That is a question I get asked all the time. And quite rightly so. After all, without the license model and the source code being out in the open, free for everybody to download and do with it whatever they want – where is the actual product? And how do you make money with it?
Fabienne Riener, Source Fabric
The idea that open source means giving away software for free is something a lot of people find confusing to begin with. I think it’s right to ask the question – how is this thing sustainable? After all, if you’re going to base part of your business around using open source software for your blog, web hosting, whatever, you want to know that you can rely on it still being there in a couple of years time. Continue reading →
If you’ve ever been here before, you might realise things look a little different. I’m basically stripping back the design at the moment and trying to update it. I’d love to know what other people think though, and incorporate any useful criticism into my updating process, so please feel free to comment below, or just email me – firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
Luke Wroblewski has some great notes on the recent Event Apart, San Francisco. There’s lots of interesting content but the talk by Josh Clark, ‘Buttons are a hack’ I found particularly inspiring. It really brought home to me how fast things are moving now and how the changes touch interfaces are creating are deeper and more profound than I’d anticipated. Josh talks about how touch interfaces are creating opportunities to create more intuitive interfaces that rely on natural, instinctive actions rather than the buttons and labels that are the mainstay of many desktop web designs.
Buttons are a hack but they are an inspired hack. They operate at a distance by creating abstractions away from content. Do we still need that hack on a touch interface? Can we instead aim for direct interactions with
Invention is perception; something only appears novel when you do not understand the things that have inspired it.
The question is, knowing the influences behind a piece of art or design, does that diminish your opinion of it?
This is actually really easy, but some reason it didn’t quite stick in my mind until recently, so I thought I’d note it here, and perhaps it might help someone else who’s similarly challenged :).
If you haven’t set up an .rvmrc
(Which, to be fair you probably should have done)
If you really can’t remember which gemset, start with:
$ rvm gemset list
$ rvm gemset use [gemset]
$ gem list
Is all you need to show all the currently loaded gems.
If you have setup .rvmrc
The all you need is run the last ‘gem list’ command. The essential point to remember is that once you’ve switched to your chosen gemset and ruby version, you just execute your gem commands without the ‘rvm’ prefix. (see the bottom of that page).
Whilst we’re on the subject of things I should have done already, I should probably have already setup an rvm prompt too. If I ever get round to sorting these things out properly, I might even write some sort of post about how to set up your rvm environment.
Or you could just look at this blog post, which is easily the most helpful and lucid description of setting up RVM I’ve read so far. Getting started with RVM. It’s a bit old, so there might be aspects that are a little out of date, but most of it still seems to be applicable.
Having taken my eye off Firefox development recently, it was with interest that I noticed some of the recent additions to the latest release, version 10.0. Of particular concern to my geeky side are the integrated html/css inspectors.
Whilst having a few irritating quirks – multiple clicks are needed to bring up a dom view for example, the overall feel is solid and polished. It also seems as though some of the slight flaws in the current ui will probably only be temporary – a cursory look at what’s ahead for Firefox’s dev tools shows that there are lots more improvements that will be going live in the next couple of months.
One thing that jars a little is the comparison between this and Firebug, which concerned me at first, however a bit of investigation showed that this too is a temporary state of affairs, with closer integration of the native dev tools and firebug planned for the near future also.
Overall it’s great to see more of these kinds of updates by Firefox, which really represent genuinely useful improvements and will hopefully help to bolster their flagging reputation in the eyes of many users and developers. And hey, you’ve got to love crazy shit like this
The short story is, my wife and I got the opportunity to come down to Suffolk and start our own business, Calendula which has now officially started trading. Yay! Clearly I’m no longer based in Manchester, which some people aren’t aware of yet, hence I felt the need to mention it here.
We both felt like we’d done the city thing for long enough, and living by the sea is something we’ve both wanted to do for a while now. That and the prospect of building our own business was too exciting to pass up. So here we are.
So what of my freelance business? Well, Calendula is still very early days. I can envision a time when perhaps my duties there are such that I will be too busy to take on freelance work, but I can assure you that is not the case right now.
If you’d like to hire me for web design, graphics or ux work, please give me a bell I’d be more than happy to speak to you. Obviously, unless you’re in Suffolk too, it will probably mean my working remotely, at least most of the time, so do bear that in mind.
