The Amanda Project

Designed by Happy Cog and launched today, The Amanda Project is a social media network, creative writing project, interactive game, and book series combined:

The Amanda Project is the story of Amanda Valentino, told through an interactive website and book series for readers aged 13 & up. On the website, readers are invited to become a part of the story as they help the main characters search for Amanda.

The writing-focused social media network is designed and written as if by characters from the Amanda novels, and encourages readers to enter the novel’s world by joining the search for Amanda, following clues and reading passages that exist only online, and ultimately helping to shape the course of the Amanda narrative across eight novels. (The first Amanda novel—Invisible I, written by Melissa Kantor—comes out 22 September.)

The site developed over a year of intense creative collaboration between Happy Cog and Fourth Story Media, a book publisher and new media company spearheaded by publishing whiz Lisa Holton. Prior to starting Fourth Story, Lisa was was President, Scholastic Trade Publishing and Book Fairs; managed the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; and oversaw development of The 39 Clues. Before that she spent nearly a decade developing numerous bestselling, franchise-launching series at Disney.

Happy Cog‘s New York office developed this project. The team:

Equally vital to the project’s success were Fourth Story’s leaders and partners, including:

  • Lorraine Shanley, Principal Advisor
  • Ariel Aberg-Riger (website, Twitter), Creative Development & Marketing Manager
  • JillEllyn Riley, Editorial Director
  • Dale Robbins, Creative Director
  • David Stack, Director, Digital Partnerships
  • Melissa Kantor, Writer
  • Peter Silsbee, Writer
  • Polly Kanevsky, Art Director
  • Sam Gerstenzang, Technology Consultant

Today’s launch is not the end of our relationship with Fourth Story Media. The Amanda Project will continue to evolve, and Happy Cog will remain an active partner in its direction and growth. We thank our brilliant collaborators and congratulate them on today’s milestone.

Read more

[tags]amanda, amandaproject, theamandaproject, TAP, happycog, design, webdesign, contentstrategy, userexperience, publishing, books, aarongustafson, lizdanzico, erinkissane, whitneyhess, mattgoldenberg, kellymccarthy, jasonsantamaria, jeffreyzeldman, lisaholton, dalerobbins, davidstack, JillEllynRiley, ArielAberg-Riger[/tags]

Art direction plug-in for WordPress

If you’ve been longing to follow Jason Santa Maria’s lead and bring real art direction to the no-budget, publish-now medium of the personal website, Noel Jackson‘s Art Direction Plug-in is for you. The plug-in lets you style individual entries in your WordPress blog without hacking the publishing tool or expending energy on time-consuming workarounds.

[tags]art direction, design, webdesign, wordpress, plugins, plug-ins, formatting, CSS, per-post, noeljackson, jasonsantamaria[/tags]

Jason Has Left the Building

I owe it all to Douglas Bowman‘s bad back.

Doug and Brian Alvey and Adam Greenfield and I were working on a big client project when Doug’s back went out. He was so sick, he couldn’t work, and it was unclear when he would be able to work again.

As a friend, I was worried about Doug. As a creative director, I was worried about finishing my client’s project.

Doug and I had both done designs. The client liked my design but I’d sold him Doug’s. Now Doug couldn’t finish, and I didn’t trust myself to execute the remaining pages in Doug’s style. I needed someone skilled enough to finish what Doug had started and mature enough to sublimate his own style while still making good design choices.

I had just read “Grey Box Methodology,” a well-written romp through a personal design process. The author was a young designer named Jason Santa Maria. His site looked great, his portfolio was impressive, he had good ideas about design, and the process he had written about lent itself to the technical aspects of finishing Doug’s work.

I wrote to Jason Santa Maria, telling him I had a small freelance project that was probably boring and would bring him no glory, since it required him to design like someone else. Jason was game and said yes. He did a great job and was egoless about it, and he seemed perfectly comfortable working with better established, heavyweight talents. His quick, professional, selfless work kept the project going until Doug was back on his feet.

