Past Blast

Among the pleasures of running an independent personal site is the accidental discovery of an ancient page, such as the version of this site’s contact page from the 1990s that I stumbled onto this morning.

“We’ve got mail!” the old site cheerfully announces, complete with a meaningless header image. The image, like the header and navigation typography, is pixellated to convey “webbiness”—in case you forgot that you were looking at a website in a browser, I guess. “Got mail” is a play on America On-line (kids, ask your parents). “We” is the royal first person plural with which I used to write this site, despite being its sole author. I’d gotten into the habit of “we” from writing copy on entertainment sites for clients like Warner Bros. It made their sites, and mine, seem bigger. It was also an ongoing, self-deprecating joke, although not everyone got it.

As I look at this old page, the copy still feels like me, and it also, if I may say so, anticipates the playful directional body copy of Web 2.0 sites like Flickr by about a decade. (Could be coincidence. Derek Powazek and Heather Champ also wrote jovial instructional copy at the time. Others may have done so as well.)

I’m a lot more ashamed of the design. I’m particularly abashed at:

  • My abysmally stupid effort to straddle the “liquid layout” and “fixed width layout” genres by designing a page that doesn’t work as liquid or fixed. Possibly the only web design ever to put peanut butter and bicycle chains together and call it a sandwich. It should have stayed fixed, and the text and input fields should have matched the width of the illustration and header.
  • Alignment, alignment, alignment.
  • Tiny type with seemingly random hierarchy. In my defense, remember that in those days all type was pixellated. I picked 11px Georgia and 9px Verdana because those sizes looked great in that pixellated world. Still. Feh.

If your old work doesn’t shame you, you’re not growing.

It’s nice to look back and feel that you’ve made progress. When you look at old work, it should suck glaringly and you should cringe painfully. But there should also be some germ within it that you’re not ashamed of—some spark of talent or inspiration that connects to what you do now.

37 thoughts on “Past Blast

  1. Couldn’t agree more. Though, I try not to look at my work from the prior month and cringe. Any time I stumble across work of mine from several years ago, or further back to the truly dark ages of font tags and table mania, I usually feel a mixture of nostalgia and something akin to a punch in the stomach as I marvel at how much it “sucks glaringly.” And, as you have eloquently pointed out here, that’s a very, very good thing.

    Thanks for all that you do.

  2. And still we are sometimes stuck showing our old work in our portfolios because we hope that we are indeed our own worst critic.

  3. Will you update /i/ to reflect the wholesome wonderful goodness of the current orange design?

  4. I remember the “we”. I think you were the first web site that I noticed it, probably because it came up a lot. You’ve always been frequently self-referential and consistent.

    I’m getting old. I remember that design like it wasn’t that long ago.

  5. I remember that design, with the dude staring me down from within the navigation header! Nostalgia.

    If it’s any consolation, the computer terminals at my university’s library don’t have ClearType/font-smoothing turned on, so all your fonts are still pixellated.

  6. I’ve considered going back and re-doing my old work. I’ve deleted my old Geocities, so it’s just a matter of one site I did last year.
    I’m sure the typography of my current work will soon shame me, but at least normal people won’t be able to see that.

    I’ve been loathe to write “we” or “I” on cozycabbage.com, because “I” sounds far too personal, like I’m one little person trying to do too much, and “we” would be a lie. So I focus on objective text and “you.” I have no clue if it’ll work well.

  7. It’s not published anymore, but I came across the PSD files for the design of the first version of my site the other week. That made me shudder. But like you said, it’s a good thing. A little reminder that you’re moving forwards.

    And I used the “we” too, possibly trying to sound like a big agency rather than just a one-man freelance band. And I still see plenty of lone rangers out there doing the same now.

  8. “Possibly the only web design ever to put peanut butter and bicycle chains together and call it a sandwich”

    That has brightened my morning considerably. What a wonderfully odd analogy, Jeffrey.

    I actually dug out a load of work I’d done at university the other week, and suffice to say, if I could go back in time I would give myself a huge slap and scream “Whadda ya doin’?!” (some hideous flourescent greens/yellows, really dodgy gifs, whizz-bang Flash-iness)

    Like you said though; it’s all a sign of personal growth which can only be a good thing.

  9. Remember that design? I stole that design!

    Actually I improved upon your table of contents for my personal site back in ’97.

    Thanks for all the years of inspiration.

  10. If it’s any consolation, the computer terminals at my university’s library don’t have ClearType/font-smoothing turned on, so all your fonts are still pixellated.

    !!!

    (Actually, not that surprising, sadly.)

  11. If it’s any consolation, the computer terminals at my university’s library don’t have ClearType/font-smoothing turned on […]

    …nor does any Windows PC with default settings. That’s why using Helvetica for copy is maybe the most stupid thing web 2.0 has brought us.

  12. And hardly any of your average Mac-fanboy-designers will ever notice, I might add. ;) Poor visitors.

  13. nor does any Windows PC with default settings.

    Despite designers’ pleas to Microsoft over the past six years.

    Windows default settings are optimized for low-end PCs with low-end monitors, low-end graphics cards, and barebones RAM.

    This, even though hardware, monitors, and RAM pricing have plummeted over the past decade, so that nearly every PC in America, at least, is more than capable of displaying millions of colors, ClearType, and so on.

    Based on the bells and whistles that ship with today’s relatively low-cost HPs and Dells, etc., Microsoft should turn the fancy features on by default in its last three operating systems. But, no.

    Sad.

    And hardly any of your average Mac-fanboy-designers

    So caring about typography, usability, and design makes you a Mac “fanboy-designer?” That’s a clearly reasoned attitude.

  14. Microsoft should turn the fancy features on by default in its last three operating systems. But, no.

    Amen, Jeff. But until then…
    And, talking about Helvetica (Neue), your footer copy is not really readable either even with ClearType enabled, Jeff. ;)

    So caring about typography, usability, and design makes you a Mac “fanboy-designer?” That’s a clearly reasoned attitude.

    No, let me put it this way: Mac designers a) dont suffer from this MS problem and/or b) dont know about it. That’s why so many “cutting-edge” design projects are unreadable on windows PCs (used by a vast majority of our visitors). They’re online nevertheless and noone seems to care.

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  18. If your old work doesn’t shame you, you’re not growing.

    Growth is the essence of life.
    To grow ourselves and to grab our share of pride n respect from the hostile world..its necessary. For one survival too.

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