I read once that hunting and gathering societies only work about 20 hours a week. Wednesday is just as much a part of your life as Saturday, but you have to remind people of that. There’s a lot figuring out how to pace projects and follow through on responsibilities with strength and quality, all while carving out time. My life is going to be filled with just as many Wednesdays as Saturdays, and I would like to claim more than 2/7ths of my life for myself, thanks.
The simple things are worth doing well because they happen every day.
I always start on mobile because, from a layout perspective, it’s kind of an easy problem to begin with. It’s simplified because most of the things that you’re going to do is choose the order of the elements on the page. So, you’re beginning with really foundational design choices, which is how am I going to express the hierarchy with color here or through typefaces or type sizes?
So, mobile-first for me is less about a technological stack or anything like that. It’s more about just the purity of the design problem that you’re trying to solve. It feels like you’re making the important choices first whenever you do that. In my mind, the way that I’ve worked, it ensures that those choices are good ones, which makes the work that you do after that a little bit easier.
With the responsive web design work, it definitely feels more like my job as a designer is as a clarifier and specifier, if that makes sense. So, asking questions in such a way that I understand the priorities and the objectives of the work that we’re doing, and then coming up with a few different design solutions that I feel can address those needs, and then essentially looking around at the folks that are doing different kinds of work collaborating with me on this project and being like, “Is there anything weird about this?” because all of this work is braided together so tightly. That doesn’t necessarily happen in the print publication world because the tools are set up and the artifacts are so stable that the work can remain more autonomous. It’s more like it’s a sequence of handoffs, essentially, in that field, for the most part. Whereas here, everything is in play all at the same time.
Well, the web kind of wants you to stack things vertically on top of each other and have quite a bit of text. It wants to be fluid, it wants to scroll vertically, and it wants to probably use flat colors or simple gradients because that’s what’s easy to specify inside of CSS.
So, that’s what’s interesting to me. It’s taking sort of a principled stance as a starting point, honoring the materials that you’re working with and believing that the web has a grain like how a piece of wood has a grain. You can work against that grain, and that creates interesting work that requires a lot of craftsmanship, but for the most part, if you’re building something, you’re going to want to go with the grain because it’s going to be sturdier, it’s going to be easier for you to work with and typically, hopefully, in the process it will be a little bit more beautiful, too.
Design is a vessel. There’s the whole Buddhist thing about the essence of a bowl being its emptiness—that’s why it’s useful. Its emptiness allows it to hold something. I guess that means that design must talk about something else. If you make design about design, you’re just stacking bowls, and that’s not what bowls are for.
Consistent voice is more important than consistent style. Voice is about what you say. It’s content. Style is about what you’re wearing. It’s aesthetics. The prior informs the latter, not the other way around.
Spend a lot of time choosing that one thing that a piece of design or an illustration should try to do. Then, work your ass off trying to figure out the absolute best way to do that one thing.
The only things you should be absolutely comfortable with in your creative process are your tools.
I am more interested in supporting individuals and companies that value quality and realize the difference between more and better. An appreciation for better sets you off on a mission to support fine craftsmanship by buying well-crafted, thoughtful goods and services.
If you can’t draw as well as someone, or use the software as well, or if you do not have as much money to buy supplies, or if you do not have access to the tools they have, beat them by being more thoughtful.
Graphic design has just as much to do with words as it does with pictures, and a lot of my favorite designers come to design from the world of words instead of the world of pictures.
Aesthetics are fleeting, the only things with longevity are ideas.
Let me let you in on a little secret: if you are hearing about something old, it is almost certainly good. Why? Because nobody wants to talk about shitty old stuff, but lots of people still talk about shitty new stuff, because they are still trying to figure out if it is shitty or not. The past wasn’t better, we just forgot about all the shitty shit.
Some might say that this blog’s design has some “timeless” qualities. I will let you in on a secret: I am lazy. I want to make as few decisions as possible, but I want those choices to be good ones. I don’t add cruft, because I’d have to make the cruft so that I could add it. And then I’d have to decide where it would go.
Sometimes puffy writing is more efficient communication, because it’s the best way to get a complex idea through. I’m learning to appreciate that the clear thing isn’t always the simple thing.
Every time I assume a talented person isn’t painfully aware of the flaws in their work, I am wrong.
Usually expressive visual choices seem good in isolation, then become overbearing when viewed together. Experience gives a person the eyes to imagine their small choices in aggregate.
