to help make sure that designers and design thieves never have to cross paths again.

How to properly steal the design of a website.

  1. First things first, admit it: you suck. You’re a moron and a cheat. It’s likely that you’ll never ever really achieve anything in life because you lack the talent to create or to do anything for yourself. In fact the act of dressing yourself in the morning is the closet you will ever come to doing something for yourself. Also, please stop bathing in Calvin Klein One, as it just further reduces your significance on this planet (not that you were off to a great start…think on that).

  2. Learn. Yes, put some brain cells together, and learn how to properly edit HTML. Sure, you think you already know HTML because you’ve been able to cut-and-paste someone else’s code—that’s why you’re a thief. Most people would use that code to learn how to craft their own work, but since you’re a scumbag you only know how to get away with the least amount of work.

However, if you don’t learn to edit things like comments, alt text, and style names then you’re only leaving yourself open to getting caught red-handed. Think of it this way: if you take these extra steps and edit these things, you’d be a super moron. Then you can go back to your fellow morons, tell them that you are now their overlord, and they now have to do your bidding. Start by commanding them to help you get dressed in the morning.

  1. Photoshop is a tool used by most designers to create those fancy graphics that you are, for some reason unknown to evolved man, unable to make yourself. Now, stealing code isn’t enough to complete the process of design theft, you’re going to need to copy every graphic file necessary to complete the work and most of you are able to pull this off without a hitch. The problem is that if you don’t at least try to make an attempt to alter these graphics then “your” site is going to look exactly like the one you just stole from.

Nine-point-eight-hundred-and-ninety-six times out of ten, this is how design thieves not only get caught, but are dragged through the streets by those of us who spend weeks and weeks creating the original design. If you’re going to use oxygen, then at least make an effort to alter the designed elements to help camouflage your inability to create.

  1. When you send that email to the original designer asking if it’s “okay” that you took the design in the first place, I just want to know one thing: are you doing this before or after you’ve tried to mate with oncoming traffic?

Please re-read step number one and then come back here.

The answer is always going to be “no.” Even if you’d asked before you took anything, the answer would still be “no.” No, we do not want you to copy our work. No, you may not copy our work. Yes, you can date your own sister (it’s assumed that because you’re so damn stupid that you’re living in Upper Appalachia, so knock yourself out). No. Never. Go to hell. It’s never going to be okay to take someone else’s work and claim it as your own. Don’t be any more of an idiot that you already are. If you’re going to have the stones to steal design, keep it to yourself.

  1. This is quite possibly the most important thing you need to know. There are no circumstances that will ever make it a good idea to link to the site you stole the design from. None. Zip. Never, ever. Zero circumstances. Maybe when Armageddon starts, but you should make it quick because…well, hey, it’s Armageddon, and it’s not going to wait for you to open Dreamweaver. Do not ever—never ever—do this. It’s how you’re going to be caught, it’s how all of you asshats get caught. A link with some crappy text that says, “design inspiration by…” Gee, Rockefeller. If that’s all you had to do to circumvent copyright laws then why stop at web design? There’s a whole world of art, music, literature and so forth that’s all readily available for you to copy because, hey! It “inspired” you to steal it. Theft is not inspiration. Don’t be a bigger moron because you think that some little link is going to make your actions any better. Just take the design and go away.

There it is: your Idiots’ Guide to Being an Even Bigger Idiot. If you follow these instructions then you’ll be able to impress your D&D buddies with your awesome new website design, and the original designer will be none the wiser. Congratulations on a job well done, Captain Asshat! Perhaps you can reward yourself with a nice nap on the train tracks.

We.

  • We Break The Rules
  • We Don’t Play By The Rules
  • We Are Perfectionists
  • We Bend Over Backwards
  • We Know The Web
  • We Do The Hard Work For You
  • We Are Obsessive About Perfection
  • We Are Obsessive About Details
  • We Are Obsessive About Results
  • We Are Gigantic
  • We Are Change
  • We Are Ideas
  • We Are The Market
  • We Are A Creative Bunch
  • We Get Results
  • We Speak People
  • We Speak Design
  • We Get Things Done
  • We Create Ideas That Activate Brands

Cross.

There are six-hundred-and-eighty-three proposal submissions for next year’s South by South West, and once again it’s up the the Internet to filter through all of them and choose which ones are worthy of becoming real events.

How absolutely absurd.

I didn’t like the crowdsourced voting last year and with this astonishing amount of submissions I fail to see how the quality of the SXSW experience is going to improve. I heard a lot of complaints about the lack of quality in many of the panels so I don’t understand why the conference leadership is extending the program.

The conference FAQ says:

The SXSW staff contributes significantly to this process, as does the SXSW Interactive Advisory Board.

If that was the case last year, then something about that process failed.

The biggest flaw in the current process is that panel selection is left to the general public, who have zero investment in forming the best conference possible. The only way to make this work properly is to restrict voting to persons who have paid in full to attend the conference, as they’re the only ones who have a vested interest in creating the best experience possible.

So why treat it like a high school popularity contest? If SXSW really has an advisory board then they need to step up and do their job (Hugh if you need help in this area let me know, I’ve been dying for a good reason to buy a taser gun and/or cattle prod). Anytime you leave a portion of the curation process to the mob, it’s going to severely affect quality.

Schiavo.

Ok, this kind of nonsense, which I will share with you in a moment, makes me wonder if there is anyway to turn off a person’s oxygen support. If we can pull food tubes then dammit we need a way to prevent scum sucking thieves from wasting any more of our precious supply of oxygen. Like those heart-plug thingies from Dune, but for a person’s air supply.

Consider that theft and forgery are a form of devolution and as I do not have a deep desire to head back to the trees and start grooming the hairy back of the monkey sitting next to me, I think it’s our duty to fight these infringements upon the law, common sense, and decency.

Someone who goes by the handle allig8torx (that’s Alligator X apparently) took it upon themselves to go to File magazine, copy, paste, and publish other people’s photographs as their own. For example: Paul Russell’s “Charity” and Alligator X’s “Charity”. Another: Byron Barrett’s very lovely piece, “Untitled” and then Alligamouthbreather’s curious doppleganger “astica3”.

Sadly there are more, many more.

Unfortunately there is no option in Flickr to request that this person’s sexual reproduction organs be removed so as to prevent the blood line from continuing but there should be, this is web 2.0 after-all.

Marcotte.

Here is the Steve-Jobs-hates-buttons (more like he has declared fatwa on buttons) story in short:

The iPhone is…part of a decades-long campaign by Mr. Jobs against a much broader target: buttons.

The new Apple cellphone famously does without the keypads that adorn its rivals. While many technology companies load their products up with buttons, Mr. Jobs treats them as blemishes that add complexity to electronics products and hinder their clean aesthetics.

So the iPhone doesn’t have buttons—buttons are the Great Satan.

Fine. Super. Dandy. That’s great.

Look, when I can wave my hand over the screen to unlock the device and then call people by clinching my hand into a fist and then pointing all five fingers into the air then I’ll be impressed.

And when I can mind control the person I’m talking to by waving said hand in a horizontal, left-to-right motion then I’ll be even more impressed, like write-home-to-mom impressed.

Touchscreen be damned, lets not get all pat-on-the-back yet, there is still a lot of work to make this a technology miracle. Aside from the aforementioned missing features, I tried to use two iPhones as a hover-skates only to find that functionality has yet to be installed. And why am I still having to light cigars with a lighter or use a separate device to crack open lobster?

Minimalist indeed.

Tubs.

In compliance with, what I think is California State Law, Airbag Industries LLC initiated a random drug screening late last week. Since fifty-percent of the work force are not in California, not even in the same office, administering the test was not as easy as maybe it could have been and perhaps a little less scientific than the law requires.

The results are still pending (though I suspect that Ethan has an addiction to NyQuil as his IM status is always set to: “heading to sooth this cough with a little Romulan Ale” and I don’t need a masters degree in management information systems to read between those lines) as I am still waiting for at least one specimen to arrive via FedEx Ground. I hope they haven’t lost it, do you know how hard it is to go through a jar of mayonnaise, sterilize it, and pack it in the absolute center in a box of those styrofoam peanuts?

When everything gets here I’ll run through some tests I found on Wikipedia. I might not be a scientist but I’ve watched enough Miami Vice to know how to check if white powder is cocaine so I figure this other kind of drug test can’t be that much more difficult.

Phileas.

What does twenty-four hours of Airbag look like? I want to know.

I would love to see a snapshot of Airbag around the world starting and ending somewhere around the International Date Line. If you have a minute take a photo of how you normally digest my attempts molding the English language into sentences and if the response is decent I’ll whip something up for us all to take a look at.

Send said photo (no screen shots please lets get some local flavor in the view finder) to this email address—post no photos to the comments please—along with your name, town/city, country, time zone, and the time in which you preserved the moment in pictures.

Oh, and be sure to include the URL to your own website. No reason why you shouldn’t get some link love out of the deal.

UPDATE: Submissions have started to come in from Australia, United Kingdom and various time zones across the US. For example:

This lovely photo comes form Michelle Park who writes The Jam Jar and lives in GMT +10 hours.

Now, I didn’t mean to leave the impression that this was started and finished in a day. I’m more interested in seeing how many much of the GMT we can fill.

Rats.

Yesterday a Hindu chaplain was jeered by protesters while providing the opening prayer for Congress (the first ever recited by a Hindu).

Capitol police said two women and one man were arrested and charged with causing a disruption in the public gallery of the Senate. The three started shouting when guest Chaplain Rajan Zed, a Hindu from Nevada, began his prayer.

They shouted “No Lord but Jesus Christ” and “There’s only one true God,” and used the term “abomination.”

Asshats.

These people, and anyone who thinks what they did was a good idea, need to be remind of a few things.

First, the Freedom of Religion that they enjoy so much, that they seemingly take for granted, extends to all religions—it’s not singular—never had been nor should it be.

Second, if you seek to squash the practice of any religion then you endanger the freedom to practice all religion. Once intolerance of one religion enters public policy then you can kiss it all goodbye.

Lastly, if you want people to join your belief system, public demonstrations of hate and exclusion are not the way and I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t think so either (see New Testament, all the words in red).

It’s all about the Beatitudes morons.

Bitter.

I’m so pissed I can hardly think straight. CNN is reporting that a new US government classified report says that Al Qaeda, that campy little Middle East Haters Club for Men, is now as strong as it was at the time of the attacks on New York and Washington D.C..

Al Qaeda is the strongest it has been since the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a new U.S. government analysis concludes, according to a senior government official who has seen it. Despite a campaign of military action and counterterrorism operations, al Qaeda has regained its strength and found safe haven in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the report says, according to counterterrorism officials familiar with the report.

In other words our Commander in Chief has failed (like that’s a big surprise, nothing he has done has ended in success). In the last seven years we’ve wasted so much money, allowed our lives and freedoms to be disrupted but more importantly we have lost way, way, way too many good men and women in this “fight on terrorism” and yet none of it has resulted in an over-all positive gain. And to think that our last president was impeached because he lied about cheating on his wife just makes our current president’s performance even more absurd.

I hope all of you who voted for Shrub are happy. I hope you are getting what you wanted, whatever the hell that may be.

Sukuhi.

Sony recently dropped the price of the Playstation 3 in another effort to stop the hemorrhaging of absolute failure. Other suggestions for saving the game console include decreasing the models available from two to one, improve performance, put the rumble back in the controllers, redesign away from the current 1972 Buick look-and-feel, make it easier for developers to create games, bundle games, did I mention make it easier for developers to make games?, and copying Xbox Live. All great ideas but I think I’ve found a solution that’s better, faster, cheaper.

How to save the Playstation 3

Wait, wait, wait, wrong list! Sorry about that.

How to save the Playstation 3

Easy. Peasy.

Handshake.

One of the best kept secrets during high school was that a small group of students ran an underground BBS using an Apple II+ that sat on a counter in the back room of the library. I don’t even remember what it was called but the whole system was run from a floppy disk (not the ones encased with plastic but the real five-inch-and-one-quarter deal) through a single phone line. Mike Brazie (if you wanted to get a punched in the back–for that is the only punch he knew how to through–you called him Mike Brazire) had the nerd-glory of being the SYSOP (system operator) and he carried that badge of honor with courage, behind closed doors.

Of course all of this three-hundred-baud-nerd stuff was a closely guarded secret as the idea of participating in an online social network was very, very off-putting to the girls. Well, it wasn’t really popular with anyone really so you just didn’t bring it up during discussions in public. Because only one person at a time could be logged into the system the activities mostly included sending private messages to other users and posting messages to public groups on a variety of topics that generally included games, computers, politics, science, entertainment, and food. A chat session was possible but only between the user dialed-in and the SYSOP if he (very, very rarely a she) was physically at the machine, which didn’t happen very often. The people you interacted with weren’t considered your online friends per-se, they were just other people with nerd tendencies.

Now here we are living in the middle of William Gibson’s envisioned Cyberspace and now you’re an outcast if you don’t have a Myspace page, Facebook account and who-the-hell-knows-what-else that I, at an elderly thirty-six, don’t know about. And that’s fine, I don’t need to pretend I’m Forever 21, nor do I have a desire to relive the past—I have been very happy to avoid that kind of social per-pressure for a long time.

