Happy Cog and Airbag merge

Now the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. Happy Cog™ and Airbag Industries announce the merger of our firms, effective today, August 3, 2009. The resulting super-agency will be called Happy Cog, and will maintain studios in three cities:

  1. Happy Cog East, in Philadelphia, directed by President Greg Hoy;
  2. Happy Cog West, in San Francisco (the newest branch), directed by President Greg Storey; and
  3. Happy Cog Studios, the original, in New York City, directed by little old me.

The connection between our agencies goes back years. Greg Storey tells that tale.

From an internal perspective, this merger of people and resources, freely shared across all three agencies, means we can now bring boutique-style craftsmanship to any size job. If you’re a client, you no longer have to choose between “big enough” and “good enough” when selecting a vendor. You can hire a big agency that designs and cares like a small one.

With the mix of people now at our disposal, you can expect exciting product development as well.

Staffed up and pumped up, Happy Cog East and Happy Cog West will specialize in client services, web design, and development. Happy Cog Studios in New York, while also designing selected websites, will focus on business strategy and content development via A List Apart Magazine, An Event Apart design conference, and other ventures.

None of us knows exactly where all this is going. But we like who we’re going with—and we trust them with our lives. More than that, we trust them with our reputation.

Onward!

Read more

[tags]airbag, happycog, merger, webdesign, greghoy, gregstorey[/tags]

Cognition

Two greatly gifted user experience professionals are contributing their time and talent to Happy Cog.

Kevin Hoffman

A veteran strategist and instructor, user experience director Kevin Hoffman creates compelling online experiences via patient research and sparkling creative insight. Prior to joining Happy Cog, he spent more than a decade building sites, developing strategies, and leading projects for colleges and universities in Baltimore. Kevin joins our Philadelphia office; we are thrilled to have him.

Whitney Hess

Co-inventor of a patented search tool for American Express, user experience consultant Whitney Hess has a bachelor’s in writing, a master’s in Human-Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon, and ten years’ experience making complex sites work beautifully. Her work for the New York office of Happy Cog will soon bear public fruit; we are delighted to have her on our team.

Welcome, Kevin and Whitney.

[tags]Whitney Hess, Kevin Hoffman, UX, userexperience, happycog, talent[/tags]

Housing Works launch

We call ourselves web designers, but sometimes we are more than that. Sometimes we get to participate, in however small a way, in something much larger and more important than ourselves.

Started in 1990 by four members of ACT UP, Housing Works helps people who are homeless and have HIV or AIDS. Housing Works not only saves lives, it restores dignity, purpose, and hope to those whom society has cast aside. Happy Cog is honored and humbled to have worked with this amazing organization and to announce the relaunch of the Housing Works website, redesigned by Happy Cog.

Our thanks to Housing Works’s Christopher Sealey and his team—we bow endlessly in your direction, sir. And my thanks and commendation to the amazing people at Happy Cog who did the work:

[tags]Housing Works, AIDS, HIV, homeless, homelessness, advocacy, hope, happycog, work[/tags]

Books-a-Million

Pssst. New Happy Cog Studios design. Books-A-Million Online Bookstore. It looks even better when you start using it. Details soon at happycog.com.

Update: A Books-A-Million case study is now available for your reading pleasure at Happy Cog dot com.

[tags]books-a-million, happycog, design, webdesign[/tags]

What happened here

It’s been a month for milestones.

On May 31, my site turned 13 years old.

On June 7, making the previous milestone and all others possible, I had 15 years without a drink or drug.

On Saturday June 28, Carrie and I celebrated five years of marriage by hiring a babysitter, eating a meal, and bumming around the east village.

Between these landmarks came a flight to Pittsburgh and back-to-back train trips from New York to Washington DC, and Boston.

In the last-named burg we put on a two-day design conference for people who make websites.

At home during this same period, our daughter outgrew last month’s clothes, began swimming, got a big-girl bed, attended and graduated summer camp, stopped being even slightly afraid of school, hung out with her grandma, and advanced so much intellectually and emotionally that it would qualify as science fiction if it weren’t the lived experience of ’most everyone who has kids.

Between all that came the usual tumult of client meetings, client projects, and potential new business, giddily intermingled with the publication of two A List Apart issues. Make that three issues as of tomorrow.

Been busy.

If I had to pick an image to symbolize the month, it would be me on a rerouted slow Amtrak train from Boston to New York, using an iPhone and one finger to peck out a strategic response to an 80 page RFP.

That would have been the image, but now there’s a new one. For now there’s today.

On the calendar it is Happy Cog New York’s moving day. Today I pack up what for 18 years was either my apartment or Happy Cog’s New York City headquarters (and was most often both).

