Who are you, what do you do, etc…?
I am a freelance designer, hobbyist photographer and musician. I am also the designer behind many ads found on the Fusion Ad Network. Recently I joined the team behind QuickCal as the app’s UI designer.
What is your current setup?
I’m using a 15″ Unibody MacBook Pro I bought in 2009, with a 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of Ram, and the 500GB 7200RPM HD. At home, the Macbook Pro is hooked up to the 27″ Apple Cinema Display. On your recommendation, I recently purchased the OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 3G 115GB SSD. I’ve set up the SSD as my boot drive and use the HDD as my media/working files drive.
I’m using the short wireless Apple Keyboard for typing and the Magic Trackpad for trackpadding. I’ve tried numerous mice over the years, from the Mighty Mouse to the Magic Mouse and even a Logitech MX Revolution. The Magic Trackpad is the first input device that just feels right. For Wi-Fi and Time Machine I use the Apple Time Capsule.
I listen to music through an old Kenmore receiver I bought from a friend for $50 over 5 years ago. Listening to music through headphones for extended periods of time never felt right to me.
I take pictures with a Nikon D90 with a 50mm prime lens. My lighting setup currently consists of an Opus OPL-H250 strobe with a 48″ reflective umbrella, as well as a newly-purchased Nikon SB-600. I trigger my lights remotely using two PocketWizard Plus II transceivers.
Lastly, I can’t write about what I create without mentioning my music setup. I own two acoustic guitars: an old Cort acoustic I bought nearly 9 years ago and a Takamine Steve Wariner Limited Edition a friend gave me as a gift. For my Boss Rebel gig, I go between my white Fender Stratocaster and a custom Telecaster by “Ed’s Guitars”, both of which were purchased from Jonathan Steingard of Hawk Nelson. The signal is sent through my pedal board, consisting of the following pedals:
- Ernie Ball Junior Volume Pedal
- Boss TU-2 Tuner
- Line 6 DL-4 Delay Modeler
- Boss OD-3 Overdrive
- Boss LS-2 Line Selector
The signal goes through the pedals to my Vox AC30CC. I use the LS-2 Line Selector to switch between the clean and dirty channels and the OD-3 Overdrive to add a little compression/crunch for solos.
Pat Dryburgh. Photo credit, Edward Platero.
Why are you using this setup?
I purchased my first Mac while working at a church. When I started, I was given an old Toshiba laptop that didn’t have enough power to run PowerPoint (in fact, it had been discarded by the children’s ministry for being so terrible). About 3 months into my time there, I bought the 13″ white MacBook and instantly fell in love with the Mac ecosystem.
When I began working in design the MacBook was adequate, but surely not exceptional. I saved up and bought the 15″ Unibody MacBook Pro which was a huge leap forward.
The main reason I stick with the Mac setup is its ease of use and the quality of the software. Software from large companies like Apple and Adobe perform so well on the Mac, and obviously the Mac community boasts some of the best indie developers in the world.
What software do you use on a daily basis, and for what do you use it?
I absolutely love the Mac developer community and use a ton of different apps to make my work and play better.
Design work happens in Adobe’s Creative Suite. Development happens in Coda, though I have been flirting with both TextMate and BBEdit over the last month. Photo editing happens in Adobe Lightroom, which is the only Adobe product I have ever loved.
I write in nvALT, a fork of the brilliant Notational Velocity. This syncs with Simplenote on my iPad and iPhone. I also keep all of my notes as .txt files in a Dropbox folder. Dropbox is also where all of my work files live.
I work with a great team of guys to develop an app called QuickCal, which lets you enter events and to-dos into your calendar with plain English, and then it gets out of your way so you can get back to work. The version I am working on will be out soon, but you are more than welcome to buy the current version now and receive the next version as a free upgrade.
I use Quicksilver to launch apps and trigger keyboard shortcuts. TextExpander expands common snippets of text. Droplr lets me share screenshots, images and bits of text with friends easily. Pastebot is an incredibly easy way to share text between my Mac and iPhone. Caffeine keeps my monitor awake when I’m watching video. Seamless helps me keep my musical groove when I leave my desk. Take Five pauses my music for a few minutes if I need to take a quick call. 1Password keeps track of my passwords and credit card info securely. RSS feeds are read in NetNewsWire.
How does this setup help you do your best creative work?
OS X strikes the perfect balance between giving you what you need to do your work, while also getting out of your way if you want to go a different route. The developer community that has formed around this platform is second to none and I owe much of my gratitude to them.
How would your ideal setup look and function?
Other than anticipating what the next 15″ MacBook Pro will look like, I’m pretty happy with my current setup. Oh, maybe a Gibson ES-137.
More Sweet Setups
Pat’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.
On the homepage of a weblog, when you’ve scrolled to the bottom of the recent posts displayed but before you get to the footer, what should you see?
Most commonly you’ll find a link for “previous entries” or “older entries”. A link that takes you to Page 2 of the site. And page 2 is always the same format as the homepage.
There are some unique dynamics to weblog design. You’re designing for three groups of people:
- Regular readers who check in daily, or near daily
- Familiar readers who check in occasionally
- New visitors
Regular readers tend to hang out at the top of the site or in the RSS feed. Since they are tracking with the weblog they are up to date with what’s been written lately. In fact, many regular readers may not even visit the site and read only from their feed reader.
Familiar readers who check in occasionally are likely to only peruse and read what’s on the homepage. They come to the site, look to see what’s new that they haven’t seen since last time, and then move on.
New readers are actually most likely showing up for the first time onto a permalink page because they got to your site via a link or a search result to something specific. From there, if they like what they’ve read, they’re likely to read more articles or click to the home page and see what is happening.
And so, when someone (who is most likely a new visitor) has scrolled to the bottom of the recent posts on the homepage, before they get to the footer what should they see?
Is a link to Page 2 the best option? I don’t know; the advantages and disadvantages vary based on the site.
Advantages of having a link to Page 2:
- It’s conventional: Lots and lots of sites use it.
- It’s familiar: Because it’s conventional.
- It’s simple: There is only one option: If you want more, click here. If not, see you later alligator.
- You stay in the same context: The format of page 2 is the same as page 1 which means the reader is not changing contexts from reading to lists to reading again.
Disadvantages of having a link to Page 2:
On this site I post dozens of links to every one article. If someone is scrolling through page by page it means they are primarily scrolling through lists of links. And while that’s cool, links are not the premier feature of this site. Though they are the most common type of post, they’re not the most valuable.
Some of the work I am most proud of may not have been in the past few weeks or even months. Someone browsing page by page may never get to what I am most proud of.
What Others are Doing
I wanted to see how other weblogs handle pagination navigation. I took screenshots of the bottom of the homepage of 31 different weblogs to compare how they’ve implemented pagination navigation, if they’ve implemented it at all.
I chose sites that are run as a traditional blog, meaning the most recent posts are at the top of the page and usually where several posts are shown at once. I also chose sites that are published by people who (most likely) have thought through this sort of thing for their site.
Of the 31 sites, 19 had some sort of “older entries” style pagination navigation and 12 had something else.
Weblogs with pagination navigation: Kottke.org, Jason Santa Maria, TechCrunch, Jeffery Zeldman’s Daily Report, dooce, Seth Godin, Andy Ihnatko, 43 Folders, Cameron Moll, Panic Blog, Liz Danzico, The Hickensian, Simplebits, The Brooks Review, I Love Typography, swissmiss, This is my next…, Waxy.org, and 37signals.
Weblogs with something other than pagination navigation:
- Marco.org: A list of all archives by month
- Subtraction: A list of all categories
- Shaun Inman: A list of all categories and all archives by month
- Ignore the Code: Infinite scrolling
- Daring Fireball: Full text of the two most recent articles that were not written in the past 7 days
- Airbag Industries, Kevin Kelly, and Rands in Repose: Nothing
- Veerle’s Blog: Featured article and recommended categories
- Zen Habits, Chris Bowler: Link to full archives list
- Paul Stamatiou: List of favorite articles
Trying Something New
Since the inception of this site I’ve had the common link to Page 2. I am now testing something new here: I replaced the link to Page 2 with links to recent articles, interviews, and reviews instead. I’ve also increased the number of articles and links that appear on the home page to 25 total.
The goal is to offer the best choice for the reader, based on what I, as the publisher of my site, consider to be the most valuable. Is a link to Page 2 the best way for a reader to continue exploring my site, or would they be better served by discovering the articles I’ve written and am most proud of? 1
Honestly, I’m not sure yet. Though I do think that if I only ever wrote articles it may be a different answer.
- Some readers have written in to suggest that I offer a link to Page 2 as well as a link to recent articles, reviews, and interviews. I somewhat like this idea, but my biggest hesitancy is that it may present too many options. When a user is presented with too many choices they will likely chose none. In fact, I already am feeling like having 3 links at the bottom of the page is too many. But at least they are 3 links of the same type. ↵
Last week Austin Kleon posted an article titled, “How to Steal Like an Artist (An 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me)”. There are things you read where you learn something new, and there are the things you read which shed a new light on what you already know and believe in. For me Austin’s article is the latter. And it is one of the best things I have read all week.
However, keeping with the Wil Shipley analogy of farming vs. mining, a better title for Austin’s article would be something along the lines of “How to Be a Farmer.” Because Austin primarily discusses getting off your butt, ignoring your doubts and insecurities, and doing the work you love to do.
As I was reading it I was getting all sorts of little lightbulbs and connections going off in my mind. Here are a few of those items:
One of my Shawn Today episodes called “Aren’t we all just 8th graders” on the topic that many of us feel like we’re just faking it and that’s okay because we’re all just folk.
Wil Shipley’s article on Farming vs. Mining and the difficulty of plowing a plot of land and slowly developing a strong and profitable foundation rather than trying to make a quick buck and then moving on to the next thing before what you made falls apart.
