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.
OUR UBER DRIVER must be hard of hearing, because he plays his right-wing talk radio morning show LOUD. It’s not your erudite, intellectual morning show. It’s hosted by Morning Zoo-type personalities: braying, hyper-testicular fellows, as subtle as a Cuban tie.
To illustrate some local New York story about a Hassidic synagogue, they play a nerve-shattering recording of an air raid siren. They talk over each other, like men do when they’re excited, and segue seamlessly into sponsor messages about homes for the aged, and medical recovery facilities for seniors. Then right back to the entertainment portion of the program: the two men, cross-talking in stereophonic sound, sharing revealing fragments of the public and personal between sound effect blasts and explosions of machine-gun laughter.
If you had just one minute to live, you’d want to hear this, because it would make your final earthly moments last longer. Okay, to be fair, I’d toss a coin to decide between this and root canal. My fellow passenger farts silently, which I consider a reasonable response. Soon. Soon I will get out of this car.
We learn that both show hosts live in Long Island. The super-aggressive one tells a story about taking his daughter to soccer practice and then taking his son to soccer practice while his wife borrows the car, but we never hear the denouement, because the dominant guy, who is even more aggressive, keeps interrupting.
The news continues. An unfinished story about taking the subway to eat at a famous pizza parlor in Brooklyn. Something about the Muslim call to prayer. It seems the secret service doesn’t want to protect Hillary Clinton because she is such a nasty woman. The polls are looking up for Donald Trump.
THE YEAR Brooklyn Beta opened, a misunderstanding and a coincidentally timed paying gig prevented me from attending. The following year, two paying gigs, scheduled back to back, kept me away. This year was going to be different. This year I cleared my decks. This year there were no gigs, no client meetings, no major medical procedures scheduled for the three days that the internet descends on Brooklyn. This year I was definitely attending.
Then this family thing came up and I can’t go. Nobody’s sick, nobody’s injured, nobody’s mentally or emotionally or spiritually treading water, but my presence and attention are required in Manhattan for huge swathes of the day. Which means, although friends I adore and see too rarely are a mere five subway stops away, I cannot be with them now.
I hope Brooklyn Beta continues for a thousand years, and I hope I can attend for at least one of them. I hope this isn’t a thing—like it was a thing for years that when Apple updated its Macintosh operating system, I was certain to be one of the 0.001% of users who suffered from some strange edge-case problem as a direct consequence. I hope there isn’t a betting pool on the odds of my attending Brooklyn Beta, although I have visions of one bespectacled design nerd slipping another a fiver on their receiving news of my non-attendance. Most of all, I hope everyone attending has a great time. See you next year, maybe.
HI, [REDACTED]. Thanks for writing to express your concern about my failure to redeem my Google IO promo code. It’s kind of a funny story.
I received a Google IO invitation (copied and pasted below) but didn’t follow up on it because the invitation did not say anything about what Google IO is, who it is for, or why I would want to attend it (if it is an event) or use it (if it is software) or do something else with it (if it is something else).
The Google IO invitation merely gave me complicated directions to sign up for Google IO, no doubt on the assumption that I would gladly attend, download, or sign up for anything that comes from Google, even without knowing what it is; and that, as an unemployed millionaire, I would have plenty of free time to decipher and obey complicated sign-up directions without knowing anything about the product, service, or event.
One of the complexities Google mentions in their invitation letter which fails to explain anything about the product or service they want me to sign up for is that, to qualify for Google IO, I must start a Google+ account. They don’t explain what Google+ is, either, but as it happens, I already have a Google+ account.
My Google+ account is assigned to my Gmail address. But instead of writing to me there, Google wrote to me at my zeldman.com address. My zeldman.com address is actually managed via Gmail, so I should be able to log into my Google+ account whether I am signed in as my Gmail identity or my zeldman.com identity, but Google+ doesn’t work that way. Google+ only works for free Gmail accounts. It does not work for paid corporate accounts like mine. That has always seemed an odd decision to me: if you can only provide services to a subgroup of your users, why not choose the subgroup that pays? But I am not Google.
So Google wrote to my zeldman.com address, which they won’t allow me to associate with my Google+ address, to invite me to start a Google+ account (which I already have) on my zeldman.com account, which they won’t support. And if I do that (which I can’t), and some other complicated stuff, they promise that I will then be able to participate in Google IO, whatever that is.
And now they have written to warn me that my Google IO, whatever it is, will stop being offered if I don’t sign up (which I can’t) right away. And they even convinced you, my friend, to send a personal note ensuring that I don’t miss the opportunity to sign up for their unspecified product or service with the account they don’t support before the unexplained offer is terminated.
While I should be curious about Google IO and what I will miss if I fail to take advantage of the cumbersome offer, what I’m actually far more curious about is how an organization that can’t write an effective direct marketing email message has managed to become one of the most powerful corporations of the 21st century.
We recently sent you an invitation to register for Google I/O 2012 and noticed that you have not redeemed your promo code, which will expire at midnight PDT on March 25.
