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]

Five years

I’ve dug up some things I wrote from New York City and posted here on September 11th 2001 and in the first days following:

9 1 1
“My part of New York City is not burning.” Written 11, 12, and 13 September 2001. Posted about a week later, when telephone and internet service were restored.
Day four
“Tonight, for the first time since Tuesday, we were permitted to cross 14th Street.” 14 September 2001
The angry flag vendor
“The peaceful vigil at Union Square has turned into a carnival of sorts.” 23 September 2001

These mini-essays are not art. They are not reportage, either (but what is?), and may not even be accurate. We were all a bit dazed—although not so dulled as now. The shock and sorrow were fresh. The events of September 11th had not yet been branded, nor turned into tools of partisan rancor, nor made into a mini-series, nor used to justify atrocity.

Inspiration and perspiration

AIGA | Aquent Salary Survey Calculator
Are you getting paid what you should? Find out with this free online calculator, created by AIGA and Aquent after surveying nearly 6,500 design professionals.
Pantone’s Fall Fashion Color Report
The fashion forecast is for cool, calm colors from the earth. Wear them tomorrow, see them on your website the day after.
Magic 8_Ball on ‘Zune’
Daring Fireball has fun kicking Microsoft’s me-tooism.
CreativeIQ: Create Letterhead Templates in MS Word
Creating letterhead templates in Microsoft Word that don’t suck.
Most Inspired
Design inspiration aggregation.
Netdiver: Outstanding
Design inspiration, collected by Netdiver. Sharp concepts and fresh perspectives.
“People nearby started to panic”
A mobile phone rings on a London-to-New-York flight.
Time Capsules: Douglas Coupland: September 11
From the vantage point of a 52-day book tour that began on September 11, 2001, the author recalls the surreal first days of post-9/11 America.
Congress: Hall Pass Revoked

If Net Neutrality didn’t do enough to get you squirming HR5319 AKA Deleting Online Predators Act AKA DOPA should serve as proof that Congress should no longer be allowed to vote on any laws governing the internet. In case you missed the news, DOPA basically will require all public schools and libraries to block access to social networking sites and chat rooms.

The Agency Model is Dead – Blue Flavor
Brian Fling of new agency Blue Flavor lists “signs of the decline in the traditional agency” and discusses his agency’s nontraditional approach.
AppZapper – Making uninstalls easy
AppZapper for Mac OS X lets you confidently try new apps while knowing you can uninstall them easily. Drag one or more unwanted apps onto AppZapper and watch as it finds all the extra files and lets you delete them with a single click.
Bokardo: Why Netscape Will Succeed
Bokardo, a blog about social web design, says Netscape’s reinvention of itself as a mass-market version of Digg will succeed.
Zach Klein: Connected Ventures + IAC
The guys behind collegehumor.com sell to Barry Diller’s InterActiveCorp.

[tags]design, business, inspiration, fashion, color, AIGA, salaries, links, digg, netscape, blue flavor, bbc, douglas coupland, 9/11, 911, writers, book tour, publishing, memoirs, mac os x, macosx, software, net neutrality, online predator, london, new york, nyc[/tags]

And boy are my arms tired

6:40 AM, laptops and collateral parked at the curb, waiting for Scandinavia House to open.

An Event Apart NYC is over. It lasted twice as long as previous events. Featured three times as many speakers. Took at least four times as much effort to prepare. And was ten tons of fun.

We couldn’t have done it without you

Thanks first and foremost to all who attended. You made the show.

Our speakers were some of the best thinkers, designers, and coders this side of Antarctica. Thanks, Ze Frank, Khoi Vinh, Tantek Çelik, and Aaron Gustafson.

Jason Santa Maria, in addition to speaking eloquently, designed the identity system for the conference, right down to the lanyards.

Day One: Jason Santa Maria onstage an hour before the show starts.

Eric Meyer is a genius. You could put a mic in front of him anywhere and a crowd of CSS-hungry devotees would soon gather. You could even put him on after Ze Frank.

Baltimore filmmaker Ian Corey videotaped the event, supplied and maintained additional equipment, and ran the sound system.

Daniel Mall and Jon Aldinger, web designers and event assistants extraordinaire, lugged heavy boxes of collateral from Happy Cog to Scandinavia House. They also (with brilliant Rob Weychert) manned the doors, cleaned the auditorium after attendees filed out each day, and assisted Ian with the sound.