Merlin Mann and John Gruber’s SXSW session: “HOWTO: 149 Surprising Ways to Turbocharge Your Blog With Credibility!”
John Gruber’s corresponding article to the above SXSW session: “Obsession Times Voice“
You see, there are those who look at a building a website (or a software program, or a business, or fill in the blank) as a way to make money. The project is simply a means to an end, and that end goal is bucketloads of money.
And then there are those who look at building something because they want to do what they love. And for them money is a tool. Instead of money being the end goal, money becomes the means to a goal — and that goal is doing things they love and creating something they’re proud of.
Who are, what do you do, etc…?
My name is Aaron Mahnke. I’m a freelance graphic designer in the Boston area. I work under the banner of Wet Frog Studios, focusing on identity and brand design, though I do a ton of print design and even a bit of web design as well. I blog sometimes at aaronmahnke.com, and share resources for freelancers on my other site, abetterfreelancer.com.
What is your current setup?
My desktop computer is a 27-inch 2.66 GHz Quad-Core i5 iMac with 4GB of RAM. I recently made the switch from the wired Apple aluminum keyboard to the bluetooth version in order to allow my Bamboo Fun (1st gen, medium size) tablet to sit closer to the center of my iMac, eliminating some unnecessary strain on my right shoulder. I’ve found that the mouse that came with the Bamboo tablet is perfect for my work style, and I can easily switch to the pen when needed.
I have a secondary work station set up beside my red reading chair that consists of a newer 2.4 GHz i5 MacBook Pro (also 4GB of RAM) and a 23-inch Apple Cinema Display. I use it mostly as a hub for three Western Digital 1TB MyBook external hard drives that contain years of video production work, as well as an external Sony DVD burner for churning out multiple copies of client work while I read in the red chair.
When I’m mobile I rely on my iPhone 4 and a 32GB 3G iPad to keep me connected and creating. The iPhone is my main device for task capture (via the Things app), RSS feeds (via Reeder) and reading (via Kindle, iBooks and Instapaper). I rarely use it as a phone, though during the work day it’s docked beside my iMac with a pair of Apple in-ear headphones connected and ready.
The iPad is a fantastic work device for me. I keep it naked at home, but it travels in a DoDoCase outside the house. It goes to every meeting with me, and I rely on a combination of SimpleNote and Penultimate for capturing the information I need. I rely heavily on the Photos app to hold my logo design portfolio and digital samples of my print design work. And the Dropbox app is the perfect tool for presenting potential clients with my logo design service information, my contract and glimpses of in-progress work.
Why this rig?
Power and flexibility are my driving motivations, honestly. I put my iMac to work every day, sometimes running Illustrator, Final Cut Pro, VMWare Fusion and a handful of smaller applications all at the same time. I am in this eternal struggle between wanting to be parked at a desk with extreme power and screen space, and being able to pick up and work from anywhere, so this setup allows me to live with a foot in each world for now.
What software do you use and for what do you use it?
The first piece of software I always tell people about is Dropbox. I have a 50GB account to hold all my design projects, which means I can work whether I’m at my desk or using my laptop away from home. The natural back-up that Dropbox brings to the table also helps me sleep easy knowing my clients’ work is always safe.
The applications I launch every day when I sit down at my desk would be Mail.app, Things, Illustrator, Numbers and Billings. On occasion I have to launch Pages, Keynote, Final Cut. Other applications are always running, though, like Notational Velocity, Yojimbo, MailActOn, 1Password, Littlesnapper and Tweetie. I have a few Fluid instances for things like Basecamp and Rdio, but prefer Propane for Campfire chats. And finally, my menu bar plays host to Droplr, which I use a few times a week at most.
How does this setup help you do your best creative work?
I’ve tried my best to surround myself with tools that help me get the job done faster. I take notes in Notational Velocity, which is connected with SimpleNote, so that I never have to save, rename, or move the files again. I keep inspiration logged in Yojimbo and Littlesnapper, both of which sync across my computers. And I try my best to master hot keys to save time and effort.
Creativity is all about reducing the distance from inspiration to retention. I might not be able to react to a moment of inspiration right away, but if I can capture it properly (via screenshot, dragging into Yojimbo, or typing the idea out) I can come back to it when I’m ready. This isn’t multitasking, though. This is all about knowing your tools and having a solid system.
How would your ideal setup look and function?
Honestly, the Apple ecosystem is getting really close to perfect for my needs. I would love to upgrade the RAM in both computers someday soon, and a SSD in the MacBook Pro would be next on my list after that. I can dream about better app syncing between the Mac and iOS devices, but Dropbox really gets the job done for me. My only other “fantasy device” would be a big fat Drobo, but I think that’s because I’m an external storage junkie.
More Sweet Setups
Aaron’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.
Who are you, what do you do, etc…?
My name is Nicholas Felton. I am a graphic designer based in New York City. I focus primarily on data visualizations… making charts and graphs and maps for print and online. I also run a website called Daytum that I founded with Ryan Case to help people count the big and little things in their lives and compile these statistics into pages like my own Annual Reports.
What is your current setup?
My work machine is a dual quad-core Mac Pro with a 30″ Cinema Display. Away from the office, I use a 13″ aluminum Mac Book.
Why this rig?
The first Mac I owned was a Quadra 840AV and I’ve used Mac towers continually since the G3 days. I may migrate to an iMac for the next office machine, but I like having lots of internal drives in the tower. The internal drives are cheaper and seem to last longer than external backups. I also like how easy it is to upgrade the memory, and that I can hang onto the monitor when I swap the computer out.
My favorite laptop was the 12″ G4, so when Apple did the aluminum MacBook refresh, I bought the 13″, and it still holds its own for travel and home use.
What software do you use and for what do you use it?
- Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign CS3 (with occasional excursions into CS5) for design.
- Textmate or Coda for web work (css and html).
- I use Processing to make little data visualization and mapping applications that I output to pdf and import into Illustrator.
- I use Apple’s Numbers and Pages as Excel and Word clones.
- I also use TextEdit all the time, for writing notes or answering interview questions and saving data sets. It’s remarkably useful.
How does this setup help you do your best creative work?
In plain terms, it’s fast enough, doesn’t crash too often and tends to not get in the way of what I want to do. Fundamentally, it lets me do my best work because I am familiar and comfortable with the way everything is set up, so I spend very little time looking for things. If it weren’t for email, I would be a very productive person.
How would your ideal setup look and function?
If Adobe would kill the feature creep and focus on software that’s fast and doesn’t crash I would be most of the way to an ideal setup. Apart from that, I just need a big monitor, a CPU that can keep up and some decent speakers to be happy.
More Sweet Setups
Nicholas’ setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.
The three photos of Nicholas were taken by Ellen Warfield.
In this interview Neven and I discuss graphic design, life at Panic, and other miscellany.
Shawn Blanc: Until you joined Panic in 2008 you mostly did freelance work building web apps, correct?
Neven Mrgan: I did freelance design and development work — mostly on the web — for a few years, and I had more or less interesting day jobs that time as well. I worked as an engineer on very straight-laced business web apps until 2007. This wasn’t terribly fun, and to be honest, I wasn’t too good at it either. Early in 2007 I decided to start sticking to graphic design and UI design, since I was never going to be a kung-fu-grade developer.
Shawn: Your job with Panic seems like a perfect match in the sense that you fit right in as another clever, funny, nerd. But on the flip side, now you work in a team setting with a company that builds desktop software as opposed working solo on web projects. What led you to take the job with Panic?
Neven: Regarding desktop software, it was somewhat new to me indeed. Sorry to bring up iPhone this early in the conversation, but it was a big catalyst for me in several ways; it was the first time I was doing non-web UI design. That was the roundabout route I took to designing desktop software.
As for Panic, the fit was just ridiculously good. They build excellent software, and they do so in a genuinely friendly, likable way. That combination is very uncommon. I was a recently married and ready-to-settle-down old fogie of near 30, and was big on leading a comfortable, quality lifestyle, and working on solid, long-term projects. Panic has those same goals.
Working on a team was a change after a year of clicking around in our home office. It’s hard to complain about the freedom of that arrangement, but I’ll do my best: a chair in your own house can be a pretty inert environment. It’s a bit of a bummer on a purely social level, and it can make your creative muscle slack as well. That’s been my experience, anyway. I’m happy to be surrounded by really smart folk as I click around now.
Shawn: Do you ever miss working from home?
Neven: I have that option currently and I don’t believe I’ve taken advantage of it more than three times (and even then, only because I had to be home for some reason). I can’t emphasize enough how much I like the vibe at my office. It reminds me of how I’d go to my high school’s super-awesome computer lab on the weekend, in the evening, and whenever else I could. I love what I do, projects and people and desk and all — it’s my job and my hobby.
Shawn: You’ve got a lot of projects running — your couple cool weblogs, The Incident, your full-time job at Panic, and more. What does a day in your life look like?
Neven: I half-wake up around 7:30 and remain in a hazy, floating, brain-puree state for about half an hour. This is when I get all of my stupidest ideas (like you know how some restaurants menus have a little V next to vegetarian items and maybe a clipart chili for “spicy”; what if they put an F next to “foodie” items? “Can the salad be made foodie?” -”Certainly; we can make it with Pouligny-Saint-Pierre and shave a black truffle onto it.”). Stupid ideas are excellent springboards, boosters for your thought and your daily mood.
I then check my email and RSS in bed; if it takes longer than five minutes, I save it for after I’m dressed. To do that I pick a Panic t-shirt from the stack I was given when I started (“your employee uniform”) and put my socks on in front of the computer. I briefly chat with whoever is online – usually only Matt Comi, my partner on The Incident. I take the bus to work; twenty minutes of book-reading on the ride, ten minutes of iPod while I walk.