To reward Jason for what he had done, when a new and juicy assignment came my way, I asked if he wanted to be the project’s lead designer. The rest you can you figure out.

For four and a half years, Jason Santa Maria has been a designer and then a creative director at Happy Cog. In an agency filled with talent, he made a huge personal mark. I’ve trusted him with some of the most important designs we’ve handled, from AIGA to the redesign of A List Apart. He has never let me down, professionally or personally. More than that, his work has expanded my conception of what web design can be.

Four and a half years is a couple of centuries in internet time. For about a year, Jason and I have known that it was getting to be time for him to move on. Not that we had any problem with him or he with us. But just that nearly half a decade is a long time for any designer to spend in one place.

As he has just announced, Jason is leaving Happy Cog. He will stay involved in A List Apart and perhaps a few selected projects, but basically he is out the door and spreading his wings. Godspeed.

[tags]jasonsantamaria, Jason Santa Maria, JSM, Stan, adieu, happycog, design, webdesign[/tags]

Making Modular Layout Systems

Jason Santa Maria details his approach to building a modular system for laying out pages with CSS—“a handy way to predictably tame content without becoming predictable.” Deep tricks of the trade revealed!

[tags]modular, layout, system, css, design, webdesign, jasonsantamaria[/tags]

Art direction on the web?

On Tuesday morning, while Malarkey was furiously getting himself uninvited to Håkon Lie‘s Christmas parties, and oneself was busy publishing the latest issue of A List Apart, and the jungle drums spoke of nothing but Firefox 3, Jason Santa Maria quietly slipped a torpedo into the harbor.

Jason didn’t just redesign his website, he issued a call to arms. And what he called for was real art direction on the web.

Now, over the years, plenty of others have called for art direction on the web, and some have achieved it. Quite famously, starting in September 1996, Derek Powazek achieved it with the original {fray}, an independent, non-commercial, personal storytelling site featuring the finest writers and illustrators on the web, not a few of whom {fray} discovered and launched. Stories like Lance Arthur’s A Little Black Death, Molly Steenson’s Pulling a Geographic (now sadly stuck in a loop), and Rebecca Eisenberg’s Mugged weren’t just compellingly written; they were compellingly written and art directed. The drama of viewing and wondering what the next page held was part of the reading experience, as it is in visually leading print magazines like Seed and Wired.

{fray} was a magnificent achievement and still is, and if design officialdom didn’t recognize it at the time, and hasn’t recognized it since, the fault lies with officialdom.

But {fray} was not only a labor of love, it was also a labor of labor—each page lovingly hand crafted in the browser-centric HTML of the time. And today we are modern and streamlined, not only in our markup, but in our means of production. We’re all about blogs and zines, templates and CMS platforms. Nobody but weird Unibomber-like hermits and Tantek hand-codes individual pages anymore.

And it is to that environment—to our environment—that Jason’s redesign speaks, calling for real art direction in the context of template-and-CMS-based publications.

Well, here is my experiment: a very simple setup for fast design and art direction around content. I’m approaching this is much the same way one would approach the design of a magazine: a system for the way content gets handled, but every layout and story can take on a look of their own within that system.

It’s just a blog, like any blog, although better looking than most. Housed on what is essentially a beefed-up open source blogging platform. Beefed up just enough to allow the writer/designer to change colors, typefaces, and the position and shape of copy blocks on a per-post basis as needed.

Speaking of beef, where is it? Where are all these posts with unique layouts within an overarching and unifying system of design? They have yet to be written and produced. But I’ve seen the comps and know some of what is coming, and it is going to be a lovely, drawn-out feast.

And even if it were not half as lovely as it will be—if Jason, instead of being one of our leading web designers, were a visual illiterate—the idea would still matter, and this proof of concept would still merit our gratitude.

[tags]artdirection, webdesign, jasonsantamaria, derekpowazek,{fray}[/tags]