Now I find myself in new awkward territory with more and more requests by other business owners, peers, and professionals to become “friends” inside these same social sites and I don’t quite fully grok this new layer of “networking”. Does it really matter that I’ve posted a note on someone’s page? Are we missing out on some large contract because Airbag is on Virb but not MySpace? Should I cry myself to sleep because I’m not in someone’s top three, five, eight, whatever? Second Life sucks–oops, can I say that with my outside voice and not be an outcast?

My gut tells me that no, no one is really loosing business because they aren’t actively participating in some sudo electronic version of RL (in real life) but it makes for an Ok mind-numbed distraction. That said, if we could somehow recreate the digital magic that was the Commodore 64 powered NeonBBS, circa 1989, then that’s an entirely different situation and one that would require active engagement.

Letterman.

There is no need for it to be this hot in the middle of July, or say, ever. If they were still alive I think the dinosaurs would be doing their best to date penguins about now. At this heat sun block becomes more of a placebo because no one in their right mind should be out under the sun long enough to get burned because that would be a stupid thing to do (Lizards, yes, homosapiens, no). Not to mention, I think sub block immediately evaporates at one-hundred and eleven so anyone walking the Vegas strip when it’s one-hundred-and-nineteen is fooling themselves. The only real reason to put it on is to help deter the smell of asphalt.

Five years ago the Rocket Scientist and I decided that we would go camping in the heart of Death Valley, in February. Now that was hot. Every morning I’d wake up in time for dawn’s early light. The temperature was a brisk seventy-five degrees and life in the desert was having a ball until the Sun slowly crawled over the tops of the eastern mountain range. It was a pretty sight to observer but after your eyebrows started to singe you knew it was time once again to retreat from any direct contact from the sun’s death ray.

I remember walking through the National Park Service visitors center looking over old photos of pioneers who, apparently, worked and frolicked around in that kind of heat sporting three layers of clothes, some of them with hats to complete their ensemble. While I don’t recall hearing much about it in history class, I’m convinced that back in those days people just internally combusted. Nobody back then died from The Fever, Indian raids, or heart disease, they just blinked into a pile of ash. And then someone would come and retrieve your three-piece wool tweed suit, dust it off, and take it back to the general store to collect the recycling deposit.

The sun just came over the mountains and it looks more like Suge Knight than Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, already rolling hard and all pimped out in solar radiation blling-bling. I think I’ll stay inside and watch the first act of Empire Strikes Back over and over and over again.

Aoople.

If you haven’t already, check out New York Magazine’s profile of Steve Jobs. Most of it is a rehash of former events leading up to the D: All Things Digital conference last month. And then there is this little tidbit:

“I think that Google is going to buy Apple,” this person says. “It would be a victory for Apple; they’d get major-league partners, money, and engineers. And it would be a victory for Steve—a huge win that lets him leave the stage.”

The speculation about Google has a ring of plausibility. Google CEO Eric Schmidt is now on the Apple board; engineers at the two companies are collaborating on Google Maps for the iPhone; and then there’s the YouTube deal for Apple TV.

So, if that happens–and I doubt it will, but still–do we get to see a Bowman vs. Nixon showdown?

Tweat.

Not that we are without anything to do on this fine Tuesday (quite the contrary) but Ryan had an interesting idea to see how long it would take to get a response to a post in Twitter. He posted a simple request for his Twitter friends to send him an email and within seconds came several replies.

Dusting off my account I posted a similar message and within five minutes had twenty-five replies, some responses coming from friends that I haven’t seen on IM in decades (well it feels like decades). Where have all of you good people been? On Twitter? Really?

Apparently I’ve missed something.

Also, on behalf of Ryan, Ethan, and I we thank you for joining our most recent multi-level marketing scheme and want you all to know that your free ($8.95 shipping/handling) dish soap and toilet bowl cleaner should arrive in five-to-ten days.

Developr.

The Apple Keynote is over and the most interesting tidbit, in my opinion, is that iPhone apps do not require the use of a snap development kit (SDK). Creating an app only requires the use of web standards based design and AJAX functionality. This makes me wonder what truly useful applications could be built in time for the June 29th product launch.

Here are a few ideas:

What else we got?

Rodney.

In a few hours little Paris Hilton will go back to court wherein it will be decided whether she must return to prison for the remainder of her sentence. If she gets to go home because it’s just too scary for her then we should all calmly stop what we are doing, make our way to Beverly Hills, and in fine Los Angeles tradition riot openly in the streets.

Once there please do your best to gather tools that can make fire. Considering the location and terrain this likely means bashing in car windows so as to retrieve lighters. If none can be found then use the lighter installed in the automobile itself, they can be found in all make of cars from Ferrari to Aston Martin. Once fire has been discovered start looking for things that are compatible with fire.

This includes: car interiors, piles of clothes, driftwood, toy poodle fur (attached or not is up to you), designer clothes, card board, and all forms of currency. Consider your surroundings, it’s likely that the best fuel source will come from shopping bags (though I’m not sure if those stringy handle things will actually burn). If you come across fine wine please do not not destroy it but instead send all wine to the Paris Hilton Riot Command Center where we will, uh, find many mass-destructive purposes for it.

Car tipping is optional but it does make for good television. If you must tip and/or burn cars please restrict these activities to lesser Mercedes and BMWs as they are cheaply made anyway and deserve to be sacrificed for live television.

Should anyone get in your way make a menacing face and ask for a hand-out. This will cause the locals confusion and make them think you are not rioting but simply a local homeless person. Use your best karate-chop to pacify the person and drag them to a safe location and yes it’s Ok if you rummage for a $20 or five, you did after-all drag them to safety from a riot.

As is customary if you happen to pass by an electronics store find a way in and starting throwing products out of the store and onto the street. If said shop only has flat panel TVs use the florescent lights instead as they will make a bigger crashing sound — flat panels only make a dull thud and don’t look spectacular crashing to the pavement like glass does. If you can, hold back on all of these types of activities until the television helicopters with HD cameras arrive.

When the Po-Po arrive run in the opposite direction to the nearest Starbucks, refresh yourself with something large and ending in -chino. Wipe any riot stains or smudges from your person and then start talking into your cell phone about how unfair it is that Tom Cruise’s wife is reconsidering her marriage and that you’re on your way to Malibu for the weekend. This will confuse law enforcement into thinking you are a just a local homeless person.

Tubular.

I’m all for designers trying to break out of their shell but this Dwayne-Wayne ink blot created for the 2012 Olympics is a cruel fraternity prank. After looking at this work for the first time I wondered how many paint chips does a person have to eat to think this is brilliant work? Fifteen (with lead of course) or five-thousand (latex non-glossy)?

Love children from marriages between first cousins

I mean seriously, what, huh? uh, are you sure this is it…really? So the real one, oh, this is the real one? Pink and yellow? Will there be a version for board shorts? Yes, I’m sure it does look good on a pair of Vans. Does this have anything to do with the 25th anniversary of Fast Times at Ridgemont High? No? Just a coincidence, eh? When did they legalize marijuana in London? Is that French ice skating judge somehow involved in all of this?

Thankfully there is more to London than day-glo rorschach tests and it might, just might be possible that after more work is unveiled this will all start to come together but somehow I doubt it. When it comes to Olympic logos and design systems, make mine Otl Aicher.

At least his work didn’t induce epileptic shock.

Generally.

I am somewhat excited to get my hands on the iPhone and I have pre-arranged to pick one up at the Apple Store on the morning of June 29th. You may ask why I am not more excited to which I will reply: As good as the device may have been designed and engineered it’s still at the mercy of AT&T getting their act together. I would love to think that Apple has created a way to eliminate the telco’s infamous day-old voice mail delivery and dropped phone calls but somehow I doubt it.

The Rocket Scientist and I were invited to no less than six weddings this summer ranging in all manner of size and geographic locations. At the largest wedding, a very large and traditional Catholic wedding, I have been asked to MC the reception. Some, including the wife, have placed formal protest to the bride knowing that a Pope joke or three might make it into my repertoire. I don’t know about that but I am being fitted for a look-a-like outfit—lets hope white is my color.

Airbag’s galactic headquarters moved into a new, very swank office building. I now have floor-to-ceiling windows with ample natural light for an army. This is Sparta.

Whist eating breakfast with a friend he suddenly remembered that his website had turned twelve the day before. The Rocket Scientist quickly figured that he had been publishing online for as many years as we had been married. She also remembered that in the summer of 1994 I tried to explain to her what the Internet was, without success. She also recounted my ambition to be online within that year. If that sounds strange then you need to understand that back then it wasn’t just a matter of ordering an account over the phone, you had to fill out applications, get software, install software, and wrestle with TCP/IP settings in a way that would make most of today’s users cry openly. And that was if the place had openings for new customers.

The Ducks have all but ensured they will hoist the cup on Wednesday. Watching the games on HDTV is amazing and it makes me miss the times when my friends and I would go watch the UAA Seawolves play. Go Ducks!

There have been many, many books purchased in the last few months. Some of my favorites are coffee table editions featuring the work of Josef Muller-Brockmann, Oti Aicher, and Jasper Johns. For fun I also slipped in the new tome on the history of Star Wars as told through long lost interviews from the late seventies. Mo books, mo betta.

I had a problem finding Al Gore’s new book at local book shops. I went to two stores and found nothing but empty shelves. Clerks at each place told me that their large inventories sold out within hours. I’ve got a copy, finally, but I’m a little intimidated to read it for fear that it’s only going to piss me off even more than I already am at the state of our country and it’s politics. I don’t know about you but I’m ready to throw some tea in a harbor and then maybe burn a building or two.

Halo 3 Beta has been fun in the few times that I’ve been able to get on Live (work has been a tad busy). Even more fun is playing Crackdown online with friends and causing mayhem. For some reason jumping cars into other cars, over cliffs, and into buildings never gets old.

Huh.

From TIME magazine comes insight into what Ruby on Rails does:

To help build Basecamp, Campfire and the company’s other core applications, [David] Hansson developed Ruby on Rails. It gives 37signals’ software a consistent look: sleek, friendly and without the extraneous bells and whistles that plague much of the bloated software sold by larger companies.

True, I’m not a programmer but lets makes this clear, Ruby on Rails has absolutely nothing—zero, zip, zilch—to do with the look of applications and websites. Sorry TIME, you still need to hire designers to do that kind of work.

Gaia.

A few months ago I decided to take the plunge and cough up the extra dough for high-definition television. For a few years now I’ve had a nice HDTV that was perfect for movies and Xbox 360 but I hated the idea of paying more for a television signal. Then Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth hit the air waves and I can’t imagine watching this series in anything other than the highest definition available.

When I was in grade school I always looked forward to the times when we got to put the books away and watch a National Geographic filmstrip. A baritone voice would blare form the mono-speaker, taking us through a visual journey many, many miles away from our small town in Alaska. Mind you, this was before VHS became the dominant format for educational presentations but the photography and narrative was nothing short of amazing. So as I’m watching God’s opera presented before my eyes, through a clarity that makes me feel like I’m there, I’m in complete jaw-dropping awe.

This is all to say that if you’re not inspired by watching Planet Earth then you should probably reconsider having a food tube installed.

I love, love, love, all of the shots from the International Space Station (glorious!). Other favorites, so far, include the segments of the birds in New Guinea, the Great White Sharks (jumping coming completely out of the water! Amazing footage!), the Sequoias, and the entire show on mountains. I haven’t had a chance to see each show but the Rocket Scientist has made it clear that we will own the DVD library when it becomes available.

I just wish that something(s) didn’t have to die in every episode. I understand that these things happen in the wild but watching baby animals become another’s Happy Meal just isn’t something I enjoy watching.

Kutaragi.

Clicking through Cyberspace I happened upon Scriv’s first blog entry at Fast Company. In his inaugural post, “Did we ever remember design?”, Paul argues that companies continue to ignore the success of tech titans like Apple and Nintendo and, seemingly, suffer for it.

When it comes to design, every year is the same. You will see articles upon articles extolling the virtues of design and how companies can benefit by putting more emphasis behind it and what happens? The same companies innovate while other companies think they can overpower the competition through features and marketshare.

I don’t think that’s true. In the last fifteen years that I have managed and studied business I’ve seen more companies add design as an important part of their planning, manufacturing, and marketing processes. As consumers have made it clear that design is an important criteria in their purchase making decisions a lot of companies have paid attention and acted accordingly. Of course not everyone values design with the same intensity as Apple or, say BMW. A large, large majority of businesses simply can’t afford to throw money around like these two can because their products don’t sell at premium price points. That said there are companies who can, and have, thrown money at design and yet they still don’t succeed as well because they’re trying to make bad products simply look good like Dell or Ford. In their case design isn’t the issues, lack of innovation is.

More features and market share aren’t necessarily a negative. Just as there are customers who see design as being important there are others who specifically look for more features. Even Apple knows this otherwise why would they spend so much time, effort, money, and space for listing every product feature possible for every product they sell. And If I could trounce IBM in the web services game because I had more market share than they did, you can bet your ass I would—bigger, faster, cheaper, smarter.

I wil not talk about Apple in this entry because there will be plenty more times when I bring them up in this column, but can you argue their magical turnaround at the beginning of the century was something else besides pushing out quality designed products? We learn the same lessons from Apple and Nintendo every year, yet companies don’t seem to ever take notice.