I work ten to six. The morning is usually time for catch-up, unfinished business from the previous day, or quick production of ideas pickled overnight. Lunch is important because it brings the office together. It’s our most regular team meeting. The afternoon means serious work — Photoshop and Coda — and a snack break around four. I drink Coke Zero and endorse Nuvrei pastries.
Most days, I try to cook at least one meal; if there’s time to make dinner after work, I’ll give it a shot. If not, Portland has an embarrassment of excellent restaurants. Either way, I eat early and spend the evening working on whatever side projects I have going on. I go to sleep disgustingly late —midnight or 1 am.
This isn’t a schedule I make it a point to stick to. It’s just how things typically play out.
Shawn: What are your favorite pieces of software?
I know, I know — give me a chance to explain.
I complain about Photoshop. Lord, do I. But it’s not only the essential tool for what I do, it’s a great tool also. I’ve done my best to give the competition a shot, and the truth is just that they don’t allow me to make the things I want to make (yet). Photoshop is internally and externally inconsistent, it’s bloated, it’s slow, and it crashes. But I use it more than I use my pants, and for that I love it.
Coda is an app I work on, so feel free to consider this a shameless advertisement. You’ll have to take my word for it: I used it before I started at Panic, and if I found a better app for web development, I’d promptly switch to it. Life is too short and the web too demanding to be a slave to cheap loyalty. It’s a great app.
Birdhouse is the only not-preinstalled app on my iPhone about which I have zero complaints. I use it regularly, and I don’t remember it crashing, slowing down, or confusing me once. You could argue that it does a tiny thing, but it does it well.
Sometimes I think that if this whole computer thing turns sour — if Apple becomes monstrously evil, if the Internet collapses, if I get old and stop grokking new technologies — I’ll switch to farming or cooking or poster design and be just as happy. Maybe that’s true. Some not-so-small part of me would, however, miss the wizardry I discovered some time in 1985 or so as I typed BASIC into my C-64: I can make a screen do things, and do things that do other things, and do different things depending on the things I do back to it. It’s a wonderful game.
Shawn: Other than for your lack of development skills, why did you begin doing work as a designer and developer?
Neven: Two beliefs: 1) Things should look good, and 2) Computers are cool. For the rest of my life I’ll be coming up with complicated explanations which boil down to those motivating principles.
So, I’ve really always wanted to be doing this or something like this. This or drawing comics, which I quickly learned was kind of not so hot.
Shawn: Was it a lack of drawing skills that led you to computer-based design? (And do you have any old comic book drawings you’re willing to share?)
Neven: I’m very happy with my drawing skills!
I decided to stick with computers because they could do things the real world couldn’t. I’m all in favor of creative restrictions — yay Twitter — but pen and ink’s lack of an Undo function doesn’t challenge me to do better work. It just makes me frustrated.
Now here’s a really out-of-context panel done some time in… 1998 or so, maybe?
Shawn: If I ever want a future in art and design it will have to be with a computer. I can never get pen and ink to translate into what I want.
You’re not alone in with the belief that things should look good and computers are cool. But everyone has their own definition of what looks good and what the best tools for the job are. How do you define when a design looks good? Has that definition changed since seriously began sticking to graphic design and UI design?
Neven: One thing I’m learning quickly is to evaluate designs and design ideas in terms of interaction: how they behave under what circumstances, how they work with other elements. That’s sort of new to me, though designing for the web has always been about flexible, unpredictable layouts and such.
A thing looks good to me when I fall in love with it; that’s test #1. Test #2 is, ok, that’s sweet – what is it? Does it say something, mean something, is it an “it” or an “It”? Test #3 is the more ponderous goatee-rubbing over how the design scales and translates, whether it’s too trendy or too dated, etc.
Sometimes I learn to eventually accept designs as excellent solutions even if they didn’t hit me right away. And sometimes designs I greet with a WOW bore me very quickly. But it’s very rare that I will love and cherish a design if it has to be “explained”.
It’s not important that I love everything I design. But hopefully it happens pretty often.
Shawn: How would you recommend someone with no facial hair go about completing test #3 as a part of their own design critiques?
Neven: There are a number of question you can ask about a design once it’s grabbed you.
- Will it scale, not just physically, but across cultures, age groups, platforms, ideas? Will your icon idea make sense to a busy person working in a dark room?
- Can any part of your design be abstracted and used elsewhere? Would anyone want to steal it? (You better wish they would!)
- If you’re breaking an established pattern or convention, are you doing so with good reason? With what are you replacing what you’re destroying?
- What if the things you, yourself, like to use were designed in this way? Remember Kant’s categorical imperative, “Act only on that maxim which you at the same time wish to be a universal law.”
You will add more questions to your list over time; you will also drop some as times change and as you develop your own priorities (the point is not to be able to answer “yes” to every question on the list).
Now here’s the important thing: DO NOT write down the list. Don’t put checkboxes next to questions and save it all as a file. Don’t print it out. Don’t ask people you work with to start using it. This way lies madness; or at least boredom, burn-out, and blandness.
My feeling is that many creative endeavors are like this; you should learn specific techniques and aesthetic guidelines, but ultimately you will want to simply do a lot of work and let the aesthetic judgment become a second nature. A good musician can, for the most part, “let their fingers play” instead of focusing on translating each sound-idea into a specific finger movement. A good baker will measure things, but they will only make consistently awesome bread when the dough “feels” right under their fingers. There’s no magic, destiny, or talent at work here, just a gradual process of practicing until the back of your head can do most of the work, not the front.
So, long answer short, learn as much as you can about the principles of design, about its history, and about other people’s work. But try to let it all soak into your brain through constant creative and functional use, not through cramming or some sort of workflow standardization.
Shawn: How much, then, do you suppose good design sense boils down to talent versus practice?
Can tools and rules, in and of themselves, produce a quality designed product?
Neven: I just realized I’ve been harping on the 90%-perspiration thing without going into why the remaining 10% — “the squishy bit” — is important. It’s frustrating to even think about it because it leads me to a mildly fatalistic state where I just throw my hands up and decide that if good design is a matter of talent and destiny, then it isn’t worth doing since most people won’t even know it when they see it. Which is true, in many ways. Why does a designer spend any time deciding between Helvetica and Univers? Most people won’t know or care either way. Or maybe they will, on some unreachable level — maybe Helvetica will appear more generic (at least today it will), Univers more technical; the former, more “design-y”, the latter, more “informative”.
A designer will obviously have far more opinions of this sort about the minutiae of design. Now, partially these will be a product of the designer’s education and work experience. Maybe they once read Univers was a good choice for signage, or a teacher told them it was a modern classic. Maybe they’re sick of Helvetica.
But given enough time, these opinions will become more than restatements of other people’s attitudes. Different aesthetic prejudices — sometimes clashing ones — will come together in one head to create a unique taste and signature.
A great trick I learned from the science writer Matt Ridley: in debates over nature vs. nurture, remember that one is a function of the other, so it doesn’t make sense to say talent “contributes 30%” or some such thing. They’re linked in a much more complicated way.
To answer the second question a little more directly: no [tools and rules, in and of themselves, cannot produce a quality designed product].
Shawn: You’re right that most people won’t know good design when they see it. But in the context of UI design, that’s the point.
Jeffrey Zeldman wrote a great definition of Web design in an article, “Understanding Web Design“. He said:
“Great web designs are like great typefaces: some, like Rosewood, impose a personality on whatever content is applied to them. Others, like Helvetica, fade into the background (or try to), magically supporting whatever tone the content provides.”
Like you said, Neven, the vast majority of people won’t even notice your design. But the very act of them not noticing is (usually) the proof of a good design. On the flip side, of course, are times when the people should notice the design. It’s the Form Versus Function debate that UI designers are faced with every day. The mark of a great designer is one who knows when to chose which side of the issue and how find the balance between both sides.
The reputation for Panic when they come to a form-versus-function hurdle is to find a simply stellar solution (like Cabel’s 3-Pixel Conundrum). Has Panic developed any official guidelines for working on UI design? Have they ever conflicted with your personal preference?
Neven: I work under surprisingly few constraints as far as what must or mustn’t be done. We’re pretty aggressive about staying ahead of the curve, so we insist on certain not-yet-widespread widespread technologies (resolution-independent graphics, for one). We love a good visual metaphor — Coda’s taped pages in the Sites view — but it has to make sense, and it can’t be realistic at the expense of usability, or to the point of sickening cuteness.
If we’re adding a feature, we almost never go “ah, there’s already a standard control for that, we’re set.” We might just end up using the existing design, but not before we poke it within an inch of its life. Why does this menu look like this? What if we had never seen it before — how would we build it?
As Cabel has mentioned, we’re big on weenies: elements that make a design stand out immediately. There’s nothing wrong with a simple metal window, but there’s nothing great about it either, and more things should be great!
This is the designer’s nastiest temptation — over-designed, needlessly custom chrome which neither fits nor improves the platform. This is the land of Windows Media Player skins. Often we try to “fit the OS better than it fits itself”, if that makes sense; if we think an Apple widget betrays the hand of an intern, we’ll draw our own, better one. This is the thing people notice the least, but it’s a great personal victory.
To get back to rules and guidelines, nothing is off the table, really. I realize that when I say that I’m excluding things obviously off the table: round windows, animated toolbars, blue chrome, scripty type. Part of this intangible, complex, wavelength-syncing soup we as a team live in is the baseline of quality and aesthetic we all appear to share: let’s not do Thing X, ever.
As for my personal preferences, I’m probably more conservative than the team as a whole. I’m seeing that (slight) difference as a learning opportunity, so I’m happy to report there have been no freak-out arguments over shades of green. You’ll just have to take my word for it, our tastes are creepily aligned — if we weren’t such motormouths, we’d get along fine with an occasional nod or frown.
