Be Good Not Bad by Brian Warren

Recent pages from the journal

6 May 2011

Typedia Type News: Mega May 

Typedia News is well worth a read every week, and this edition has a nice mention of yours truly, linking to my Cognition article. What a nice way to end the week!

5 May 2011

Cognition: The Art of Details 

Remember when I posted about getting to help build Cognition, the totally amazing blog from my cohorts at Happy Cog? My first article for Cognition went up today. It’s about all the details, both little and big, that go into our work:

You have the opportunity to be very intentional about the details, whether it’s choosing a typeface or doing project management. Doing this well makes a difference.

If you have a few minutes today, check it out, I’d be honored to hear what you think. Thanks!

25 April 2011

Cranking 

Thing is, she screams “DAD-dy!” like the most impossibly great thing in the world has just happened. Every single morning. Right by my bed. Without a crank in sight.

Every now and then I come across writing that is so beautiful and heart-wrenching that it makes me want to become a better person.

Read this. You’ll be glad you did.

13 April 2011

SXSW, 2011

South by Southwest this year was wonderful. From the moment I stepped off the plane and felt the delightfully warm air (weather in Philly had been especially cold and gloomy), my spirits were up and I was ready for my sixth straight SXSW.

Every year as SXSW prep starts, I go through a strange mixture of emotions. Usually a few months out, I start to find out who isn’t coming this year for one reason or another. I also look at the ever-growing number of sessions and extracurricular events to weed through and decide what’s worth attending. All of this usually just bums me out and I wonder why on earth I’m going again this year. Then things start looking up: I start talking to all my friends who are coming and we start to reminisce about years past, getting instantly excited about what to expect this year.

More so than ever before, the truly wonderful times were had with some of my best friends on this planet, outside of any sanctioned events or schedule. I participated in the SXSW Found Type Photowalk, and I did go to two sessions, which were both fantastic. I went to one official party which was pretty lousy; and Happy Cog hosted a private party which was excellent. The rest of the time I spent doing much more important things like grabbing coffee with friends, old and new, in the morning; and pints with the same in the evening.

SXSW is definitely too big for its britches. I wonder if they will ever start capping attendance and making everything a bit more manageable. I sure hope they do, because for several years now the trend to skip the conference badge and hang out has been gaining momentum. I don’t say that with any ill-will toward the people who run SXSW. Here’s what I said under the comments section when I filled out the survey this year:

These days 95+% of my enjoyment of SXSW comes from non-SXSW-related activities (hanging out with my friends, going to a pub/coffeeshop/etc, shooting photos). Every year I’m less likely to get a badge because it’s too big, too overloaded, and the signal to noise ratio is getting worse. I really really want SXSW to succeed and it has a huge place in my heart as the place where I really got started in the web. I miss the days when it was all in the convention center and it was easy to bounce around and make panel attendance decisions on the fly. I hope it gets better!

15 March 2011

BBC — “SXSW: Thousands invade Texas for music, film and web” 

Matt Danzico from the BBC interviewed me for a piece he did for the BBC about SXSW. I am very honored to be a part of his article. I mentioned a bit about how, with SXSW’s extreme growth in sessions, attendees, and extra-curricular events, the cognitive overload can be a bit unmanageable. I hope I didn’t sound too down about SXSW. It is such an amazing, fun event that is truly like no other.

10 March 2011

Bound for Austin

Austin Sign

For the sixth year in a row, I am headed to Austin for SXSW Interactive. I’ve mentioned several times about how SXSW holds a special place in my heart, so I won’t go into that again. Suffice to say, I am, again, excited to be heading to Austin in mere hours to spend some quality time with other like minded web folk. Of course, again, as I’m going to have to be away from my beautiful family. This year, however, I’ll be taking a few days off after SXSW to spend with the kids and their grandparents. So, I have a lot to look forward to.

This year aside from meeting up with lots of old friends, I am probably most looking forward to the yearly SXSW Found Type Photowalk. I’m hoping to find some room in my luggage to bring my Poloroid gear with me for that one.

If you happen to be in Austin for SXSW and we’ve never met, I hope our paths cross. I can often be found grabbing a coffee at Halcyon, or a delicious beverage at The Ginger Man, or something delicious at my new favorite Austin place, Frank.

8 March 2011

Lesson Plan Second Flight 

My cohorts at Butter Label have been busy. Scott Boms just debuted another amazing print from our special typography projects division, Ligature Loop & Stem. This poster is silkscreened, so it’s much more affordable to print and to ship. Also, if you’re an educator, you’re in for a treat: There are 50 prints set aside just for educators, available for only the cost of shipping. You will want to act fast, though. If the past is any indication, these prints will sell out pretty quickly.

3 March 2011

Surly Cash Extra Special Bitter

It started in October on the weekend of my son’s baptism. My good friend John was in town, and we brewed a batch of beer as we had done many times before when I lived in Colorado. November passed; and, as I let it ferment, I eagerly anticipated the deliciousness that awaited me.