While Apple’s added sex appeal definitely helped sell more products that’s not the sole reason for Apple’s turn around. Trimming the product line from thirty-five different models to four saved many-millions of dollars in manufacturing, inventory, and marketing costs while making it easier for consumers decide which product to buy. Job’s crusade to end fruitless research and development projects that didn’t have solid commercial potential also saved a lot of money and therefore had a hand in Apple’s turn around. It was good, solid management combined with channeled innovation and street smarts saved Apple. Candy colored plastic just helped them look good doing it.

Now, here’s something to remember: Companies like Apple or Nintendo “win” because they innovate. They make products that work, function, look, and feel better than their competitor’s. Design is but one step in that process, not the champion.

Swedish.

Hewlett-Packard, that personal computer maker that wants to be so hip it hurts, has announced they have acquired Logoworks, a company that sells clip art as logos. The move was made in order to “provide small businesses with access to professional design solutions at a fraction of market cost.”

Says Vyomesh Joshi, executive vice president, Imaging and Printing Group, HP:

Today’s small businesses are increasingly turning to the web for marketing tools and services that strike a balance between affordability and quality, by adding Logoworks’ web-based graphic design service to our portfolio, HP can now provide the right mix of cost savings, flexibility and professional quality to help make a small business look big.

Making small look big is so vital to good business and HP knows it.

The technology giant is rumored to be making even more acquisitions in order to help inflate organizations around the world. Analysts predict HP will soon offer their own line of products to include: Viagra, Hummer H3 (likely to be called Hummer HP), platform shoes, breast implants, North Korean hair dryers, and Mac Pros.

Craftsman.

The planets have aligned for web designers this month. Adobe finally released their suite of next generation applications, CSSEdit was given a nice upgrade, and Panic, dear, lovely, heavenly Panic reminded us why using a Mac to develop websites is a thousand times better than anything else because their applications only run on a Macintosh. This month we have been given better tools to craft and fabricate web standards based websites from design to development to deployment.

To really appreciate how far we have come you should try finding and using the applications of yesteryear like Adobe Pagemill or Netobjects Fusion. Or try using the original Photoshop 3 and see how far you get before using language combinations normally reserved for prisoner lovers or merchant marines.

Sure the tools we have today have bloated over the years but after kicking the tires on these new and revised applications I’ve got to admit things are getting better, getting better all the time.

Now, if only we can take web design to the next level, beyond the capabilities of the tools we’re using, just like we used too, boy howdy, that would be something to see.

Amigos.

Last week I barely stepped into my office when the phone rang which was a bit strange because that doesn’t happen too often at six in the morning.

The person calling was a clerk who needed to verify Ryan’s full-time employment. They were a bit out of sorts because Airbag doesn’t have a corporate presence like it should. They were confused because we don’t have a typical company website nor do we advertise in the yellow pages (which I thought was the strangest of all their criteria). I provided answers to their queries about Airbag’s fillings and official documents with federal and state agencies and that was that.

Unfortunately it’s getting harder and harder to fly this ship under the radar.

I don’t have a big ego about how this company is perceived to the web browsing public at this time and so building a new all-powerful company site with portfolios, missions statements, and process diagrams hasn’t been high on the priority list. It’s more important that we get to work with great clients and do good work for them.

Fortunately that list keeps growing with bigger names and better clients, all without having to alter this website but that convenience is quickly becoming a nuisance. We’re not going to be able to stay underground for much longer.

That includes the following statement:

Airbag Industries is a full-service provider of web services from information architecture to design and development to deployment. The company is based in Aliso Viejo, California with offices in Raleigh, North Carolina and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Press may contact Greg Storey, Principal, Airbag Industries for more information or to inquire how people can wire money directly into Airbag’s international accounts. It’s hard to convey how very cool it is to hand-select the people you get to work with. Both Ryan and Ethan bring their A-game to the job every day and continue to add to the Airbag culture. I’m the lucky one, that much I know.

So now we are three and our kung-fu is unbelievably strong. And yet despite this growth I have a feeling we’re going to need more ninjas real soon.

Shrimps.

In response to a Longboard link I posted last week about Wieden + Kennedy’s sleepy (think web based narcolepsy) new website Anson Parker writes, with great passion (and language not suitable for Airbag readers):

Why are you so harsh on the new W+K site? Yawn? It looks to me like they’ve tried to do something inventive and original. I think their time line is an fairly interesting app that’s pretty well resolved (the zooming is very nice). On first load it’s a little overcrowded with data.

I assure you, this is nothing new and for an advertising agency that has been the poster child for out-of-the-box thinking in the advertising world for the last twenty years it is a big yawn. Timelines?! Pfffttt.

Hello W+K? Josh Davis called and he wants Praystation back.

Who isn’t doing timelines? Look at BBDO at least they but some time and effort behind their efforts. It’s still nothing new but the execution is a thousand times better.

But it’s a hell of a lot better than those arrogant, agency sites that have like a single white page with a paragraph of Courier type making some vapid statement of differentiation from the 700 other boutique agencies who all think they’re better than the rest.

I disagree. I think both belong in the same category of lame. And about that “vapid statement of differentiation” thing, get over it. Businesses have been doing it since Rome 1.0 and it’s not going to go away any time soon.

If this current “web 2.0” aesthetic isn’t the most cliched, copied and bland school of design I don’t know what is! Right now the web looks like two designers were responsible for the entire thing.

Agreed, but that doesn’t make W+K’s website any better. Don’t lower your standards just because the masses have. Expect more from the people who have the means and resources to do more.

Don’t be a bitch, the W+K site just isn’t that bad. BTW, I have no affiliation with them.

Two things. First, do you hunt kangaroo with that potty-mouth? Second, if you’re not the president of the W+K Fan Club then what in the hell do you have to be so angry about? Got First Amendment issues?

Feel free to chime in but keep the MySpace angst off my lawn. I’ve got enough for the both of us.

Further.

Airbag Blog Advisory System Remember those good ‘ole days when the Department of Homeland Security launched a program to educate Americans on how to protect themselves from chemical or dirty bomb attack? Their plan of protection called for dressing up your house in a duct-tape-and-visqueen prom dress, retreating somewhere safe inside while sucking your thumb and rocking back and forth. While it sounded good (pffft, for maybe a day or two until everyone realized that Home Depot was charging an arm and a leg for visqueen and who in the hell can afford to buy as much as they really need to cover their homes when Arkansas is only a day’s drive away and everyone knows that nothing happens there so why not just camp out at the local KOA and return when the acid rains have washed away all the bad chemicals?) the plan was a complete bomb. Eh, so to speak.

That said, if the government has taught us anything it’s that promoting fear can save lives. If everyone is afraid then no one is not afraid and that means millions of people ready to receive directions and follow them to the ‘t’ in effort to save their own hide. So it is with that powerful knowledge combined with the Johnny-come-lately-’07-blog-words paranoia that we at Team Airbag have taken our brilliant ideas from whiteboard to website.

So comrades it is with great patriotic pride that I present to you the for-real, get real!, application of the blog future. The Airbag Department of Security Blog Advisory System is here to protect lives and restore order, your cooperation will ensure that peace and democracy are restored in the near future.

LLC.

About a month ago I received some email with questions about how Airbag got started as a for-profit company. Here are the questions and answers for the benefit of others.

What factored you into quitting your day job and going solo? I’m assuming you built up enough of a name through your blog.

Well, I’d love to be able to say that yes my name, this Airbag brand, had reached such great heights that I had to leave the day job but that wasn’t necessarily the case.

Almost two years ago I left employment because my wife and I had decided to move out of state. Then quite suddenly we reversed that decision and I found myself at a good time in life to take what money I had saved for a rainy day—not much mind you—and turn Airbag into a corporation (read about it in now-agonizing detail). That said, years of writing about design, web standards, iced lattes led to the creation of a brand that definitely helped make that transition from employee to principal a lot easier.

Another factor in that decision making process was a large group of family and friends who all thought it was time that I started my own company. Their excitement and enthusiasm was the icing on the cake and what finally convinced me to go out on my own.

Most people I know who quit working for the Man so they could clock-in for themselves did so because their side-work-business grew to the point where they had the opportunity to go solo. Unless you’re a trust-fund baby or have an incredibly intelligent significant other who pulls down the big money based off her uber skillz in science and/or math then I would suggest going this route to avoid the financial hardships that are likely to come but it’s your roller coaster ride so do what you will.

Why go solo instead of partnering up with others (ie, Blue Flavor)?

It was never my intention to go solo, the plan for Airbag has always been to grow it well beyond the one-man shop (we are now three people flying blissfully under the radar). After more than a decade in the business I have gotten to know a lot of designers, developers, sysops, etc. all of whom I could bring in as subcontractors when the need arose so I didn’t feel compelled to latch on to someone in the beginning.

About partnering, I have been in too many situations where more resources and attention are spent creating the partnership than doing good work (sometime I’ll tell you about the web design shop I started with a Lt. Governor of Alaska). Focus on doing good work with people who compliment your skill set and the partnership will form naturally.

That said, it’s likely that clients will be concerned awarding a contract to a single operator. The best way to overcome this problem initially is to get time and cost commitments from people you need to add to your project team and then include everyone’s bio along with their skill sets in your proposal.

Do you solicit clients or do they all come to you? if you solicit, how do you decide who to go after?

Currently all of our jobs have come in through Airbag readership or referrals from friends and colleagues. For the last six months I have devoted time to prepare for some kind of marketing and sales effort in order to grow revenue and further stabilize cash flow. After you read the Journal long enough you realize that businesses spend money in amounts measured in tonnage. It’s my intention to make it easy for those companies to spend their tons at Airbag.

The first step in this process is to start learning more about money: Who has it, where do they spend it, and what can you do to help funnel it into your bank accounts.

One way to get your brain to start thinking like this is to read the financial news and occasionally magazines like Fast Company (Look it doesn’t make me happy to say this but Business 2.0 is a waste of money, who wants to read one month old blog posts printed on thin paper?), listen to Marketplace on NPR and subscribe to your local business journal.

That last part, I believe, is key to person starting out on their own. It’s one thing to learn more about global economics — that will help you to see money and that’s important if you, like me, have had a hard time seeing past seven digits — but unless your name is an established brand you’re not likely going to land a six-figure contract right out of the gates. Start small, manageable, and constantly prepare for success.

You would be amazed, perhaps astonished, at how little small to mid size companies know about the web and the many opportunities they may be missing because they lack the knowledge to know how to leverage the medium to grow sales, increase awareness, cut costs, etc. Wrap that into a proposal and submit it, via mail, to the person who will give you money to get things done.

I read somewhere (I’m kicking myself for not writing down the source) that half of all businesses in the United States are not on the web. Chew on that.

How much work do you do, and how much do you manage and contract out?

I only work on the parts of a project where my talents lie. For me this means writing all project planning documents, drafting the information architecture, designing, and occasionally copywriting (My strengths are not equal in these areas but they are not rocket science to me whereas dealing with .htacess files, MYSQL queries, and IE 6 hacks are and so I do my best to avoid ever having to do that work. Sometimes this means living in the mountains for months on end).

Once a project moves into development I hand that over to others and then put on my project manager overalls and start looking for the next three of four projects to bring in. During development and implementation I will assist with testing and handle the communication with the client up until the project has ended.

It sounds like you are building a pretty nice practice. How did you do it? Did you set out to build a particular kind of company, or is your practice in response to the kinds of work you get, or both?

This is a really great question. Initially I started Airbag as a company that designed and developed websites knowing that eventually I would add products and services to meet the demands of the marketplace while looking for new opportunities. In addition to Airbag’s soup-to-nuts services (web site design-to-development-to-implementation) we provide creative direction and production management to a companies who either can’t afford to hire these positions full-time or have had difficulty in finding a good employee for the job. Meanwhile we have a few product start ups that are in the research and planning stage (that said we absolutely do not work for startups in exchange for ownership, those deals are bogus).

How do you guarantee your employees pay. How do you know you will have enough work to stay busy, keep them busy and have enough cash flow to pay them?

There are no guarantees in business and there never will be (ask Wieden + Kennedy about loosing Nike’s $11M interactive running account after being BFF for twenty years) that’s the hard part about growing a company. The only thing you can do is to think 90-days out and do what you can to continually bring in business.

One way to help alleviate that gun-to-the-head feeling is to get a retainer or two. Generally that business arrangement favors the client but it’s nice to have a financial base to grow from. Another method is to have your companies bank set up a line of credit–for your business, not your personal account–that you can use to cover payroll for a month or two.

Usually people will use up their lifetime savings in the first year of going solo, while trying to stay afloat. I am not sure that is very smart, or safe at all. What do you have to say about that?

For some people, that’s the only way they can get started but I would agree with you, going that route is stupid. Keep your day job while growing the side-business. If you’re good there will come a point when working both jobs is going to be painful. That’s great! Keep going until you don’t think you can possibly do any more and sometime shortly afterward you’ll find that you have enough business momentum to go out on your own.

I don’t know anyone who took the fast track (meaning they burned through their savings trying to start a company) and was around longer than a year.

I would also think that any company, even as a one man show. Initially, you would need someone to handle marketing and sales. Even if it’s the same person doing the actual design. What are your views on that?