Shawn: Has the process of completing a design project changed for since joining Panic? Is there a boss or an Art Director who signs off on your work?
- Neven: “Sign-off” is, like most things with us, a matter of conversation and feeling out people’s reactions more than a structured process. I’m the sort of person who has to get total agreement from others before I’m fully happy, so I usually gauge everyone’s feedback as I work, and this hopefully results in a universally accepted design by the time I’m done.
Shawn: I have done freelance work from my home as well as being a designer working with a team in an office environment. When I freelanced I had a handful of creative friends whom I could send drafts of my work to and ask for their feedback. Ultimately if my client liked it and I liked it, then it was a done deal.
In the team dynamic, I enjoy having the ability to tap a friendly co-worker or two on the shoulder to get instant feedback and dialog about the project I’m working on. But there can, at times, be a downside to that setting insofar that more people need to sign off on the finished piece — it’s not just me and the client anymore.
I prefer the team setting significantly more because it helps me stay more productive, more creative, and more dynamic in approaching problems. But (and maybe it’s just me. But) it can be frustrating when there is not universal head-nodding approval for every project I’m working on or leading.
Neven: I find that a team of our size — about a dozen — is a really good middle ground between the isolation of working alone and the tar-pit indecisiveness and slowness of focus groups, market research, surveys, and gigantic corporate meeting fests. I am constantly getting new ideas from the team (while bouncing them off everyone). At the same time, I don’t have to sit and wait for a design to make the rounds and get approved by a chain of people.
Other than company size, a few other things about Panic help make this possible. We’re close in age, interests, and general attitude about life and work. Everyone is great at their job, and this makes it very different from working for clients. The client’s preference and criticism may or may not come from actual knowledge of the product, the audience, and the technology we’re talking about.
Here at Panic, I know I’m getting feedback from a tech-savvy person smarter than me who is also a regular user of the product. If they have a complaint — and I should also mention they’re good at knowing what matters how much when it comes to design — it means there’s likely a real problem I should solve. Maybe there’s something I forgot; maybe the design should be a little more polished. Or maybe my idea was crap to begin with. I am far less likely to defend the design by simply saying “I think it’s good”. Keep in mind that this often happens when working for outside clients, and it’s not good for the designer. Not letting yourself get challenged will keep you from exploring new ideas. The trick is to be challenged by knowledgeable people you like and respect.
I don’t know of any online resource for those, though, so… Your parents/karate instructors were right: there are no shortcuts, it’s going to take time!
Thank you, Neven.
For more interviews with extraordinary designers, developers, writers, and web nerds, visit here.
Who are you, what do you do, and etc…?
My name is Phil Coffman and I am an Art Director at Springbox, an interactive marketing agency in Austin, TX. In addition to my day job I write about whatever inspires me at my personal site philcoffman.com and take the occasional photo. I’m also currently developing a new site called Method & Craft that will focus on the creative mind and beauty found within each pixel. You can follow @methodandcraft for the latest on its progress and plans for launch. I’m married to my beautiful wife Cynthia and have a 2yr old son, Ethan.
What is your current setup?
At work I use a Mac Pro with 5GB of RAM and dual-monitor setup comprised of a 23″ Cinema Display and 20″ Dell something. The Cinema Display is my main screen where I run Photoshop, Illustrator, and Safari. The Dell is dedicated to email, Adium, Tweetie, and Bowtie, my iTunes controller. A few months back I started using a Wacom Intuos 4 Medium tablet and have never looked back. I forced myself to use it for a week solid and now use the pen for everything from Photoshop to browsing the web.
Listening to music while I work is vital to my productivity. I have a pair of Sony MDR-V300s that, despite their long cord which gets tangled around my chair, provide adequate audio clarity and help block outside noise when I need to focus.
At home I use a 15″ MacBook Pro (pre-unibody model) with 2GB of RAM, which is not nearly enough. Sometimes I bring my Intuos home if I need it’s flexibility on a project, but otherwise I use an old Dell optical mouse.
At the office we work off servers that are backed up daily. At home I use Time Machine to back-up to an external FW hard drive. That entire setup is then mirrored online using Crashplan.
Why this rig?
I use a Mac Pro at work because I’m often dealing with heavy Photoshop files and need the horsepower. The 5GB of RAM helps keep everything running quickly. The dual-monitor setup is a must for me as I prefer to work fullscreen in Photoshop and want as much screen real-estate as possible. While I use the 2nd monitor mostly for secondary applications like IM, email, etc., I often use it to display documents related to what I’m working on such as a copy deck or IA.
The Intuos has dramatically changed how I interact with Photoshop. My design style lays heavy on the fine details, and the fluidity that a pen provides over a mouse is simply unmatched. Being able to add the element of “pressure” has come in handy more times than I can count. On the very rare occasion I’ll use the Wacom mouse to get uniformity with the Photoshop brush tool, but most of the time it just sits there collecting dust.
I’m very picky when it comes to which wallpaper I use on my machines. At home I sometimes don’t have as much of a say :), but at work I use a dark wood panelling photo. Having a dark, B&W image alleviates distractions and makes it easy to find things on my desktop, although I try to keep things orderly as much as possible.
What software do you use and for what do you use it?
- Adobe Photoshop: all of my comps and design work including wireframes
- Adobe Illustrator: logo work or the occasional vector asset
- Safari: web browsing
- Tweetie: to stay in the loop
- Adium: to connect with my coworkers and friends with various IM accounts
- iTunes: music
- Bowtie: to control iTunes via the keyboard
- Entourage: email
- Quicksilver: custom keyboard triggers for screen captures and quick launch of apps
- Cyberduck: FTP (although I have Transmit at home and will probably transition at work as well)
- Dropbox: for file sharing between home and work
Do you have any other gadgets?
I use my 16GB iPhone 4 all day. I commute to work via lightrail and use that time to listen to podcasts, read, check my RSS feeds & twitter, and play games like Angry Birds and Words With Friends. The evolution of the iPhone 4 from the 3GS is amazing. I love the retina display, and the 5MP camera is just remarkable. When not taking photos with my iPhone I use a Nikon D80 paired with a 50mm 1.8 and 28mm 2.8.
How would your ideal setup look and function?
I’m happy with my work setup, so my ideal setup pertains to home. I don’t take my MacBook Pro anywhere to get work done, so ideally I’d upgrade to an i5 27″ iMac so I could take advantage of the larger screen, horsepower, RAM, and storage. I’d also pick up an Intuos to go with the iMac since I’ve grown so accustomed to using a pen over a mouse.
More Sweet Setups
Phil’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.
I spend a prodigious amount of time reading on my iPhone.
Half the apps on my iPhone’s Home screen alone involve reading as a predominant, if not exclusive, feature. Mail, Messages, Safari, Tweetie, Instapaper Pro, Simplenote, and Reeder: these are my most-used apps, and each one is used for reading in some way or another. And yet the app which serves no other purpose than to read, seems to be the most frustrating to use for said purpose.
- In Mail I read and reply.
- In Messages I read and text.
- In Safari I read and surf.
- In Tweetie I read and tweet.
- In Instapaper I read and drink coffee.
- In Simplenote I read and write and edit.
- In Reeder (or any other feed reader app, such as Byline, Fever, Google Reader, NetNewsWire, NewsRack, MobileRSS, etc.) I read.
The predicament with feed reading apps is most certainly not in the quantity of the selections; rather, the quality. This is not to say that most of the legitimate feed reading apps on the iPhone have not been developed with care — but as agents of delivery for my favorite authors, and as contrivances meant for enjoying lengthy bits of text, I prefer a simple app that does less and does it better.
In total fairness asking for the “best feed reader app” is like asking for the “best shirt”. Just as John Gruber so aptly laid out last April when writing on the the UI playground of Twitter clients. John said:
[D]ifferent people seek very different things from a Twitter client. TweetDeck, for example, is clearly about showing more at once. Tweetie is about showing less. That I prefer apps like Tweetie and Twitterrific doesn’t mean I think they’re better. There is so much variety because various clients are trying to do very different things. Asking for the “best Twitter client” is like asking for the “best shirt”.
It is my safe assumption that readers of this website also prefer apps which do less, but do it well. And so read on for a high-level look at some of the more popular iPhone feed readers, what I find good and not-so-good about them, and my suggestions for amelioration.
As of this writing the iPhone App Store has nearly 4,000 apps in the News category. This is where all the RSS reading apps are listed. If you search for just “RSS” you’ll get over 700 results, or roughly 18% of the 4,000 news apps. Searching for “RSS Reader” nets you 203 results, and if you get even more specific and search for “Google Reader”, you get 50 apps.
But now compare this to the Social Networking category. It has 2,600 apps, and searching for “Twitter client” returns only about 65 results. There are over three times as many RSS reader apps than there are Twitter Clients in the App Store (based on search results).
Of the 4,000 news apps, the most downloaded are the dedicated apps provided by popular news sources such as the New York Times, USA TODAY, the Associated Press, NPR News, Wall Street Journal, and etc. The first RSS feed reading app you listed amongst the most popular News apps is “Free RSS Reader“; with NetNewsWire Free right on its heals. Surely “Free RSS Reader” is the most downloaded RSS reader by virtue of name alone.
In the most popular social networking apps, the first Twitter client listed is the free version of Twitteriffic. Over its life in the App Store it has received 139,000 reviews, mostly positive. Now compare that to Free RSS Reader which has about 17,000 reviews (mostly negative).
And thus we find a conundrum: the amount of RSS readers for the iPhone that of Twitter client apps, and yet the tables are turned when it comes to quality.
According to a small poll I conducted via Twitter, the app people spend the most amount of time reading from while on their iPhone is Instapaper, followed closely by Tweetie and then Mail.
