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My Night With Essl

Mike Essl and I discuss his portfolio.
Mike Essl and I discuss his portfolio on Night 2 of An Event Apart Online Together Fall Summit.

Herewith, a scene from last night’s interview with legendary web & book designer (and Dean of The Cooper Union School of Art) Mike Essl, who shared his portfolio, career highlights, early web design history, and more. Fun!

If you get a chance to meet, work with, or learn from Mike, take it. He’s brilliant, hilarious, warmly human, and one of the most creative people you’ll ever have the good fortune to know. 

Mike Essl

So ended Day 2 of An Event Apart Online Together Fall Summit 2021. Day 3 begins in less than two hours. You can still join us … or watch later On Demand.

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Design

Not one of us

Even people who didn’t get deathly ill. Who aren’t still struggling to recover. Who didn’t lose a loved one—or more than one. Who didn’t bear the brunt of it because of their race and class. Who didn’t lose a job because of it. 

Those who didn’t miss out on senior year. Or the play. Or the prom, quinceanera, or bat mitzvah. Those who didn’t sit alone for months. Didn’t shutter their family’s business. Didn’t die of a curable disease because the hospital was full. 

Even those who had enough to eat and someone to talk to. Who did not lose their homes. Those whose animals survived. 

Even the lucky ones who had internet access and books and music. And who, when a vaccine came along, had access to it, and were not dissuaded by madness.

Even the most privileged among us are living with trauma.

Not one of us has escaped. Not one is unchanged.

Take a moment to be gentle with yourself, and with all whom you encounter. Even the monsters are crying inside.

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"Digital Curation" art direction creativity Design Desktops editorial Fun interface Layout links Microblogging music Nonsense social media software The Mind User Experience Weird

Rediscovering music

Apropos of nothing in particular, I present my all-time listening (first 5.25 rows) and more recent listening:

Drag slider: at left, my all-time listening; at right, more recent listening.

Because I’m weird that way: Sometimes I’ll listen extensively to a particular artist from my collection whom I might not have played in a while, simply to bump them higher in the mosaic or reposition them for a more pleasing composition.

If Spotify exposes you to new music, Last.fm helps remind you of great music in your existing collection that may have slipped your mind. (Not an advertisement. I use last.fm and get great pleasure from how it helps me discover and fuss with my music, as I once spent hours in the old days stacking and rearranging my LPs and tapes.)

And that’s how I stay out of the pool halls.


Public Service P.S: If you do decide to try last.fm, please, by all means, pay the small monthly subscription fee if you can. Doing so supports the under-resourced team that keeps the service going. It also removes the ads, making the site usable (the ads are a nightmare), and gives you the option to view your music as a visual grid, like those shown in my screenshots. The grid-view makes the site. It gives you, not just a visual record collection, but a visual artist collection, if you’ll allow the conceit. I love it.

An earlier version of this post also appears on my Facebook stream.

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Design

Spring Summit 2021

In a few hours, we’ll kick off Day 1 of An Event Apart Online Together: Spring Summit, a three-day web design conference for front-end and UX professionals, starring fifteen extraordinary speakers. If you’ve signed up to join us, I look forward to learning and chatting with you. If you can’t attend, you’re welcome to follow along on Twitter via hashtag #AEAOT.

Speakers at An Event Apart Online Together Spring Summit 2021, a UX and front-end web design conference.

P.S. Be sure to check out our Speaker Resources for attendees (and folks following along).

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Best practices Browsers Code Design development Future-Friendly HTML Ideas industry Internship IXD Layout links Multi-Device Responsive Web Design software Standards State of the Web User Experience UX Web Design Web Design History Web Standards Websites

Saving Your Web Workflows with Prototyping

Our static tools and linear workflows aren’t the right fit for the flexible, diverse reality of today’s Web. Making prototyping a central element of your workflows will radically change how you approach problem solution and save you a lot of headaches – and money. But most importantly, you will be creating the right products and features in a way that resonates with the true nature of the Web. A discourse on processes, flexibility, the Web as a material, and how we build things.

Saving Your Web Workflows with Prototyping – Matthias Ott
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A List Apart Code Design Web Design

Service Worker With A Smile

Jeremy Wagner’s “Now THAT’S What I Call Service Worker!” provides innovative techniques to harness the power of Progressive Web Apps with smaller HTML payloads and better performance for repeat visitors.

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Design

Web designer’s gold

Deborah Edwards-Oñoro publishes a goldmine of web design how-to and troubleshooting info at Lireo Designs. Among her recent gems:

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Advertising Best practices business Design

The dogs won’t eat it

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.


Photo by Victor Grabarczyk on Unsplash

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Best practices Blogs and Blogging business Design wordpress

See me speak: WordPress.com Growth Summit

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.

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.

Explore the entire schedule of breakout sessions, demos, keynotes, panels, and talks.

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.

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Design

Watching Adventure Time again

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.

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Acclaim Best practices Career creativity Design Publishing

First, be kind.

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.

Happy endings

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.


Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

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Advertising Best practices Career creativity Design Designers glamorous links work Working

Never give up

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
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Design Designers Platforms Real type on the web software State of the Web

Pro Fonts for iPad

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/

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Design glamorous

Smash, Drag, Bang

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.

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Design links type Typography

Adelle Mono & Adelle Mono Flex

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.)