Your brain can normalize the patterns of an interface and make way for more nuanced abstractions. With enough time and exposure, a user can shed the padding and metaphors that become dead weight, like taking the training wheels off a bike. We’ve been living through that shedding process, and the interfaces of iOS 7 and Windows Metro suggest the keenness of our minds and our adeptness at navigating interfaces. Like them or not, Metro and iOS7 are major touchstones in our relationship to computing, because they signify that we’re beginning to accept a flexible medium on its own terms.
I find that the more input I have in the content and strategy of the project, the less burden I place on the aesthetics. Perhaps this is because I believe the aesthetic of the work should be an extention of its objectives, so if you get the strategy right, the look follows.
I am for a design that’s like vanilla ice cream: simple and sweet, plain without being austere. It should be a base for more indulgent experiences on the occasions they are needed, like adding chocolate chips and cookie dough. Yet these special occassions are rare. A good vanilla ice cream is usually enough. Sometimes plainness needs defending in a world starved for attention and wildly focused on individuality. The surest way forward is usually a plain approach done with close attention to detail. You can refine the normal into the sophisticated by pursuing clarity and consistency. Attentiveness turns the normal artful.
The consistency of normalcy improves the experience of living with the objects, because the longer we spend in contact with the products of design, the more their willful attempts at individualism irritate us. Most everything must fade into the background for our built environments to be hospitable.
My father never fully understood what I did for a living, but we could always find common ground in craftsmanship. Good work is grounded in an attention to detail and knowledge of and respect for the materials. The more experience I gain, the truer this proves itself. Pay attention, respect the material, listen to how it guides you, and be gentle. You’ll be surprised by what you can do and how flexible it all can be.
It was 1997, I was learning HTML, and there was one problem with the design that was confusing me: how do I put two things next to each other? Twenty years later, we’re still working out the answer to that very basic question.
The new methods were invented to manage a level of complexity that is completely foreign to me and my work. It was easy to back away from most of this new stuff when I realized I have alternate ways of managing complexity. Instead of changing my tools or workflow, I change my design. It’s like designing a house so it’s easy to build, instead of setting up cranes typically used for skyscrapers.
My job is to help my clients identify and express the one or two uniquely true things about their project or company, then enhance it through a memorable design with a light touch. If complexity comes along, we focus in on it, look for patterns, and change the blueprint for what we’re building. We don’t necessarily go looking for better tools or fancier processes. In the past, I’ve called this following the grain of the web, which is to use design choices that swing with what HTML, CSS, and screens make easy, flexible, and resilient.
I wrote down the technical requirements of my web design practice. It’s not a long list: Simple, responsive layout. Web fonts and nicely set text. Performant, scalable images. All of these have been more than met for at least five years
Most experienced designers want concision—clear, robust, consistent, elegant systems that avoid redundancy. Concise designs are smoother to implement, faster to render, quicker to understand, and easier to hand-off and maintain.
One of the ways that I’ve found to add spirit to simple designs is through color. The color need not be showy, only rich and nuanced.
Cegłowski's first law of Internet business teaches: "Never get in the way of people trying to give you money"
I had just come out of Rails consulting when I started Pinboard and really wanted to avoid this kind of overengineering, capitalizing instead on the fact that it was 2010 and a sufficiently simple website could run ridiculously fast with no caching if you just threw hardware at it.
We charged money for a good or service. I know this one is controversial, but there are enormous benefits and you can immediately reinvest a whole bunch of it in your project ... Your customers will appreciate that you have a long-term plan that doesn't involve repackaging them as a product.
Although colo space is a commodity, salespeople become tetchy if you treat it as such. They will insist on talking to you over the phone and bristle at the suggestion that their job could be replaced by a web form. It is a good idea not to think about how much their salary or commission adds to your costs.
The money part turns out to be easy. People will pay for a decent service. As long as you stay small and don't forget to have revenue, you too can build a bookmarking website. There is plenty of room to specialize!
It is pleasant to work on something that people draw benefit from. It is especially pleasant to work on something lasting. And I enjoy the looking-glass aspect of our industry, where running a mildly profitable small business makes me a crazy maverick not afraid to break all the rules.
Every state lottery webmaster, along with the web savants manning PowerBall headquarters itself, seemed to have gone through the same thought process: We know that millions of people play our lottery. We know that every Wednesday at 11 PM, our website will get flooded with traffic. We know that the ONLY information those visitors will want is the winning numbers... so let's put those numbers on a bloated page filled with images... and serve it using IIS!!!