A space this elegant and food this good are hard to come by in the world of conferences. Perfectly tuned service is equally rare. Victoria and Bo of Scandinavia House and Peter and Angellique of Restaurant Aquavit, along with their discreet yet ever-present staff, provided almost unheard-of levels of service. We thank them, and I recommend them to anyone hosting an intimate or mid-sized design conference in New York City. (The theater seats 168 but we cut off registration at 120 to maintain intimacy.)

Thank you for your constant and astonishing support: Adobe, AIGA, Media Temple, and New Riders.

Happy Cog paid for the drinks.

Linky-poos

Rekindle the memories or start new ones:

[tags]aneventapart, an event apart, eric meyer, khoi vinh, jason santa maria, ze frank, tantek, aaron gustafson, media temple, adobe, AIGA, new riders, happycog, happy cog, nyc, zeldman[/tags]

We hold most of these truths

A copy of the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand is on public view at The New York Public Library. Accompanying it are several of the very first printed versions known to have survived.

Standing in the presence of these yellowing pages is like glimpsing the face of God, for they are the foundation of American democracy, and their core idea underlies all human rights struggles, liberation movements, and emergent democracies around the world.

The version in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand is fascinating not only because it’s in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand, but also because it contains passages that would have ended slavery at the birth of the American nation. But those passages had to be deleted before the Declaration could be signed by representatives of states where slavery was practiced.

Put another way, the client bought a document intended to liberate all humanity, but demanded changes that kept part of humanity in chains. It would take another 100 years and hundreds of thousands of deaths before slavery ended, and the tragic legacy of African enslavement plagues the U.S. to this day. (At The New York Times: a slide show of Freedom Rider portraits, a work in progress by my friend Eric Etheridge.)

So the next time a client requests changes that make your work less beautiful, less usable, or less smart, remember that greater people than you have lost bigger battles over far more important matters.

The Declaration of Independence is on view at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue now through 5 August and admission to the Library is of course free. If you’re in New York City this summer, the exhibit is worth a look. (Plug: And if you’re in town next week for An Event Apart, the Library is just a few blocks away from the Scandinavia House venue.)

An Event Apart NYC Schedule

A detailed schedule of An Event Apart NYC has been posted at aneventapart.com and reproduced below for your convenience. Join Tantek Çelik, Ze Frank, Aaron Gustafson, Jason Santa Maria, Khoi Vinh, Eric Meyer, and Jeffrey Zeldman for two days of design and code in the heart of New York City:

9am – 5pm, Monday 10 July & Tuesday 11 July
Scandinavia House
Victor Borge Hall — Level A
58 Park Avenue, New York City, NY 10016
Map | Hotel info

Victor Borge Hall is located on Level A, one floor below ground. Enter at the front door on Park Avenue and take the elevator located at the rear of the entrance hall, across from the ground-floor Gift Shop. Wheelchair-friendly restrooms are located on Level B, accessible via the elevator.

Seating is lecture-style, in a comfortable and exquisitely designed theater space, and doors open at 8:00 am. There is no Wi-Fi at this venue, but we will provide downloadable files the night before the show for those who wish to follow along on their laptops.

Schedule

An Event Apart NYC runs from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. We have a lot to cover, so the event will start promptly. Arrive early to get a good seat! Doors open at 8:00 am; for best results, plan to show up between 8:00 am and 8:30 am. Here is what you can expect over the two days of this conference:

DAY I – DESIGN DAY

9:00 am Welcome and Housekeeping [Zeldman]
9:05 am Textism (Writing User Experience) [Zeldman]
Better design and better usability through word choice. Editing for designers.
10:05 am BREAK!
10:15 am Solving (Re)Design Problems [Jason Santa Maria]
Visually repositioning a beloved brand (namely, A List Apart). Design as problem solving. Knowing which problems to solve.
11:00 am Bringing A List Apart Together [Eric Meyer]
How someone like Eric Meyer takes a design and turns it into a living, breathing web page.
12:00 pm Lunch
1:00 pm Sponsor Giveaways
Adobe, Media Temple, New Riders and AIGA Press will hand out valuable software, services, and books for free.
1:15 pm A Day in the Life of a Design Director [Khoi Vinh]
From sun-up until the stroke of midnight, Khoi Vinh will take us through a typical day inside the NYTimes.com design group.
2:15 pm What’s the Story? [Zeldman]
Finding brand narratives that set your site apart from others like it. Seizing inspiration from limited budgets.
2:50 pm BREAK!
3:00 pm Web 0.2 [Ze Frank]
A personal, down-in-the-trenches view of how the technology revolution impacts the way we communicate with a mass audience.
4:00 pm DESIGN CRITIQUES [Jason Santa Maria, Khoi Vinh, Ze Frank, Zeldman]
A rip-snortin’ romp through the design and architecture of sites created by some of the smartest people in the world (namely, the attendees of An Event Apart NYC).