Tweetie and Instapaper are two classy apps. They are easy to read from, easy to get around in, and a ton of fun. But tweeting and reading things later should not be the only place where all the action is. I would love to see a top-notch, Tweetie-level, RSS reader for the iPhone…
Why? Because when Tweetie 2 blew every other Twitter client out of the water it also sunk a few apps that were in a different part of the pool, and it’s time for a comeback.
There are tons of nerds who were using Twitter way before Ashton was and who have been riding the RSS train for years and years. And since nerds are the pickiest of all when it comes to usability and interface design, they are the ones most in need of a great feed reader app for their iPhone.
Secondly, what Twitter has done for Twitter clients, so has Google Reader done for feed reader apps. As Loren Brichter said during his interview with Macworld:
One of the fantastic things about Twitter clients is how easy it is for users to jump from one to another. Just type in a username and password and off you go. It’s possible for anyone to write a Twitter client nowadays and have the opportunity to completely blow everyone else out of the water.
Granted, the initial set up of a new Twitter account is really simple compared to the same for Google Reader. Twitter asks for your name, desired username, and password, and then you’re free to follow friends and strangers at will. A process significantly more straightforward than creating a Google account, activating Reader, and then finding and populating it with RSS and Atom feeds.
But the type of people that would use a feed reader (nerds!) are also the types of people who already have Google accounts (we’ve been beta testing Gmail since 2004), and who are even more likely to have an OPML file sitting around ready to be imported.
Up until today, all of my software reviews have been about programs which I find fantastic. But today I’m trying to get out there that I see a chance for improvement in the iPhone App market. But the only way I know how to pinpoint the opportunity is to highlight those who are trying to meet it, and (in my opinion) not quite hitting the mark. It’s not that I have only negative things to say about the following apps, it’s just not all moonbeams and rainbows. Also note that I hold Brent, Sean, Milo, and the other developers all in the highest regard. They are busting their butts to make great software; thank you, guys. Please keep it up.
Google Reader (Mobile Web App)
The online RSS feed reader that took over the world. It was a big day when they began offering public APIs for developers to sync to and from G-Reader, and it was a smart move for NewsGator to abandon their home-brewed syncing platform to allow NetNewsWire (on desktop and iPhone) and FeedDemon to sync via Google Reader.
The mobile version of Google Reader is not too shabby. More than one well respected nerd uses it instead of any number of native iPhone apps which sync to it. And I actually prefer the mobile version over the full web version. However, the mobile version doesn’t support many of the favorite features found in a native iPhone app such as emailing articles and links, saving to Instapaper, and a few others. But it is a classy, speedy mobile web app. And it’s free. Hello.
Version 1.0 came out in July 2008. It cost a whopping $10 and sported a much more Mail-like UI. Three months later Milo release Byline 2. Then version 2.5 came out in July 2009, and now 3.0 is due for release soon (and will be free for existing users).
Version 3 will finally support Instapaper and Twitter, as well as a few other cool new features and UI refinements. But for the most part it will still look and feel just like the most current version. If you’re not already sold on Byline, version 3.0 will surely not be Just What You Always Wanted. But for the many, many fans of Byline that already exist this next release is sure to be a home run worth waiting for.
There’s quite a bit to like about Byline. For starters, it’s been around for nearly two years — it was one of the original iPhone feed reading apps and has continued to see forward movement. What makes Byline stand out is its caching of your feeds. If you do a lot of offline reading (or if you live in New York or San Francisco) a huge motivation to use Byline may be its ability to store the text and images of your feeds, as well as linked-to Web pages, right on your iPhone. It will also remember stars and unread/read state, and it all syncs back to Google Reader when you’re next online. (The 3.0 version will even have the ability to cache your feed content while the screen is locked.)
However, my biggest quibble with Byline is the GUI. I know that Milo has to develop graphics that look good on many different generations of iPhones and iPod touches, and that he is proud of the look and feel of his app. But in my opinion the heavy gradients used throughout the app are too much, and give an overall impression of immaturity to the app. If it’s not a delight to look at and read from, it’s less of a delight to use.
Since most people voted that if they were reading, chances are they were in Instapaper or Tweetie, I thought it would be interesting to contrast the heavy gradients used in Byline to the subtle gradients used in Tweetie to to the complete lack of gradients used in the iPhone’s Mail app:
(FYI: Even though Instapaper won the “most read from app” question, since it uses the same no-gradient design as Apple’s own Mail, I chose Mail for the comparison so as to have a native Apple app in the mix.)
Though NNW is arguably the best desktop RSS reader on the planet the iPhone version is not quite as mind blowing as its older brother.
NetNewsWire for iPhone is quick, reliable, and just the right balance of feature-richness versus simplicity. One of its most clever feature by far is the option to choose which feeds are downloaded and synced by your iPhone. Especially handy for those crazy folks that like to sit right in front of the RSS fire hydrant. However NNW feels more like a utility program built for accessing feeds, rather than a contrivance for enjoying them.
Mobile RSS Pro for Google RSS
Here is a clever app. Clearly the developers have put a ton of time and thought into this. And though a few of the features are simply re-works from some of Loren’s popular Tweetie 2 user interactions (such as swipe to reveal options below a listed item, and pulling down a list to refresh), they’ve got some additional great things going for them:
- MobileRSS Pro saves state perfectly (better than any of the feed readers listed here).
- It’s fast.
- It’s got a good-looking, ‘dark’ theme (it’s called “Black” but it’s actually blue).
- The way they implemented the unread badge count for each feed as a little tag that hangs over the edge of the feed list columns is very cute.
But despite all this, the app just doesn;t feel right due to a handful of little things which make it feel unbalanced:
- Such as the way my gmail account in shown large type at the top.
- The large vector icons for “All items”, etc., contrasted against the small favicons for the each feed.
- I only have one folder, and at the bottom of the root screen it says, “52 Feeds, 1 Folders” (oops).
- On the item view list of any given feed it has my gmail account name crammed into the back; arrow, with the title of the feed somewhat off center, and then a little “info circle” icon pushed to the right-hand side.
- It uses the familiar “share” / “export” icon at two different places in the app, yet for for two completely different things: (1) when viewing an individual article, tapping the icon brings up options to email the article’s link, save it to Instapaper, etc.; (2) when viewing an entire feed with its list of articles the same icon is there, and tapping it in this context gives you the options to sort by oldest/newest or to mark all as read.
With a little bit more polish and attention to detail, MobileRSS Pro could be a much more classy app.
Shaun Inman’s Fever is the best dressed web-based feed reader out there. (I wrote about it at length when it first came out last June.) And the mobile-optimized version of Fever is just as great. It is a delight to use, easy to read from, and is always in sync with itself (duh!).
The downside to Fever’s mobile version is the same as any other mobile web app: no state saving, no caching for offline reading, and little to no sharing/saving features.
I stopped using Fever about four or five months ago when I took a break from RSS feeds all together. Through the holiday season I hardly ever checked my feeds. Similar to the olden days I would visit individual sites on occasion by typing the URL in by hand; and I was happy.
So happy in fact I decided to slash my OPML and only subscribe to that small handful of sites which have a history of enriching my day.
I wanted to keep Fever fully loaded so as to make use of the Hot list on occasion, but I didn’t want the bloat of loading all those feeds in a browser every time I wanted to check RSS. So about six weeks ago I came back to NetNewsWire on my desktop and populated it with only 25 time-worthy feeds.
Now, my current RSS setup is Reeder on my iPhone and NetNewsWire on my Mac — all synced via Google Reader.
Reeder’s approach to their app design is brilliant. They’ve sought to bring back some of the nostalgia of reading while on a digital device by virtualizing the look and feel of an old, trusted book. And they did this without sacrificing the ‘touchability’ of a well-designed iPhone app.
The custom GUI goes beyond just the torn-paper markers and off-white background. The pop-up menu for sharing an item unique, being more akin to what you may see on Android OS instead of using the standard buttons on iPhone OS. And there are a few custom, intuitive swipe gestures which can be used to mark individual articles as read, unread, or starred.
In his review of Reeder on Download Squad, Nik Fletcher aptly wrote: “Reeder balances the familiar with custom elements, and as a result the interface looks great when browsing (and reading) content.”
So yes, Reeder is more unique than any of the aforementioned feed reading apps while still feeling familiar and friendly. It is by far the best feed reader app available in the App Store right now. Yet some of its cleverness feels too clever, and since Reeder is so close to being beyond great, its shortcomings seem so much shorter.
For instance, the status bar takeover is neat, but is it necessary? I find myself distracted by it every time open the app. It always makes me think of the stoplight countdown before a Super Mario Kart race begins: Beep. Beep. BEEEEEEEP!1
Secondly, the GUI is not contrasty enough. I love the texture and the vintage, off-white coloring, but it can be difficult to quickly see the difference between a read and an unread item, as well as the lighter colored text which makes it not quite as easy to read on. But this is a subtle quibble…
My primary gripe is the lack of saving state. Regardless of where you are in the app when you quit out of it you will always start back at the beginning when you re-launch it. Compare this against the convenience of state saving found in Instapaper. Instapaper actually saves two types of states: (1) those of individual articles: if you are reading an article and then return to the item list view, and then come back to that article later, it will open in the same place you left it; and (2) overall state: upon a re-launch of Instapaper you will always find it just as you left it.
A good feed reader is quick, reliable, and readable. But a great feed reader has to be all of those and more. It has to be clever, very polished, and, of course, fun.
My ideal feed reader app would look like some sort of marriage between Tweetie 2, Instapaper, and Reeder. It would have the sounds and UI elegance of Tweetie 2, the typographic and state saving bliss of Instapaper,2 and the uniqueness of Reeder. (For bonus points it would swipe the swipe-top-navigation-bar-to-go-home feature from Tweetie 2.)
I don’t want another iPhone feed reader, I want a better one. Because apps like Tweetie, Twitteriffic, Birdhouse, and Birdfeed are all outstanding Twitter clients — each one is clever, polished, and fun. And who says feed reading can’t be as enjoyable as tweeting?