I guess. If you don’t have work already coming in then I don’t see the sense in starting a business. Marketing and sales should only be brought in when you have the infrastructure to handle success. I want to add a sales process to Airbag sometime in the Fall to see how that might work for this type of company. Otherwise we’ll continue to enhance the methods we currently use to get the Airbag brand name out there (read: networking, writing, paying off the Federalizes, and making good use of an army of ninjas) until that’s tapped dry.

If you have more questions about Airbag, the business of web design/development, or getting started feel free to ask.

Gloucester.

Here, before you, the best accessibility question and answer volley ever:

Q: What are handicap people looking for in a website?

A: What kind of handicap are you talking about?

Kids, that’s the kind of sandpaper-on-open-flesh-wound awkwardness that can’t be made up. No, that kind of tip-toe train wreck just happens and you get to grin because you got to watch it happen.

Flaunt.

A bit further than Ten Miles to Disneyland is an area of Orange County that locals call South County. The title is synonymous with pretentiousness; a land where everyone rolls in money, eats money, wears money, drives money, all without the problems of the common man. The reality is about four feet to the left of that and no matter how high the real estate goes for around here it’s nearly impossible to get good postal service.

Up on the gentle and quiet hills of Aliso Viejo we have our own zip code but no post office to speak of. There is a place that’s labeled “post office” but it’s only one-third of a sub-leased industrial park building with no counter, just a door in a wall. This lack of a proper facility must weigh heavily on the carriers because I have yet to come across any of them who didn’t look like they just finished licking stamps non-stop for eight hours followed by lunch at Subway. And it’s a crap shoot as to who is going to bring the mail and what time of day. If ever you need some life-saving device mailed to you, do not have it sent anywhere near the 92656.

So it is with great, almost evil pleasure, that I watched the postmen open the back door to his USPS hoopty, hoist a box to his shoulder with a ‘huugh’ and walk slowly to the front door of our contemporary one-floor-walkup with cathedral ceilings and remote control fans (to describe it any other way would be such a North Country thing to do). After exchanging greetings (Me: “hi”, Him: “huuugh, Subway, huugh”) I took ownership of the box. This was either a complete set of Jr. Craftsmen tools with BBQ attachments or the Rocket Scientist had finally found a way to order dark matter through Sky Mall. I climbed the stairs wishing that I had trained at least one cat in the art of St. Benardsmanship so that I might request some water and refresh myself for the remaining climb. Upon reaching the summit I set the box down and the building creaked.

My name was on the box and so like a kid on Christmas at 5:30AM (as this is how I open each and every box that comes addressed to me, there is no other way) I found the nearest object that could help me cleanly puncture and cut the multiple layers of tape and opened that sucker as fast as I could. Wrapped in several sheets of recycled newsprint was a large, thick, yellow tome. Across the cover it read: FontBook.

Not to be confused as a catalog of products created/offered by FontShop (as I have done on several occasions), FontBook is an independent single volume encyclopedia of the best type available “both old and new. It contains all the classics of the art of printing, insofar as they are available digitally, as well as the latest font releases and extensions.” First created fifteen years ago, the collection is now on it’s forth edition recently released with much fanfare and competition.

I love good type but I don’t know that I would consider myself a type fanatic like some type-o-holics I know, but when I saw samples of the new format and the condensed (yes, I said condensed but somehow there are more specimens) size I knew I had to have it. Years ago I was given a copy of Adobe’s type reference but that’s a Ford Pinto compared to this Excursion. I only wish there was a way to mount steer horns on the cover.

We in the web standards business got out of the practice of selecting type faces for web design preferring to stick to a handful of fonts that are available to the most amount of users. That worked for a while but I’m getting pretty tired of using the same old fonts on every project. And just as many of us have smashed past the web-safe color palette I’m starting to work more non-system based typography into our designs. With techniques like SiFR getting better all the time it’s my hope that we’ll get more and more opportunities to pour over references like FontBook and select the perfect type to help create the right tone and depth that every design should have.

Possibly more exciting is the second book that also came on that glorious day (in a separate box, FontBook comes in a custom shipping container, it’s just that amazing) but sadly it did not cause our local postal union any discomfort.

When typography and design come together in the form of a poster a few things happen but not necessary in this order: Doves cry, angels get their wings, world peace moves on EM dash closer to reality, and I don my Protec helmet and start to open-mouth drool. For there is nothing more perfect in the design world than a absolutely fantastic poster. A single sheet made to display graphic art and information (useful, or not) that is usually communicated via typography. The success of a great poster relies not in getting one of these two ingredients right but both have to work in perfect harmony in order for the consumer to see the music so clearly.

This is so very, very true of great web design. When one of these elements is not holding it’s own weight, it shows, and people whisper about it behind closed IM windows. Crack open any book on work of the graphic design masters who came before us and you’ll find more samples of their poster and cover art than any other form. I believe this is because not only are posters hard to get right, they become works of art.

Therefore it was without question that after gawking at the sample pages of Made with FontFont it simply had to be ordered and sent in the quickest manner available.

Unlike the previously mentioned Encyclopedia Fontantica, Made with FontFont is a studio book that explores the history of the type company and then goes on to parade their catalog through a design showcases. Throughout the book there are articles about type designers, what inspired them, and how their type designs took shape over time. No page is alike making this book based tour even more impressive and interesting.

And did I mention the poster design? I did? You sure? Ok, ok, good.

With these two books now a part of the permanent collection I’m not likely going to want another typography book for a while. There are other studios pushing out some interesting type but nothing on the grand and very useful scale of the work coming out of FontFont. It would be my dream to have similar products from Font Bureau and Hoefler & Frere-Jones, maybe they just need a bit more time, or in FB’s case, to send Roger Black off to redesign Reader’s Digest or something so they are able to get some work done without tripping over an ego wearing white pants.

There are other really great books that I want to share with you but I’ll pause for now, let the postman prepare for the next onslaught while I go and get into a love triangle, buy a six-figure Mercedes, or whatever it is that my tribe in south country are doing these days.

Israel.

Thanks to Congress, the sun’s not quite up yet and the newspapers are being delivered like drive-by Molotov cocktails. Sometimes I consider what would happen if I laid down a spike-strip at the entrance to our little community. The paper might be a bit late but it sure would be nice not to have to wake up to the sounds of a choking engine, bad exhaust, and the loud angry thump of newspapers as they hit the pavement. I’m up way to early but that’s how it goes.

Hey, did John McCain really say the words: Tar baby? I guess when you sell out like he has the brain cells move on to another host. We’re so going to get screwed again in 2008.

It’s been one day and a week since our presentation in Austin, though feels like it was a month ago. We were supposed to have been a panel wherein participants carry on a conversation at the whim of a moderator. Oh well. The format we used was more about four people sharing individual stories with ideas, information, and inspiration. Based on the reactions I received from people at the event I think it worked well, thankfully — hopefully?

Of course this could have been the desired result from wearing a Joseph Abboud windowpane over french cuffs clasped with silver links of the state seal of Texas, topped off with the Robert Talbot pocket square. It’s all about misdirection.

I felt compelled to complain about SXSW getting way to big as others have already chimed in but after a few days I came to a different conclusion: It’s a business, not a club. That said I’m hoping that the vote-for-your-favorite-panel-crowd-wisdom-wizardry goes away. Good content/discussion is voted but fantastic content/discussion is curated. I’d like to see more of a TED approach with verticals of discussion based off themes not functions. In 2002 there was an Independents Day track that wandered through all types of sessions on content, design, and community. More please.

All that said, I missed bumping into a lot of people and that makes me sad. Me thinks we should all meet-up at Jim Coudal’s house sometime in August.

Weirdest moment in Austin: sharing a cab ride to the airport at 5AM with “Digital Dan” Dubno without knowing who he was. Halfway to the airport he started talking about his good friend Richard and speaking at TED a few times. I tried my best not to let my jaw hit the floor. The discussion turned more to design wherein I got in a few jabs on how Edward Tufte is great designer, if you need to graph statistics with spark lines. Wurman’s work is way more appropriate for online designers to study.

Best comment directed at me in Austin: You’re not as interesting in person as you are through your blog. Brilliant!

Also, the Writing, Better website is starting to take shape and it will be published when it’s really good and manageable. I don’t know how some people find the time to create fully polished branded websites before getting to Austin. Maybe I should quit the day job.

Invisible.

THE UNSEEN SLIDE FROM SATURDAY MORNING’S PANEL.

And I’ll tell you all about it but first I need board another plane, get home, change, and get back to work.

Committee.

It’s after midnight and eleven floors below and one block over some drinking establishment is hosting a competition to see who can butcher the music of White Stripes as loud as they possibly can. I have heard that Austin can get pretty loud but I never heard a thing last year. I was at the Radis-not a few blocks further from downtown, but these sounds coming from the street below can surely be heard across the river.

Knowing that enlisting the police wouldn’t do much in the land of Garagabandia, I called the animal shelter to report that somewhere below me a satanic cult was sacrificing cats by the hundreds. I could hear vehicles being dispatched as I left them my full contact information, starting with first name, last name: Ryan Irelan.

It makes sense that this is how my day coming to a close.

Earlier, while catching up on some work at Starbucks, a guy next to me was carrying on a full conversation, with himself. Topics included: Running for President against George Washington, re-writing the Constitution, Salvation via Jesus, Salvation via George Washington, and hanging people. After thirty solid minutes of hosting his own talk show he went outside to continue the debate while smoking a cigarette. Then he started to moonwalk, and then again, and again.

Last week Howard Schultz wrote a memo to his top management about Starbucks’ lackluster future. That second-to-last-word is my own and is used to refer to Schultz’s reflection that a lot of what was special about Starbucks, when they only had one-thousand stores, somehow got lost when they got to thirteen-thousand stores. After this afternoon’s coffee theatre I’d say nothing has been lost, it’s only changed. Instead of Starbucks being the “third place” it’s now become a drop off point for public transportation and field trips for the mentally unstable. Note to self: think before patronizing Starbucks locations right next to bus stops.

Dean.

The other day I was asked what books I would recommend for learning how to write. This came as a surprise and I found myself on the spot, trying to come up with a good answer. Like anything with a creative bent there are a lot of books with instructions and how-to advice and so to pick pick a few—especially in a field where I am the constant amateur—was a difficult proposition. Especially when, unknown to the person asking, I have a hard time getting through any type of textbook no matter the subject, especially anything in the how-to realm. Take for instance the time I had to replace a light switch.

The removal and replacement of a light switch is simple enough, It takes a screw driver and a set of hands with opposable thumbs. The problem I had is that there is electricity involved and that freaks me out, for good reason. Not knowing the proper way of working around live current running through the wires in the walls of my home I sought out a book containing knowledge (with pictures) on proper procedures in home repair pertaining to things that require electricity. I know, I know, it mostly involves turning off the electric current running to the house but I have this thing about not being electrocuted, ever.

Little did I know that replacing things inside the walls of homes can get more complicated once you’re inside. The book I purchased, the one with the most diagrams, provided lots of great information but once I removed the light switch I had more questions that this encyclopedic tome didn’t have answers or pictures for. Why does my light switch look just different enough from the one the book documents to make me wonder if there is another book I should have bought instead? Why is there, seemingly, ten feet of wire crammed behind the light switch, and is that dangerous—it seems dangerous!? And great Zeus apocalypse! The wires in the book, on the switch, and in the wall are different colors!

None of these things did the book address and because of that I started to second guess the authors of the book, the IBEW, and Ben Franklin. Not armed with the guidance I thought I was getting for $24.95 I did what maybe I should have done in the first place: I MacGuyvered it. Frayed and new wires were trimmed and twisted back together, everything was crammed back into the wall, faceplate replaced, and switch for electric current was turned back on. If the house blew up I had insurance and we only live two hours from the Mexican border wherein I could buy five houses with my insurance money and become a land baron.

To my surprise it all worked, the house didn’t become a lightning rod, and, more importantly, nobody died. It was a miracle thanks to a book that did nothing to help me learn how to properly perform the task the book was about and somewhat forced me to learn how to do it on my own.

Now I love books and I buy many of them, most weeks end with one, two or seven new additions to the library but in recent years I’ve decreased the amount of how-to books. At these types of products, like the ones my friend was pining for, are the inflatable bowling lane bumpers of the creative world, but not even the best printed material can replace the leap of faith you need to turn the electricity on.

In short: Books, good, but no so much the how-to variety.

The best books to learn about writing are the ones that you enjoy reading, because they help make up a part of who you are. And to get your words read these days requires a lot of personality and a little attitude, well a lot of attitude but don’t worry as you continue to write more the attitude will come out (Look at me, prime example, I write Airbag, it’s a pretty big deal, and it’s on the Internet, ever heard of it?!) and you’ll find connecting with readers, and writing better a lot easier.

We’re going to talk more about this in Austin, they only let the most smartest and most brilliant people in, did you know that?! (see, it just comes out, naturally) only we’ve got some magic tricks and a French Canadian prancing stallion.

Salami.