I hit bottom in this place. Ended a short-lived, tragically wrong first marriage. Rebuilt my life one cell at a time. Found self. Found love. Became a web designer. Found the love of my life. Married well, had a magical child. Wrote two books. Made money and lost it a couple of times over. Founded a magazine. Co-founded a movement. Worked for others. Freelanced. Founded an agency. Grew it.

It all happened here.

This gently declining space that has been nothing but an office since December and will soon be nothing at all to me, this place I will empty and vacate in the next few hours, has seen everything from drug withdrawal to the first stirrings of childbirth. Happiness, anguish, farting and honeymoons. Everything. Everything but death.

Even after our family moved, the place was never empty. The heiress to an American fine art legacy came here, to this dump, to talk about a potential project. Two gentlemen who make an extraordinary food product came here many times to discuss how their website redesign was going.

When I wasn’t meeting someone for lunch, I went downstairs to this wonderful little place to take away a small soup and a sandwich, which I ate at my desk while reading nytimes.com. Helming the take-away lunch place are three Indian women who are just the sweetest, nicest people ever. The new studio is just far enough away that I will rarely see these ladies any more. I will miss them.

I will miss Josef, the super here, with his big black brush mustache and gruff, gently-East-European-accented voice. He will miss me, too. He just told me so, while we were arranging for the freight elevator. We were kind to him after his heart attack and he has been kind to us since he arrived—the last in a long series of supers caught between an aging building and a rental agent that prefers not to invest in keeping the place up. The doormen and porters, here, too, some of whom I’ve known for nearly twenty years, my God. Can’t think about that.

I will miss being able to hit the gym whenever I feel like it and shower right in my workplace.

And that is all.

This is the death of something but it is the birth of something more. We take everything with us, all our experiences (until age robs us of them one by one, and even then, they are somewhere—during the worst of my mother’s Alzheimer’s, she reacted, however subtly, to Sinatra). We take everything with us. The stink and glory of this place will stay on me even when we are set up in our slick new space. It will be with me long after the landlord’s collection letters have stopped. This place, what happened here, will live until my head cracks like a coconut, and then some.

And now I pre-pack. Adieu, adieu.

[tags]happycog, moves, moving, newyork, NYC, design, webdesign, alistapart, wedding, anniversary, zeldman, zeldman.com, 5years, 13years, 15years[/tags]

Bang!

Had I known that there was an explosion in midtown Manhattan near where my wife works, and that my wife and daughter were out in the ensuing chaos, I would have been far more anxious during my train ride home from Philadelphia last night.

I had gone to the city of brotherly love on business. One of our party misplaced her iPhone, discovering the loss as we were about to board the train back to New York. The odds against her recovering it would kill a game in Vegas. But it is her only phone and she is about to leave the country, so she stayed behind in hopes of locating it. Anxiety on her account, and some guilt at having boarded the train without her, kept me plenty busy on the ride home.

Like The New York Public Library, the old Pennsylvania Station was a Beaux-Arts masterpiece (photos: concourse and entrance in 1962, two years prior to demolition). An abomination replaced it. Outrage over this desecration gave us laws supporting historic preservation and preventing future desecrations, making the old Pennsylvania Station the Jesus of buildings.

One emerges from the current Penn Station as from a none-too-clean public bathroom.

On emerging from Penn Station as from a none-too-clean public bathroom, I overheard people discussing 9/11. That seemed odd. New Yorkers don’t talk about 9/11; we leave that to politicians. When I reached home, fifteen minutes’ humid walk later, my doorman was also muttering about 9/11. Odder still.

I expected to find my daughter asleep. Not so.

“Can you tell something happened?” my wife asked.

She had seen the explosion while standing about a mile north of it (just as, on September 11th, 2001, she had seen the twin towers on fire from a position on Fifth Avenue about two miles north of the disaster) and asked two firefighters who were also gazing in its direction if the intersection where it had occurred was known. 41st Street, they said. Reassured that our home had not blown up, she went on to the rendezvous where she was to pick up our daughter from her baby-sitter. Our daughter and her baby-sitter were not there. I can imagine my wife’s reaction to that absence. (I knew nothing about it, sitting in a crowded Amtrak car, discussing a client project, and worrying about a missing iPhone.)

Finally our daughter arrived; her baby-sitter was put in a cab; and my wife and daughter attended a birthday party for one of our daughter’s friends—a younger girl who had just turned two. Pizza and cupcakes were served.

At seven, the party ended, and, as at all children’s parties in New York, the guests were shooed out.

Philadelphia is 100 miles from New York. I made it in an hour. It took my wife and daughter two hours to traverse the single mile home. The subways were out, two avenues were closed, the whole world was taking buses or walking north, away from the disaster. Just below the cutoff and oblivious to it, I walked home knowing nothing except that I had had a good meeting in Philadelphia, and had perhaps overdone it on the huevos rancheros at Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat Restaurant.