Nerds are hard to shop for. We know precisely what we want, but we’re curiously passive about letting you know. Instead, we want you to know what we want without us having to say anything. Furthermore, the trick to being a great gift giver is to get someone the thing that they didn’t even know they wanted until they open it. Therefore, you’ll find below a list of gadgets, trinkets, and power tools.1
Except for that iPhone dock you see below, and the classic thermos, I own and use everything on this list. Each of these are great gifts, and I’d be proud to give any one of them to my other nerdy, design-savvy, coffee-loving, snowboarding friends or family members.
Twelve South BookArc: $50
Star Trek (2009 DVD): $21
Media Temple Web Hosting: $100
Pilot 0.40mm Gel Pen: $16 / dozen
Gotham Typeface: $199
Ride Concept Snowboard: $750
Miscellaneous Stocking Stuffers
If you are a manager you need 1:1s with your team. My Tuesday afternoon is pre-booked with my direct reports. I meet with them all, one at a time, and it’s worth every minute.
Since I don’t have the world’s most amazing memory, I use a form to jot down the things I want to talk about during our 30 minutes and to keep record of what they have to say. Also, since it’s not uncommon to end up talking about things we need to do, there needs to be a spot for action items.
At first I used a generic form I found on the Internet. But I kept getting frustrated by its horrendous layout and lack of flexibility. So I designed my own. And then re-designed it. And re-designed it again. I’ve gone through many different 1:1 forms over past Tuesdays, and I’ve finally found a minimal and flexible design that woks.
The font is Gotham Bold, each text box has a quarter-inch grid, the headings are written in very plain and inviting terminology, and the color is 1/0 so a lot of these can be printed for dirt cheap.
I keep used and empty forms in a binder near my desk. It helps me not think about Tuesday afternoon until it’s Tuesday afternoon, when I just pull out last week’s forms and jot down any left-over items onto this week’s. If something comes up in-between Tuesdays I just pull out the binder. Or if I’m not at my desk, there’s a text file on my Mac that I throw things into.
If you’d like to use the form, redesign it and make it better, or anything else, feel free to go nuts:
Work Associates looked to some of the Germanic influences on The Rakes’ third album, Klang, to create their entrancing typographic sleeve for the release and the supporting singles. Here’s how they did it…
There is an unfortunate side-effect to Websites that sport light text on a dark backgrounds: in general, the light-on-dark font appears as more bold than its dark-on-light counterpart.
The truth is, it is not actually more bold (in terms of the actual number of pixels that make up the stroke width), it simply appears more bold due to the anti-aliasing of the font by the browser and operating system.
It is easy to notice Web fonts rendering differently on different operating systems. But, fonts also render differently in different browsers, even within the same operating system.
There are three things I want to look at regarding font and background coloring, and how it renders in various browsers in Mac OS X.
First of all, we’ll compare the way dark text on a light background looks in a browser next to light text on a dark background in the same browser. Secondly, we’ll compare the rendering (anti-aliasing) of the text in various rendering engines. And finally, for fun, we’ll look at the un-expected differences in kerning.
On the left side the background color is
#a0a08b, and the font color is
#393831. The right side is the flip-flopped style of that —
background: #393831; color: #a0a08b; — and is the same styling as this website. The large, serif font is 16px Times New Roman (this site’s
h1 tag) and the smaller sans-serif is 11px Lucida Grande (this site’s default body font).
Safari 4 Public Beta
At first glance, it is easy to spot how the dark text on light background appears less bold than the light text on the dark background. Especially in Times New Roman. Regardless of which browser is rendering the font, comparing and contrasting the stroke of the letters between light and dark you can see how the dark letters on the light background appear thinner, sharper, and better rendered.
Also worth noting before moving on is that the two Gecko-run browsers (Firefox and Camino) render both the light text on dark and the dark text on light thinner than Safari or Opera do.
The main contributing factor to a font appearing as more or less bold is the color of the pixels that make up the stroke width. You’ll notice in the screenshots below, that the stroke for the leg of the “H” set in Times New Roman is five pixels wide. You have to look closely to count all five pixels of the H set on a light background, whereas you can easily see the five pixels of the light H on the dark background.
Browser-Specific Display of Pixel Colors Within the Stroke
As visible from the previous screenshots, when it comes to stroke width, the four browsers end up boiling down into two: Safari and Firefox.
Since Safari and Opera rendered identicaly in this comparison, I removed Opera. Firefox and Camino both use Gecko and they render identical to one another, so I removed Camino. This is convenient for the comparisons, because Safari and Firefox are the two most common browsers used in Mac OS X.
When looking at the below letters zoomed in, not only does it become clear as to why one color combination appears thinner than another, but it is fascinating to study the pixel-by-pixel differences between the colors and the strokes.
For example, compare how the Times New Roman “H” renders on the dark-background in Safari versus Firefox. In Safari, there is one pixel of space between the inside of the top and bottom serifs. However, in Firefox, they actually — though barely — touch.
Safari vs Firefox Rendering of Times New Roman at 1,100% (The cyan dots mark the pixel grid)
Safari 4 Beta
Safari 4 Beta
Safari vs Firefox Rendering of Lucida Grande at 2,250% (Again, The cyan dots mark the pixel grid)
Similar to the H set in Times New Roman, you can easily see how the anti-aliasing of this H set in Lucida Grande differs in contrast depending on the color it is placed on.
Safari 4 Beta
Safari 4 Beta
A final point of nerdery: beyond anti-aliasing differences, each browser also has its own opinion for kerning as well.
It is most noticeable between the “W” and the “o” in “World” for the font Times New Roman:
Safari, Camino, and OperaX-Height = 13px
Kerning = 4px
Firefox 3X-height = 13px
Kerning = 1px
And the Point is?
Not only does anti-aliasing vary based on operating systems, monitors and which fonts you’re rendering, it also can change based on the rendering engine of the browser you’re using to view the Web page. But, in general, RGB anti-aliasing of dark fonts on light backgrounds appear as more crisp than for light fonts on dark backgrounds.
- Originally I included screenshots from Safari 3 and Firefox 2, since they are still in wide circulation. But they rendered identical to their more-recent-version counterparts, and there comes a point where “thorough” crosses the line and becomes “too much information”. ↵
They’ve got fantastic book designs accompanied by interviews and/or clever and relevant info on the design, the layout, and the sometimes book itself.
Another intelligent piece by Lukas Mathis:
Designers who know how to code – or even worse, who have to implement their own designs – are beholden to two different, contradicting aspects of software creation. This corrupts their ability to come up with the best possible design.
One more John Gall link (this time to a video).
An interview from early 2007 with Vice President and Art Director of Vintage and Anchor Books, John Gall.
Like most creatives the brainstorming process usually involves some combination of the following: avoidance, procrastination, mild sedation, cups of coffee, staring out the window, long walks on a spring morning, lack of exercise, talking to myself in a funny voice, feelings of worthlessness, turning on the music, turning off
“An Archive of Book Cover Designs and Designers for the Purpose of Appreciation and Categorization.”
Designing cover art for books and music has got to be one of the most challenging of all professional graphic design jobs. Not only must you convey the subject matter and the feel of what’s inside, you must do so with such artistic brilliance as to get a non-motivated buyer to purchase the product with little more information than what they’ve briefly seen on the cover you designed.
A few covers that caught my eye were Paul Sahre’s design of The Bill from My Father, because it’s simple and intriguing; Christopher Brand’s design of For Whom the Bell Tolls, because I’m a fan of Ernest Hemingway; and John Gall’s design of Like You’d Understand Anyway, because it’s so absurd. (In fact you should browse through all of John Gall’s cover designs – they’re fantastic.)
A brilliantly clever resource for web typography.
Compare how web-standard fonts will render on a Mac or Windows machine and sort them by typeface, size or style. If you find a heading, body-text or something else you like just click “Get CSS”, and (un-surprisingly) you get the styling code.
Cameron Moll is speaking at An Event Apart in Chicago, and his session is called “The In-House Designer”. Here’s the description:
The fundamental principles of design remain constant irrespective of organization size, technical discipline, and the like. Yet within larger organizations, the dynamics of applying these principles, the ability to produce quality output, and overall job satisfaction are a challenge at times. Learn how to hone your technical skills, and, more importantly, your soft skills, to effectively grapple with the politics and red tape that are common to larger organizationsâ€”or, for that matter, to client services work.
A few days ago on his weblog, Cameron asked those of his readers who work for larger corporations to give feedback about the issues they face as in-house designers. Cameron gave a few bullet-points and then opened up the thread for comments.
Since I lead the in-house design team for a large non-profit ministry, I know exactly what a lot of the commenters on Cameron’s post are talking about.
After reading through all the comments, I pulled some of the issues that especially stood out to me, and gave my own experience of what I have done to solve (or work towards solving) these problems with our team of in-house designers.
Patrick Foster (#3):
Meetings. Incessant, irrelevant meetings . . .
Meetings are necessary, but overrated and usually crowded. Most meetings would be more successful if half the people in the room weren’t there.
When a client wants to meet with us I’ll have the project manager or myself sit down with the them. I am violent about not making my designers sit in on any non-essential meetings that would be a waste of their time. I’d rather let them hear the 3 minute update than the 2-hour conversation.
Someone anonymous (#5):
- Youâ€™re creativity and output can get stale
- Taking on multiple job roles due to re-orgs and downsizing
With my ministry, our other departments are our clients. Therefore being an in-house designer means you work with the same clients over and over. There is certainly a level of monotony that arises when that’s the case. However, I think it’s a byproduct of poor design.
When poor design solutions are offered, the design team doesn’t carry any authority to speak into the creative process. Thus the client becomes the creative director and the design team becomes a work-force, not a resource.