About eight days ago my stomach let me know that it wasn’t happy in life. I spent twenty-four hours mostly vertical, really trying to avoid any movement so as not to make the stomach any more unhappy. Some hours–and then days–went by better than others but that’s putting it all mildly. Fortunately Airbag’s sick policy is such that I get to work from home so that when I need to sleep off a fever I’m not doing it leaning over a desk. Thankfully we have some great clients who were very gracious in their understanding but the work still has to get done.

As Cameron alluded to last week, business has been outstanding. Airbag continues to grow at a rate faster than expected, almost a year ahead of schedule. There’s not much to tell now but come March we’ll have a day or two of show-and-tell.

Meanwhile the writing panel for SXSW is coming together nicely. Along with myself sitting at the table will be Ethan Marcotte (a well educated man of the English language, especially in written form), Bronwyn Jones (copywriter for a very beloved technology gadget company), and Erin Kissane (editor superhero who doesn’t wear a cape much these days but still has the grammar lasso). These three insanely gifted and witty individuals will more than make up for my ten minutes of um’s and uh’s and if all else fails I’ll hijack the panel and bullet point the reasons why Nintendo’s Wii makes me yawn.

Scope.

RFPs (request for proposals) are the public access cable channel of the business world. Some come in the form of a well thought-out, concise plan while others are birthed from a horrible Microsoft Word template. And then there are my personal favorites which tell you absolutely nothing of the scope of work but request a cost estimate anyway. These asshats are the Ike Turners of the bunch: “I don’t wanna baby, but I’ll beat the love right out of you if I have to.”

For instance, here is a little beauty that I received this morning (I left out the fluff about there being a staff of several developers and where this ‘start-up’ is geographically located):

For security reasons, we are unable to offer full details of the project at this time but the basic idea is a free service for web designers and developers to collaborate with clients and their projects…please provide details as to how you charge and an estimate on total time and cost if possible.

I love the part about “security reasons”. Makes me wonder if perhaps the CIA is the real mastermind behind web 2.stupid. In either case be wary of these ultra-top-secret-web-project-Tommy Boy-ninjas and their cost snagging attempts.

Meanwhile, not five minutes had passed after another RFP (retard for president) hits the email retriever:

Hey BlueFlavor, I am looking to develop an online video and music community, with features similar to those of Myspace and Youtube. There’s a twist to the site I’m building; an edge that could potentially bring in millions of users within just a few months. I love the work you’ve done, and was wondering if you’d be able to take on such a project. We’d want a beautiful “Web 2.0” design, and would need a script similar to that of Youtube where users can upload virtually any video or audio file and it is converted and playable in a flash player. Plus, artists and users should be able to create and update their own profiles, message and comment each other, etc.

Oopsie. Someone went a wittle hyper with their cut-paste-click-post skills. Let’s see, they “love” my work but are addressing someone else. Buddy, that might work in Tijuana but not in California. After careful review of this genius of an idea (OMG CALL RUPERT MURDOCH NOW AND READY HIS SWISS BANK ACCOUNT!) I think I’ll let the Keith and Nick take this one. Good luck fellas!

Prolonged.

Since when did it become evil-chaotic to design a website taller than the browser window thereby forcing a user to scroll-down? More and more I’m seeing feedback, reactions, and responses to designers work in which that particular problem is being called out (For example: “it’s good but you really ought to make it so that the user doesn’t have to scroll”).

Come again?

I agree that forcing a user to click down through six feet of webpagery isn’t advisable but where did this new anti-scroll-wheel ideology come from? I’m not a usability expert—I leave that mythical practice to scientists—but I’ve done enough Don’t Make Me Think style testing to know that scrolling, like clicking, is an essential part of the web user interface and a commonly accepted one. Perhaps I missed that issue of Digital Web (I kid, I kid!) but scrolling isn’t bad. Poor design that forces a person to scroll for a few seconds before seeing any content (hello, Geocities?!) is bad but we can’t Sadam the mouse for that.

Meanwhile, am I the only one who thinks Apple’s new phone thing is cool but not the end of the world? All it means is that no one will ever, truly, really, leave work at the office. Bleh. I’d rather have a secretary.

And also, I appreciate your patience with my little private war with the Longboard del.icio.us insurgency but not to worry, I’m going to throw humans at the problem.

Fish.

Ok people, take a knee. Now, when it comes to making mistakes I am a fair man. I believe in the wisdom and leadership skills of Solomon, that is to say, taking the time to listen to both sides of the story before taking the necessary action. I’m a firm believer in admitting to fault when honesty is the best course of action and until God gives us a third option–not up or down but maybe side-to-side–then honesty is the only course of action.

One of you isn’t feeling one-hundred percent of their total because you know that your decision making process failed and led to what can only be considered as a tragedy that will have disastrous consequences for the free market economy and the further refinement of citizens around the globe. When Kennedy botched the Bay of Pigs he was having a bad day, nothing two aspirin and the United Nations couldn’t cure. But this, this is much, much worse. Why I don’t even think Congress can bail us out on this one as much as that pains me to say. Someone is going to have to put one leg in front of the other and step forward to make right what has been wronged.

By nature I am an optimist. And despite the events that transpired this morning I believe it is possible to make a course correction but first we as a group need to admit that something isn’t the way it should be, the way that it could be, and we’re going to need to know how and why we were driven to this bruised moment in history. When we find ourselves at such a crossroad admitting fault is the only action that will lead to salvation on this road to perdition. So I’ll ask you one more time, who in their infinite ivy-league 5th Avenue wisdom spilt McClatchy all over this mornings Wall Street Journal?

TSA.

The year in cities, 2006 (as seen here and here). A list of cities and towns visited in this year that required packed luggage and, in most cases, all of my liquids to be no more than 3oz. in size and sealed in a transparent quart bag, even whilst traveling in Europe.

  • Anchorage, Alaska
  • Austin, Texas
  • Las Vegas, Nevada *
  • Fresno, California
  • Auburn, California
  • Sonoma, California
  • Olathe, Kansas
  • San Diego, California
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Marseille, France
  • Monte-Carlo, Monaco
  • Livorno, Italy
  • Rome, Italy
  • Naples, Italy
  • Sorrento, Italy
  • Multiple trips

Perplexed.

On a whim I bought a Playstation 3. The game store I happened by had just received a small shipment and already they were down to one last unit. Without thinking I bought it knowing that it would be easy to unload just like I did with the Xbox 360 during its debut and drought. Being a capitalist I have no qualms about buying low (or at MSRP) and selling high.

There is a small part of me, the game playing part, that is staring at the box, trying to will the box’s seal to split open so that the mint-in-box value is gone thus forcing me to keep the unit and play and play and play. The World of Warcraft account was deleted, finally, so why the hell not.

Also, you should know the weather here in the O.C. hasn’t been too nice lately—cold and windy—it’s as if someone clicked on the jet stream and rotated it ninety-degrees clockwise. I hope it rights itself soon because as much as I love the Pacific Northwest their weather sucks, at least by Southern California standards.

Two.

In the last thirty days I found out that I am an art director, a soon-to-be uncle, and a frequent flyer. Two of these things have me a bit terrified while another was a nice surprise. Meanwhile Airbag is in full swing with expansion plans, tinkering with Amazon’s new toy, and trying to get the Airbag Grand Prix out of the garage. And then there’s Austin.

For the curious, Airbag remains a sovereign company and from time-to-time I work with HappyCog when it makes sense for Jeffrey to bring in the big guns from the West coast arsenal. Personally I think they made a grievous mistake giving two red heads the same job position—wonder twin powers activate! I’ll take the form of Irish-American-LA-freeway rage, while Rob will go North Sea Berserker, circa 913 A.D. Read: Unstoppable! If you are a creative director with ear rings, facial hair that doubles as a Chia Pet, and last name used on boats to the New World, watch your back.

On the matter of becoming a relative to a newborn: Whoa. I still don’t know what that really means but my brother and sister-in-law are really excited and I am happy for them. I think I’m more excited by the prospects of being the black sheep uncle. For starters, I’m going to need to find some prime cigars for use in about seven months. If you happen to live outside the United States and know of a good place where said items can be found perhaps I trade you a “letter” in exchange for a “FedEx package”.

We’re running into a small problem with the execution of the Airbag Grand Prix (we’re a couple months late). Currently Nintendo DS doesn’t let you choose online opponents from your friends list, it will auto-assign you to join whomever is online. Our plans include having race participants select the day and time of their race from a pre-determined timezone-friendly schedule now we just need to find an easy way to ensure that all four racers get in the same race. That sounds clumsy at best but surely there has to be another way that we just haven’t thought of. Any suggestions are welcome.

Ray keeps asking politely for a list of suggested books on the topic or relating to the topic of web design. The Airbag library currently holds two-hundred and sixty-two books on subjects pertaining to publishing, design, writing, color, composition, programming, and the use of applications. Someday I’ll have all of this information online but Amazon’s new tool made it easy to get a quick sample of core titles to those who have been asking for this information. The A-Store was very easy to setup but it really needs some customization options. For instance, I would have made it so that the categories navigation didn’t blend in so well with the rest of the page. And I don’t think it’s apparent that there are more than just nine products “available”. Steve Krug to isle A9, please.

Apparently enough people voted for the Writing, Better that it’s now on the schedule for SXSW. Out of the ten sessions on content, eight are related to video. I love Max Headroom and all but that just feels wrong. Boy how the white man loves to see himself in the talky box on the Intertruck. Writing still matters, dammit, and I assure you that we’ll do our best to outshine the YouBubes in March.

Fritters.

In the past two years I’ve amassed too much Apple hardware and it’s time to make space in the office. All of this equipment has been given the best care possible and will ship in all of the original packaging and boxes. Prices listed below do not include shipping, that will be arranged between the buyer and seller via UPS. Use the contact form, not the comments, to ask questions, buy a unit, etc.

  • Sold

Apple Cinema Display 20″

  • Sold

Aluminum PowerBook 12″

  • Sold

Aluminum PowerBook 15″

  • Sold

Microsoft Wireless Laser Desktop for Mac

  • Sold

I hate to use this space to advertise what amounts to an online garage sale but it’s the only working public space I have and I get tired of telling African Craigstlist poachers that I’m not interested in their “money orders”. Let’s hope this works. I really don’t want to have to use Ebay.

Rumsfeld.

Yes, it’s going to be different this time. Way different. Nobody is chasing after the IPO dream today, no sir, we learned our lesson from just six years ago, and never-you-mind that my neighbor was just seeded $1.3M because he manages his family with Basecamp through Bootcamp using Ubuntu installed on his MacBook so he can blog about it all with a pagerank of six. Six! KAAAHN!

Forget that five hundred versions of the same five freaking apps were made yesterday afternoon because everyone has it in their head that a web application is their ticket out of the mundane who-the-hell-are-you-world. Subscription and advertising revenue equals power boats, cars with manual transmissions, and H-A-double-pimpin’-W-T Apple gear with thirty diagnoal inches of monolithic binary glow. The future is here! We’re not going to crash because everyone gets a vote today, not just the hedge fund managers. What’s really important to world is being dictated by crowds of fourteen year olds who gesture thumbs-up or thumbs-down Roman style because the hyperlink in and out means favor from Google and it is as Google says: The meek will inherit seven-to-eight figures—you just have to blog, a lot. Oh and you have to NASCAR the hell out of your life because there is no whitespace in our new post-stock-market-crazed click-through commerce world.

Speaking of which, just yesterday I read that the President is going to install a ‘post this to Digg’ button on the side of the building because Karl Rove knows that’s one system that he can game without having to pander to the will of the American people. Seriously, do you know how much whitespace is on the Whitehouse?! Forget oil, we’ve got untapped ad space that will make the Super Bowl blush. You don’t have to be a Diggenius to figure this one out. Give Washington to a professional blogger and they’ll know it how to monetize ever-y-freaking-inch using “a-synchornicity” and “feeds”. Before you know it we’ll be able to buy back the deed to America from our Chinese owners using this “new” sleep-revenue generated by money from male enhancements, card gambling, and that stupid duck no one can ever “shoot” that ends up being an ad for a life insurance through a subsidiary of a company that works in upstate New York but enjoys the tax benefits of doing business out of a single manilla folder in the Bahamas.

You who think this is new, virgin landscape of binary destiny–because this time it’s different, no really!—are in for a shock but keep pushing forward. Don’t look back, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it because if mom says you sing like an angel then who are we, the people who actually have to listen to you and click through your crap, who are we to tell you that the blue bird of talent never pecked you on the head, that you’re just like everyone else who wears clothing on cold days?! Go, be unique! But not too unique, I mean at least eighty percent of what you do needs to be like something else that already exists because otherwise it’s not a mash-up. And without the mash you don’t get cash. See how easy that is?! Before the only thing we had was mix tapes but nobody made money off mix tapes or has their face hedcut-stippled for the front page of the Journal because of it.

Let me tell you something, I’ve seen it all since before Netscape was even a glint in some venture capitalists eye and If I know anything it’s this, the Internet is not a truck, it’s a freaking freight train packed full of idiots. But never mind me, I just work here and I’ll still be here long after the second wave of hysteria has passed and the money has a taste for pork bellies.

While I’m at it, so long Donald and thanks for all the wars.

Knighted.

“Are you American?”

