Deborah Edwards-Oñoro publishes a goldmine of web design how-to and troubleshooting info at Lireo Designs. Among her recent gems:
My father used to tell this story to his project management students.
The executives of a dog food company were holding a meeting.
“The new label design tested through the roof!” said the VP of Marketing. “In double blind tests, it outperformed our B and C designs across all demos.”
“Unprompted recall has doubled since our last campaign,” the VP of Advertising chimed in. “Our ‘Share the Love’ theme line has gone viral.”
“‘Dog Mommies’ in key ethnic demos responded favorably to the new, ‘organic’ ingredients,” added the VP of Research. “The ‘fresh chunk of love’ concept is going over like gangbusters.”
“Our new ‘green’ delivery chain efficiencies look like a winner,” said the Director of PR and the Chief Scientist in unison. “We’re a cinch to win Green Co of the Month in Green Business Magazine.”
“So why,” asked the CEO, “are sales trending down?”
The executives looked blankly at one another. Finally the youngest of them spoke up.
“The dogs won’t eat it,” she explained.
No amount of marketing can save a bad product.
WordPress.com is holding its first virtual conference, I’m speaking there, and you’re invited. The WordPress.com Growth Summit is a two-day live event where you can learn to build and grow your site, “from start to scale.” To make it as inclusive as possible, the event will take place twice, with live sessions accessible to all Earth’s time zones:
- In the Americas, Europe, Middle East, and Africa, the conference is August 11-12 from 11:00am–4:00pm EDT (15:00–20:00 UTC).
- For attendees in the Asia Pacific region, the event is August 12-13 from 11:00am–4:00pm JST (02:00–07:00 UTC).
- Can’t attend all of the sessions you’re interested in? No problem. The WordPress.com events team will record them all and make them available to you after the event.
A diverse group of speakers will share tips on creating your site, aligning it to your business goals, finding an audience, building and nurturing an organic fan community, and more.
As for me, I’ll co-host “Blogging and Podcasting: Defining Success” with the amazing Jason Snell. Here’s how we describe our panel:
There are almost as many ways to succeed at blogging and podcasting as there are bloggers and podcasters. In a lively discussion full of plentiful tips and takeaways, industry veterans Jason Snell (The Incomparable, Six Colors) and Jeffrey Zeldman (A List Apart, WordPress.com) will teach you how to:
- Define your mission;
- Craft and govern content;
- Understand and cultivate your audience;
- Maintain authenticity;
- React to change.
You’ll also learn when and how to diversify, and how to make money with paywalls, stores, advertising, and more.
It’s only $79 to attend if you order your ticket by Friday, July 31. On top of which, zeldman.com fans get an additional 20% discount with code Jeffrey20.
After July 31, the ticket price will be $99. So register today.
Watching Adventure Time again after not having seen it for a year or two, I’m struck by its raw creative exuberance, broad emotional and tonal range, fearless exploration of psychological and political subject matter, brilliant voice acting (including culturally knowing cameos and characterizations), long narrative arcs, and freedom from external constraint.
Also, those color palettes.
We were fortunate to live when such a program was being made.
Cross-posted to Twitter, beginning here.
In my earliest 20s, I wrote a novel. Make that three. The first two were garbage—a kind of literary throat clearing. I shelved the manuscripts and moved on. But my third draft novel, “Sugar and Snow,” seemed to have something.
My Uncle George connected me to his friend, a famous writer. She read my manuscript and shared it with her daughter, who also thought there was something to it.
The famous writer asked if she could share my manuscript with her publisher. I, of course, said yes. Then I phoned all my friends to tell them I would soon be a published author.
After three months of silence, the publishing company returned my manuscript, untouched. No word of explanation. Not even the courtesy of a boilerplate rejection letter.
Unless you count a few fibs on the resumes I submitted to potential employers, I never wrote another line of fiction.
I drank my way through the next decade, and did not exercise my writing ability for nearly ten years.
The power to help… or hurt
I should not have been so sensitive at age 20, I suppose. Older writers had told me that rejection was part of the life. John Casey, an early writing mentor, survived the Korean War, wrote a novel about his experiences, and submitted it to two dozen publishers who weren’t interested. Eventually he siphoned a short story out of one of the chapters of his rejected novel, and found a little magazine to publish it.
John Casey became an award-winning novelist, but first he slogged through years of rejection, as all writers must. He’d told me that was the game, but my heart wasn’t ready for it. At 20, I wasn’t strong enough.
Perhaps as a partial consequence of how badly a single rejection spun me out of control, when I sometimes have to deliver tough news to a creative colleague, I’ve always striven to be kind about it. Maybe I’m excessively careful about not hurting people. But is that a bad thing? After all, I don’t know which people whose work I need to criticize or even reject are strong enough to take it, and which aren’t.