DAY II – CODE DAY

9:00 am Welcome and Housekeeping [Eric Meyer]
9:10 am Hard-Core CSS [Eric Meyer]
An in-depth exploration of what makes CSS work, how it works the way it does, and how you can make it work harder for you.
10:10 am BREAK!
(You’ll need it)
10:30 am Microformats [Tantek Çelik]
What are microformats, and how can they transform the web? Tantek Çelik, co-founder of the microformats movement, tells us what’s already happening and what comes next.
11:30 am “One True Layout” overview [Eric Meyer]
Incredible stroke of genius or gross hack to be shunned? Eric analyzes this new CSS layout technique and examines the pros and cons, both immediately and into the future.
12:30 pm Lunch
1:30 pm Sponsor Giveaways
1:45 pm So you want to be a DOM Star [Aaron Gustafson]
What does it take to be a great front-end developer in today’s marketplace? Aaron Gustafson lays it all on the line.
2:40 pm BREAK!
3:00 pm Web Standards Second Edition [Zeldman]
What a long, strange trip it’s been.
4:00 pm Code critiques [Eric Meyer, Aaron Gustafson, Tantek Çelik]
A fast-paced, rough-and-tumble review of markup, style, and scripting on a select group of sites created and submitted by attendees.

Food

Catering is by Restaurant Aquavit, the country’s premier Scandinavian restaurant, and includes vegetarian choices.

Lunch

  • July 10: Gravlax Club, Grilled Scandinavian Shrimp, and Roasted Mushroom sandwiches. Salad and potato salad.
  • July 11: Smoked Salmon, Spice Roasted Pork Loin, and Roasted Mushroom sandwiches. Salad and pasta salad.

All Day Long

Freshly Brewed Coffee, Decaffeinated Coffee, Selection of Teas, Assorted Soft Drinks and Sparkling Water.

Afternoon Pick-Me Up

  • July 10: Assorted Cookies
  • July 11: Basket of Fruit

Details

It’s a non-smoking event. Sorry, smokers! Still photography is permitted, but audio and video recording are forbidden, except by our official videographer, Mister Ian Corey. Sorry, recordists and videographers! As always, please be considerate when taking pictures. And speaking of pictures…

Flickr Group

We’ve established a Flickr group for those of you who want to share your photos with the world: flickr.com/groups/aeanyc2006.

Disclaimer

This schedule is subject to change. We’ll do our best to make the experience live up to what we’ve mentioned here, but cannot guarantee a perfect 1:1 correspondence. We thank you in advance for understanding any changes we may be forced to make due to events, people, and other stuff beyond our control.

New York 2006 news

An Event Apart RSS feed

Subscribe and keep track of all the comings and goings of An Event Apart.

[tags]an event apart, aneventapart, design, code, conference, web design, webdesign[/tags]

Silent phone, secret phone

Two weekends ago, my office phone line and an unknown number of other phone lines in my area went dead. I was in Chicago so it didn’t bother me. By Monday night, Verizon had apparently fixed the problem, and phone service was restored for me and my neighbors.

Come the following Sabbath, Verizon rested again.

If you called my office Saturday morning, you would have gotten a busy signal. If you tried Saturday afternoon, also a busy signal. The same on Saturday night.

Things got interesting on Sunday, if you consider no change interesting.

By Monday morning, the phone line was still dead. Noon brought no sudden restoration of telephony. 2:00? A disappointment, quite frankly. As the sun sets on a New York Monday, the absence of phone service attains a mystical sheen. Call me now. Busy signal. Dial again. Busy signal. Busy, busy, busy signal.

I tried using Verizon’s website to find out how to report the problem but it was like searching the moon for goats.

So I went downstairs to the Verizon pay phone, jotted down the “repair” number listed beside its little coin slot, and dialed it on my mobile.

See, if a pay phone goes down, that’s a problem.

That pay phone repair number was honey. After a mere six minutes of voice menu negotiation, I received my prognosis from the computer voice emulator that provides Verizon’s customers with quality service.

Thus spake Verizon:

“At present there is an outage in your area. Verizon is committed to restoring your phone service by … 8:00 … P.M. … on … Wednesday … June … 14th.”

“Committed to restoring” is the sweet part.

As far as I can tell, the problem involves phone lines, so you can see why it would take one of America’s largest phone companies five days to tackle a brain teaser like that.

Fortunately I only use my telephone to run my business, contact my family, and report medical emergencies. So the next few days should be just fine.