Encouraging the design team to grow in their creativity and productivity, helping them think outside the box, and letting them know it’s o.k. to fail will help the overall creative process. Once the design team has scored a few touchdowns the other departments will realized they’re playing ball with a different team.
The second point of taking on multiple jobs is the nature of the beast. There will always be the time when a specific skill-set is needed for a project, but it’s a one-off project that doesn’t warrant hiring someone new.
Brendan Cullen (#6):
Sadly, unrealistic deadlines are part of life when it comes to web and print design. In the years that I’ve been in the design industry, even a project with a realistic deadline that is moving along in a timely manner will still come down to crunch time.
My goal for our Marketing department is to lay out a long-term strategy for advertising and marketing efforts. Focusing on a handful of well-designed, well-funded projects that are high quality. Getting a plan ahead of time allows the design team to start work right away and have the freedom to create something excellent instead of something fast.
Stephen Cap (#8):
People need to know what you can do for them so when they encounter a problem on a project they know who can help them solve it.
This problem is completely in the boss’ court.
A good department director is one who knows his team like he knows his own children. Not only is he aware of what they’re capable of producing and designing, he also knows how they relate to their peers, how they respond to pressure and how they process new information.
Mike Busch (#14):
Design is rooted in solving problems for the end user, and too often I find myself many steps removed from the user Iâ€™m designing for. In this environment experimentation/innovation simply take too long, and instead Iâ€™m forced to go with proven solutions to avoid the time hangups. So, although Iâ€™m rolling out high quality work, it lacks that intangible qualities that come from experimentation.
Mike’s end-result can be reached from multiple paths: time constraints, too many cooks in the kitchen, etc. There are countless dynamics that can trip up the design process in a large corporation.
This, to me, is the number one issue facing our design team right now, and I have a lot of energy behind solving it. That will have to be saved for another post, but I will say this: great numbers doesn’t always equal great design.
Sheri Bigelow (#17):
Lack of clear communication. Or, lack of a desire to communicate. I have run into a lot of decision makers who just donâ€™t seem to care about the issues until they become a problem.
This is something I have had to force myself to do. I didn’t realize how easy it was to not communicate with my design team, and to just give out orders and directions.
We meet twice a month to cast vision and share about upcoming events and changes that normally wouldn’t be shared. This meeting has helped tremendously in getting the whole team on-board and excited about what’s around the corner. It gives them a greater ownership of the team and more motivation to do their job.
Justin Viger (#50):
. . . a big issue is not having a clearly defined role or specific job title.
This was the first thing I chose to address when I stepped in as director. The designers and programmers already knew what their jobs were, but the administrators and managers were overlapping in their responsibilities, and there was some breakdown in communication within our department.
I went with a bottom-up approach, and re-wrote the job descriptions for myself, the office manager, the department administrator, the web director, the creative director and the project manager; all in such a way that made their primary responsibility to serve the designers and programers.
This means they keep designers out of meetings whenever possible, make sure a designer’s projects are running smoothly, and help get needed answers.
When leaders lead by serving, everyone wins.
Another problem is, you have to learn accepting average quality work. Many might not agree, but in bigger organizations, you have to accept average quality work. Because the focus shifts to doing volume work, generating more revenue and profit growth rather than quality!
This was something I personally had to quickly learn how to deal with.
Where do you draw the line between time it takes to complete a job, and the quality of a job? As a designer I am super attentive to detail and I cringe when a job doesn’t nail the potential it could have had. But as a director, I have to keep things moving along with some rate of progress.
The truth is: if we settle for average quality work for the sake of “generating more revenue and profit”, the revenue will suffer in the long-run due to everything being surrounded by average design.
But if we take a short-term hit in revenue, and focus our efforts on excellence in design, in a few years the rewards will be much greater and the momentum will be much stronger.
Steve Rose (#51) gives some great advice to the designers:
…you have to learn how to fight, carve out territory, and collaborate with other groups in such a way that you fulfill the project requirements (most important) and maintain your artistic sanity. Its a battle â€” sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Thatâ€™s just the way it is.
Some incredible print work by French graphic designer, Fabien Barral. Don’t miss the Manouchian posters, the Harmonies Layout, or my favorite: the Louis Tinayre Global Communications Proposal (which ironically wasn’t chosen to be used by the client).
A Guide to Web Typography by i love typography -
A good list of some rule-of-thumb web type layouts. Particularly: “Remember the line-height CSS property; a good rule of thumb is line-spacing that’s at least 140% of your text size.”
Line height is one of the easiest things to set, yet is so often neglected.
This December the ministry I work for is hosting our annual young-adult conference. Last year we had 15,000 show up to our “living room”. This year we’re expecting 20,000, and it’s an all-hands-on-deck event to say the least. Every department is working at 110% to get their end of things ready.
For the past few years I have been the stage manager. Which means I make sure weird people don’t go on stage in their underwear with “I Heart God” written on their chest. It’s times like those that having a black belt comes in handy – which is why I was chosen for the job to begin with.
But this year stage managing isn’t my only job. Since I now work for the marketing department as a print designer I have an additional role this year. I’ve dubbed it “Official Creator of All Advertisements For the Conference Magazine”. Whereby “Conference Magazine” I’m talking about a 76 page booklet called the “Communicator”. It has all the information that could possibly be interesting to any one of the 20,000 college age folks attending our 4 day conference. Things like schedules, interviews, frequently asked questions, products for sale and how to grow a chia pet.
Needless to say, the past few weeks have been busy for all of us in the marketing department as we pull together information and feedback from all the departments and try to sort it into an intelligent, cohesive product.
But it has also been challenging to me in a unique way. The 16ish pages I’m in charge of consist of the advertisements for various departments around the ministry. For instance the high school ministry is hosting a conference next summer, so they need an ad. There is a new book out that the bookstore wants to sell. A new CD. A new teaching series. Etc… Each of these products and events need special treatment and some TLC while staying within the design style guidelines. My strong distaste for the “that’ll do” status-quo has forced me to think outside the box. And I have to admit that I don’t feel I have designed at a level I feel proud of.
Having to work on several simultaneous projects all with a short deadline and strict guidelines brought me to a new realization of my poverty in creativity and imagination. Programs do not a designer make.
The creative arts are a beautiful thing. With them we can share our own emotion and draw out the emotion of others. We can impart messages of hope, love, sorrow, joy and sobriety. There is much more to design than white space, the two-thirds rule, and font selection. Those tricks and elements surely help when we’re stuck, but I know for certain that they are not what real creative design is all about. I look at the elements and standards of good design as the launching pad to what creative design is really about: Creating.
As a writer and a designer the biggest challenge I face is to create something of substance. The issue isn’t so much what I’m writing about or advertising, but what I’m actually saying.
For instance, suppose I’m designing a poster for a conference: In a few months that conference will be over, but the printed poster will still be around, and (hopefully) the imprint it left on those who saw it will be too. I have an opportunity to impact those who see the poster.
And of course the same goes for an article I may write.
It’s not that every project I design or every article I write will, or should be, impactful and moving. Sometimes you’ve just got to get information across or you just want to write something off-the-cuff, or you just want to design something cool. But when I am trying to create something substantial in design or through writing I want to touch the hearts of people. That part of them which wants to love, live and succeed in life. If I can somehow give people courage to pursue those things — even a little bit — then to me, I’ve created something substantial.
If you are like me – and I suppose that you are or else you must find this website quite humdrum – then you probably have the desire for great impact.
And when I say great, I mean lots of people. So, in other words: You and I want to impact lots and lots of people. Right? Right.
This afternoon I was hanging out with our marketing team’s creative director. He and I were in his basement creating a physical mock-up of a press pack for my ministry. Somewhere during our two hours of small talk he mentioned an instance yesterday where a “strange bloke” (he’s from England) … (the creative director, not the bloke) came up to him (the creative director) and said, “You created the logo?! Wow! It’s amazing. It’s incredible. You’re awesome.”
(The bloke may have been from the south.)
As we both laughed about how odd that guy was there was this mutual understanding that he didn’t care who knew he had designed the ministry’s logo. And it was somewhere between the Exacto knife and the double sided tape that I realized I had crossed a line as a designer.
A line where numbers fade and depth matters. My ambitions as a designer have now changed, and I want a different kind of impact.
To me, designing something which thousands or millions may see is not nearly as great of a challenge and honor as designing something that one person will be deeply impacted by.
Oddly enough there is one piece of material that comes immediately to mind when I think of impact through design.
What’s odd isn’t that only one item comes to mind, it’s that the item is a piece of junk mail. I usually shred about 4 credit card offers a day so this piece came in the mail like a reuben sandwich after 8 years of tuna melts.
The thought, and energy (and money) that went into this particular piece of junk mail is astounding. It’s one of only two pieces of junk mail I have ever kept. (How many pieces of junk mail have you kept? Probably zero.)
It is an ad from Domtar advertising their Cougar paper.
With this folder, Domtar is stressing the importance of brand/identity. If you print on their paper your stuff will be sweet. They’ve included 6 examples of companies that printed their identity on the Cougar line of paper.
What sticks out to me even more than the layout of this 6 panel folder is the company featured in the 3rd panel from the right: OrangeSeed Design.
What is so impactful about OrangeSeed’s printed identity is the creativity and thought they put into each item. Their stationary is fun, professional and makes the client trust their ability to pull off great work. But that’s not all.
I have to admit that one of the most powerful elements to OrangeSeed’s identity is the paper it’s printed on.
The pocket folder has a spot for letters, samples, proposals, and more; as well as plenty of white space for notes. It’s well thought out and is printed on 130 lb. paper. The letterhead is printed on 80 lb.
They have also designed printed custom postcards to mail to clients. These also are printed on 130 lb. paper.
Very few words are needed to convey importance and even reverence to the recipient.
