Ready For My Closeup

Ready For My Closeup

DanielByrne [warning! Flash site with JavaScript auto-expand full-screen window] came to Happy Cog‘s New York office to shoot me for an upcoming feature story in .Net Magazine, “the UK’s leading magazine for web designers and developers.”

What can I say? I’m a sucker for the gentle touch of a make-up pad. Or of anything, really. I love this photo (shot by Byrne with my iPhone) because it captures the fact that I’m still really a four-year-old. It also shows what a genuine photographer can do with even the humblest of tools.

[tags]photos, photography, shoot, danielbyrne, photographer, zeldman, jeffreyzeldman, profile, bio, interview, .net, .netmag, .netmagazine, .netmagazineUK, myglamorouslife, iphone, candid, shoots, shots, Apple[/tags]

To be of use to others is the only true happiness. Although a 160 GB iPhone would also be nice.

I was hoping Apple would announce a new generation of iPhones with hard drives sufficient to hold an entire music collection plus a handful of videos. Failing that, I was hoping Apple would announce a new generation of iPods that were exactly like iPhones (sans the phone), with hard drives sufficient to hold an entire music collection plus a handful of videos. What Apple announced was an iPhone without the phone.

So I bought a 160 GB iPod Classic. I already have an iPhone, and you can borrow it when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

The Classic holds my digital music collection (currently, 31 GB) plus five or six movies digitized at high enough quality to play on a Cinema Screen, and has acres of drive space to spare. I feel that I will never fill it up, although I’ve thought that about every hard drive I’ve ever owned, and I soon filled them all.

The Classic is new and shiny and I almost never use it because the classic iPod interface feels prehistoric after using an iPhone. (Indeed, half the things I do on a computer feel awkward compared to doing them on an iPhone. Click on a friend’s street address in your iPhone. Wow! Now do the same thing on your computer. Ick.)

There are about five movies my toddler loves on the Classic, but she won’t watch them on the Classic. She wants the iPhone and asks for it by name, like cats do for Meow Mix.

The Classic is good for plugging your whole music collection into your stereo. Or it will be when the dock arrives. The Classic does not ship with a dock, and no dock is made for it, but you can order a $50 Universal Dock from Apple. The order takes four weeks to process plus another week to ship. Be kind and call those five weeks a month. A month after unpacking my new Classic I will be able to hook it into my stereo and charge it at the same time—something I expected to be able to do on the day it arrived.

The frustration of that wish is not tragic, but it is not particularly smart marketing, either. This, after all, is a product for people who ardently wish to carry their entire music collection plus a handful of movies in their pocket. Wish fulfillment is the product’s whole reason for being. (Well, wish fulfillment plus the execrable state of air travel, which can turn a jaunt between Chicago and New York into an odyssey of despair and boredom. Carry a Classic and those five hour delays fly by, even when nothing else is flying.)

The guaranteed nightmare of even the shortest business trip aside, what do you do with the Classic? Well, I sometimes bring it to the gym. Because sometimes at the gym, it takes a while to find the right groove. The iPhone’s 7.3 GBs aren’t enough to hold a sufficient musical selection to ensure a great workout.

On the other hand, I can’t answer a business call on my iPod. So even though the Classic gives me lots more music to choose from, I mostly bring my iPhone to the gym.

No iPod is an island, or should be.

Did I mention that the iPhone has a gorgeous, high-resolution screen and the iPod does not? Then there’s the whole gesturing with your fingertips business. How nice that feels, and how weird and slow and un-Apple-like it now feels to go back to the clickwheel that once felt so poshly smart and modern.

I tell you this. If Apple can put a capacious, chunked-out hard drive on the iPhone—even if doing so makes the phone a tad clunkier—the company will have on its hands its hottest convergent technology box yet. And I’ll be the first in line.

Only 95 shopping days ’til Christmas, Steve.

[tags]apple, ipod, iphone, comparison, shopping[/tags]

Happy Cog redesigns, 2/7/2007

Mr Mancini, my high school science teacher, grew a mustache when he began to dye his grey hair black. The dye job progressed by degrees. He was a little grey, then less grey. Nobody noticed; his mustache mesmerized us.

On the day Mr Mancini went all black, he shaved his mustache. All we noticed when he bounced into the classroom was his big, smooth-shaven face. He had to tell us that he’d changed his hair. As a man, he wanted to protect the secret of his vanity, but as a science teacher he felt morally obliged to explain the psychological trick he’d played on us.

Good redesigns work like my teacher’s hair. They are always an opportunity to fix or change a lot of things that aren’t obvious on the pretty new surface. Happy Cog has just redesigned.

It started with a sentence

The new version of Happy Cog’s website had to better convey how our agency’s business has diversified. We are first and always designers for hire. We are also publishers, whose micro-empire is expanding. And we have lately co-founded a high-profile event series.

The old site told the “design for hire” story. The redesign had to tell all three stories.

Usually this would be done by creating a navigation bar with labels like “We design,” “We publish,” and “We present.” But labels don’t connect; they separate. Navigation labels could point to three separate story-lines, but they would not make the case that ours was a holistic enterprise—that our conference, our publications, and our client services business were one.

For some time, I’ve been thinking about the primacy of words in the user interface. A sentence, I felt, could present our three businesses, and by its very nature, connect them in the reader’s mind.

The primary navigation interface had to be a sentence. And so it is.

The drawing board

One sentence led to another. I found it easy to write the new Happy Cog and easy to spin an organic architecture out of the opening sentence. But hell if I could design the thing.

I’d always designed Happy Cog; it was my baby; but every time I opened Photoshop or took crayon to paper, the results were a muddle. Maybe it was because my brain was barreling along on architecture and copy. Or maybe there are only so many times a single designer can take a new look at the same site.