The question came from behind me spoken by a man obviously not waiting for the train to Monaco as I was. For a moment I thought maybe I should reply no, that I was French Canadian working on my American newscaster voice hence the lack of an accent and contempt for everyone else on the planet. Instead I responded truthfully, “Yes, I am from California.” I learned quickly that while overseas after you declare your citizenship to the United States the first question is quickly followed by “where in the…”, so it’s best to just volunteer that information.

The man somewhat hunched over stood up slightly. “Oh bless you. The French are so arrogant and won’t even speak to me they think I am ill,” he said. “but I am not mad, I have a doctorate! But my illness causes me…I am an intelligent man. I speak four languages! You see that I am intelligent, I see it in your eye.” And so this half of a man, this one-man Oakie caravan heading for a better life, rambled on. He was not clean but not filthy and had the look of many years living here or there but not under a singular roof. I replied that I could see he was not from France and this lit a fire in his eyes and gave him the energy to move onto the next act.

“I am not from here, I am from Switzerland you see. I am trying to get home to see our doctors, I have a condition that causes my eyes…they think I am not well but I am an intelligent man! I have been to university but they just think I am stupid!” He gripped my arm and held it for the rest of the conversation. It was then I knew that knew with certainty that I was not talking with just one man but an entire group of friends, a salon in this vagrants mobile world.

“If you would be so kind I need to get back to my country so I can see the doctors who can fix me,” he reached into his pocket to retrieve a few coins not adding up to much, “it will only cost me six Euro but as you can see I am running short. And…” But before he could finished I pulled out my only coin and gave him twice the asking price.

“Bless you sir! I knew you were a gentleman”, he exclaimed while patting my arm still gripped by his other hand. “You are indeed a sir, a sir knight! Yes you are a knight just like Sir Jones, Tom Jones you see. And she,” he pointed to the Rocket Scientist, “she is the queen. Yes, she is the queen and you,” he turned his arm into an imaginary sword and tapped my shoulders and forehead, “are a noble knight!” He chuckled at this while I was still working out which of his personalities I was talking too.

I took his hands and mine and gave him a friends hand shake. “You take care of yourself and be well,” I said with a short smile. He turned, walked through the stone gate and with that my audience with the Duke of Switzerland, for that is what I have since named him, was gone.

The next day we went to Italy.

Audi.

Every morning in October has been a twelve step program and I’m looking forward to a few weeks of life without an alarm clock, without a clock at all. In a matter of hours I will shutdown this computer, stow it in a safe place, zip the luggage closed and begin a journey to Europe. This adventure, free of the Internet, will involve planes, trains, automobiles, and a ship traveling across five countries. So goodbye The Internets, twelve hour days, and constant phone meetings, I’m going on vacation and I suggest you do the same.

While I’m out consider taking this time to riot in the streets, participate in democracy, and have a Jello Pudding Pop while watching Venture Bros.

Jared.

After reading Larry Bodine’s “Macintosh ate my children, solicited underaged Congressional pages for pictures, and tested nukes in North Korea” story I could empathize.

You see I was suckered into thinking that buying a Chevrolet truck would make me a better American, a better man. I took “like a rock” to mean that I would get a patriotic workout while driving across the golden plains of this country and wearing a construction helmet. Instead I’m left stuck in traffic jams with a gas guzzling, underpowered, limp product created in every country but America and I’m still bent towards Canadian ideology.

Banks.

In my pre-launch lack of sleep delirious state I have decided that I’m going to buy a village somewhere in Pacifica and use the locals for production work.

Each morning I will address the gathered multitudes and I will say, “Good morning people of Puwannie Poo Poo, today we are going to finish the glorious website for our benevolent client.” Then we’ll do some sort of small group trust building exercise, followed the name game (it’s going to take me a while to learn everyone’s name), and some short work with the medicine ball.

We’ll all go back to our swanky huts, log into Basecamp, AIM, start the iPods and crank out good work. Of course the medicine man will do what he does best while the guys who drew short straws earlier in the morning will go fishing or hunting so we can all eat (tracked through Basecamp to-dos of course). And after every successful launch we’ll have a huge party that ends with throwing all of our computers, project files, and half-finished Starbucks into the volcano.

But first, I am going to need a float plane.

Boxes.

Jeffrey asks if we’re still excited about “blahgs”. My answer: Not as much. Our content is all starting to look the same because of the tools used to manage it and web-two-point-dough has homogenized the Internet.

Before there were blogs we had websites. Beautiful, random websites that felt more like a zine — one page looking nothing like the one before or after it — or Wired magazine back in the early days when Jane Metcalf was art directing. Clicking through a website hosted on Geocities was like playing Russian roulette with your eyes but those horrid pages with disco backgrounds, flaming horizontal rules, and BLINK tags would look more like art today than poorly designed website because we’re so used to seeing boxy newsletters (this site included). Content was in free-form, one page might contain a paragraph set in headline tags and the next would be five pages set in nine-point type. Sure it was sometimes frustrating but it certainly wasn’t boring. Today’s content-tied-to-ads web is very bland in comparison and we desperately need to rediscover the ways of our old, accidental bohemian community.

When content is forced through a entry-commment-trackback-pagerank strainer it all comes out looking the same no matter how the templates are designed. Sure this format is functional but it’s more like a Maersk shipping container than a Volvo s50. This is fine for commercial purposes, the blog is certainly the must-have online marketing device, but I miss those days when content wasn’t confined to categories, calendars, and links to vote a piece of content into a popularity contest.

Yes, I’m talking about the old days through rose-colored glasses. Managing the sites of yesteryear was nerve-racking and difficult, God forbid if you ever wanted to change the design (many a weekends were lost, glued to the computer going through pages and pages of cut-and-pasting content into new HTML wrappers). The affordable CMS thankfully has brought an end to that. The new challenge is to find a way to manage content while creating a space free of repetitive form. Of course this is possible, anything is possible, and it’s my hope that I’m not alone in this quest.

But design can only take content so far.

Everyday brings more blogs and more links to the same content found through the same feeds and social networks. Web-two-crap has monetized everything from the online video to the RSS feed. Quantity over quality has taken over and instead of getting the best out of people we’re getting the watered down product published in hopes of being popular for a day, maybe only minutes, but enough to increase links-in, links-out, page views, click-throughs, and ad revenue. Instead of having a wonderful cable community channel we’re stuck with the Gong Show. And that’s it, there’s no going back. I have a hard time wanting to be a part of that universe anymore. We didn’t like it when we were all forced through this in high school so

why are we putting up with it now. Unfortunately I don’t see the web reversing course anytime soon.

I remember when it would take months for the web to churn through the next new meme or weird link. Now it takes a matter of days, sometimes hours. Digg, YouTube, and Myspace have made content a popularity contest that has crept into blogs, even this one.

In 2002 there was a lot of excitement about the independent web. The fallout from the .com era had passed and those still left standing were anxious and making plans for the return of the non-commercial web. Blogs certainly played a major part in helping bring that initiative online and started the self publishing movement. It’s my hope that as another four years have passed and again money, and now monotony, have crept back into our content that we’ll all keep at least a little part of what we do free from what has become blahgs.

Scab.

When I read about the design theft of Joyent and Corkd by Falkner Winery I sent the owner an email with links and information pertaining to the evidence of the pirated design. I continued that I was sure he was not aware of the piracy and that Airbag could be made available to assist in getting out of an uncomfortable situation and provide an original design.

Hours passed without a reply so I decided to call and follow up my email with Ray Falkner, the owner of the winery (I’m an aggressive ambulance chaser). He got on the phone quickly and said that he had received my note from this morning, that he did pull up the sites referenced and failed to see what all the hoo-ha was all about. As far as he was concerned his new website was completely different from Joyent’s. I told him that these sites were practically identical and that his web development company merely changed a few colors. After a long pause Ray interjected that on his site there were photos across the top while the Joyent site had no photos. No photos?

Ray continued to tell me that all designers borrow ideas from other designers and that his web site design was no different. That line of thinking is the biggest cop-out, bullshit excuse (can’t think of a more appropriate term) used over and over by those who simply don’t care about how this affects the person who’s work has been copied. Now I don’t think everyone cares about these matters as much as I or other designers do. Everyone has different interaction and appreciation for design but for a man who makes money from a product that requires a hefty amount of creativity to both create and sell I was shocked at his lack of empathy.

Look, design doesn’t just happen. It’s a process of creation and deconstruction that can take days-to-months before every element, color, and bit of typography is in the right place. It’s not uncommon for me to go through twenty-plus revisions of a design (ask my friends, I bug them with show and tell all the time) before I show anything to a client, and by revisions I mean up and down, all around, starting over, building up, demolishing, it’s a circus of insanity. The final result is design that reflects my style, one that I have been working on for two decades and will continue to mold and shape for as long as I can. Every mature designer has his/her style and we are hired based of that unique look.

We designers catch a lot of crap on the web for crying foul over events like this but our food comes from the money we earn by being creative (some more than others). When someone “borrows” my work s/he is cheating because they didn’t have to go through the love and hate process that it took for us to create that layout or element detail or the whole damn thing. Where in the hell were they when I put in two weeks of fourteen hour days to get through the design phase of the project they just cut-and-pasted? When do I get my royalty fee? I’d go back and copy their work and resell it too only, uh oh, it doesn’t work both ways because the “designers” who repurposed my work suck. And if I was to try and rework their intellectual property and resell it back to my clients I’d be fired.

Let’s not confuse job titles here. A real designer does not cut-and-paste the work of others, change some colors and resell it (nor do they buy type in bulk packs of one-thousand but that’s a topic for another entry), that would be called a hack. The web is filled with hacks because the web makes it easy to hack. Hacks have about as much talent as the guys who “create” stickers at mall kiosks typically featuring Calvin either pissing on an auto manufacturer’s logo or praying before a cross. These same people have company websites that look like Kinkos meets NASCAR crashed into Google, it represents their lack of any real talent other than they know how to get around in Photoshop.

Hacks like the ones Falkner Wines hired have no talent, they exist only because they are able to steal the ideas from others and resell it to those who either don’t know or don’t care.

If Ray’s website had “borrowed” ideas from Apple he would receive terse faxes, email, and phone calls from lawyers who threaten to take possession of Falkner Wines if he didn’t take down the offending work. And it’s likely that Ray would comply because he doesn’t have the resources to wage the type of legal war that Apple can.

Unfortunately for most designers even though we own the intellectual property of said design we do not have the power of a legal team behind us to help defend out work. Our only course of action is to contact the offender, point out their infraction and request they take it down. If they don’t comply some of us have lawyers who will send the same message but on different, thicker stationary which doesn’t do much more than, hopefully, demonstrate that you consider the matter important enough to hire an attorney, Oooo scary. But unless you’re willing to sue, nothing much will happen.

Selling creativity is a tough business made even more difficult when the deliverables are so easy for others to copy, repackage, and resell as it can be done on the net. And all we are left to do is kick, scream, and try to cause enough negative noise that the infraction is reversed.

Ray Falkner should be ashamed not only because it has been made clear that his web site’s design is an obvious copy of work done by others but more importantly because he doesn’t seem to care.

Update: The Net Detective of the Month Award goes to Ryan Merket who found the “designer” responsible for the work. Third & Grand is owned and operated by Sean Alsobrooks. From his website: “We design every website from scratch and never ever use templates.” Wink! I have it on good authority that after being contacted Sean insists that all of his work is original. What an asshat.

For the sake of the conversation: a side-by-side comparison of the work in question (another one here).

McNeal.

I enjoy podcasts, on those occasions when I have time to role play a radio station manager. Most of the programs I listen to are no more than five minutes long (Meet the Press is the longest at fifty-plus minutes) and when they are done I don’t necessarily want to hear the previous episodes. So I’m forced to go back into iTunes and play the next newly downloaded program.

What I really want is a way to structure or schedule my subscriptions in a way that allows me to play these programs without needing to manually manage the process — thereby creating my own public broadcasting station (sans the bi-annual membership drives). To date I have not found a way to do this.

I would love an application, web based or not, that would let me prioritize the listening order of all of my podcast subscriptions à la Tivo’s recording priority. Each day this app would provide a way, either through a larger file or a streaming feed, to play back these programs back-to-back in the priority I’ve arranged. Add more cowbell and this program would include chapters so that I can skip back and forth between programs.

Maybe this already exists and I just haven’t heard about it yet or I need to get Ryan cranking on a new application, he’s been milking it lately anyway.

Also, this entry has been edited no less than fifty-four times. Switching to decaf is now on the to-do list.

Blinker.

The State of California Department of Motor Vehicles was kind enough to send me a (warning) care letter. They are worried that my driving skills or maybe habits could ultimately lead to my death. So well written is this pulp-based, Highway Runs Red intervention that I just had to share it, get it out in the open. While I think the intentions are good it’s hard to feel any real sincerity through the prose set in all-caps. I feel like I just got a letter from WOPR, who apparently was put to work in the DMV after it was obvious a sequel to War Games was out of question.

Here for you are the contents of said letter. So as to preserve the feeling of the original document I have kept the words of WOPR in uppercase and included my response.

Shortbus.

Last March I was encouraged by a few friends and peers to host a panel at SXSW to discuss the topic of writing better (not, absolutely not, to be confused with blogging better, I’ll leave such discussions to the Google ad/rank whores). For a person who cheated on vocabulary tests in Mrs. Chesburo’s (AKA The Great Satan to David Booth and I) senior English class, this is dark humor at it’s best.