The cloud is a fog of sweet, sweet promises. Amazon promises eleven nines of durability. Eleven nines! The Sun will be a charred cinder before a single bit gets flipped in a file you've stored on S3. Amazon promises no single points of failure. Instead, you get a single cloud of failure, the promise that when the system comes crashing down, at least you won't be alone.
As soon as a system shows signs of performance, developers will add enough abstraction to make it borderline unusable. Software forever remains at the limits of what people will put up with. Developers and designers together create overweight systems in hopes that the hardware will catch up in time and cover their mistakes.
The cult of growth denies the idea that you can build anything useful or helpful unless you're prepared to bring it to so-called "Internet scale". There's no point in opening a lemonade stand unless you're prepared to take on PepsiCo. I always thought that things should go the other way. Once you remove the barriers of distance, there's room for all sorts of crazy niche products to find a little market online.
I want to share with you my simple two-step secret to improving the performance of any website. 1. Make sure that the most important elements of the page download and render first. 2. Stop there. You don't need all that other crap. Have courage in your minimalism.
Most of the talk about web performance is similarly technical, involving compression, asynchronous loading, sequencing assets, batching HTTP requests, pipelining, and minification. All of it obscures a simpler solution ... If you're only displaying five sentences of text, use vanilla HTML. Hell, serve a textfile! Then you won't need compression hacks, integral signs, or elaborate Gantt charts of what assets load in what order.
ACME hosts their service on AWS, and at one point they were paying $23,000 in monthly fees. Through titanic effort, they have been able to reduce that to $9,000 a month. I pay just over a thousand dollars a month for hosting, using my own equipment ... So while I consider bookmarking a profitable business, to them it's a $4,000/month money pit. I'm living large off the same income stream that is driving them to sell their user data to marketers and get the hell out of the game.
But I’m not about to drop everything to start making apps with this new platform. It’s brand new and technically still in beta, which means it’ll be at least 3 years until I can consider using it for something important. Until a certain age and saturation level, I can’t assume that my audience will have Silverlight installed in their browsers.
The best web designs aren’t huge, pixel-perfect monstrosities based on some insane PSD designed by someone who doesn’t know what implementation will require. They’re simple, flowing, and resilient. They won’t break if the content-length changes and the right column is longer than the left. They won’t break when someone over age 40 views the site and magnifies the text to 150% because they can’t read your trendy 11px Verdana. And they certainly won’t break if IE slips a few pixels into the margin somewhere. Instead of wasting hours upon hours to hammer out every little browser difference in an overly complex design, just design it to accommodate browser differences in the first place.
This is something most people forget. Sure, you won’t be the next Adobe with your one-man shop... but you can earn a great living even if a fraction of a percentage of their userbase decides to give you $30.
It also builds a healthy appreciation for well-executed details. (There’s a reason why detail-appreciative people tend to use Apple products.) When I come across something that’s subtly polished in one of these ways, I can recognize and appreciate the amount of effort that went into it. Hardly anyone else cares, but I get excited by minutia.
I don’t feel comfortable trusting my business’ success to a private third party over whom I have zero control.
[Craigslist] looks like a “mess” by modern web-trend standards, but it works. It’s run by a very small staff of just 30 people, serving 47 million unique visitors and making an estimated $100 million per year. The web-business world has a lot to learn from Craig Newmark and Jim Buckmaster.
I don’t want to be a part of any company that’s so poorly managed, or simply so cheap, that employees are expected to forego a healthy lifestyle. No job is worth that.
It’s ridiculous, incorrect, and insulting to those (like me) who have chosen the traditional business model — charge money, spend less than you make — for this author to suggest that giving away your product for free and paying your expenses with VC money is the “first step” to make your app development “a profitable business”.
For something as important as email, I’ve never trusted everything to a proprietary provider. My email address has never ended in someone else’s domain name, and has never been hosted in any way that would preclude me from easily switching to another provider
I don’t need every customer. I’m primarily in the business of selling a product for money. How much effort do I really want to devote to satisfying people who are unable or extremely unlikely to pay for anything?
If you care about your online presence, you must own it. I do, and that’s why my email address has always been at my own domain, not the domain of any employer or webmail service.
I never make technology-buying decisions based on future promises, rumors, or potential. I let other people be the bleeding-edge extremely early adopters, and I stick with what I know will work and stay out of my way. I don’t buy things that are “getting better”, because they usually don’t. Whatever caused them to be lacking in their current release will usually prevent them from being great in future releases.
Instapaper is one person and no funding. I work completely from home. I don’t even put an unhealthy amount of hours into it, and it’s very low-needs (and therefore, low-stress) to keep the service running. This is a lifestyle that I’m not willing to give up for the promise of taking VC money, hiring a bunch of people, making everything free, and hoping to cash out after a few years of nonstop “crunch mode” by selling it to a big company so they can ruin and “sunset” it a year later.