After suffering a severe bout of man-flu for the last couple of days, it seems like I’m perking up again. Which I’m grateful for, as tomorrow is Interesting North, a spin off of the popular Interesting events in London. It’s pretty simple really, a load of speakers are invited to talk on something interesting. That’s it. But that simple format, coupled with a fairly informal atmosphere should make for an inspiring and stimulating day, which any creative type should appreciate. I’m looking forward to having my brain cross wired in an interesting way.
If you happen to be there, please feel free to say hi; one of the main things I’m going for is not just to hear what the speakers have to say, but for the conversations that will no doubt be generated around them. You will find I look remarkably similar to the cartoon.
Google web fonts growth since June this year. Taken from this blog post
There seems to be quite a bit of momentum behind web fonts at the moment, which is as it should be in my opinion. After dealing with the hassle of font-replacement it seems like web typography has taken a massive step forward in the last year or so. Continue reading →
I’ve had a few requests recently for decent books to learn about typography. So I thought I’d share a few here that I’ve found particularly helpful in developing my knowledge of type.
Thinking With Type
A great book, which also has a great companion website. Distinguished by the clarity and simplicity with which it deals with it’s subject. Typography is a big subject and Lupton does a great job describing the essentials without drowning you in detail.
Well, as the rains pour down over Manchester once more, it seems like summer here has come to its usual abrupt and soggy end. I’m somewhat thankful, hoping that the slower pace of autumn and winter might bring some breathing space after what has been an unbelievably hectic few months filled with grief, excitement and too much drinking. Continue reading →
Last night’s Northern Digitals BLAB night was typically thought-provoking and inspiring. The two speakers, Seb Lee-Delisle and Brendan Dawes both had a lot to say and a clear passion for what they do, which always makes for an interesting presentation. Continue reading →
In preparation for the talk I’m giving at September’s Northern User Experience meetup, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how user experience practices are accommodated within an agile process. One of the main things that keeps cropping up is the idea of the user experience practitioner as an advocate; for users naturally, but also just for user experience work itself.
Initially, the question of how to fit together ux, much of which developed as part of a waterfall process, into an agile an process seems like a complex one. But I’m increasingly of the opinion that the problem is simple; if the team understands the requirement for user experience design, then the problems with incorporating it into an agile process aught to be tackled by the team when they review process.
That doesn’t make the other issues trivial, but that underlying commitment to user experience is vital. Teams who have that will do what is necessary to make the ux work happen.
After hearing that Scraperwiki had organised a hack day in Liverpool, in my new-found freedom as a freelancer, I thought I’d pop down and give it a go. I’ve not really done a hack day either, so it was exciting to be throwing myself into the deepend a little. This was a little different from other hack days as the attendees were a mix of journalists and hackers, a nice idea given the growing use of data and visualisations in news stories. Continue reading →
If so, where does that leave your common or garden web application or site? Only Facebook, Google and handful of others can command that sort of attention. But for most us, we’ll probably lucky if our users are with us for much more than an hour or so. And that time spread over a long period of months is virtually useless as learning time. What’s more, unless you’re performing some sort of function users consider essential to their lives, you probably don’t want to be seen as a massive time sink.
I think there’s only one way; conventions. Make use of the things people learn elsewhere. It’s not simply preferable, it’s pretty much mandatory, unless you want users to fail utterly.
There are other advantages of course; use of conventions can make some aspects of interface design simpler, as you’re not having to create a completely new design pattern that you have to help your users learn. Although it then necessitates a different kind of skill; that is, identifying which convention is appropriate for the situation you are facing.
This all prompts a further thought in my mind, which is that the web is all just one big application anyway. And we might be much better off if we stood back and saw ourselves as not designing a separate entity, but a small component of something much greater.
We were all aware that there were some challenges caused by the last minute venue change, not to mention the usual difficulties of putting on an event on a shoestring budget. But that didn’t detract from my overall feeling that this was a fantastic event, attended by many wonderful people.
If I had to boil it down to one thing that made this Barcamp work so well, it was probably conviviality. The diy nature of the event, coupled with the timescale meant barriers quickly dissolved and conversations began easily and without pretence. There was something quite beautiful about the slow pace of things, with everyone taking the time to converse with each other.