[ How to register ]
1. Make sure you have a Google+ account as it is required to register. Get Google+ at http://www.google.com/+
2. Visit the registration page at
3. Use Promo Code: [REDACTED]. This code can only be used once.
[ Tips to Ensure Successful Payment With Google Wallet ]
1. Make sure your Google Wallet account is tied to the same Google+ account you use to register.
2. In case your bank declines your purchase through Google Wallet, you may need to call the bank that issued your credit card and let them know that you want to make a large purchase. Some banks may decline large purchases that appear to be out of your normal purchase behavior.
3. If Google Wallet is not available in your country, please email email@example.com to have our support team process your payment.
[ Tips to Ensure Successful Registration With Google+ ]
1. Sign into your Google+ account before you try to redeem your code.
2. To ensure you have created a Google+ account, log into your Google account and go to https://plus.google.com/. If you land on a page asking you “To join, create a public Google profile.” then you don’t yet have a Google+ account and follow the instructions to create one.
3. If you have multiple Google accounts, be sure to sign out of all Google accounts and sign in with only your Google+ enabled account.
4. You can use a personal or company managed Google+ enabled account to complete your registration.
If you have any questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeffrey was looking for us to do a more tailored, short run of the doll we had initially designed of him-215 to be exact. They were to be given away as gifts at the Hall of Fame after party being held at South by Southwest (right about now is where you can hear our jaws drop to the floor).
Here was the opportunity to put handmade work into the hands of 215 web designers and industry gurus at one of the largest interactive design conferences in the world-South by Southwest. Are we interested? Hells, please! So, after hashing out the details and specifics we set into work on the very complicated and detailed project. Below are just a few of the pictures we took documenting the process…
OCTOBER brings the smells of burning leaves, the warmth of hot cider, and much speaking for yours truly:
On October 12, I’ll deliver the keynote address at Do It With Drupal 2011 at the Marriott Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn Heights, sharing the stage with the likes of Josh Clark, Angela Byron, and Jeff Robbins.
Then it’s off to beautiful Richmond, Virginia on the 13th for EdUI 2011, the conference for web professionals who serve institutions of learning, where I’ll keynote again and join such leaders as Margot Bloomstein, Brian Fling, Kyle Soucy, and Siva Vaidhyanathan.
October 24–26 will find me in America’s capital for An Event Apart DC: three days of design, code, and content with a veritable constellation of web design stars, including a one-day learning session on Accessible Web Design led by Derek Featherstone of Further Ahead.
YOU FIND ME ENSCONCED in the fabulous Buckhead, Atlanta Intercontinental Hotel, preparing to unleash An Event Apart Atlanta 2011, three days of design, code, and content strategy for people who make websites. Eric Meyer and I co-founded our traveling web conference in December, 2005; in 2006 we chose Atlanta for our second event, and it was the worst show we’ve ever done. We hosted at Turner Field, not realizing that half the audience would be forced to crane their necks around pillars if they wanted to see our speakers or the screen on which slides were projected.
Also not realizing that Turner Field’s promised contractual ability to deliver Wi-Fi was more theoretical than factual: the venue’s A/V guy spent the entire show trying to get an internet connection going. You could watch audience members twitchily check their laptops for email every fourteen seconds, then make the “no internet” face that is not unlike the face addicts make when the crack dealer is late, then check their laptops again.
The food was good, our speakers (including local hero Todd Dominey) had wise lessons to impart, and most attendees had a pretty good time, but Eric and I still shudder to remember everything that went wrong with that gig.
Not to jinx anything, but times have changed. We are now a major three-day event, thanks to a kick-ass staff and the wonderful community that has made this show its home. We thank you from the bottoms of our big grateful hearts.
I will see several hundred of you for the next three days. Those not attending may follow along:
SO LONG, Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead, London, and Walton-on-Thames. Your roundabouts dizzied me, your web design event inspired me, and your brilliant friendly people warmed my heart. See you soon! (Meanwhile, thanks for these memories: UK June 2011 – a photo set on Flickr.)
Jeremy Keith quite effectively live-blogs my opening keynote on the particular opportunities of Now in the field of web design, and the skills every designer needs to capitalize on the moment and make great things.
Related to my talk: Jeremy Keith’s original write-up on a notorious but all-too-common practice. If your boss or client tells you to design this pattern, just say no. Design that does not serve users does not serve business.
“As a consultant, [Whitney] spends a lot of time talking about UX and inevitably, the talk turns to deliverables and process but really we should be establishing a philosophy about how to treat people, in the same way that visual design is about establishing a philosophy about how make an impact. Visual design has principles to achieve that: contrast, emphasis, balance, proportion, rhythm, movement, texture, harmony and unity.” In this talk, Whitney proposed a set of 10 principles for UX design.
“In his presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Jared Spool detailed the importance and role of links on Web pages.” No writer can capture Jared Spool’s engaging personality or the quips that produce raucous laughter throughout his sessions, but Luke does an outstanding job of noting the primary ideas Jared shares in this riveting and highly useful UX session.