And neither do you.
Being kind as well as clear becomes a moral mandate when you realize the power your feedback has to encourage another person to do their best work … or to shut them down creatively, possibly forever.
In “Wild Strawberries,” Professor Isak Borg is told in a dream, “A doctor’s first duty is to ask forgiveness.” We never know whom we may harm, or how deeply.
I told you a sad story, now here’s a happy one. I’m part of a small publishing company. Evaluating book proposals is where our process starts. Being clear compassionately is our mandate—we recognize the tremendous emotional risks folks take when they submit their ideas for review.
Last year an author approached us with a proposal that wasn’t quite right for us. We responded with detailed feedback about what would have made it the right fit for us … and we chose our words carefully to avoid inadvertently causing harm.
This year that author returned with a spectacular proposal that we’ve accepted gratefully and with real joy.
I thanked the author for having had the courage to come back—after all, I’d lacked that courage myself after my brush with rejection. The author thanked us for the feedback and the way we’d presented it, saying they would never have had the willingness to come back if not for the quality of our feedback.
As a result of an author’s determination and our compassionate clarity, our readers and this industry will benefit from an author’s brilliance.
Creators, never give up.
Gatekeepers, first be kind.
This story is a bit long, but I promise it will be worth it, because it contains the two most important principles every designer must know and take to heart if you intend to do great work anywhere, under almost any circumstances, over the long, long haul of your career.Sticking To It – fresh from JZ in Automattic.Design
Fontstand has just launched an iPad app that designers (or anyone else) install third-party fonts on iPad. For a small fee, anyone can use thousands of high-quality fonts, directly from the designers. Its creators say:
We imagine that creative professionals and design enthusiasts will take advantage of the advanced possibilities of iPad to create their presentations, documents and graphics directly on the tablet, without the need to migrate projects across platforms.Fontstand blog
Created by Andrej Krátky and Peter Bilak (also a founder of Typotheque), Fontstand is a font discovery platform that lets folks test and use high-quality fonts on all platforms.
Read all about it and download the app for free: blog.fontstand.com/
The upstairs neighbors in my apartment building are having their flat renovated. Cue the daily floor sander (right over my head) and sledgehammer (apparently they have many walls to knock down). It’s loud enough to induce vomiting. It happens every weekday, and has been going on for at least two weeks.
The good news is the crew is lazy: they show up around 10:00 AM, pound away for two hours, then take a long quiet lunch break before pounding away again ’til about 3:00 PM, when they quit for the day.
The bad news is, the lazy crew are taking weeks to complete what might have realistically been a two-day job if undertaken by motivated, competent workers instead of fartwads intent on squeezing every blessed penny from their contract.
I start work before 6:00 AM each day because my cats wake me before 6:00, but mainly because it gives me at least a few hours per day when I can work without being subjected to a migraine-inducing symphony of pounding and scraping and banging and dragging and hammering.
Adelle and Adelle Sans have long been two of my favorite fonts—two great tastes that taste even better together! Now there are two more great flavors, with the release of Veronika Burian and José Scaglione’s twin-powered Adelle Mono family.
Adelle Mono is a true, monospaced version of the robust yet sensitively detailed font family.
Adelle Mono Flex is a proportional version that’s suited for text, branding, UI, captions, and screens: “It feels monospaced but reads like a nice slab,” TypeTogether explains in the June, 2020 issue of their newsletter announcing the release.
Much more information, along with a try-it-yourself type tester and a 60% introductory discount, is available on TypeTogether’s Adelle Mono web page.
(Note: Veronika Burian and José Scaglione designed the original Adelle and Adelle Sans, along with the new Mono and Mono Flex versions. Additionally, Irene Vlachou assisted in the creation of Adelle Mono.)
I don’t miss Flash but I sure miss this level of creativity and experimentation on the web. As today’s “The Web We’ve Lost” exercise for designers, please take a look back at Matt Owens’s historic Volume One project—outstanding design work Matt created in Flash during the 1990s and early 2000s, now memorialized in screenshots. Enjoy:
For more about Matt, read “From Technology to Commodity – Then and Now,” a brief history of Matt’s 25 years as an independent designer. Matt currently works at Athletics, an award-winning Brooklyn-based design agency he co-founded.
One of my first professional jobs was at a tiny startup ad agency in Washington, DC. The owner was new to the business and made the mistake of hiring a college buddy as his creative director. This guy was not up to the job. He was not the slightest bit curious about our clients’ businesses, or what mattered to their customers. His day was one long lunch hour bookended by naps. He thought we couldn’t hear him snoring through the closed door of his office.