It was a nice contrast to my experiences of high-profile conferences, which struggled against the divisions between speaker and audience, and indeed the divisions between individual attendees.
So, the summary of the summary – great ideas, lovely people. Many thanks to all those who put in considerable effort to make the thing happen, it was very much appreciated. Onwards to Barcamp Manchester.
I’ll be doing both over the next couple of months.
Starting with Barcampbrighton4, which takes place in just a couple of week’s time. This will be my first Barcamp and my first time presenting on something* to a group of people I’ve never met before. I’m mainly relying on the natural decency of my potential audience to get me through that one.
Next up will be Barcampmanchester, which has recently been announced as taking place on the 7-8th of November, at the Contact Theatre in Manchester. This is a great venue, and even better it’s the first time an overnight Barcamp will be held in Manchester. I’ve also offered my services towards making this one happen, so I’m looking forward to finding out a bit more about how a Barcamp is run.
*Yeah, I’m still working on that.
Why Barcamp not conference?
Well, there is probably room for both things in this world, but from my (admitedly limited) experience, the point of going to these events are twofold:
1. Learn stuff
2. Meet people
I find that those two objectives are better served by small, participatory formats(i.e. Barcamp) rather than large, impersonal lecture-style formats(i.e. most conferences).
This will probably inform the kind of session I’ll run too – I would much rather run some kind of discussion or interactive workshop, as opposed to a small presentation. Hopefully something requires me to do the least amount of work possible.
Just caught the Posner linking ban proposal furore. Aside from the fact that this is total blueskies thinking from a person who perhaps doesn’t get the internet fully, if one does take it seriously, then my initial reaction would be this:
Assuming it would be fully possible to ban linking to certain kinds of content, and practical to enforce, this kind of thinking would only add to the decline newspapers are currently experiencing.
Newspapers are not the only authoritative source of information these days. And in the current state of the web, linking is still the key to climbing the search ranks. If you wish to be discoverable, then you need to allow linking. This goes for featuring in a Google results page, or being passed around Twitter. If you prevent people from linking to you, then you will simply make yourself less accessible and therefore lose traffic. People who wish to link to supporting articles will do so by finding the best free source of info they can link to and use that, therefore helping to promote those sources of information.
Newspapers will continue to decline, only perhaps a little more rapidly than before.
Reading through The Design of Everday Things by Donald Norman, I came across an enlightening section entitled ‘Why Designers go Astray’. It prompted this rough thought about what makes designs go right, and thinking about the different concerns that need to be balanced in creating a successful design.
Although its been a while now since I worked there, I’ve always tried to keep up to date with what UHC are up to. An explicitly political art and design studio, their work is witty, thought provoking and beautifully crafted. One of their latest projects is an imaginative celebration of Darwin’s bicentenary, the ‘Ext Inked’ exhibition. As well as exhibiting hand-drawn illustrations of 100 extinct species, they will be asking 100 visitors to the exhibition to get tattooed with the same images. Yes, that’s right, permanently tattooed. I’ll let Jai Redman, UHC’s creative director explain:
We want to create a new social network, a living art exhibition of tattooed ambassadors against extinction. UHC want to mark Darwin’s birthday with an urgent call to speak up for the environment and celebrate evolution.
UHC have a long history of tackling controversial issues in novel ways. One of their earliest projects ‘This Is Camp X-Ray’ involved creating a mockup of Camp X-ray, the internment camp at Guantanamo bay, in the middle of Manchester, complete with volunteer guards and prisoners who inhabited the installation for a whole week.
What ‘Ext-inked’, ‘This is Camp X-ray’, and their other projects have in common is that they take causes that might fail to register through a conventional campaign and present them in ways that are more thought-provoking and memorable. Promoting something through an exhibition or an installation puts the audience inside the ideas, making them stop and think in a way a leaflet or a placard might not.
Books. Read as many as you can. Although they can age rapidly, especially those concerned with technology, there isn’t a much better way to get an overview of something. Good ideas never lose their value and you’re more likely to find something other people haven’t considered, or have forgotten about, especially if you consult older books. For example one of the best texts I’ve ever read on the subject of design is the wonderful ‘What is a designer?’ by Norman Potter. Because he focuses on theory not exposition, there is still much that can be taken from it that is useful.