Luke W: “In his All Our Yesterdays presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Jeremy Keith outlined the problem of digital preservation on the Web and provided some strategies for taking a long term view of our Web pages.”
Although it is hard to pick highlights among such great speakers and topics, this talk was a highlight for me. As in, it blew my mind. Several people said it should be a TED talk.
Luke: “In his Idea to Interface presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Aarron Walter encouraged Web designers and developers to tackle their personal projects by walking through examples and ways to jump in. Here are my notes from his talk.”
Compiled by the speaker, links include Design Personas Template and Example, the story behind the illustrations in the presentation created by Mike Rhode, Dribble, Huffduffer, Sketchboards, Mustache for inserting data into your prototypes, Keynote Kung Fu, Mocking Bird, Yahoo Design Patterns, MailChimp Design Pattern Library, Object Oriented CSS by Nicole Sullivan and more!
“In his Smoke Gets In Your Eyes presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Andy Clarke showcased what is possible with CSS3 animations using transitions and transforms in the WebKit browser.” Write-up by the legendary Luke Wroblewski.
Fascinating article by Anton Peck (who attended the show). Proposed: a solution to a key problem with CSS transitions. (“Even now, my main issue with transitions is that they use the same time-length value for the inbound effect as they do the outbound. For example, when you create a transition on an image with a 1-second duration, you get that length of time for both mousing over, and mousing away from the object. This type of behavior should be avoided, for the sake of the end-user!”)
HEY, YOU WITH THE STARS in your eyes. Yes, you, the all too necessary SXSW Interactive attendee. Got questions about the present and future of web design and publishing for me or the illustrious panelists on Jeffrey Zeldman’s Awesome Internet Design Panel at SXSW Interactive 2011? You do? Bravo! Post them on Twitter using hashtag #jzsxsw and we’ll answer the good ones at 5:00 PM in Big Ballroom D of the Austin Convention Center.
Topics include platform wars (native, web, and hybrid, or welcome back to 1999), web fonts, mobile is the new widescreen, how to succeed in the new publishing, responsive design, HTML5, Flash, East Coast West Coast beefs, whatever happened to…?, and many, many more.
Comments are off here so you’ll post your questions on Twitter.
The panel will be live sketched and live recorded for later partial or full broadcast via sxsw.com. In-person attendees, arrive early for best seats. Don’t eat the brown acid.
SXSW INTERACTIVE is an amazing festival, conference, and annual gathering of the tribes—a place to see, be seen, and find out not only what’s happening on the web, but what will happen in the coming 18 months. The festival’s explosive growth—from minor music festival adjunct to megalopolis attracting over 20,000 interactive attendees this year—mirrors the miraculous growth of the internet itself. And the festival’s challenge echoes the challenge all internet community faces: in a word, scale. Not just the mechanics of scale, but the gauntlet of obstacles that must be overcome if a community is to grow wildly while remaining true to itself.
It is hard for someone who has not attended to imagine the scale of the thing—I flew here from New York on a JetBlue jet whose every passenger seemed to be attending this show; it was like a flying blogroll. For that matter, it’s too big for attendees to completely comprehend. It’s like New York City that way: you can visit, get a taste of it, you can even move there and be part of it, but you can never take it all in. And of course it is impossible for current attendees who missed the early years of SXSW Interactive to picture what the conference was like in the old days, when almost everyone attending knew everyone else personally or by reputation.
Each year I wonder if this will be the year the festival gets too big for its own good (or too big to be good), and each year SXSWi remains great—but great in a different way than before (again, just like the internet). Each year I salute the people behind this show. I could not even dream of putting on an event like this. I am a boutique guy at heart. I know how to make small things good for a select group of people with a certain taste and interest. The people behind SXSW cater to select needs and special tastes, too—but they also do massive. I’m looking forward to this year’s show, which begins today, and to my own panel and the panels and presentations of my friends (including friends I haven’t met yet).
As for the lost intimacy of SXSW that some of us long-time attendees lament, it isn’t really lost. The first trick is to show up on Thursday, before most attendees get here. Register early with short lines, then buy a water and sit anywhere in the vast conference center. Within five minutes, you will meet new people; within ten, you’ll see old friends. You can then go off with these new or old friends and enjoy a luxurious lunch table at a place you won’t even be able to get into after Friday.
Always arrive a day early. You will not regret it. My experiences yesterday and the memories I will take with me have already more than justified this year’s pilgrimage here.
And once the festival begins? Don’t be afraid to occasionally skip a panel and go off with people you bump into (whether that bump takes place in the hallway or on Gowalla and Foursquare).
“A half-century ago, Afghan women pursued careers in medicine; men and women mingled casually at movie theaters and university campuses in Kabul; factories in the suburbs churned out textiles and other goods.
“There was a tradition of law and order, and a government capable of undertaking large national infrastructure projects, like building hydropower stations and roads, albeit with outside help. Ordinary people had a sense of hope, a belief that education could open opportunities for all, a conviction that a bright future lay ahead. All that has been destroyed by three decades of war, but it was real.”