Perhaps it’s the circles I run in but I find the lack of discourse on the subject of writing better a bit troublesome. We, my friends, peers, and I, talk at length about all facets of design and we tinker with the latest in Internet enabled technologies but when it comes to our command of the English language, that subject rarely comes to the forefront and is normally delegated to milestones titled “write content”.

Content is supposed to be king in the royal order of what makes or breaks online endeavors (for those who care executive management is the queen while design and development are the bratty step children who never, ever, get along and are always being talked about in the tabloids) but we don’t really talk about it.

It is strange to me that in the web design/development world countless hours are spent discussing the wrappers and distribution mechanisms for content but very little time is spent on how to improve the content itself. I think it has become a traditional assumption that crafting good content is best left to the capable hands of our clients or nearly unemployed English majors who didn’t go on to attend law school. Yet, anyone who has ever crafted websites over the years should know better — hell, I should know better — most clients look to their designers and developers for help. From editing to writing the copy from scratch, rare is the project that does not require our involvement with words.

After looking over the last months roster of panel proposals¹ for next year’s interactive festival in Austin, I see a lot of topics that are more of the same (albeit some with a fresh focus and road-tested panelists here and there) but nothing on writing or creating better word architecture.

What gives?

So in response to the black hole of prose and encouragement from said friends, I have tentatively confirmed a list of panelists who write for different reasons, styles and audiences on the web. We’ll take forty-five minutes to talk about what makes for good writing, what each person does to keep fit with verbs and vowels, and what the future might hold for the written word in a world that is being inundated with podcasts and video. The panel is called “Writing, Better” and you can find it under the Content category. I’d appreciate your up or down vote.

In the meantime lets talk about how to mold this future discussion into SXSW gold.

Kirken.

When web 3.0 comes out it better have the following or I’m going to be pissed:

  • Lasers.
  • Buffalo rides for a quarter.
  • Prisoner re-runs on SciFi.
  • Words that start with a silent X.
  • Badminton zip-zap action.
  • The ability to re-route power from auxiliary sources to a primary function.
  • W3C sanctioned user validation (Why are we letting the mouth breathers steer the ship? Web 3.0 will require an intelligence test to drive, sorry Arkansas you can use Gopher)
  • A five year sentence of hard, Oz-like, time for using the colors pink and light blue together with any word — real or made up — that ends in the word ‘r’.
  • S-words.
  • Field trips, lots of them.
  • Textmate that works with anti aliased fonts.
  • Monkey Helpers on the Plane.
  • Asynchronous Javascript and XML through calculator watches.
  • Parachute pants (red).
  • A national holiday.

Chillax.

Yes, it has been busy — very busy — and before I knew it more than a month had passed since last posting here. To those who wrote to ask, I am well and everything is fine albeit super hectic for a while and no, I am not going to be the next Dean Allen. Thank you for asking. I knew this summer was going to be a strain but nothing like it turned out to be. Truth be told it has been nice to take an extended leave from this site — first time in five years — but the accidental vacation is over. To help catch up here’s a few thoughts and notes of what I did during the summer “holiday”…

In case you were wondering how much money you have to spend to get Apple to bend over backwards, that number is $12,718.19. When you lay that kind of money down at the local Apple Store you get first class treatment and freebies. We still could not get an employee t-shirt but they were generous with things like ProCare, .Mac, and custom motherboards. That said, Apple can kiss my butt when it comes to installing Xserves. Dell has an ingenious rail-click system that takes all of three minutes to install while Apple’s product requires taking the unit apart, screwing the lid to the frame and sliding it back in on rails that do not keep it perfectly horizontal. Johnathon Ives, I mean Pentagram, needs to roll up their sleeves and sharpen their pencils on this one.

There were three weddings attended in two states. As per request by family and friends more will be told at a later date, I ran out of room trying to include it in this entry.

We went on a fantastic trip to Sonoma Valley via the 101 and stopped at a select number of wineries in Edna, Alexander, and Dry Creek valleys. Edna Valley fantastic (it’s my favorite label) with it’s exceptional wine and extremely beautiful view of an extinct volcano behind the tasting counter. Dutcher Crossing was my next favorite with it’s non-pretentious architecture that sits quietly at the top of the winding old road that meanders through Dry Creek Valley, it was an excellent setting for lunch. The best part was having ‘the list’ given to me by the sommelier at the Napa Rose. Using the contact information on ‘the list’ we were able to get very unexpected VIP treatment throughout the region. It’s not what you know…

Many, many books were purchased. There are enough of you who continue to ask what I’m reading so here’s the short list: Max Huber, Helmet Krone. The Book., Fiasco, Fables: Arabian Nights (and Nights), the new Orange Book with a sporty-fresh grass green cover, Moon Metro’s guide to Barcelona and Rome, Brave New World, and Case Study Houses: 1945-1966. All have been started but not all have been finished, yet.

There have been several visitors from afar including Khoi, Tim, Katie, Ethan, Ryan, Kevin, and Jesse. Dave and I talked about getting together for months but he’s been just as busy and that never worked out. He’s coming back down in October and we’ll try again. If there is time I may try to sneak over to the East coast before December says goodbye and meet-up with peeps from Boston to Philadelphia.

Tired of keeping track of what files, iChat logs, and email responses where on which machine I decided to go from four computers to one. This was accomplished with the acquisition of a new MacBook Pro, fully loaded. Yes, I am aware there are tools to sync, share, burn files over a network, cable, Xbox Live but I need that confusion like I need a lessons for painting unicorns and on black velvet. Later in the month there will be an Apple yard sale with Powerbooks, one PowerMac G5 and software.

Politics in recent weeks have bored me to tears. Joe Liberman needs to give up the ghost and go on the road with a belt-way comedy routine in which he plays a carp. They didn’t vote for you Joe, accept it and move on. After reading Esquire’s interview with John McCain I think he’s been in politics too long. The same goes for Hillary Clinton but I don’t need to read an interview to know that. I’ve given up on the current junk in the Whitehouse and unless some new faces start appearing later this year I can’t see how anyone rumored to be running for President will really be any different than what we have now. I read that poppy production in Afghanistan is at an all time high so maybe the best solution is just to start a productive drug habit that lets us all forget about politics.

Sometime in October, when the second season of SXSW Survivor hits the net you will see a proposal for a panel discussion on the subject of writing. That’s writing, decidedly not blogging. It scares me to think that there are millions of people out there who probably think that these two activities are one in the same but they are not. I’ve already received commitments from real writers who have earned English degrees. While I will chime in from time to time the purpose will be to hear how we can improve our abilities to write.

Speaking of scripted reality, I love how Survivor, fresh out of Lord of the Flies ideas, has turned it’s ‘game’ into a race war. Now if only Coca-Cola will sponsor the show with a certain retro campaign then our lives will be complete.

I am super-happy-ecstatic to report that Airbag Industries has signed on with a major MMO game company to create the next version of their website. I’d love to tell you more but the NDA calls for public caning and a decade-long adventure in the middle of the Congo if I break silence to early. I can tell you that Ethan Marcotte is working with us again and is doing fantastic work (Fantastic? What am I saying? It’s freaking rad!). There will be more later in the month because at some point I will need a small bit of help from all of you. Until then I need to walk away for a bit because the hairs on the back of my neck are tingling just thinking about the project.

Progress on the Airbag Grand Prix has slowed due to all of the day labor. Ryan is in the middle of creating an application for registering and keeping track of race results. A stick in the spokes has come up and we’re trying to figure out the best way to get four players into the same race within the limitation of Nintendo’s WiFi friends system. Our only solution so far is that racers are going to have to ensure that their other ‘friends’ do not login prior to race time or everyone will have to temporarily erase their non-race friend codes during the grand prix. The good news is that we already have our first sponsor who’s new product is crazy insanely cool and is going to rock the DS gaming world when unveiled. Input on the friends code situation is welcome but at this time I think that we’ve come up with the only option for using the Mario Kart platform. Ryan wants to get it started now because he claims he’s in the zone and nothing can stop him.

On the subject of virtual distractions, there appeared to be no consensus or mass of people playing on one World of Warcraft server over another. After reading about Death and Taxes achievements I’m about ready to move over to their server and ask for an invite. Thought I doubt I would get in, I refuse to play with the third-party voice software or commit to playing twenty-plus hours a week and big guilds don’t like that much. No matter, I’ve got Saints Row so now I can give Todd a run for his money.

As of this entry there are six-hundred-and-ten comments to go before Airbag hits ten-thousand. Conversations here haven’t all been rainbows and puppy dogs but I appreciate each and every one of them, thank you. I’ll have to come up with something good for the person who breaks that milestone.

Liftoff.

It’s my understanding that drug users sometimes have flashbacks that cause them to hallucinate and do unexplainable, unimaginable things. So when a friend told me to go see the new Technorati website and it finished loading, the first thing that came to mind was that drug users with a Jolly Rancher fetish are now in control of the bus.

Technorati is a blog discussion search/indexing engine, or that’s what I had been made to believe. This new magically-delicious site would have me believe it’s the next social app of the future…future…future…future. I kept looking for a way to “Digg” blogs and blog posts but found nothing. I’m guessing that by the time the redesign project got to that phase it was time for the munchies. I could be way off here and this is merely an homage to early Web 2.0 design circa early 2005 — an inside-joke or way to get free publicity with headlines like: “What hath Technorati become?” or “MyYahoorati?”.

I don’t see any real additional functionality that would warrant this work, it’s just a white-trash skin job that brings blog avatars front and center in an application where having avatars don’t really make sense in the first place. In a world that could use a better blog topic search engine, Technorati would be better suited to allocate it’s time and energy on that key service rather than try to be something it’s not.

There was nothing wrong with Powazek’s design. It was unique to the brand where this new design does nothing to make the site stand out from the plethora of Web 2.dough crap out there. Then again, I’m reminded of that bizwhiz formerly from Seattle who preaches that bad design sells. I’m not up for drinking that Kool-Aid just yet but it would seem that David Sifry slammed the Dixie cup and donned the purple jumpsuit.

Scheisse.

Stop what you are doing because you, and everyone else on the freaking planet, needs to know this. Shock! Horror!

The President has a potty mouth because he used a foul four-letter word!

U.S. President G. W. Bush used a profane word during a conversation with a friend that was mistakenly transmitted to the press!

George Bush, former cocaine addict and alcoholic now turned Born Again Christian said a bad word that was fine to use during his early years but is absolutely taboo in his new life!

The President of the United States used an explicative, a naughty word, a non-Christian word, a word that Jesus would not approve of, while talking to an adult, who, while his conversations have not been captured on tape, probably uses four-letter words during his discussions with other adults too!

The President of the United States used a four-letter word derived from shipping materials that were prone to internally combust if stored at the bottom of sea vessels during long voyages. “Ship high in transit” was eventually truncated into the four-letter word that George Bush, Leader of the Free World, said to Tony Blair, Prime Minister of England while sharing his frustrations with events in the Middle East! A founding partner in the Coalition of the Willing, the leader of a member country of NATO, the G8 Summit, and the United Nations used a cuss word!

Meanwhile, the Pope ate a cheese sandwich and somewhere Dan Rather cried!

The apocalypse is upon us!

Checkered.

The new employee (can you still call employees employee now? Seems that most places use designations like “team member”, “associate”, or “expert” these days) has made the case for a post of equal opportunity for Nintendo DS gamers. Besides, there are way more people playing Nintendo DS than any PC based game, MMO or not.

So lets have it. Post your Nintendo WiFi Friend Code and list of current compatible games (which absolutely must include Super Mario Kart).

And then sometime in August there will be an announcement for the inaugural Airbag Grand Prix.

Boulderfist.

Joi Ito once said that World of Warcraft is the new golf. While I don’t think most people in the business world would agree I have been surprised by how many clients and contractors are playing. The problem is that everyone is scattered across various servers making it impossible to play the back nine in Astrannar or talk shop in Orgimmar.

Now that Blizzard has enabled character transfers lets see what we can do to get everyone in the same realm. What server(s) are you on, designate Horde or Alliance, and what server(s) have you heard of others moving to?

Dinkenflicka.

Roughly a year ago I unpacked a lot of boxes, put together the non-IKEA Scandinavian future, and called my lawyer with instructions to proceed with paperwork and registration for Airbag Industries LLC. With one contract locked and the potential for more I set out to explore the possibilities of helping businesses and organizations with their Internet related concerns.

Most of my time in the last year has been spent in front of book stacks, composition sketches, and dual monitors at the office from six AM to six PM and then a few hours later at night. Not every hour has had me bound to the Aeron chair, I’ve traveled from Florida to Montana, San Francisco to a virtual room in a MOO to meet with clients.

The best part about the last year has been working with old and new friends. Together we have launched countless blogs, three magazines, two web apps, seven brochure sites and two stores. Not too shabby for a years worth of work.

Looking forward there are more and larger projects on the horizon. I’m very proud that a few clients have returned to my corporation with larger ambitions that are shaping up to be major home-runs within their verticals. As I look at the work ahead, the next year is going to double or triple Airbag’s deliverables and billing. We’ll keep working better, faster, stronger until something breaks.

