25 A List Apart staffers, Happy Cogs, and friends broke bread (well, more accurately, we broke spring rolls) at Mekong River Restaurant in Austin, Texas. Here Peter is seen making sweet love to his noodles. Missing, and missed: Dan Benjamin, Krista Stevens, Erin Lynch, Andrew Fernandez, Tanya Rabourn, and Andrew Kirkpatrick.
As snow falls prettily on the island of Manhattan, Mrs Zeldman and I prepare for our annual junket to sun-baked, star-studded Austin, Texas, accompanied by the keynote speaker of 2025 and cradling the blessed StarTAC. Most of Happy Cog and the A List Apart staff will be there as well, many with speaking roles. Here are a few panels I found (with more to come):
Saturday, March 10th
10:00 am – 11:00 am (same time as “A Decade of Style,” below)
If content is king, why don’t designers talk about it? Panelists will discuss what makes for good writing, what each person does to keep fit with verbs and vowels, and what the future might hold for the written word in a world that is being inundated with podcasts and video.
Saturday, March 10th
4:05 pm – 4:30 pm
Aaron Gustafson Sr Web designer/Developer, Easy! Designs LLC
Sarah Nelson Design Strategist, Adaptive Path
Robert Hoekman Jr. Designing the Obvious
Jeffrey Zeldman Designing With Web Standards, 2nd Edition
Brendan Dawes Analog In, Digital Out
Phil Torrone MAKE Magazine
John Jantsch Duct Tape Marketing-The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide
Marrit Ingman Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out With the Diapers
Gina Trapani Lifehacker: 88 Tech Tips
Elliot McGucken Own the Risk: The 45Surf.com Guide to Hero’s Journey Entrepreneurship
Monday, March 12th
10:00 am – 11:00 am
Is your team mired in the goo and muck of old-school thinking? Are your designers and developers divided on their approach and about to throw in the towel? This panel features formerly stuck experts as well as those who have helped clients get out of the muck.
Moderator: Liz Danzico
Liz Danzico Director, experience strategy, Daylife
Kristian Bengtsson Creative Dir, FutureLab
Chris Messina Co-founder, Citizen Agency
Luke Wroblewski Principal Designer, Yahoo!
Jeffrey Zeldman Founder and Executive Creative Director, Happy Cog
Many great art, book and manuscript collections survive because an individual had the foresight or good luck to save the good stuff. Libraries and museums owe a debt to individual dealers, collectors and packrats for saving illustrated Czarist plate books from the Soviets, and WWII letters from the trash-heap. Who are today’s collectors? What are they preserving? How will they manage fragile born-digital collections long enough share with future generations?
Moderator: Carrie Bickner (aka Mrs Zeldman)
Carrie Bickner, Director of Education Outreach, The New York Public Library
Josh Greenberg Assoc Dir Research Projects, Center for History & New Media
William Stingone Curator of Manuscripts, The New York Public Library
Megan Winget Professor, UT at Austin
If you develop green technologies, you dream of selling your idea to Al Gore. If you run a design agency, you fantasize about winning AIGA as a client. Originally founded as the American Institute of Graphic Arts, AIGA sets the agenda for design as a profession, an art, and a political and cultural phenomenon. In the world of design, at least in the U.S., there is nothing higher.
When AIGA approached Happy Cog to redesign their site, we figured we had no chance at all. With nothing to lose, we spoke bluntly.
We told them they had fifteen years of great content that nobody could find. We suggested that an emerging class of designers who needed what AIGA had to offer did not know AIGA and could not connect with its web presence. The site could do more, and had to do more, to reach these users. We said AIGA’s site above all others should make brilliant use of typography. It should be a joy to read—and it was not.
I reckoned AIGA would hire a more obviously design-focused shop. “Designy design” agencies is how I think of such places, and I mean no disrespect by it. AIGA would, I figured, shrug off our fairly harsh words and choose someone more agreeable. Instead, they hired us.
Months of intense collaboration later, Happy Cog’s redesign of AIGA has launched. We junked the old structure, flattened the hierarchy, and surfaced the content. We gave the site’s years of brilliant writing by the likes of Ellen Lupton and Steven Heller an appropriately readable home—one that demonstrates what web typography can achieve.
And to make the site as inspirational as it is educational, we introduced a second narrative to the user experience: dynamically chosen selections from AIGA’s design archives visually intrude at the top of every page, inviting designers to dive into the archives whenever they seek refreshment.
AIGA’s Ric Grefé, Denise Wood, Liz Danzico, and Kelly McLaughlin guided us throughout the process. They are brilliant collaborators. Chicago’s Thirdwave created the robust and sophisticated back-end architecture required to support our detailed and unusual design requirements.
Thousands of pages of old content, none of it semantically marked up, and none of it structured to match our new requirements, have been fairly seamlessly integrated into the new design. Naturally there are still some bugs (not to mention validation hiccups) to work out. AIGA, Thirdwave, and Happy Cog will be working to patch these little bumps in the days ahead.
I creative directed the project, but its quality is purely due to the incredible team that worked on it:
Happy Cog’s Jon Aldinger, Mark Huot, and Dan Mall have published an image replacement method to remove some of the limitations of the standard HTML image object while supporting standards-based design concepts.
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.
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.
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.
Roger Mason and Cao Li, as part of their Doctoral thesis, have performed the Turing Test on a group of 2-year-old children, both male and female. The results show that of a group of 100 children, none passed the Turing Test.
Astounding photo pool containing thousands of retro images—classic faves to arcane rarities. It’s a themed bazaar for your eyeballs! For yet more visual pleasure and oblique social commentary, see also the Paula Wirth Flickr Groups.
[tags]mobile web, web 3.0, flickr, happycog, IA, ISBN, semantic web[/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.
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.
Rosenfeld Media has signed Donna Maurer to write a book on card sorting. Take a survey to help shape the book. (Note: All Rosenfeld Media books will be created with reader input. Disclosure: I serve on Rosenfeld Media’s advisory board.)
Novelist John Sundman, author of Acts of the Apostles (recommended for those who take their sci-fi black) and Cheap Complex Devices, has released this new, Creative-Commons-licensed, illustrated novella.
Clears font caches, thereby often fixing problems in Photoshop, the Finder, etc. The free and possibly best font management tool, Linotype Font Explorer X, also does this, as does Cocktail. Both Font Explorer X and Cocktail are a part of life at Happy Cog — and a fine part of life at that. But if all you need to do is empty your font caches, Font Finagler gets the job done, and how.