Take this snippet, from the chapter ‘Advice for beginners’:
If you think that someone in your group has a better design concept for a job than you have, why not accept and develop it in your own way? The end-result wil be very different, and a comparison valuable. You may have the best approach to the next job. Work towards objective standards.
Excellent advice I think, for anyone in a creative job, not just designers. It is unusual for a design text in that it has no illustrations; but it bristles with useful ideas, designed to make you think, not simply lead you by the nose to the author’s particular dogmatic conclusion or prove how amazing a designer the author is. A fantastic book, despite being originally printed in 1969.
Yes web-based media can be more current. But as people have pointed out in the blogs vs twitter debate, long forms of writing have their merits, and will continue to do so, even as our methods of communication become faster and ever more diverse. And there isn’t a longer form than the good old book, whether on paper or screen. In fact, despite the controversy of Kindle and other electronic books, by putting books on a par with other screen-based media, they might help refocus attention on the book format and it’s benefits.
Some things I really aught to be doing next year. I’m hoping by making some sort of public record I might actually shame myself into doing some of them.
Do usability testing
Do some practical user tests on actual prototypes in our new projects at Setfire Media. I firmly believe that Web design is in many respects product design, can’t design products without understanding of users in their own environment.
Decide what I want to be when I grow up.
I’m not sure the job title ‘Graphic Designer’ really cuts it anymore. Certainly, I feel I should be actively moving away from that now, for the reason stated above. Its hard enough convincing clients and stakeholders that the web is more than just graphics, but calling yourself a Graphic Designer is just asking for it. What I will become is more difficult to say. I think I still enjoy tinkering and making things work too much to step completely away from the coal face. But I don’t think I’m nearly technical enough to be labeling myself ‘Front End Engineer’ or ‘Front End Developer’. I feel the need to be more broad-minded than just looking at the mechanics of the interactions. I’m interested in the mechanics and how they fit into the overall picture of the product.
Meet more interesting people, talk more to the interesting people that I know.
I need to network more, I always learn more from talking to people than I do reading a book. But in the rush to find exciting new friends I must also try not to forget the excellent people I already know. Sometimes its better to strengthen existing ties than create lots of new ones.
Go to a BarCamp
Sat at FOWD and later @Media, I pondered the value of sitting in a vast auditorium, whilst speakers of varying quality extolled their wisdom upon the crowd. It reminded me of lectures at university and why I learnt so little from them. It then set me immediately to thinking of another kind of event, something smaller, more personal, where speakers would be closer to the audience and the audience more directly involved in what was being presented. Wow, I thought, killer concept – I must try and put something like this together. Then I read about BarCamp, and realised it was already happening. So, I will definitely make it to at least one BarCamp in 2009, or hey, maybe even help organise one. Conferences might have some value for networking, but as a platform for learning, I think I’d favour participation over presentations any day.
Teach the world to sing
I mean, learn how to be more of an evangelist. I’ve had some success introducing new ideas into Setfire Media, where I work, but there’s lots more we could be doing. Working out the best way introduce new ideas and make sure the good ones stick.
Create more, consume less
Spend less time browsing feeds of all descriptions and more time putting my ideas and projects out into the world.
As it says. I did a lot of rough sketching last year, but now I want to be making more finished pieces.
That’s all for now
That’s quite enough to be getting on with I think. Merry Christmas, etc.
In no particular order, I’m beginning the process of documenting some of my work that isn’t online. In this case, it’s Big Monster.
Big Monster are a couple of Manchester-based musicians who are(were?) signed to the Fat Records label. I’m a total perfectionist, so I’m rarely happy, but this is definitely one of the jobs I’ve done over the last few years that I felt really pleased with the result.
I think what I loved most was that I managed to just really do my own thing, but it seemed to really suit the band’s style of music too.
There are a few more bits and pieces I’ve done for the band, and I’m going to try and get them up here as well.
I think I will be using this rather excellent post by Cathyma as my guide. Despite the ever changing trends of technology, blogs seem to me to have endured as a useful tool for recording and discussing ideas, so I’m going to try my best to promote this tradition.
Luckily I’m a designer by trade, and I do some illustration too(You can get a flavour of that on my flickr pages). This means I will be able to avoid writing some of the time by posting up my designs and drawings. Like I did with this first post.
Regarding the artwork – I think George Carlin said it better than me anyway.