Taste in product creation overlaps a lot with design: doing it well requires it to be valued, rewarded, and embedded in the company’s culture and upper leadership. If it’s not, great taste can’t guide product decisions, and great designers leave.
The most important design goal for most apps should be that they’re usable. And then, further down the list — maybe second, maybe tenth, depending — should be attractiveness or adherence to a particular aesthetic.
The best thing we can do isn’t necessarily to try to pay for [every internet service we use], which is unrealistic and often not an option. Our best option is to avoid supporting and using proprietary monocultures.
This is why it’s so important to keep as much of your data as possible in the most common, widespread, open-if-possible formats, in local files that you can move, copy, and back up yourself. And if you care about developing a long-lasting online audience or presence, you’re best served by owning your identity as much as possible.
Even at smaller scale, these lessons apply. An independent developer or small company can’t afford to waste time messing with flaky, overly complex, or high-needs server infrastructure ... Using mature, reliable, widespread tools isn’t just about scaling more easily — it’s about being as low-needs as possible so you can spend more of your time and attention on things that matter more to you.
It’s a prime [camera] lens, meaning it does not zoom: it’s fixed to one medium-distance focal length, and you can zoom with your feet.
Treat places like Medium the way you’d treat writing for someone else’s magazine, for free. It serves the same purpose: your writing gets to appear in a semi-upscale setting and you might temporarily get more readers than you would elsewhere, but you’re giving up ownership and a lot of control to get that.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about competition. The biggest lesson has been that in most cases, products and companies live and die by their own actions, not their competitors’.
Linux distributions [for web servers] are an unfortunate oversupply of paralyzing choices. The easiest path is to learn one major distribution very well and use it everywhere. You want conservative, slow-moving, and very popular: that way, updates almost never break anything and it’s all very stable (conservative), you don’t need to re-learn the basics and tools constantly (slow-moving), and there are tons of Google results and tutorials for every question you’ll have (very popular).
"Boring old" is the key to server-administration happiness. Stick to the boring and the old, and you’ll rarely need to deal with anything. The lower down the stack, the more important that becomes. This is why I still very happily use MySQL (InnoDB-only) instead of a trendier, newer database: it’s very fast when used properly, and I’ve never seen it crash, corrupt data, or perform irregularly. And I’ve run a lot of heavily-used MySQL servers. Not a single crash, ever.
I lucked out in Overcast’s market timing: I only had to hire a damn good designer for the app icon. I was able to design everything else — every screen, every in-app icon, all of the text — because what’s in fashion today is much easier for non-artists like me to do: whitespace, clean lines, and good typography.
iOS 7 shook up the market and, by pure luck, shifted high-end iOS design away from fashions I could never compete in — heavy use of textures and complex graphical widgets — into what I could actually do: simplicity, space, and typography.
The tech business is proud of its workaholism, but it really shouldn’t be. It’s a sign of immaturity and poor management, not drive.
After the self-employment penalties in taxes and benefits, I’m probably coming in under what I could get at a good full-time job in the city, but I don’t have to actually work for someone else on something I don’t care about. I can work in my nice home office, drink my fussy coffee, take a nap after lunch if I want to, and be present for my family as my kid grows up. That’s my definition of success.
Podcasts are hot right now. Big Money is coming. Big Money isn’t going to sell nicely designed, hand-crafted, RSS-backed podcast players for $2.99 or ask you to pay what you want to support them, because that doesn’t make Big Money. They’re coming with shitty apps and fantastic business deals to dominate the market, lock down this open medium into proprietary “technology”, and build empires of middlemen to control distribution and take a cut of everyone’s revenue.
I’ve never been more proud to be operating a large podcast app that’s built on standard RSS, open access, and standard playback of podcasters’ original files directly from their servers, with no garbage ads being inserted, no behavioral tracking for advertisers, no proprietary lock-in, and absolutely no requirements that podcasters register with me, do anything differently, lose any control, agree to any terms, or even be aware of my app at all to be played, shared, and promoted in it.
You wouldn’t believe how many customers have asked me to add features that were already there, or couldn’t find basic functions like deleting episodes, because they weren’t apparent enough in the design ... A lot of people also never swipe table cells (or tap Edit buttons), therefore never finding the Delete button. I’ve gotten literally hundreds of emails since Overcast 1.0’s launch asking how to delete episodes without playing them.