Once a day, he would call a “creative meeting” to discuss whichever project would soon fall due. He would not bring sketches, or notes, or a creative brief to these meetings. Instead, he would “lead a creative brainstorm,” which meant we had to listen to him spout whatever shallow, idiotic idea proposed itself to his limited mind at that moment. We were then supposed to leave the room and execute his so-called “concept.” It didn’t matter if the idea was derivative of someone else’s widely known better ad, or if it was superficially cute but meaningless, or wrong in tone, or more likely to hurt than help the client’s business. He had spoken, and that was that.
Needless to say, after a few weeks—and even though they were old friends—the agency owner realized he had to fire this creative director. After all, it was widely agreed, a quarter-page newspaper ad for a local Ford dealership was far too important to entrust to the whims of an imbecile.
Like 90s hip-hop, The Web We Lost™ retains a near-mystical hold on the hearts and minds of those who were lucky enough to be part of it. Luke Dorny’s recent, lovingly hand-carved redesign of his personal site encompasses several generations of that pioneering creative web. As such, it will repay your curiosity.
Check Luke’s article page for textural, typographic, and interactive hat tips to great old sites from the likes of k10k, Cameron Moll, Jason Santa Maria, and more.
And don’t stop there; each section of the updated lukedorny.com offers its own little bonus delights. Like the floating titles (on first load) and touchable, complex thumbnail highlights on the “observer” (AKA home) page.
And by home page, I don’t mean the home page that loads when you first hit the site: that’s a narrow, fixed-width design that’s both a tribute and a goof.
No, I mean the home page that replaces that narrow initial home page once the cookies kick in. Want to see the initial, fixed-width home page again? I’m not sure that you can. Weird detail. Cool detail. Who thinks of such things? Some of us used to.
And don’t miss the subtle thrills of the silken pull threads (complete with shadows) and winking logo pull tab in the site’s footer. I could play with that all day.
Now, no site exactly needs those loving details. But danged if they don’t encourage you to spend time on the site and actually peruse its content.
There was a time when we thought about things like that. We knew people had a big choice in which websites they chose to visit. (Because people did have a big choice back in them days before social media consolidation.) And we worked to be worthy of their time and attention.
Days of future past
We can still strive to be worthy by sweating details and staying alive to the creative possibilities of the page. Not on every project, of course. But certainly on our personal sites. And we don’t have to limit our creative love and attention only to our personal sites. We pushed ourselves, back then; we can do it again.
In our products, we can remember to add delight as we subtract friction.
And just as an unexpected bouquet can brighten the day for someone we love, in the sites we design for partners, we can be on the lookout for opportunities to pleasantly surprise with unexpected, little, loving details.
Crafted with care doesn’t have to mean bespoke. But it’s remarkable what can happen when, in the early planning stage of a new project, we act as if we’re going to have to create each page from scratch.
In calling Luke Dorny’s site to your attention, I must disclaim a few things:
- I haven’t run accessibility tests on lukedorny.com or even tried to navigate it with images off, or via the keyboard.
- Using pixel fonts for body copy, headlines, labels, and so on—while entirely appropriate to the period Luke’s celebrating and conceptually necessary for the design to work as it should—isn’t the most readable choice and may cause difficulty for some readers.
- I haven’t tested the site in every browser and on every known device. I haven’t checked its optimization. For all I know, the site may pass such tests with flying colors, but I tend to think all this beauty comes at a price in terms of assets and bandwidth.
Nevertheless, I do commend this fine website to your loving attention. Maybe spend time on it instead of Twitter next time you take a break?
I’ll be back soon with more examples of sites trying harder.
Yesenia Perez-Cruz started her career as a designer at Happy Cog Philadelphia. From the first day, her design gifts were unmistakable. As her career progressed, she moved from one challenging role to another. At companies like Vox Media and Shopify, and at conferences around the world, she has been a design team leader, a popular speaker, an advocate for design systems, and a voice of our industry. Today that voice took book form.
Expressive Design Systems, the first book by Yesenia Perez-Cruz, is now available from A Book Apart.
Posted here for posterity:
Design kickoff meetings are like first dates that prepare you for an exciting relationship with a person who doesn’t exist.
Today my daughter Ava and I had brunch with my old friend Jen Robbins at P.S. Kitchen, a vegan restaurant in the Theater District/Hell’s Kitchen. Jen was present for, and actively participated in, the very beginnings of the creative and blogging web, and her famous book, now in its umpteenth edition, is still the best introduction to web design I know—probably the best that will ever be written.
One of Jen’s early sites, “Cooking With Rock Stars,” consisted of short video interviews she made with the likes of Jack Black, Rufus Wainwright, and others. Her show predated YouTube by five to ten years and podcasts by fifteen. It was way ahead of its time while also being a great reminder of what the web, in its infancy, was like. The rock star interviews are also fun and fascinating and deserve to be seen again.