Here’s how it looks in a newspaper:

A steam pipe installed in 1924 ruptured in a thunderous explosion shortly before 6 p.m. today, sending steam, water and debris shooting outward and sending clouds of smoke and dust billowing through Midtown Manhattan at the height of the evening rush. One person died of cardiac arrest, and more than 20 others were injured. The authorities ruled out any criminal activity, saying the explosion was apparently caused by a failure of antiquated infrastructure.

How was it for you?

[tags]steampipe, explosion, nyc, newyork, newyorkcity, myglamorouslife[/tags]

Link ‘n Park

Travel day. While I’m singin’ in the rain between New York and Philadelphia, here are some nice, dry links for your pleasure.

Cover Browser
Jackpot link! Recall every lost issue of Amazing Spider-Man. Identify with Betty or Veronica. Discover the Mad Magazine you never knew. Cover Browser intends to catalog the cover of every comic book (not to mention every book, game, DVD, magazine…) ever printed. With 77,000 entries, they are just getting started. Via Veer.
Things on Things
If basking in the nostaliga of Cover Browser (above) makes you feel like everything that can be digital is becoming so—and if that thought (however inaccurate it may actually be) makes you wonder if widespread digitization is changing the way we perceive and value reality—you’re not alone. But you may not be as articulate about it as the pseudonymous author of the untitled essay posted yesterday at Things Magazine. Read it. Bookmark it. Share it. Via Coudal.
Learning from the Facebook Mini-Feed Disaster
The great Jared Spool on lessons to be drawn when a hot new feature fails to please the public for whom it was ostensibly created.
Multi-touch on the desktop
Hockenberry on interface design. Some people who love the iPhone can’t wait for multi-touch to come to the desktop. Hockenberry explains why it won’t.
Radio Telepathy
Eclectic music podcast.
Design Interviews: ROB WEYCHERT of Happy Cog Studios
Web designer, artist and writer Rob Weychert on typography, humor, haiku, neurotically meticulous attention to detail, and the bearded cult.
iTrapped
A photoset on Flickr (and a new meme). Fun!
There is no “first blogger”
Scott Rosenberg, co-founder of Salon corrects the breathless coverage of The Wall Street Journal, beginning with its fallacious assertion that “It’s been 10 years since the blog was born.” There are journalists who get this stuff right, but not nearly enough.
Icon Archive
Over 12,500 desktop icons, organized in sets, for Windows, Macintosh and Linux Systems. Non-commerical use is allowed in most cases. The site’s offerings are culled from other sites (e.g., Star Wars 2, by Talos, comes from Iconfactory); original authors are credited and linked.
No Compassion
Artist Jiri David’s manipulated photos of Bush, Putin, Berlusconi, and Chirac.
Hope is Emo, Chapter 9
Hope gets emotionally damaged at a family wedding. (Video.)

Get up in my grill. View all my bookmarks on Ma.gnolia.

[tags]comics, cover art, digitization, UI design, rob weychert, jared spool, facebook, multi-touch, icons, manipulated images, hope is emo, wallstreetjournal, salon, blogs, blogging, first blogger, radiotelepathy, itrapped [/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]

Our Year in Review

Wrote some here.

Wrote some there.

Wrote a second edition in our underwear.

Expanded from New York to Philly PA.

Worked for Ad Age, Comhaltas and AIGA.

Ran shows in Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle,

New York, even Austin (where the natives eat cattle).

Published a mag and co-polished a deck.

Plucked a ma.gnolia and helped you spell-check.

That’s our year in review.

So how’s about you?

[tags]happycog, happycogphiladelphia, alistapart, aneventapart, dwws2e, designingwithwebstandards, ma.gnolia[/tags]

Happy Cog Philadelphia

Our letterhead isn’t finished. Our aging website doesn’t provide a clue. Ordinarily an announcement like this one would wait until a site redesign was complete, new business cards were slipped into wallets, and expertly prepared press materials had been carefully seeded in the fields of journalism and the lonely rooms of the blogosphere. But for reasons which will become apparent soon, we can’t wait to relate the news that Happy Cog™ is expanding.

In addition to its original New York flavor, Happy Cog now also comes in a delicious new Philadelphia blend, under the leadership of Happy Cog Philadelphia president Greg Hoy. Both offices provide high-level design and user experience consulting services. They share a vision. They share methods. They even share team members (some Cog personnel divide their time between New York and Philly).

More detailed and more meaningful announcements—not to mention an expanded and redesigned site—will come soon. Meanwhile, welcome, Jason, Rob, Daniel, Heather, Jon, Mark, and Robert Roberts-Jolly.

[tags]happycog, design, philadelphia, nyc, newyork[/tags]