I tapped Jason Santa Maria (or maybe he tapped me). Jason has one of the keenest minds and two of the freshest eyes in the business. He makes legibility beautiful. What the Ramones did with three chords, he does with two system fonts. His designs always spring from the user and the brand proposition.

His first effort sucked. (I was secretly relieved.)

A month later, Jason came back with pretty much the design you now see at happycog.com. (I rejoiced.) The painting at the top, which makes the design, is by A List Apart illustrator Kevin Cornell.

The group

We fleshed out all the pages in Photoshop or as “copy wireframes” and then called on Happy Cog’s Daniel Mall to create lean, semantic markup, beautifully optimized style sheets, and all required PHP and JavaScript contraptions. Dan also set up the WordPress blog.

Dan is as good as anyone I’ve worked with. He is super-fast yet also deeply thoughtful. We spent many a mini-session debating such things as whether the About page and its subsidiaries should include microformats. We decided not.

Mark Huot migrated the new site, a job that involved considerable strategy as well as expertise. Rob Weychert contributed additional art direction and Jon Aldinger offered additional programming.

The redesign tells our story and gives us room to breathe and grow. It is also (I think) quite pretty and thoroughly appropriate. We hope you like it, and we invite you to subscribe to Happy Cog’s RSS feed to stay abreast of all matters Coggish.

Other perspectives

Jason Santa Maria and Daniel Mall have written their perspectives on the Happy Cog redesign. They’re swell! Jason’s writeup includes information about the Happy Cog Philadelphia Open House, featuring the live music of Comhaltas. If you’re around, please visit.

[tags]happycog, design, redesigns, webdesign, jasonsantamaria, danielmall, danmall, zeldman[/tags]

StarTAC Memories

I’m doing something different for this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival. Instead of giving a talk or participating in a panel, I’ll be sharing my mobile phone with anyone who asks. Call it a micro-meetup.

Dust off your memories. I proudly carry the Motorola StarTAC. One day it will be as collectible as a Bulova watch from the 1950s, or the first-generation iPod. I acquired it before September 11th, 2001 and have held onto it all these many days and nights.

Lots of sleeker phones with richer features have come along over the years, but their interfaces always reeked, and I’m particular about interfaces: I like them simple, clear, and functional. I never felt the need to replace my Motorola StarTAC until I saw the iPhone.

After SXSW I will retire my faithful servant and switch to Apple’s new device.

If you see me at SXSW, whip out your digital camera (or camera-phone), and ask to see my Motorola StarTAC. We’ll commemorate the micro-event with a photo, and share the photos in a special Flickr group.

See you in Austin!

Update: they keep dragging me back in

So I’m on a panel after all.

Get Unstuck: Moving From 1.0 to 2.0

Room 18ABCD
Monday, March 12th
10:00 am – 11:00 am

Moderator: Liz Danzico, Daylife

Kristian Bengtsson, Creative Dir, FutureLab
Chris Messina, Co-founder, Citizen Agency
Luke Wroblewski, Principal Designer, Yahoo!
Jeffrey Zeldman, Founder, Happy Cog

[tags]micro-meetups, SXSW, SXSWi, Motorola, StarTAC, mobile, cell, phones, iPhone, Apple, memes, flickr, photos[/tags]

Return of the Son of XHTML Fist

Issue No. 227 of A List Apart, For People Who Make Websites,™ heralds the revivification and expansion of the A List Apart Store and T-Shirt Emporium.

Redesign/Realign shirt

We are now offering new T-shirt designs that tell the world you are a rebel, a maverick, an original in a world of copies (and you know HTML): Web 2.0, -9999px, and Redesign/Realign. We’ve also stocked gently remixed classics: Warning Sign and XHTML Fist AKA Six Fingers of Doom. And, yes, traditionalists can still stock up on timeless, unchanged ALA logo shirts, avec wreath.

When you’ve donned your shirt, strike a pose in our spanking new (and hard-to-pronounce) A List Apart Shirts Flickr Group.

Testing proves testing works

As you can imagine, choosing the right T-shirt production and fulfillment partner required a massive mental effort, supported by modern research methodologies. We studied all the production and fulfillment companies out there, analyzing market data and poring over spreadsheets. But we didn’t stop there.

We completed a 72-hour card-sorting exercise (with no bathroom breaks), ran double-blind focus groups, and even hired our friends who used to call themselves information architects.

Sure, it was work—weeks of it. But it was worth it. Our grueling, science-based efforts paid off by revealing, as no sloppy shortcuts could have, the best possible choice of vendors. In short, we hired Jason’s wife’s company (also Nif’s!). They are awesome. (More shirt coverage is available at Jason Santa Maria dot com.)

All this … and content, too!

But this issue of A List Apart is not merely about re-opening our store’s doors. It’s about opening your mind. And in this issue, Rob Swan and Matthew O’Neill help us do just that:

In Defense of Difficult Clients

by Rob Swan

We’ve all had bad clients. All too rarely do we find ourselves working for someone who understands what we do, respects our craft, and defers to our judgement. But do bad clients get a bad rap? Can we turn bad client relationships into good learning experiences? Can our worst clients help us better understand and articulate our highest beliefs about our calling? Well, anyway, Rob Swan thinks so. Read this and see what you think.

Super-Easy Blendy Backgrounds

by Matthew O’Neill

Gradients and bevels, bevels and gradients. Bevels, bevels, bevels. Gradients, gradients, gradients. And sometimes, drop-shadows. But mostly, and especially, gradients. Nothing says “Buy me, Google,” like a nice gradient background—especially in a navigation bar. Wouldn’t it be swell if you could get all that goodness without opening Photoshop every time you needed a little gradient bliss? Matthew O’Neill explains how you can. Happy coding and selling out!