As Christmas approached, we at Happy Cog started planning our holiday party and, as we do every year, drew names for a secret santa gift exchange. I drew Chris Cashdollar. I was excited to draw his name, even though I had no idea what I would get him.

The last piece of this puzzle is Blue Beanie Day, a day every year in late November when everybody in the web design community dons blue hats to show their support for web standards. The day before, I shot photos of everybody in the Philly Happy Cog office all blue-beanied-up for the event.

As I was brainstorming ideas for Chris’ gift, it all clicked together. Of course! I have this beer that’s just about ready to drink, maybe I could do something with that?

I sent my dear friend Derek a message asking him if he wanted to collaborate on this project: A beer label with a custom illustration of Chris Cashdollar based on his blue beanie day photo. I sent him this photo of Chris to get the creative juices flowing:

Chris, aka Surly Cash

Derek didn’t hesitate. Minutes later he wrote back saying “I’m totally in!”. Just days later I had an amazing illustration to work with.

Surly Cash Illustration by Derek Balmer

Derek made it very easy for me. I designed the label and glued it on the night before our secret santa party.

A Bottle of Surly Cash Extra Special Bitter

There are only five of these in existance. I’m pretty excited about how these turned out! The look on Chris’ face was pretty dang priceless.

17 February 2011

Speaking at EECI 2011 Brooklyn

EECI 2011

I am super excited to be speaking at the EECI Conference in Brooklyn, NY later this year. The lineup of speakers looks just fantastic, and the venue looks beautiful.

My topic is about making client friendly websites. I’m a firm believer that a really excellent developer not only makes great code for a website, but also crafts a good experience for the people running the site. It may take more time and effort to do it right, but it really pays off for your client.

This looks to be one of the best EECI conferences yet, so I hope you can make it out!

1 February 2011

Building Cognition

Cognition Blog

One thing I can say about my work over the past year at Happy Cog is that every project has brought something new and interesting to the table.

I remember the first time I saw some of Chris Cashdollar’s early designs for Happy Cog’s blog, Cognition, and I thought “I really want take this design and build it.” I’m not sure what it was. Something about the unusual color palate and the gorgeous typography. It just pushed all the right buttons for me. So when the design phase started wrapping up, I was pleased to see I had some extra time on my plate to take this project on.

There were two areas of this project where I got to really play around: Web Fonts and Responsive Design.

Web Fonts

The design for Cognition didn’t come out of a vacuum. We’d been working on getting a unified style for all of our documents: Everything from contracts to keynote presentations. This effort, spearheaded by the brilliant Kevin Sharon, resulted in using Jenson, Sentinel, and Franklin Gothic our house typefaces. We used Typekit and Fontspring for our type on the web, with Adobe Jenson Pro and Franklin Gothic. Sadly, no Sentinel for now, so Clarendon had to play stand-in.

Originally we went crazy with these, using lots of weights (of Franklin, especially). It was so fun seeing all this gorgeous type on the screen. The danger, of course, is that if you use five different weights of Franklin, you’re asking the user to download all five of those fonts. In the end, we consolidated our choices in the weights a bit and were able to get the page a bit more trim.

Using web fonts on this project was a wonderful, liberating experience. From a technical standpoint, it was a bit fidgety, though. Browsers are still figuring out how to deal with them and it requires a bit more tinkering than it seems like it should. Nonetheless, I’m loving using web fonts.

Cognition Blog on iPhone

Being Responsive

The other area of play was making the Cognition design responsive. Responsive design is an approach to web design to try to make your site flexible and appropriate to the viewing device. The end result is that nice wide screens get a more open, wide layout, and narrow screens and smaller devices get a more focused experience. For a much more interesting read on responsive design, check out my friend Ethan Marcotte’s A List Apart article where he coins the term: Responsive Web Design

Taking the Cognition design responsive was very fun. It was a wonderful learning experience, and really scratched the itch on both sides of my designer/developer brain. It offered endless opportunities to tinker, fiddle, and tweak.

Lots to Talk About

We did a lot more in Cognition than I’m taking the time to write about here. For instance, we tossed out the idea of traditional comments, favoring using twitter to aggregate responses. We also offered a way for people to blog a response on their own site and we’d call that out and link to it as well. This is also one of the few times we’ve had a site of our own to build and improve as more ideas come in and better ways to do things present themselves. It’s been very fun.

We have a publishing schedule with editors, proofers and illustrators all lined up to get an article out once a week. It’s quite a process, but it’s yielded some excellent results, like Chris Cashdollar’s article about the magic number of designs to present to a client, Ryan Irelan talking about how composting relates to code and Jenn Lukas reminding us, using her own spin on Mad Libs, that We’re All In It Together.

All of the ideas for Cognition ideas grew from lots of conversations, seemingly endless basecamp threads, and loads of collaboration from everybody on the team. That’s what I love about this job. Nobody can take all the credit for anything, because everybody can be creative in any area of the project.