Their business card is also printed on 130 lb. card stock.
It is amazing to me a company’s printed identity can make such an impact.
I find that I would much rather design a great piece of work that really touches even just a small handful of people – something that inspires them to greatness and beauty – much more so than being able to point out to all my friends that – “Hey! I made that Budweiser Bill Board.”
Dan Pitts – like many of us – works a 9 to 5 and does freelance on the side. He’s a great guy and does some equally great work. His freelance gig flys under the name of e210 Design.
One thing I love about Dan is his passion towards design. On his bio he says, “Design is more than making something that looks great or sells, it’s a way to encourage and serve the client.”
There are many designers out there whom are creating with no purpose or passion behind their work. Dan on the other hand is really seeking to enhance his own art, and bring something quality and worthwhile to the design community.
I had the chance to ask him some questions about the work he does and (of course) the Mac he does it on. Enjoy.
- SHAWN BLANC: Hey Dan. Tell me about what you do that your bio page doesn’t say.
- DANN PITTS: Currently I’m working a full time job that I have had for 9 years now. At my 9-5 we focus on catalogs and gift books with some book covers. After my first son was born I found that my creativity (and my wallet) needed a boost so I went out to find some different kinds of work. So for the past four years I’ve built up a network of clients and other designers and have gotten to the point where I have steady work coming in. I am limited to how much and what kind of work I can do since I usually have to work at night. I have chosen to focus on book cover and web design. I’ve found that variety really brings a joy to designing and a boost to creativity.
- SHAWN: When you first stepped into freelance design work on the side what was the biggest challenge you faced?
- DAN: The quick answer is finding work. The details of that answer is that I had to set up a website portfolio that I could point people to. Problem was I didn’t have much work (and no book covers) to post. At the time I didn’t put anything from my 9-5 on there and all I had were a couple logo’s I had done for friends and a website I had worked on for our church. So I had to create my website (which has been the hardest client I’ve worked for) and then create these covers that were going to show what I could do. I kept running into a wall where I felt they just weren’t good enough or could be improved but eventually I just had to get the site posted and some covers up to start the process. Looking back they were pretty weak but you have to start somewhere. Thankfully for me the first batch of emails I sent out looking for work produced a client I really enjoy working for and they have sent me many projects so now I can post actual work.
- SHAWN: Why Book Covers?
- DAN: First, I was already doing it at my 9-5 job so I had some experience in it. Second, from a business standpoint it’s really a great niche, if you can get in with a publisher and they like your stuff they will probably give you repeat work. Most important for me is that it’s a single piece of art and it’s goal is to catch your attention and lead you into the book. So each book is a new challenge with new solutions and is inspired by the work someone else has done so it kind of has that team aspect to it. I also like the finality of being able to see a project that is printed (as opposed to the web work I do).
- SHAWN: Why Web Design?
- DAN: Well web design is obviously the future, if the future isn’t here already. The ability to communicate information on the web is so amazing, I wonder if we don’t take it for granted already (and I’m still amazed when I run across companies that don’t have a site or they have a bad one and it’s not a priority for them). It’s relatively inexpensive and can be so current you can do things you could never do with print; podcasts, video podcasts, pdf documents you can download, it’s all so amazing. Then to think that the only thing that changes between the fortune 500 company and a church website or a small business of 4 employees is the content, that makes the design that much more important. I’m comparing it to print where a major company might print something out on a huge press run with high weight, glossy paper, special inks, embossed and a church is making black and white copies in there office. Not with the web, each site is viewed on the same computer with the same browser.
- SHAWN: If web design is the future, what do you think that will mean for print?
- DAN: Well there are people with a lot more experience and knowledge that I would look to for that answer but here’s my take. I’ve seen it effect some areas of print already. My 9-5 job, one of their main clients is a catalog company and the web has effected their business dramatically. I don’t know if print will ever go away but I think it will serve more and more as a way to lead people to websites. Print can never keep up with the web when it comes to current content, but there is something to be said for the ability to hand someone a business card rather than sending an email. For books, I have a hard time imagining the day when a 200-400 page book is sold in an electronic format and tens of thousands of people buy it. I know some of the reference books I have worked on come with a cd that has the information in pdf format also but that is an extra aid, not the main product. Even writing this though I have that feeling that if I see this in 15 years I will look back and laugh. Who knows, I guess that’s why I try and have my feet in both.
- SHAWN: That’s a great answer. I think the concept of using print to point to web is excellent. This allows for more focus on design with printed material, allowing the content to be primarily web-based. Changing topics a little bit. Let’s talk about your workflow. For starters what does your Mac setup consist of?
- DAN: Right now I’m nearing the end of a good run with my G4 20 inch imac, 160gb hard drive with 1gig memory. I’m in need of upgrading the programs and computer but here’s a screenshot of what I’m using now.
- SHAWN: What other Apple gear have you used?
- DAN: I remember my dad getting one of the first macintosh computers for christmas when I was younger. In high school that’s all I used and in college being a fine arts major I didn’t have to use the computer a whole lot so I always found the mac lab, just happened to pick the right profession I guess. I started freelancing on the first generation imac, went to a G3 powerbook with a seperate monitor (the 21 inch apple crt’s which weighed about 200 pounds). Then got a hand me down G4 titanium powerbook from my dad before the imac. The imac has been with me the longest.
- SHAWN: I have always loved the titanium PowerBooks. I remember when they first came out. That was actually my first time in an Apple store. They will always be a classic to me. So when you do a freelance project for print, like a book cover, what does your workflow look like?
- DAN: Right now it’s usually make client calls on my way home from work. Then after being a father and husband for a while I start working around 9 or 10. I’ll start by sketching out stuff on paper and trying to ask, what problem am I trying to solve. Then I’ll look at websites or books, try to gather information, scans or images I might want to use, nice fonts, anything. Then if possible I like to let that kind of soak in and have a direction before I start working on the computer. Usually that direction will then move into other ideas but I found that if I don’t have a place to start and focus I can go anywhere and waste a lot of time on ideas that don’t work. An important part of my workflow seems to be the time that elapses between sending the first round out and then getting the corrections back. I like having that time to detach from the project and come back with fresh eyes, and usually the art director will narrow it down to what comp they want to work on. I have to refine and keep polishing it. I hope time and experience will change that a bit and I can provide great stuff first round, but I have a ways to go still.
- SHAWN: So if you work a 9-5, and do freelance work starting around 9 or 10, how much sleep do you normally get?
- DAN: Sleep? Usually if work is moderately busy I’ll get 5 hours a night. If it’s really busy maybe around 4. I’m not one of those guys that can pull an all nighter (not even when I was in college). At a certain point my eyes just stop working and I have found that I’m not really productive anyways. No matter how much Mountain Dew I drink. I could handle it better when we just had our son but now I have twin girls (a year and a half old) and it’s been much harder. Every now and then I need to go to bed at 10:30.
- SHAWN: I bet that’s something we can all relate to.
A good read for anyone who’s not 100% satisfied with their website’s brand.
As a designer, this site has been a massive resource.
As internet surfing and aimless link following will do, I ended up somewhere unexpected: Behavior Design. I was browsing through their job listings and a few things caught my eye and reminded me of one of the most invaluable design lessons I have ever learned.
What I noticed were the job requirements for their Design Lead and Visual Designer openings.
Candidates must have the following qualities:
- Attention to detail and good people-skills
- Self-motivation, discipline, quick-learner, organized
- Excellent verbal, oral and written communication skills
The story goes like this…
When I stepped out of pro-bono work a few years ago my first design job was a book cover.
I was nervous, and I did some research of how to work with and bill clients as a freelance designer. But the forums I read only filled my mind with horror stories of dead-beat clients that over demanded and under paid. I started out with some horrible expectations of how the project was going to work itself out in addition to over confidence in my design ability – which led to many surprises on my end.
For instance: I was shocked when my initial design concept wasn’t approved and they wanted another. Then I was shocked when they wanted to do a custom photo shoot using people they knew instead of the stock photos I had put in.
Since I low-balled my design fee I had to ask for more money at each ‘extra step.’ By the end of the project the invoice was nearly double the original quote. And because of all the (bad) advice I had read online I was extremely pushy about their deposit and the terms of payment.
In fact, I never even had a decent conversation with the client (who – as a matter of fact – was also a friend) about his and my expectations for the work-flow, communication, payment, etc…
Once the book was printed I met up with my friend the project manager to get some swag. He asked if he could talk to me for a few minutes and give some advice. He proceeded to tell me about my obvious lack of people skills. He called out each area of ‘advice’ I had learned from those forums as something that had put a negative pressure on the project and made him feel uncomfortable, and gave me ideas of how to do things better.
That five minute conversation revolutionized the way I have done design work ever since.
If I had just been open and honest at the beginning, laid out my expectations, and allowed some room for “fudge” in my design fee then the whole project would have gone smoother and been more fun for all of us.
That was the first and last time I ever acted like a high-and-mighty graphic designer who treats his clients as if they were perpetually inconveniencing him. Now when I receive a job-request the first sentence in my email reply starts with “thank you.”
Thanks for asking me to do this job. I would love to. If I can get more details about the project and a time-frame then I’ll be able to let you know if I can do it and how much I think it will cost. Then we can move forward with the logistics if you would like to.
I want my clients to know I am honored to work for them, and I am proud to take on their job. Even if we are professionals, aren’t we still just folks?
[This article is part of the Freelancing 101 Series]
Make a list. Tested typefaces that are rock-solid reliable for print, web, or both.
Cameron wrote this nearly a year ago, and I have referenced it several times in my own work and when helping others.
Linking it here for archive’s sake.
Coda has opened my eyes to the possibility of an extremely easier CSS/HTML/FTP workflow. But I’m not sold just yet … if you know of an app you think beats Coda for my amature web-foo, please send me an email.