As the work ahead gets bigger and better it has become increasingly difficult to forge ahead without loosing much needed downtime and sleep. The only way to grow a service-based business is to increase the capacity of output and so with that in mind I have hired my friend Ryan Irelan to help facilitate client’s needs and the growth of the company.

You may remember Ryan from that Lifehacker thing or his podcast endeavors but I know him as one of the first regular Airbag readers from days gone by (or nine-thousand and two-hundred some comments ago). Since that time Ryan and I have become friends and worked together on a number of projects including the redesign and development of FILE magazine. Ryan’s work ethic and results are second-to-none and I am confident he will strengthen the Airbag brand.

That leaves the future of this website a bit uncertain. Clients come here looking for validation of previous job history and an idea of the Airbag development process but instead they find rants with no particular topic in mind (they always say the writing makes them laugh, so that’s a plus, I guess). The book has always been available for potential clients but even that has to be changed a bit. With that in mind, a hybrid site has been in the works with no launch date set.

So there you have it, the first State of the Airbag address. Stay tuned.

Ramman.

Of all the reactions to the headbutt seen around the world this one is my favorite, it’s from French President Jacques Chirac (who was in attendance at today’s World Cup Final).

I don’t know what happened, why [Zinedine Zidane] was punished…

Just so you know, Jacque, it’s against the rules to walk up to another player and hit them square in the chest with your forehead with such force that it knocks them off their feet.

I’m anxious to hear the back story on the attack and why such a great player would end his fabulous career with such disrespect.

Now that Zidane is rid of the beautiful game I think he and Mike Tyson should form their own twelve-step program — muslim conversion optional.

Addendum — The BBC has said it best:

It was not meant to end like this for one of the game’s legendary figures – sent from the world’s biggest stage in shame and into retirement.

Ignite.

News vintner Mike Davidson is grilling with gas after having a hardship with charcoal:

It’s about a month into grilling season here in Seattle, and after an unappetizing experience with MatchLight “Easy Lighting” (viz. “Soaked With Fuel”) Charcoal the other day, I finally decided to go out and get a proper gas grill for my deck.

I’m a big fan of grilling with dragon’s-breath-in-a-can¹. It’s fast, it’s clean, and who doesn’t like a device that comes with it’s own fuel supply. If you do the science a good grill is only a few parts shy of a being Titan missile and that’s too damn cool not to have one.

Later, in his comments, Mike explains the cause of the “unappetizing experience”:

…the deal with the MatchLight was that I let the stuff burn and smolder for 10 minutes, as directed, and then threw the kabobs on for a little while.

Say waaa? Uh…er, yeah, huh?

Ah, I think I see the problem here. Mike used “directions”. Hell, if man had used directions human civilization would still be a family of four running around Eden naked, eating twigs, and taking unlimited piggy-back rides on dolphins and sasquatch.

Charcoal grilling requires a lot of fuel, a few matches, and if you’re safety conscious, some type of anti-fire technology like a water hose (you get a 1-up if it’s actually hooked-up to the spigot). It’s imperative for you to know that the purpose of charcoal in this process is to serve as a soaking agent for fuel. Other agents can, or may, include stacks of dry wood and old warehouses down by the docks.

Like a good steak, charcoal has to be seared to produce the best taste (this helps to contain the gassy-fuel fumes inside the brick, I think) and that can only be done by soaking the bricks in lighter fluid.

This is done by simply by pouring an entire can, sometimes two, all over the bricks — think Splash Dance. If fuel begins to drip out of the bottom of the grill it’s time to make fire with said matchstick. Don’t worry about the left over fuel because you can later squirt it into the fire producing these magnificent Sammy-Hagar-Cabo-Wabo-style fire plumes.

Repeat this step as necessary and remember, if at first you torch the bricks into instant ash don’t fret. Like the classic bag of hot dog buns to package hot dogs ratio there are always more bricks in a bag of charcoal than you can safely fit into a grill. It’s like a two-fer in every bag. That said, after years of using a gas grill I don’t think I’d go back to charcoal

In closing my lawyer has advised me to add that engaging in this ritual should be done at safe distance from children, pets, your abode, and Jehovah’s Witness.

¹ Admittedly I am not the one who usually grills the food. My food preparation has been outsourced for eleven years but I am allowed to refill the fuel delivery system. That said, applying fire to things that can catch on fire is something I know a thing or two about and there are a few good stories that involve trees, gas (liquid form), a porcupine, roman candles, the United States Forrest Service, a helicopter, and two guys from Rhode Island.

Sprite.

At the recommendation of a client I have left the office a bit early to catch the NBA Draft live on ESPN. I am not really a fan of basketball (professional or otherwise) but I’ve never watched one of these draft events so what the hell.

From what I have witnessed so far the event works like this, draftees are seated at round tables with their families in front of a stage where draft picks are announced by the league commissioner. I have no idea how it’s decided which players make it into this draft. Maybe they checked the box at the end of their college contract which said “YES! I am interested in being drafted by the NBA, drinking Sprite, and pretending to be an inner-city thug in order to increase my commercial earning potential.”

When a teams draft choice is announced by the short middle-aged white guy a loud cheer and holler can be heard from the crowd. Parents jump up and hug their child, their new multi-millionaire child (we’re still in the first round of the draft, which I assume is known as the money round). The former college player is then interviewed by ESPN commentators who ask stupid questions that come off as a half-assed sports journalism and/or yuck-yuck jokes.

Unfortunately for the NBA rookie this is not the final step in knowing whose bench they will be warming in the next season. Once a team has secured the rights to a player they are able to horse trade them like you and I do for property in a game of Monopoly — I’ll trade you Boardwalk and Park Place for two-thounsand in cash and the Baltic Avenue block with hotels. These trades are announced in-between draft announcements and are met with mixed applause and the drinking of Sprite.

Teams are given a finite amount of time to make their draft picks. It’s like a shot clock for managers and owners (tee-hee). I have no idea what happens if they don’t make a pick before their time is up but I bet it involves drinking lots and lots of Sprite. Sometimes teams will trade their draftee for a better draft pick position in a future Draft (for instance, some team just traded some kid for their first round position in the 2008 draft).

In a nut shell the NBA Draft is a live televised human commodities market. On this evening kids are being openly purchased and then traded for other kids (like a two-fer) or for a better spot in an upcoming trade market with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.

Did I mention this crawls along? In the last thirty minutes only four player acquisitions and three trades have been announced, not exactly the pace of the very game this is all about. Still that doesn’t stop ESPN from providing constant streams of over-the-top amounts data all over the screen none of which looks very useful.

But none of this matters because the Knicks are about to announce a draft pick and Spike (Lee) is “IN-DA-HAUS!”, or so says the uptight helmet-hair white guy with a walkie-talkie mic strapped to the side of his head. Yeah.

Manayunk.

Lets recap the last few weeks so we can get over this latest long and awkward pause.

I’ve almost convinced myself that the humans who “played” and “coached” soccer for the United States were impersonators placed there by the Bush administration in an effort to ease tensions with partner nations in the Coalition of the Willing — that has to be it. Meanwhile the real team has been locked away in Area 51.

After weeks of planning and negotiation, Airbag has signed a very large contract with Lexblog to provide web strategy and production management services. The impact that this will have on the future of my corporation marks a milestone that I look forward to reminiscing about years from now. There will be other, related, announcements made in the near future.

This morning I was notified, yet again, that my friends and I have won at Blingo. So far this month has brought six iTunes gift certificates and some cash (thanks Jeff). I think it’s time they just started giving me Class-C stock in the company instead of these door prizes. I could play the part of Bill Shatner and spew into the camera: Search net lingo, Search with Blingo.

The soccer thing is still pissing me off. Grrr.

The Wall Street Journal now appears at my door each weekday morning. I love the tactile feel, smell, and sound of using a newspaper. Devouring a newspaper used to be reserved for the weekends but I’m going to take the WSJ challenge and see if it really has an impact on my business like the commercials claim. If not I’m going to call Jessica and tell her that my newspaper is broken.

Last weekend I spent a total of sixteen hours in a car to go there and back. Sometime in the middle of this road trip we attended a wedding the likes which I had yet to witness. I’ve heard of theme weddings but something about renaissance costumes under direct sunlight in one-hundred and ten degree heat wasn’t supper-happy-fun-time. That said it was a wedding and I’m happy for the couple. And no, I was not in period garb but I did consider showing up as a Stormtrooper and then pretend not to have received the memo about Medieval Times. Two more weddings to go.

I was hoping that Ghana would pull off a miracle yesterday and defeat Brazil. While they didn’t win, Ghana played with zeal and it has been one of the better games of this Cup, so far.

The Volkswagen Touareg makes for a great road trip vehicle. It’s too bad VW can’t make their products sell better in the US market. I think Josh is right, they need to bring in more of their European line to the States.

My Tivo has done a piss-pour job of recording every World Cup game. I’m paying this thing good money to record television programming but it’s doing the work of a large plate warmer. Fortunately California is an “at-will” state so when I go to fire Tivo I won’t have to worry about a lawsuit. I have an impressive application from a Mac mini and I’m thinking of giving it the job.

Flooding sucks. Who gave water the ability to smart-mob an area anyway? In hindsight I think that was a bad idea.

Ruler.

Debugging style sheets isn’t a whole lot of fun. Especially for persons, like me, who aren’t knee deep in BBEdit all day long. Today I am trying to get boxes to float and position the way I want them too. It’s not rocket science and I’ve done it many, many times before but as each site is different, so are the pieces to the puzzle.

One of the more frustrating difficulties in this work is deciphering what causes a box to behave differently between all three browsers. Specifically, why is that box wider in IE when it fits fine in Firefox and Safari or visa-versa. The methods for finding the problem are good and many. On the Mac I use a combination of solid background colors assigned to each box I’m working with and measure them xScope, that wonderful utility available from Iconfactory that lets me bring a ruler overtop of any application for taking accurate measurements.

Still I have to test for Internet Explorer and that’s on a separate PC where xScope can’t be used. I know there are alternatives but I hate having to buy and/or install another piece of software just so I can get a quick measurement of a box width.

And then it dawned on me that any image can be placed in the background of almost any block level element. So why not create an image of a ruler? Duh.

Munich.

What bothers me most about being an American right now is the stupid yuck-yuck story told over and over again by countless journalists who can’t come up with a better World Cup piece other than the tried and true, “Oh I’m supposed to like soccer now” or “why America doesn’t like soccer”. Fishwrap crappity-crap-crap, all of it. Take for instance these lines pulled from the introduction of a how-to watch soccer piece written as snarky as possible:

I don’t know much about soccer. I realize that it is, by a wide margin, the world’s most popular sport. I’m told that players can’t use their hands, which renders it a particularly sweaty equivalent of bobbing for apples. I understand that the game harkens back to my high-school days, in that it involves lots of guys running around like lunatics and mostly not scoring. As a guy who fancies himself something of a sports fan, however, I can’t in good conscience sit out the upcoming World Cup. To do so would be borderline irresponsible, frankly.

Here let me clue you in: WE DON’T CARE.

Let me say that again for those who scanned right past that last line: WE REALLY DON’T CARE. SERIOUSLY! NOBODY CARES THAT YOU DON’T KNOW A THING ABOUT SOCCER OR HOW YOU FEEL THE NEED TO WATCH AND LIKE IT BECAUSE THE REST OF THE WORLD HAS A TENDENCY TO ENJOY SOMETHING DIFFERENT THAN YOU.

This journalism reflects the attitude of my countrymen who get retarded about world class sporting events that are not related to football, basketball, or baseball. But I expect more from journalists as they are often the opinion leaders that most of my country chooses to outsource their thinking to.

We are a different tribe with our own system of measurement, sports, life expectancy rate, etc., some of our forefathers got the brilliant idea that we needed to be different or the opposite of the tyranny they “fled” and that mindset has continued and flourished. We’re supposed to be the ones that embrace diversity but instead really we just make a bigger deal about it all by giving our differences names, titles, programs, grants and news stories.

Citizens of the United States (especially the primarily English speaking ones) you need to get over yourselves about your indifference to this sport or anything else that people outside our country like that you don’t.

For the next month please, please good people shut your word hole, go back to your rib-racked dinner at Chili’s and watch the “Finals” or try something new like finger-painting-by-numbers, something! Forcibly resist the desire to pull words from your behind and let those of us who relish the World Cup have the sanctity to enjoy it.
SIDENOTE: I have noticed a big difference in camera/image quality between Univision’s broadcast to that of the fuzzy American stations.

Ole.

If you can’t get excited watching a World Cup game then I suggest that you immediately go to an emergency room and let them know your heart has stopped beating and your brain is no longer receiving the proper amount of oxygen.

I thought I would work from home today while watching the games but minutes after kick-off and it’s hard to focus on anything other than ESPN2.

The jersey is on and I’m drooling over the masterful control these players have of their game.

Jefferson.

Oops, I almost forgot.

With today being Armageddon and all — though it appears to be running a bit late, It’s almost noon and I haven’t see any of the four riders…hmmm — I thought I should say something in our last few minutes on Earth.

Goodbye, goodnight, and good luck. Thanks for all the comments and the Blingo prizes.

Lets try to get together on the flipside. Surely there has to be a social network Web Infinity.0 thing, Up-by-Up-West, or something.